Proposals are the step before the deal, right? More proposals means more business, right?
When I started consulting, I never said no to a request for a proposal. To put it politely, this was stupid.
There were 2 main problems:
- I wasted time on proposals I had no hope of winning.
- I sent proposals to prospects I should have closed, but didn’t because I wasn’t actually ready to send the proposal yet.
Let’s break these scenarios down.
Proposals you have no chance of winning
They say you miss all the shots you don’t take. You also miss all the shots that don’t even have a goal, and you waste a lot of time. It’s your job to figure out if the prospect is a good fit for you. Generally, busy people don’t want to waste your time, either, but there are 2 important exceptions that can kill your pipeline:
- Big businesses rounding out an RFP. These looks like dream clients that could make your business. You’re competing in the big leagues. However, these competitions are often set up to preselect the winner, while appearing to be an open process. If you can’t get access to the real decision makers to get real answers, you have no hope of winning. (I’ve wasted way too much time on these, learning the hard way that “we don’t want to give anyone an unfair advantage” if a bunch of b.s. Someone has to know the answers to the real questions to be able to solve the problem. Either the company is so full of idiots you don’t want to work with them, or, the people they want to work with already know those answers.)
- Small businesses who want free consulting. These folks are happy to talk with you and share all the details of their problems. But they either have no money or don’t want to spend it. It’s up to you to ask the right questions not only about their challenges, but what they intend to do about them. “What is your ideal next step?” “How do you make purchasing decisions like this?”
Proposals you shouldn’t send yet
It’s exciting to have a great conversation or meeting and get asked for a proposal. However, unless you really understand the problem, the solution, and, most critically, how the buyer purchases solutions to these kinds of problems, you can’t send a compelling proposal.
When it’s 4:45 and you’ve promised the proposal by 5PM, and you’re wondering if you should be charging $50,000 or $100,000, you’re not ready to send a proposal. If you don’t know if the format of the final deliverable, you’re not ready to send a proposal. If you don’t know whether you’ll be working onsite or not, you’re not ready to send a proposal. If you don’t know how the buyer will make their decision, and what could get in the way of them saying yes, you’re not ready to send a proposal.
I’ve been guilty of all of these, and, based on the calls I get from my customers, I’m not the only one. (Unfortunately, I can’t answer those questions for you– you have to call the prospect.)
Make sure you have a strong understanding of the problem, the solution, and the buying process before committing to even create a proposal. (You don’t have to spell out the whole solution if that includes the secret sauce, but you should know the details.)
The proposal is a summary of the conversations you’ve had with the prospect, spelling out the details of the project. It’s not a research project in its own right, introducing wonderfully innovative ideas that the prospect hasn’t heard before. (I’ve done that, too.)
Want to know if you’re ready to create that proposal? Get the 15 questions you need to answer before you write a proposal.