Rejected proposal

Sales Proposals

…why, when and how?

Rejected proposalThe presentation of a proposal often leads to what has become a common problem; the supplier believes significant progress is being made and they expect a response but the prospect becomes un-contactable and/or previously discussed actions and timescales are forgotten.

Proposal: “a plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration by others.”

Three points jumped out at me when I read this definition which might explain this misunderstanding:

Plan or suggestion. Many of the proposals that I review fail to put forward a plan but lots do make suggestions or try to commence a discussion.  For a proposal to stand the very best chance of producing a successful outcome it must present a plan for the delivery of what has already been discussed and agreed between the supplier and buyer. Using a proposal to “make suggestions” or have a discussion is a recipe for failure.  Documenting suggestions before a meeting may be a useful part of the process but this document is NOT a proposal.

Selling tip: Do not provide a proposal until every aspect of the problem, and your solution, has been discussed thoroughly and all points of contention have been resolved. The proposal documents what is already agreed.

For consideration by others. This raises the next big issue that contributes to proposals becoming interminably stalled or failing altogether.  If your proposal is going to be reviewed by people you have never met the chances of that proposal failing increase significantly.  Your proposal can only be based on what you have been told by the people you have met and while they can give you an impression of what might matter to others who will review your proposal those impressions can never provide a complete picture.  How many times have sellers been told “sorry, I liked the proposal but the FD didn’t”?

Selling tip: Take the time to find out the name and position of everyone that will be involved in reviewing the proposal and do everything you can to meet them or at least speak to them on the telephone. If you do end up with decision makers or influencers where you have had no direct contact you will need to work hard on your contacts to ensure you know as much as possible about their decision making criteria.  One of the most important parts of a proposal is the Executive Summary .

Formal or Written.  Written documents, paper based or electronic, are still the most common format for proposals and in many cases they are the appropriate format to summarise and document an agreed offer.  Note the word agreed; the proposal should contain nothing that would be unexpected or new to the prospect. The cardinal rule of proposals is NO SURPRISES!

An alternative approach that we have found to be very effective is to present your proposed solution in a workshop with all the stakeholders who will be involved in the decision. Using this interactive format does permit you to; make suggestion, float ideas, try out alternatives and the end result is a consensus as to what the solution should look like. Following the workshop you will simply need to confirm what is now agreed and for a simple case that can be in an e-mail and for more complex situations you will present a plan including a schedule of activities and the timetable for delivering them.

Selling tip: At an early stage in the engagement cycle with a prospect agree the process, format and timing for the creation and presentation of the proposal. It’s all tied to their buying process.

OK, so why, when and how:

Why produce a proposal?  Most business sectors, industries and markets come with a set of this is how it is done behaviours and habits.  For many B-2-B environments the habits will include formal, probably written, proposals.

Business tip: have a rigorous, proportionate process in place to review all opportunities ensuring the deal is something the business; wants, can deliver and stands a reasonable chance of winning.  Such reviews should be conducted at key milestones from first contact with the prospect through to a final review before committing the effort to produce a proposal.   

Why not consider breaking the mould; the supplier should ask the prospect how they would like to proceed and whether a written proposal is what they want.  If it is agreed that a proposal will be done the supplier should produce it with the sole purpose of documenting and confirming what has already been agreed and accepted during conversations with all stakeholders in the prospect’s decision making unit.  The proposal is then useful to both parties as it functions as a common understanding of what will be done, by when and for how much. It defines the obligations on both parties thus avoiding many of the potential causes of conflict once the project is underway.

For larger opportunities prospects may have a formal process including a number of steps such as; Request for Information, Request for Proposal or questionnaire type tender documents. If this really is the way the prospect wants to proceed, the supplier will have to play to the rules, but there is always scope to provide a compliant response whilst also taking the opportunity to present an option that differentiates you as a supplier.  This technique is at its most powerful in situations where the tender request demonstrates that the prospect is ill informed on some aspects of the problem or alternative solutions.

When?  The proposal should come after all points of discussion and negotiation have been resolved.  It is also important not to present the proposal too early in the decision cycle; it should be the only thing left to do before the prospect is ready to make their decision.  There is a sound argument for presenting a proposal in two steps; the first describing the solution you are proposing and why it might be the best and then separately, once the prospect has accepted your solution, you confirm (you will have already discussed it) your quotation for providing the solution.

Just to be clear; a quotation is NOT a proposal unless you are quoting for something with a recognised publicly available specification or something the prospect has bought from you before.  A true proposal effectively represents a specification for a bespoke solution.

How?  The only answer to this question that really matters is; as agreed between the supplier and buyer.  If the market or business sector has accepted ways of doing things this may be the way forward but challenging the norm may produce a better result for all concerned. For the supplier, challenging the norm with a better idea will help to differentiate them from their competition.

