Sending in a proposal? Tip to avoid a common trap!

Consider the following scenario….a salesperson goes to meet a prospect. The meeting goes well. There is good rapport. The salesperson learns about the prospect’s business. The prospect even shares some of their issues and an interest in finding out more about what the salesperson has to offer. All good so far. However, danger lurks! Hope is raised but often only to be dashed in the fullness of time.

What is this danger? It’s the words “Send me a proposal”. On the surface this sounds promising. The prospect must be interested. They want to hear more. ‘Great job me!’ the salesperson thinks. They then come back to the office and diligently get to work on producing a high quality proposal. They email the proposal across, confidently upgrade the opportunity in the CRM system and then wait expectantly for a reply.

Of course this is a gross simplification of selling in many cases, however the point I want to highlight is a potential pitfall associated with sending in (usually via email) a proposal. Once the 'send' button is pressed, the customer has the control. The salesperson is in that all too familiar ‘corridor of uncertainty’ - What will they think of it? Did I get all the points across in the way I wanted to? Will it hit the mark? When will I hear back? Will do I do if I don’t hear back? Worse still, are they using the proposal as free consultancy? Are they using it to put pressure on an existing supplier? Bottom line…in many cases, this ‘create proposal, send proposal, wait’ approach results in no deal, a lot of unrewarded effort and wasted time.

So what can a salesperson do to minimise the danger? The key is to attach the sending of the proposal to what we call a customer ‘progression’. A customer progression is a commitment from the customer or prospect that demonstrates genuine interest in continuing to talk to you (my colleague Andy talks to this idea of customer ‘progressions’ very nicely in this article). It's easy for a prospect to receive a proposal. There is no commitment required on their part to do anything. However, if they agree to meet and talk through your proposal, then they are putting some skin in the game. 

So for example, rather than agreeing to email the proposal, secure a time to go in and talk them through it - perhaps limiting the initial response to ideas/options to test out and get their feedback on. This would enable a salesperson to go away and finalise the proposal more confident 1) that it will hit the mark 2) they are talking to someone with real and genuine interest in buying.  

I am not suggesting this will be appropriate in every selling context however securing this type of customer commitment can go a long way to helping ensure salespeople spend their valuable time where it is most likely to count.