Proposals and presentations

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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
By Terence A. Hockenhull

LIKE MANY SALES MANAGERS, I am scurrying around trying to scrape together some additional sales to make sure we meet our third-quarter targets and close out the year with respectable sales. The sales team are working hard; they are seeing plenty of clients and appear to be identifying opportunities to propose our products. However, this is where we fail to perform well.

Let me explain. The products we sell are used in major construction and infrastructure projects. When a client comes to us and asks for a quotation for 657 gabions or 37 rolls of geotextiles, he is not asking for reference pricing. He has a project and needs specific materials. So we know the project is a reality, and we know the client is going to buy. The trouble is, we also clearly understand that if he doesn’t buy our product, he will be buying someone else’s.

Most businesses rely heavily on the use of proposals to help them sell their products and services. Yet, all too often, there is little appreciation of the role a proposal plays in the selling process. A proposal has to be more than a price quotation. If not, one can hardly blame the client for making a decision based on price alone.

Let me give you an example here. Assume that your company is looking for office furniture, specifically, chairs and workstations. You contact three suppliers and ask them to provide you with quotations. Within the day, the first curling pages have been spit out of your fax machine. An e-mail arrives a short time later from the second supplier, and the following morning, a nicely printed price quotation with a brochure attached gets dropped off at your offices.

So, you work your way through a description of the furniture. All seems to be the same size, apparently made of the same materials, and all offer a choice of colors and fabrics. How do you decide which to buy?

Perhaps you know one of the companies has a good reputation; perhaps you can rule out one of the vendors because they are not offering terms. But still, the ultimate decision comes down to the price.

Suppose one of the vendors has been to your office and discussed your requirements. His proposal doesn’t offer a range of colors but simply states that the color of the new furniture will match the old. Perhaps he takes time to mention optimization of the small space behind the pantry where a single desk might be located (based on his observation during his sales call). The proposal might also remember you stating that you need the furniture within three to four weeks to accommodate some new hires, so delivery can be made within 14 days. Lastly, the proposal, also covers the fact that you will install over the weekend to minimize work disruption.

Now all of this will have significant impact on the customer’s decision. You might well be a premium-priced vendor. But the client understands the real benefits of what you are offering and how it will benefit him.

The next point is this: the person who asks for the proposal is not necessarily the one who will read it! Just last week, my sales team had a graphic example of this. We proposed a highly technical solution to the project design team. All were delighted with our approach and felt we were offering a cost-effective solution that could be installed in considerably less time, use fewer raw materials, and leave a more aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly structure.

The sales engineer, taking a shortcut, asked the sales support clerk to prepare the proposal, which was duly sent the same day. All it contained was a list of materials and the prices. As far as the sales engineer was concerned, nothing more was needed since he had discussed the merits of the design with the project team, and they were apparently sold!

When the proposal reached the client, it was passed from the project design team to the senior project engineer. He had not been party to the verbal discussions and meeting, nor was he familiar with the approach.

Our price was 12% more expensive than materials used in a more traditional structure. But, we had the advantage of lower installation costs, fewer installation equipment, and fewer fill materials. And, our solution would have been much more visually pleasing.

But since none of this was in the proposal, the senior project engineer (and decision maker) did not consider this in his deliberations. We were more expensive, and he was less familiar with our materials. So we lost the project!

Expending effort writing a quality proposal that has been carefully thought out, accurately reflects the advantages of your products, and reflects the topics discussed during sales meetings will always pay significant dividends.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.

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