Further reading; timing of a proposal or  proposal production or getting your proposal due consideration

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Proposal production through teamwork

Working with “sales support” when producing a proposal.

It is common, especially where a company provides complex or custom solutions that the sales people will need to work with colleagues from different disciplines to produce a proposal.  Common scenarios include working with:

  • Technical people who use their skills to specify and configure the correct solution for the individual need.
  • Estimating specialists who can work out how much time, material and other resources may be required to deliver a particular solution.
  • Manufacturing and logistics functions that will make and deliver the solution.
  • Health and safety, HR or legal specialist.
  • External suppliers who may be required to contribute to the make-up of the complete solution.
  • The project or programme manager, who will be responsible for delivering the solution, to ensure the estimates and delivery schedules are realistic. If any part of the brief cannot be achieved it is important to let the sales person know as soon as possible giving them the opportunity to re-set the prospect’s expectations.

In many cases, especially where just a few proposals need support, this will be done informally with the sales person making the decision on a case-by-case basis; deciding who to involve and when.  In larger companies or where every proposal requires support this will normally be done in a formal manner by, for example; sales support, bid support or by a recent manifestation, the sales enablement function.

If there are circumstances where a sales person is going to require the support of colleagues, even on a few occasions, it will serve the company well to put in the effort to create a formal process for such eventualities.  Arguably, it is even more important to have formal processes established in these cases as this will help everyone to quickly step from their day job into their support role without having to re-invent the wheel.

  • The sales person is nominally the owner of the requirement and will be responsible for briefing everyone involved in supporting the production of the proposal. It is important not only to brief on the requirement but also to establish the timetable including specific milestones when things need to be delivered.
  • If there is a formal bid function, they will normally be responsible for the physical production of the proposal document but if support is less formal this responsibility will usually fall to the sales person. The key is to leave no doubt – decide all roles and responsibilities during the initial briefing including who does which sections of the writing.
  • If the document is to be written by several people it is important to ensure consistency of style and language and this is best done by someone not directly involved in the writing.
  • If there is a need to involve external suppliers, briefing them and gaining their agreement to meet your timescales is crucial.
  • The vehicle for briefing everyone involved in producing the proposal should be the proposal summary. This summary contains the sales persons’ complete understanding of; the requirement, the solution, how they plan to convince the prospect of its worth, timing, financial parameters and key differentiators the sales person wants to be able to demonstrate.
  • It is important for the bid team to work towards a date when the proposal will be completed that is a few days before the sales person is due to present it to the prospect. This allows time for final editing and physical production avoiding the need for anyone to “burn the midnight oil”.
  • If the sales person is following the process of a trial presentation to the prospect, which will lead to amendments prior to final presentation, time to achieve this edit step needs to be scheduled into the bid team’s diaries.
  • When the proposal will be delivered in the form of an interactive workshop, rather than a written document, it is even more important that the sales person has ready access to all the specialists who can help provide the facts to support the sales arguments they will present.

A lot of time and effort can go into working with a prospect getting them into a position where they want to hear about a solution to their problem.  To avoid spoiling the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar it is very important that the production and presentation of a proposal is taken seriously and that it is accepted as part of the day job by the specialists who will contribute their knowledge.

Proposals – first impressions count

In times past the sales person would engage with a number of people in the prospect’s organisation but would rarely get to meet the senior executives who would be involved in the decision. This lead to the provision of a short, easy to read, section that those executive decision makers could use to gain an understanding of the key points of the proposal without the need to read the whole document. It has become common practice with written proposals that the first section is an Executive Summary; but is it still good practice?

Regardless of whether, as previously recommended, you have met all decision makers before submitting a proposal, there is still an important role for an executive summary as everyone is time poor these days so providing a concise overview of the key points of your proposed solution for all readers makes perfect sense. But, should it be an “Executive Summary”? We recommend Proposal Overview or Solution Summary.

The summary should always be created before the rest of the proposal; yes before!  I am always horrified when I hear that a proposal has been written by a number of people in the supplier’s business then passed to the sales person to top and tail; to add the summary and financials.  The sales person should own the solution being proposed and the way to make this happen is that they describe that solution in the summary before any other work is done on the proposal.  The summary is then used by the sales person to brief everyone else that will be involved in creating the proposal.

When the proposal is presented to the prospect, some people will read just the summary, others will read the summary and the sections that cover their area of interest and others will read the whole document. So, the content needs to be structured to ensure whichever approach is used, the reader will understand fully what you are proposing and the implications for them.

