Never rush to a proposal

Many sales professionals rush to the proposal stage and miss the mark. When you rush to the proposal stage you are eliminating the probability of winning the sale and at the least getting the best price for your products and services. We all know that prospects are doing their own research and only reaching out to vendors when they have some knowledge. At this point they have likely narrowed the list of vendors to contact. However, in my experience there is one or two preferred or known vendors and the rest are canon fodder for providing quotes.
This is the environment we are all working in unless you are the vendor with the close or existing relationship with the client. If you are not in this position you need to set yourself and your company apart. How do you do this?  There are a few tactics that have worked for my clients.
  • You respond to the request for a quote with a refusal. Yes, a refusal, but one delivered professionally and courteously. You simply indicate that you are not in a position to provide a meaningful and accurate proposal. You need to gain more familiarity with the prospect’s business and requirements. I always like to add a bit about ‘we do business differently with a focus on great results.’  You can then wait and let the prospect decide the next step. More often than not the prospect will permit some further communication and exchange of information.
  • If you are in professional services or complex software sales you may refer to other work that you are currently undertaking and raising doubts about having the time to take on this prospect. This one works if you can refer to an actual project with a client name (depends on circumstances and your industry). I have clients who tell the prospect, “I am not sure what your time frame for the project is, but we are currently engaged in some large projects with companies in the xx and xx sectors.” This statement only bolsters your credibility and may prompt the prospect to disclose their time frame and further information. Your objective is to gain a meeting and leveraging the current work as a reason to get together and share some ideas.
  • The last one is the best one but may be the most difficult. This tactic is based on you asking pointed and left of field questions to differentiate you from competitors. I help my clients create this list of questions and statements. If a request for proposal has been emailed you can use this tactic with a return email but it is far better to call the person. Your goal here is to establish some thought leadership and raise some doubt about either the research the prospect has undertaken or the information they have gained speaking to other vendors.
Since most sales professionals rush to the proposal stage they miss the vital steps of identifying and confirming client requirements. Since the client requirements are not agreed there is no discussion about price. The sales professional prefers to include price in the proposal and hope that it is within expectation or ‘negotiation range’. I recommend gaining agreement on requirements and costs before spending any time developing a proposal. Sales people create elaborate wordy proposals with the price included like it is a surprise package waiting to be opened. If you have fear of discussing price with your client there may be a few things you need to consider.
  • You are full of fear. You do not want to get rejected so you avoid speaking about price.
  • You are full of doubt. You do not have confidence in yourself to delivery what the client requires or you are full of doubt about your understanding the client’s requirements.
  • You have not even engaged in deep communication with the prospect about their requirements. I have found this particularly true with clients who sell a product like software. The company receives a request for a quote and the sales person complies.
If you lack the ability to add extra insight and value for a client during a sales cycle you are stuck.