Writing a strong proposal requires a good understanding of the prospect’s pain point(s). However, the way many people have these discussions only scratches the surface of the pain, which leaves you without a complete picture of the problem, and therefore less likely to envision and articulate a great solution. You need to understand the 3 levels of pain.
Suppose you widgets. A prospect says, “I need a widget.”
You say, “great, that’s what I sell. What kind of widget do you need?”
You discuss the specifications, draft a proposal, and then find out they bought their widgets elsewhere. Why?
Because you only got to the first level of pain– the technical pain.
Think of the technical pain as the symptom. When you have a treatment for the symptom, it’s easy to get overly enthusiastic when your prospect presents the symptom, checking off a box (“great, I’ve got someone I can help!”). But don’t stop there, you need to get to the next level.
The business pain is the economic and organizational cost of the symptom.
For example, if the technical pain is “our CRM system and our billing system don’t integrate”, the business pain might be, “so we have to spend hours of manual work to copy data, which costs $X thousand dollars per month.” This is much better than just knowing that we need to integrate some systems. But we can go deeper. What about the other business costs? The opportunity costs of having employees copying data– are there errors that require refunds or result in lost billings? Employee burnout from doing tedious work when they could be devising ways to grow the business? Strategic errors because of forecasting mistakes resulting from having 2 different views of the business?
Now we’re getting somewhere. And we’ve got information to not only make our proposal more compelling, but deliver a more valuable solution to the customer.
However, there are lots of good things we should do, that make tons of sense in spreadsheets, that we don’t do until something else comes along and changes our emotional perspective.
Beyond business pain is life pain. This is the reason behind the reason behind the reason. The thing that speaks not just to what our brain thinks, but what our heart and guts feel. People are very good at ignoring rational courses of action when they “just don’t feel right.” We tend to make decisions emotionally, then backfill the logic.
For example, maybe it’s critical finally get those systems integrated because the CEO has heart problems and the doctors are worried that the stress could literally kill him. Maybe the CFO has vowed to home for dinner every night with her family and she keeps backsliding on her promises. I’ve had a couple of prospects tell me recently that they want to travel the world while they are young enough to enjoy it, but still run their businesses as they go. This would not have come up in a basic discussion of their technical needs, but it helps me understand what they really want, and what it will take to get them there.
If you’re competing against someone who only understands the technical pain, or even some of the business pain, you are going to do a much better job of selling and delivering.
All this doesn’t mean we should trick or manipulate our prospects, just that we should truly understand them, so we can not only win the business, but make them successful at the deepest level.
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