Here are some tips on creating and presenting a good proposal summary:

  • The sales person should by now have a clear picture of the problem the prospect needs to solve and an equally clear idea of what they need to do to win the business – the win strategy.
  • Having established that a formal written proposal is what the prospect wants to see, agree what the proposal will cover and whether the prospect has a preferred structure.
  • The sales person should now create the proposal summary that will address the following:
    • An overview of the problem the prospect needs to solve and their vision of the desired outcome
    • An overview of the supplier’s understanding of that problem which will include their experience of solving similar problems
    • All the key selling messages that will be expanded upon throughout the document.
    • The key points that differentiate your solution
    • A summary of the financial offer
    • Embedded navigation aids to help people find further detail in the rest of the document.

The sales person can now use the summary to walk through their proposed approach with their key contacts and coaches in the prospect and take the opportunity to:

  • Identify any points which may be contentious and test them; if they are uncomfortable agree how you will re-word or re-present the point.
  • Leverage their knowledge of the other people who will read the proposal to ensure everything you are saying will be well received.
  • Take the opportunity to conduct a trial close – effectively asking the question “based on this summary how likely are you to go ahead and award us the business?
  • Agree a date and time when you will present the final document.

The sales person now has all the guidance they need to complete the document ready for that presentation deadline.

One final thought

If the prospect doesn’t want a written proposal, perhaps preferring our recommended approach of an interactive workshop as the vehicle to present your solution, how can you provide a proposal summary?

Basically nothing changes.  The sales person should still summarise the proposed solution and use it to brief colleagues, they should still walk through what they will be saying with the main contact in the prospect and finalise it ready for the interactive workshop.  The workshop will be built around a number of presentation slides, one for each main section, commencing with the summary.  Following the workshop the sales person is in a position to write and present the final proposal based on the original plus modifications agreed during the workshop.

Brain-food for a New Year

holly-sprigHere’s wishing you a happy and healthy festive break and a successful 2017.

As you will soon be thinking about winding down for a well-earned break at Christmas we thought we would provide some food for thought some of which might help you hit the ground running as soon as the new business year starts.

Following are a range of business tips, many focused on sales and marketing, which we hope might help you and your business.  Some are based on topics we have previously covered while others will be expanded in future newsletters throughout 2017.

Read in sequence or click the button of interest:

dec1  dec17 dec4dec24
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dec15dec18dec23 dec9
dec11 dec3 dec14 dec16
dec13 dec12 dec22 dec5
dec21 dec2dec6 dec19

Most businesses are doing well these days but it is unusual to find one that doesn’t want to do even better.  If this is you, why not do something different or try doing the same thing differently?  Try something counter intuitive; what is there to lose if what you have been doing isn’t working as well as it did …

to keep doing it hoping for a different outcome was defined by Albert Einstein as insanity.

Has someone “moved your cheese”?

The question relates to the idea put forward in Dr Spencer Johnson’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?” that the source of whatever feeds you (in business; customers and new opportunities) may dry up at some point.  The book draws a parallel between the fruitlessness of continually returning to the now shrinking source and the alternative proactive approach of going out and looking for new sources.  If you have all the business you need to grow to plan don’t give this a second thought, but if new business has been tight in 2016 perhaps you need to look somewhere new.  Read more here

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Why wouldn’t you respond to RFI/RFPs?

If they come from/via a known source, a prospect you have been working with for some time or an established customer, you might choose to respond as you have enough information to assess the risk of losing.  But, if it has come from a company that you barely know the received wisdom suggests your chance of winning is 1:20 or even worse so I recommend you invest your time elsewhere.

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Do you have customers or clients – does it matter?

Many businesses use the word client in the misguided belief that it adds some sort of professional gloss to their image through an implied association with the real professions such as the law. The problem is that client relationships are typically infrequent or transactional being built around specific event(s).  In our view using the term client may say the wrong thing about your brand image and what your business stands for.

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How do your Account Managers stack up as Hunters?

A common model these days is account managers who manage and “farm” established customers while hunters take care of new business; a good model that I have seen work well in many companies but there is one potential big weakness.  Your customer is, in the eyes of your competitors, a new business opportunity so their hunters will be trying to steal “your” customer.  The risk for you is that if your account managers use a “passive/re-active” style to manage the customer they are matched against a hunter who will be assertive/pro-active.  This is not a fair fight so you need to ensure your farmers also know how to hunt. Read more

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Empathy

We all understand this word but not everyone considers it when planning how to engage with a prospect or to maintain a continuing relationship with a customer.  Simplistically; you must communicate with your prospects and customers in a manner they can understand. Discover more here

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Cold is not the same as unsolicited

There is a lot of negative chat these days about cold calling and while some of it is justified it is a mistake to confuse cold and unsolicited.  Every time you approach someone for the first time it is unsolicited – fact!  I see a dangerous trend these days that people are so fearful of being seen as one of those horrible cold callers or spammers they have backed off completely from all forms of proactive one-to-one communication with prospective customers.  So how are you going to find new customers? The key is to ensure your unsolicited communications are warm not cold. More on cold calling here

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Warm up your calls and other first touch points

How do you feel when you receive a call from someone you don’t know, offering something you either don’t need or have already got?  To earn time for a conversation why not use the wealth of data publicly available to learn about your prospect, their business, the problems they may have, the problems in their business sector, etc., etc.  Take that data, process it into useful information and use that to empower your contact strategy – ask pertinent questions so you can talk about the benefits and value they will gain from the solution, rather than the products and services you provide.

