"The end depends on the beginning (and everything in between)."
Yes, we have heard this a thousand times, but no truer words have been said when it comes to developing proposals.
I had an epiphany pretty early in my sales career. I had been on a sales call to a restaurant, and they asked for a proposal. I rushed back to my desk so excited with the opportunity to get to present, only to stare at my computer for what seemed like an eternity. Crafting that proposal took a lot longer than it should have.
Later, when looking back, I realized it was because I didn’t have enough information. I had missed the mark on a number of things. Here's a little advice on how not to make the same mistake.
Before the Proposal
1. Get an Assignment
Know what it is that the prospect wants a solution to, one that you can solve, and one they will put a significant investment behind. During your initial meeting after you have heard several needs from the prospect, ask questions like:
- Will you prioritize this list of needs for me?
- Is there anything missing from the list that we should be discussing?
- How soon do you want to see results?
Agree on an assignment—one that is on their most important and most urgent list.
2. Create a Solution
Make sure it addresses the assignment, and then discuss it in detail with the decision maker and key decision influencers before presenting. Good contracting and partnering on the solution is a smart practice that will prevent stalled proposals or delays in decision making. Also, be sure to include interactive elements that will allow your prospect to connect directly with their consumer.
3. Discuss the Investment
This is a topic that so many salespeople shy away from. Better to have this conversation prior to presenting then to get a "no" during the presentation of the proposal. You can always adjust ahead of time.
4. Discuss Expectations and Tracking
On what timeframes will deliverables be due? Does everyone involved understand exactly what process fulfillment will follow? How will success be measured?
During the Presentation
1. Ensure All Decision-Makers and Key Decision-Influencers are Present
You want everyone involved in the decision-making process to be at your presentation meeting so you can address the needs of each person.
2. Restate the Assignment
Include the needs that you heard during your initial meeting and the agreed-upon assignment. Reviewing this during your presentation gives you the opportunity to use mini closes like has anything changed since we discussed these?
3. Avoid the BIG Event.
If we have done good work during the selling process, the proposal should be a recap from previous conversations and not the big selling event. There shouldn’t be any surprises in your presentation. It is a formality at this point and the opportunity to discuss next steps.
4. Ask for the Order
Don’t forget to ask for a decision on the solution, plan, or product that you are recommending. Include a signature line, an expiration date, your name, and the proposal date.
Getting a "yes" depends on preparation. You should prepare yourself with research and knowledge, and prepare your prospect with the essentials that you'll be presenting formally in the proposal. You don't want any surprises for the prospect—or for you. With this kind of preparation, you can have confidence in a "yes."
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in 2018 and has since been updated.