In general, I think “proposals suck!”
I was reminded of my (bad) attitude to proposals again a few weeks ago when I was co-opted into developing one. This one was of the typical kind that I have seen over three decades of working in B2B services companies. The kind that takes a salesperson, plus other members of the team, days to develop. The kind that takes a salesperson away from selling for a couple of days and turns them into some kind of Word (or PowerPoint) jockey, trying to find the perfect paragraph spacing or font.
My experience of this proposal development process (at several companies) has been one of colleagues obsessing over producing the perfect document where our business’s credentials shine so brightly and our layout and formatting are so perfect that the prospect will just sign on the dotted line as soon as they’ve read it…and yet, somehow, consistently, they don’t!
Time for the DEA
I’m a big fan of a framework from Tim Ferris’s book The 4-Hour Workweek. I like the framework so much that I’ve messed it up and made my own corrupted one. I remember mine as “DEA” (which brings back great memories of Walter White.) Just to mess this up a bit more, I am going to mess up the order of DEA as well for this email, let’s start with the letter “E”.
The most effective solution to avoid spending days on proposals is not to do them!
Try to avoid producing what most people in B2B services seem to think of as a “proposal”. They just take too darn long. You could be selling during that time instead.
If a prospect asks for a proposal I usually say “I might be a little different this way, but I don’t generate formal proposals. What I do is summarize what we’ve talked about and add any ideas that come to me after the meeting. I will send this to you in a bullet point format. The document involved will probably not be more than one page. OK?”
Just take your meeting notes and summarize them in bullet point format. Describe what you know of the prospect’s needs, describe your services/products that fit those needs and include some pricing. Try to keep all this to one page or less. Don’t worry about formatting, design or any of that (nonsense.)
Send this bulleted list to your prospect and ask them if this is what you discussed. Ask them to make changes, ask them to point out if anything is missing. Most of this should not be a surprise to them because you discussed it in your meeting.
You are essentially sending meeting notes in bullet point form. But there’s a tiny bit of magic here. By asking your prospect to edit this document, you are involving them in its creation. They are now becoming your co-author of this proposal.
If there are other people involved in the buying process (and in most deals of any size there are), you should try to meet with them and discuss their needs and go over your document with them.
Have these additional people critique the document, have them change it, have them add to it. By doing so, they too become co-authors of the proposal. It takes nerve to have people critique your stuff, but every time you do, you actually advance the sale.
You can do all of this selling with only a one-page bullet point document. The time to develop this document initially is usually less than an hour and you can get a lot of selling mileage out of it.
More on the DEA next time (and maybe something about Hank Schrader.)