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How reliable is your sales pipeline as a source of forecasting information?

If 2016 has been littered with delayed decisions and prospects disappearing off the radar you may gain value from reading this article.  The key message is that you need to put in the work to qualify your prospects and to quantify the opportunities before you can use the sales pipeline as a source of reliable forecasting information.

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AIDA – attention, interest, desire, action

The oldest documented sales and selling philosophy but as true today as it was when first published almost 120 years ago.  The sequence is key and all too often these days’ sales people assume because they are in a meeting with a suspect that they have achieved AID so they focus on action; shall I do a proposal, would you like a quote or demonstration?  The sales person may be ready to do these things, and the other party will probably agree as it is free information for them, but until the suspect has been developed into a true prospect free consultancy such as proposals will almost certainly be a waste of effort as you may have their Attention but you are mistaking courtesy for Interest and Desire.

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Sales proposals – a good or bad thing?

Assuming you have arrived at the right point in the cycle and there is genuine interest and desire then a proposal may be a good thing provided you use it in the right way.  A proposal should only ever document and confirm what has already been discussed and ideally acknowledged and accepted by the prospect. A proposal can be a very dangerous thing if it contains information, conditions, costs, etc., that the prospect was previously unaware of.  Think about it; you inform the prospect there is a delivery and installation charge calculated at 10% of the selling price, but you are not there to see the response, justify the extra cost or deal with the inevitable objection!

Read more …

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RAF

No not our wonderful air force but a mnemonic for the way sales engagement should be pursued – Ready, Aim, Fire.  Sadly, all too often what I observe is; fire, aim, ready.  The sales person feels good because they are doing something but doing the wrong thing or in the wrong order is worse than doing nothing at all.

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Questions – our most powerful communication tool

Many sales people think it is their role to talk so they can tell the prospect how great their product or service is.  Problem is, while you are talking you are not learning and the most important thing for you is to learn about; your prospect, their challenges and above all what you need to offer them in a solution that they will buy.

    1. Ask open questions, listen carefully and empathetically, ask your next question based on what you heard not what you had written down before the meeting or call and continue the cycle until you have all the information you need.
    2. Ensure you ask questions appropriate to the engagement stage.  While it is perfectly reasonable to ask, for example, about the performance impact the prospect is suffering due to using old equipment, it may be seen as impertinent if you ask this at the first meeting.  Questions should be structured and layered so you build up a complete picture over successive conversations.
    3. Asking the right sort of questions is a demonstration of your knowledge, e.g. “How often do you have to close the warehouse to allow maintenance of the high bay lights?”  This says you understand a small part of their world and when they answer you can assume you have moved a little closer to them trusting and respecting you.
    4. Don’t answer unasked questions. “Your price is too high” is frequently heard but it is not a question so don’t answer it and definitely don’t defend or justify your position.   Instead ask a question – “How much of an issue is that for you” and once answered “Will this stop you doing business with us?” For more on this take a look at this article.
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Polite persistence

A term used in the film Door to Door which is one of the greatest lessons in effective sales and account management techniques I have ever seen.  It is common that suspects and prospects will say no or, just ignore you, innumerable times so how can you keep calling without offending?  Two things; make every attempt to connect different from the last so the prospect keeps seeing/hearing something new, and always be positive and polite hiding your impatience or disappointment.

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Process matters

Being systematic is the best way to gain a predictable outcome.  I have often heard it said that sales people won’t follow a process; they are free ranging, creative people who want to do their own thing. Don’t kid yourself, the best sales people have their own process running in their heads like a background computer program and if they refuse to follow the company process it is because theirs is better.  Find out how your most successful people work and build that into your process for all to follow.

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Never finish a step in your process without agreeing at least one more with your prospect

When a sales person tells me about the great meeting they had with a prospect that then becomes un-contactable, it triggers two thoughts:

    1. They think they have a prospect but the other party probably doesn’t see themselves that way so they have no reason to respond to the sales person.
    2. At the end of the meeting the sales person should have agreed explicitly with the prospect what will happen next and ensure the prospect puts this in their calendar.  At this point some will decline to agree the next event date which is a good indication that they are not a real prospect. This is an example of a technique known as the trial close.

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The trial close

A very effective classic sales technique that is little used these days. Simplistically the technique involves asking the prospect, at logical points in the engagement cycle, whether they are ready to go ahead and purchase from you.  If they say no then it triggers “why not?” and the answer will give you early insight to the reasons or objections the prospect might have that will stop them buying from you. Knowing early enables you to more effectively deal with the objections and a better chance of winning the deal. Give it a go; what can you lose?

