Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
By Terence A. Hockenhull

AS WE MENTIONED last week, the person who asks for a proposal will very often attach a note to the front cover asking someone else in the organization to read, review, and make recommendations based on the contents. This person may not have been involved in face-to-face meetings and will be judging the proposed solution purely on the basis of price. Much more needs to be done to help the reader understand why the proposed product better meets his company’s needs that other vendors or suppliers.

Often, as part of the sales process (and also subsequent to a number of sales meetings), a client will ask for a formal presentation to be made to decision makers and other interested parties. This is so all involved in making the purchase decision or giving inputs and recommendations can be present and understand the true impact and benefits of the proposed solution.

For this reason, it is essential that proposals and presentations cover all the ground dealt with during the numerous sales meetings held with a client.

It is not uncommon for clients to telephone a request for a proposal or a formal presentation without any previous contact. In this case, the best that can be submitted is a list of features (which will have relatively little impact on the client’s decision to buy), and product or service descriptions. In other words, this type of request can be simply met with a brochure and price list.

However, every effort should be made to gain client’s agreement for a face-to-face meeting to uncover their requirements. Even if a face to face meeting is not possible, much information can be gathered over the phone.

The process of face-to-face selling involves asking questions to uncover problems and needs. If possible, this should always be done (and done thoroughly) before submitting a proposal or agreeing to a presentation.

Although there are no hard and fast rules for proposals, the following pointers may be useful.

Rather than using a letter format, it is often appropriate to create a separate document covering the proposed “solution.” The advantage of this is that it can be pre-formatted with “boilerplate text inserted” (e.g., terms and conditions of the sale, information on warranty, and proposal validity).

Unlike a letter format, it can contain paragraph numbers and titles. Depending on the complexity of the proposal, useful and relevant information need not form part of the proposal but may be included as annexes (e.g., technical data sheets, brochures, references, etc.).

The length of a proposal is never an indicator of its quality. Preamble and unnecessary verbiage should be edited from the document so that it is concise and to the point.

One way of doing this is to list particular items of interest as bullet points rather than prose. It should not contain a lot of technical jargon. (Leave this to those sections covered in annexes.) The point of a proposal is to show to what use the solution will be put, not solely list the features of the product or service.

Ideally, the proposal should start with a brief introductory paragraph detailing when and with whom meetings have been held. It is useful to put salient details about the reason for the proposal. This should be followed by a section that details all the problems that were uncovered during the sales meetings.

The next section will demonstrate all the positive outcomes of solving those problems. Following this, there should be a concise section detailing the specific and identified needs of the client.

Implementation of the solution together with time scales and an exact description of the proposed product or service will follow this section. The last section will cover the cost or fees and any other miscellaneous information such as payment schedules, lead times and preferred ordering dates.

Unless the proposal is in letter format, it is always appropriate to accompany the proposal with a cover letter. This will certainly be read carefully by the person requesting the proposal. It should be short and to the point, identifying that a proposal is being forwarded for evaluation purposes.

Invariably, during the selling process, the individual to whom the proposal is addressed will identify some areas of particular interest. These may be briefly referred to within the covering letter. This demonstrates that the proposal is specific and that attention was being paid during the course of the sales meetings.

Presentations should also be used as an opportunity to sell. The structure and order of a presentation should be similar to proposals. Highly technical data or information should be prepared in advance and reproduced as handouts for the audience. Preparing a PowerPoint presentation with key points is also helpful.

There is nothing complicated about writing effective proposals or delivering good proposals. But, it is important to appreciate that opportunities will be lost if a proposal or presentation is general in nature and doesn’t specifically address the customer’s problems and needs. If this is what you want to send, save yourself some time and send brochures instead. You will only have yourself to blame if you don’t close the sale!

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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