A good sales proposal demonstrates real value; a quote just offers a price.

Preparing a proposal is a critical part of the sales process. However, many sales people loathe producing proposals and consider it a chore believing they don’t get maximum value or return from their efforts. This leads to quoting prices or at worst just a ‘find and replace’ to change the client company name. We all deserve better – sales people and clients included.

So what is the best way to produce a winning sales proposal?

There’s loads of advice floating around about how to produce and pitch a sales proposal or quote. Sadly, most of the advice is wrong. For instance, in all the years I have been selling I have almost never presented my proposals in person and have had no trouble winning business. When I have presented them in person I have found the experience to be less than satisfactory for both myself and the buyer.  I normally meet my client or prospect to take the initial brief, I prepare a proposal based on their requirements and then send it directly to them to give them time to read and absorb and then I follow-up to receive their feedback.  Where appropriate, I often position my initial proposal as a ‘draft’ which can be used as a base plate to rework the proposal if need be. The client feels engaged and involved. It works every time.

There are salespeople that disagree with my approach. They believe that you need to demonstrate the company’s credibility by stating your credentials upfront and that you must present a proposal in person every time before your client has read anything about what you propose. I have found that these sales people place more emphasis on charming their clients with their dazzling personalities rather than giving them the space to make up their own mind about the proposal at hand. I find that these sales people are not working with their clients or prospects; rather, they are ‘working on’ their clients to convince them to buy.

It’s interesting to look at sales results of those who insist that presenting their proposals in person is the best approach – what story does their results tell? In any case, we can all benefit from improving our proposals, so how do we get off on the right foot? Well, here are five tips to set you on the right path:

1. Ask good questions and take detailed notes in the client meeting

It’s all in the preparation. A proposal is only as good as the brief taken in the client meeting.  Being receptive to the client, listening to what is important to them and hearing their story is the only place to start. Asking clear questions which get to the heart of the client or prospects’ issues, priorities or needs is critical. Taking detailed notes is essential. As best I can I write down the exact words used by my client – no interpretation here. This means I capture their thoughts, their ideas, their tone which when presented back to the client in a proposal shows them I have really listened to them which is validating and very powerful. These notes allow you to really see what your client’s situation is currently which then allows you to look at what you can do to address their priorities with your offering. I find that after a client meeting or at the end of the day I type up my client meeting notes while they are fresh and clear on paper and in my mind. This means that I do not have to rely upon my memory alone. A key part of this process is really listening when you ask a question.  And taking notes makes you a better listener.  Note that with the advent of tablets and iPads I have taken to typing my notes directly onto my android tablet which later saves a lot of time in the proposal preparation stage as I do not have to retype my notes from paper. I do point out to clients that I am making this transition from paper to tablet and they are very happy for me to do so. I have never had anyone object to me taking notes in whatever format in a client meeting.

2. Manage expectations, verify your understanding and establish clear intentions

Verifying your understanding of what your client wants and needs before you leave the meeting as well as stating your intentions. Communicating what you are going to do in terms of timelines, proposal preparation, getting back to them, etc is very important. Your client or prospect needs to know what you are going to do and by when.

3. Put the client first, always

Put your clients’ needs and priorities first.  Opening up your proposal with a section that outlines your understanding of your client’s needs or priorities is critical. It validates the client and answers the following questions: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter to you? Too many times sales people put their company first making it all about them not about the client, leaving the client feeling disengaged. When preparing your proposal categorise your client findings into three key sections: 1) the client’s current situation or circumstances, 2) the issues or opportunities they want to address, and 3) their priorities moving forward and results they want to see. This section needs to go first in your proposal. Only then can you put in place your offering which now should be in context of your client priorities and requirements.

4. Demonstrate value, don’t quote a price

A good proposal demonstrates value; a quote just offers a price. Off the back of stating your client’s priorities and needs upfront you then structure your proposal so that it shows the client how you will address their priorities and needs in a manner that will help them see the value and results they will receive and achieve by working with you. Everything must connect and link back to your client. You are not just quoting a price – it will mean absolutely nothing to the client if they cannot see themselves benefiting from your offer.

5. Never talk someone through a proposal

Communications expert Brett Rutledge says you should never present your proposal in person to a client or prospect. The reason being is that you create a cognitive overload for the person(s) concerned.  Looking at the proposal (visual processing) and at the same having to listen to you speaking (auditory processing) doesn’t work and only leads to people being distracted and confused. Therefore it should always be sent ahead for the person intended to read and absorb without you being present. This gives them time to go through the content in context of their priorities, understand your offering, agree with it or not, care about it enough to take action to do something with it. Then you follow up to discuss further.

These are just a few key tips we have found make the selling and buying process easier and more effective for all concerned.

 

Sue Barrett
BY Sue Barrett ON 24 April 2012
Sue Barrett is one of the leading female voices commenting on sales today. An experienced business speaker and adviser, facilitator, sales coach, training provider and entrepreneur and founder of Barrett Consulting, which provides sales assessments, sales consulting, sales coaching and sales training programs.

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