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Get your competitors to help your prospecting

In the majority of cases your prospects are someone else’s customers so part of your prospecting run must involve exploring why your prospect may be dissatisfied with what they are already getting, what they might like in addition and what needs to happen for them to change supplier.  So, rather than knock your competition, ensure you highlight all of your strengths and in particular those that trump the incumbent suppliers weaknesses.  All is fair in love and war!

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Product, Service or solution?

Whether what you are selling is a product, a service or a blend of the two you need to present it in terms of the solution it delivers.  You need to help the prospect or customer visualise what they will gain from trading with you. Read more here.

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People

The crucial component in all aspects of business performance and in particular customer facing roles such as sales and account management.  Here is a very brief introduction to four crucial aspects of people performance.  We have written much about this in the past so there is plenty more for you to read if you wish.

    1. Recruitment.  Recruit only the people that meet the criteria for the job. Do not take the best of the bunch as if they are not really right for you, you are simply storing up a problem you will have to solve further down the line. Making this mistake in sales can be very costly both in direct expenditure and worse still lost opportunity.
    2. On-boarding and induction.  You have put in the effort and recruited the right person but they are still “raw material” for your business and unless you invest time helping them to get established it could take them months to get on top of everything they need to do the job effectively.  Each case will be different but they need to understand exactly how you do things; methods, processes and who to ask for help.  Just like recruiting the wrong person failure to induct properly is another great way to waste time and money.
    3. Training.  Sorry you are still not finished. Unless you were extremely lucky and managed to recruit someone who knows how to sell in exactly the way you want it done you will have to train them in your sales and selling techniques and this needs to be done in the context of your methods and processes so you should consider in-house or bespoke training in preference to a public course.
    4. Coaching.  Nope, still not finished.  There is a body of evidence that to perform at consistent peak levels most sales people need regular coaching and this is a primary responsibility for whoever manages the sales people.  The good news is this is one of those things where a relatively small investment produces a very high return. If a sales person produces say 85% of their target they have already covered all their costs and delivered a contribution to the bottom line and anything above that 85% will be very profitable as the CoS is effectively zero.

sales people who receive as little as four hours regular structured coaching per month outperform those who do not by 17% on their sales targetssource: Sales Excellence Council 2007

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Technology enables sales people to be more effective

Possibly but; it is a mistake to make the assumption that deploying technology will automatically deliver effectiveness or even efficiency.  If the sales people spend a day a week populating the CRM is that really a good use of time?  Do they actually sell 20% more by spending a day a week in this way?

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Price, cost and value

News just came in that the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix is to cease in 2018 due to poor attendances (40% of capacity) and the reason cited is ticket prices but as they were pretty much the lowest of the 21 races in 2016 and had been stable for a couple of years is that really the reason?  Many of us who follow the sport are becoming disillusioned by what is now very poor entertainment.  So; is it not the price that turned Malaysian fans off or is it the value, or lack of, they gain from the experience?  The price is what you pay, the cost is the price plus all other expenses required to use the purchase and the value is what you get – make sure your customers are VERY clear on the value they will gain by buying from you.

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Managing Objections

The typical approach to objections is to wait until they happen and then react which generally puts the seller on the back-foot. Managing objections is about being pro-active and pre-emptive; raising the issues, before the prospect does, by answering the questions they have yet to ask.  All businesses have a set of common objections so you should use these to build standard rebuttals that the sales people can use pre-emptively.

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Social media and its role in sales engagement

Many claims are made for the role of social media in sales and I even see the term “social selling” being used.  I will make just two observations on this and leave you to mull over whether your use of social media in sales is likely to work.  Firstly, while social media is clearly a useful marketing tool, can it really be considered to be a selling tool?  Secondly, because of the nature of social media is it possible your sales people have slipped into the mode of broadcasting a message then sitting back waiting for the answer – this is what we call a passive reactor approach and it is dangerous as your competitors who are proactive hunters will have eaten your lunch before you even knew a meal was being served.  There is a time and place to broadcast a message but this can only ever be a marketing activity not selling.

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Cut your cloth … (to suit your ideal customers and your individual customers)

When promoting or selling what you do it is important to address the question the potential buyer will have in the back of their mind “what is in it for me?”  There is no point telling them about your features as that just tells them about you; you need to tailor your messages for their ears so they can fully understand the value they will gain if they buy from you.

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Progressive Bid Management

Bid Management is a widely used term for any role within the sales cycle that is not clearly identified e.g. sales, technical, production, financial, legal. Within companies it can be interpreted differently across different divisions or countries. But isn’t the role exactly what is says – a person that manages bids? It is a poorly understood role and yet critical to the success of an opportunity.

