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Are You Mistaking These Proposal Engagements for Sales Advances?

Around proposals there are three forms of customer engagement that are often confused for sales advances.  These often fool salespeople into wasting huge amounts of time on prospective business that will never close because they have misjudged curiosity and interest (and sometimes simple politeness) as indicators of good sales opportunities. Curiosity and interest are nice, but we don’t want to make it more than it is — and we certainly don’t want to invest our most valuable resource (time) without a reasonable assurance of a positive outcome.

Remember, in this context I use the term Sales Engagement to differentiate it with the same term as used in marketing.  In this context my definition is:

Sales Engagement – Interest that does not involve obligation.

The Three Forms of Proposal Sales Engagement Mistaken for Sales Advances

In the area of proposals the three forms of sales engagement that are commonly mistaken for advances are:

  • The Prospect Asks You For a Proposal
  • The Prospect Asks Questions Regarding Your Solution or Proposal
  • You Sending the Prospect a Proposal

Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Prospect Asks You For a Proposal

This is probably the engagement most commonly mistaken as an advance. Prospects are curious and very much want to know the prices. You should expect them to ask for a proposal. In fact, it would probably be better to think of not getting a request for a proposal as a bad sign rather than to think of the request as an advance.

The problem with a proposal request (the price) is that it doesn’t require any energy or commitment on behalf of the prospect, so it’s an easy matter for them to request it. I strongly recommend that you wait for the prospect to request the proposal rather than you suggesting it. Prospects will rarely refuse your suggestion to give them a proposal. Also, if you ask, you lose what can be achieved by observing the moment they decide to ask.

Be patient, they will ask. And when they ask, the context will tell you a little something about where they are in the sales process. If you volunteer it, however, you will know nothing because even disinterested prospects are curious enough to want to know the price.

Often, prospects will request proposals before it is appropriate. In complex sales, there may be many prerequisites involved before a proposal can be generated. A request for proposal is a small sign of engagement — not an advance. The best path, if you can, is to upgrade the prospect’s request to an advance by requiring something logical of them that represents a commitment or an expenditure of energy such as an assessment or detailed discovery before you produce the proposal.

The Prospect Asks Questions Regarding Your Solution or Proposal

Asking specific, detailed questions about the proposal or solution is indeed a good sign of engagement. You can very often tell by the quality of their questions how interested they are and how much homework they have done prior to your meeting. Interest is not commitment, however. Use the information you glean from their questions to suggest a logical advance that will move the process incrementally forward as well as test their commitment to the process.

You Sending the Prospect a Proposal

Sending a proposal is not an advance. It may be a step. It is definitely engagement, but it is not an advance.

Probably the biggest crime in selling is to just email a proposal to a prospective client. Emailing a proposal and expecting the prospect to understand it without any assistance is shirking your responsibility as a facilitator. It’s also a bad idea.

When you email your proposal you lose the opportunity to:

  1. Review, clarify, and confirm with the prospect the accuracy of the proposed solution
  2. Collaborate with the prospect to make the proposal perhaps bigger or even more ideal
  3. Discuss with your contact the dynamics around what will happen next, and
  4. Further develop your relationship with the prospect.

Don’t Just Email or Send Your Proposal

A common ailment reported by those who confess to simply emailing proposals is that often the prospect stops responding to calls and messages. This is because there is no value inherent in your interaction (which we will cover in an upcoming post). If you are not adding value or insight to every interaction, after the prospect has your proposal they may decide they have everything of value that you can offer, and then they will only reach out to you on their terms.

Don’t just email proposals.  Don’t do it.  Rather than emailing your proposal (or sending it FedEx), create some value and turn the event into an advance by scheduling a meeting to review your proposal with them.  When you do this you’ll get an opportunity to discuss, review and present the value of each line-item in your proposal.

If you’d like more on my philosophy on this, Barbara Giamanco and I ended up discussing it at some length on her Razors Edge Podcast HERE.  You can jump right to that part at 16 minute, 30 second mark.

Closing Tip: When it comes to proposals know the difference between simple engagement and a true advance.  And convert engagement into bona fide advances.

Until next time!


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