Sally Buttery

Sally Buttery, award winning bid manager

Bids are risky and ultra-competitive with no second prize. They are critical to winning new work, as well as keeping existing contracts, and are the life-blood of any competitive organisation. Bids are detailed, complex and often large documents detailing how the sales organisation would meet a customer’s requirements. They cover a wide range of issues, from health and safety to customer care and staff issues, and are weighted for quality as well as price.

For the larger complex deals a bid manager is the essential member of the team as the facilitator and driver for timelines, governance and quality against an agreed internal budget. Many companies use project managers for this role but unless bidding is all they do this can lead to disaster. A project manager will approach a bid as another project. The difference between a project and a bid is there is a defined end or delivery point at proposal submission for a bid. There is no contingency or tolerance in a bid and without comprehensive bid planning and the bid manager’s personnel skills then all too frequently team effort will be ‘back-ended’ and the team will work through the night to complete the proposal before the customer’s deadline. A project manager will plan from the start of the engagement, whereas a bid manager has to plan backwards from the submission date. Interpersonal skills are key for the bid manager to influence team members to achieve their individual contributions within a defined and often tight deadline.

I was once asked by a senior sales account manager what my role was. Having explained the extent of the skill set and capability required of a bid manager he said to me “what do I do then?” In this instance the account manager was dealing with highly complex and large opportunities and I was staggered that he found time to manage a dispersed team towards producing a proposal as well as find time to define new opportunities AND maintain his customer relationships.

So when should a bid manager be engaged? As already mentioned, a fully experienced bid manager can be engaged from the initial opportunity identification. At this discovery stage the bid manager acts as a “Capture Manager” ensuring all relevant information is stored, researching the prospect, the competition, relevant solutions and reference-ability.  Frequently the bid manager acts as the sounding board for the sales account manager and interfaces with marketing, commercial, legal and other supporting functions.

This information is critical to a thorough qualification of the opportunity – a stage all too frequently skipped but essential for ultimate success. From this position a bid manager can support the development of the proposition with a full understanding of the requirement, solution, USPs, commercial principles, competitive strategy, win themes, customer ‘Hot Buttons’ etc.

The bid manager is responsible for the ‘look’ of the proposal – not just completing it but ensuring it is professional and suitable for the target customer market. The physical appearance can be influential for the customer and, although it doesn’t necessarily need to be professionally produced it does need to be fit for purpose. I have always considered that a good looking proposal will not necessarily win the business but a bad one can lose it! It is useful to have members of your bid team that are experienced in proposal production – formatting, graphics, print/bind/delivery or electronic upload, burning CDs or memory sticks etc.

Following the proposal submission, the bid manager should monitor the changes that take place during the negotiation period. This important activity ensures that the signed contract reflects the customer’s requirement following negotiated changes and that there are no misunderstandings during the delivery phase.

The role and responsibilities of bid manager jobs vary between organisations but in essence a bid manager manages the risks to the business during the sales or acquisition stage of a customer engagement. So what does good look like?

A senior bid manager can manage a customer engagement from the initial opportunity identification right the way through to handover to delivery. At this level the individual should have:

Competencies

  • Team identification, management and motivation
  • Process, governance and compliance management
  • Bid planning, prioritisation and scheduling
  • Bid cost management and resource utilisation
  • Qualification
  • Risk identification and management
  • Commercial awareness
  • Communication – verbal and written
  • Facilitation
  • Reporting and presentation
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Research and data collation
  • Sales and business development awareness

Skills

  • Leadership
  • Assertive
  • Innovative
  • Drives for results and customer focused
  • Team and relationship development
  • Adaptable

At a more junior level a bid manager will have a subset of the skills and competencies detailed above and would be expected to display the ability to manage the team to develop a quality proposal.

On a more personal note a bid manager should be nimble, tactful, efficient, self-motivated, cope with pressure, conciliatory, articulate, confident speaker, presentable….. shall I go on as it sounds too perfect to be true? It no doubt is and therefore as long as the bid manager demonstrates sufficient capability in all aspects then they are to be treasured.

Article kindly provided by guest author Sally Buttery of Unify.

Is the traditional narrative (typed) proposal relevant to today’s prospects? If not; how can we get our offer across?

proposalAs with most other aspects of business life, technology provides many options to those who need to make an “offer” to a prospective customer. Typically an offer has been contained in a proposal document and is a statement of; the supplier’s understanding of the problem, what the supplier is offering to do, how long it will take, how much it will cost and probably some form of performance commitment.

For many decades word based documents have provided a great way to present proposals but now with so many technology based options there are alternatives. Of course text-based documents have progressed enormously from the days of manual typewriters through word processors and now computers. It is now possible to incorporate engaging presentational features such as pictures, diagrams, charts, etc. One of our customers, who sells LED lighting solutions to industrial customers, incorporates simulated 3D diagrams showing a before and after picture of the warehouse or factory. Very impressive it looks too.

It is common that if the “document” is sent it will be done electronically rather than physically although many people still print out such documents before reading.

If the document is in electronic form it is possible to embed URLs, video clips and other “active” content which may help to illustrate the proposed solution benefits.

As with all aspects of selling, the most important consideration is what the prospective customer might want to receive rather that what the supplier wants to produce.  If your prospect really does want a word based proposal then you still need to be able to produce such.

One very important thing to bear in mind; the proposal is not the place to present selling arguments for the first time or to make new offers. Regardless of the means of presentation, the proposal should be a confirmation of what has already been offered and accepted, at least in principle, by the prospect.

As indicated previously we are dead against just “sending” proposals as we think they should be presented. However, there are industries that still insist that proposals are in the form of documents and that they are sent rather than being presented. In some cases the process is very formal perhaps being structured according to the format of the prospect’s tender document which makes it difficult for any supplier to personalise the content or the way it is presented. Most companies that sell into such industries have bid departments who are used to working with the formality of strict tender processes.

proposal1Presenting a word based document can be challenging so using technology facilitated approaches can have greater benefit. To illustrate the point, here are some sample uses of technologies.

Slide show: A proposal should provide a logical sequential selling story but there is nothing to stop the prospect flicking through a document as they wish. So at the most basic level a PowerPoint slide show is a good tool to facilitate the controlled presentation of a proposal. There are other similar tools that can be used for this purpose and one we have reviewed recently is Prezi. We may comment further on Prezi in a future article on selling tools.

Webinar: If you cannot physically get in front of your prospect, on-line environments such as GoToMeeting or other webinar technologies enable live interactive presentations. This also helps when co-ordinating a presentation to people from multiple locations.

Video: Now that you can present on-line you could try video clips to illustrate key points. If a prospect was interested, for example, in your factory which is in Australia you can help to bring it alive through a video.

Screen capture: Two real examples of incorporating live or captured images to reinforce the message:

proposal2

  • When presenting on the effective use of LinkedIn James Potter (The Linked In Man) will of course use LinkedIn as its own sales aid.
  • Guy Levine was one of the first to recognise the commercial value of the web and during presentations he would bring up the websites of volunteers from the audience and provide constructive feedback based on his observations.

Mobile computing tools: such as tablets provide another useful medium for live interactive presentation.

  • One of our customers, selling Solar PV solutions to householders, had the entire presentation on a tablet which the sales person used to conduct the complete sales cycle whilst with the householder.
  • Another customer of ours uses a tablet app to enable the sales person to create a comparison between their prices and those already being paid by the prospect. Changes can be made in real time to arrive at the solution the prospect wants to buy. Which then leads to the ideal closing question “If we can do that will you buy it?”
It's not about your features but making the proposal a feature in itself

It’s not about your features but making the proposal a feature in itself

 

In summary, typed proposals still have a place but with the many technology-enabled options available to us it is worth consider other approaches.

If you can create a better customer experience whilst also maintaining control of the selling cycle everyone wins.

Customer engagement for win-win deals

Customer Engagement

If your customers are slow to make decisions and your pipeline forecast is forever moving, we can help you.

If your sales force are submitting bids with a low uptake so you feel you are just providing free consultancy, we can help you.

Markets are changing and customers have more opportunities for research before they buy, consequently the sales force has different challenges in order to engage with customers. Gaining insight into your Customer’s world and thereby understanding how you can deliver greater value than your competitors can be key to how you approach your target market.

We have helped companies in various sectors re-focus their propositions and markets for greater customer engagement, leading to more new and extension business. This also assisted the sales management to obtain more reliable forecasts.

“Working with Performative greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.” MD, Mobile Technology company.

Feel free to call us for a confidential discussion.

shorter sales cycles, new customers, more business, increased profilts, better cashflow
archer aiming arrow

Fire, Aim, Ready!

How to focus your sales team’s effort and what lessons we can learn from a typically B2C environment in terms of helping us improve our chances of hitting our true targets.

freeimage-245875-web

Despite the best efforts of the fletcher …

Yes, it should be Ready, Aim, Fire but sales people are always keen for “fresh meat” in the form of a new proposition or new prospects or both.  So, the arrival of something new is a time of excitement and expectation which often leads to over eager behaviour.  “Let’s get out there and sell it” will be their battle cry.

While I applaud the enthusiasm, there is a danger that all the hard work done during the product or service design stage could in part be wasted unless the same care and diligence is applied to the selling activities.

At some point the proposition must move out of the “laboratory” into the hands of those who must; engage prospects, turn them into customers, and actually sell them something.  This implementation of the go-to-market strategy and tactics is typically the responsibility of the sales force, channel partners, re-sellers, agents, etc.

archer aiming arrow

… it’s the archer has to put it in the target!

However, if those sales people rush out, ill prepared, “knocking on doors”, whipping up interest in the functions and features of the new offering it is likely that although prospects will show some interest, in some cases out of pure politeness, they will not go on to make a purchase.  The reason is simple; good selling involves uncovering needs and wants and then proposing ways of satisfying both.  Good selling also involves identifying suitable targets before expending too much effort.

In a classic B-2-B selling environment, but it could apply to any market type, this can be summarised as:

  • Through a combination of desk research and questioning identify those suspects that have the potential to become prospects (and eventually actual customers).  By this process of filtering you have reduced the potential prospect base to a more focused and manageable group.  You are now READY.
  • Having identified the potential prospects use structured questioning to qualify them and establish their real needs and wants and determine whether your proposition can actually satisfy both.  The questions are used to further filter prospects against your “ideal” profile.   You have now identified your potential customers and eliminated most of those that will ultimately say no to your proposition.  You now know who to AIM at.
  • Now you have your refined list of prospects that match your “ideal” you can commence FIRE.  The make-up of the firing stage will vary according to your market and proposition but in a B-2-B environment could include activities such as; webinars, product trials or demonstrations, proposals, presentations, RFT responses, and site visits to existing customers.  This can be a lot of work so it is important to ensure before you Fire that you take careful Aim having got yourself Ready.

The most common example that I see of Fire, Aim, Ready is the sales person who eagerly offers to provide a proposal having had a first meeting with someone who typically is not the decision maker.  They do not refuse the offer, after all it is free consultancy, but the proposal is very likely to miss the target because not enough work has been done (getting Ready) to know what or even where the target is, so it is impossible to Aim with any accuracy.  Such proposals clog up sales forecasts rolling over from month to month because no decision is being made.

If a company follows the process outlined below they stand a very good chance of being in the right place with the right product at the right time.

Deals on Wheels – Optimise your quotes, accelerate your sales cycle

The mobile market is more competitive than ever and some might say, saturated. It seems like every day there’s a new announcement from Samsung, Apple, Microsoft announcing a new, “must-have” mobile gadget.

A lot of these new devices will find their way into the enterprise – Forbes put the compound annual growth rate of shipments to business at 49% over the next four years, many of which will end up in the hands of sales organizations. The surprising thing is that most will only use them for note taking and email (Angry Birds aside). So if you have one of these new tablets, what more should you do with it?

Three areas that we see as delivering immediate value to the mobile salesperson are Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) tools, Learning and Field Coaching.

Picture a typical scenario, a sales executive on a call with a prospect, with their manager attending to provide guidance and coaching. The customer needs a solution to a critical business problem fast. Imagine two alternative paths from that meeting.

The first – Using the familiar paper-based or manual approach, the rep returns to the office the next day with the notes scribbled on a notepad. After wasting 60 minutes looking through the ambiguous filing system on the laptop, the sales person finds a 2 year old copy of a pricing spread sheet with out of date products, pricing and incorrect margins. After spending a whole day copying, pasting, replacing text from an old proposal, before deciding to apply an unsanctioned discount, the sales person emails the prospect a word document full of unprofessional mistakes. The deal is either lost or at best severely detrimental to a positive outcome.

The second – With mobile technology, the sales person opens CPQ app on their mobile tablet during the meeting, follows a guided selling process based on company rules, with controlled pricing, suggested up-selling and cross-selling and sends an electronic proposal before leaving the meeting. The electronic proposal is full of relevant case studies and the most up to date product information to present a compelling case for the products and services on offer. The initial proposal maximises the revenue, and is free from errors. The prospect impressed by the rapid, accurate response to their needs, decides to move ahead quickly. The workflow and margin approval rules in CPQ ensure swift progress throughout the negotiations and the deal comes to a swift positive conclusion. Of course, it is never that simple, but since businesses can live or die on the business they bid for, surely a professional, guided and controlled process that maximises revenue and accelerates the sales cycle is one business process that is worthy of strategic review.

Callidus

Giles House, Vice President, Marketing, CallidusCloud

At CallidusCloud, a supplier in this field, proposal automation is a particularly hot topic with their customer base. Proposal automation can provide a tactical quick fix but done strategically, makes a compelling business case. I recently hosted a session with one of our CPQ customers – Xirrus – who have realised many of the benefits they were expecting as well as a few they weren’t! Their CPQ case study delves deeper into the business case, but one of the key findings was that by simply prompting the salesperson to include an additional service in the quote, Xirrus saw a near 100% attach rate for the service and a significant revenue increase!

A huge benefit, realised by a simple prompt, accessible on a device you can take anywhere. On a recent Configure Price Quote webinar we covered many more of the benefits of arming your sales teams with a mobile app like CPQ.

Article kindly provided by guest author Giles House of CallidusCloud for our March 2013 newsletter.