Proposals are for Wimps

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In my previous article, I shared some hard lessons learned in the early days of my web career. One mistake I made was offering to write proposals even when the prospect didn’t ask. But after time, the “prepare a proposal and hope” method of gaining new business began to wear on me. Then I learned something utterly profound that changed the way I did business …

The proposal should finalize the sale, not close the deal.

Closing the deal is when the client agrees to hire you. Finalizing the sale is when the client actually signs on the dotted line and gives you a check. What most of us do is write a detailed proposal in hopes that the client, once he reads it, will agree to hire us and we’ll have closed the deal.

But then we rush back to the office to write up yet another document—a contract—to finalize the sale (hoping he won’t change his mind in the meantime). Imagine instead a world where you didn’t have to write a proposal to close a deal. What if you could close the deal on a verbal agreement, and then write up a proposal to finalize it?

Suppose the proposal merely documented everything you and the prospect agreed upon during your initial meeting and, by signing it, you were hired? If that sounds too good to be true, let me assure you, it’s not. But first, you must pass the Wimp Test …

The Wimp Test

You’ve been with the client for more than an hour now. You’ve asked the right questions and have a good grasp of the client’s objectives and the project’s scope. You’ve offered ideas and proposed a solution to which the client seems agreeable. You’ve reached the point where you’ve discussed all there is to discuss and it’s time to move to the next step. This is where great courage is required on your part. Instead of wimping out and offering up a proposal, you must do something you’ve never done before:

You must ask for the sale.

I don’t mean in a heavy-handed or assumptive way, like asking if he’d like to pay by check or credit card. I do it by recapping the conversation, then asking a simple question:

So what’s a logical “next step” for you, Joe? Are you ready to move ahead or is there anything standing in the way?”

Anyone not ready to move forward will respond with something like: “I have to think it over,” or “I have to talk to a few other firms.” But let’s assume Joe is ready to proceed. Up to this point, I’ve yet to discuss price, and that’s intentional. Everything up to now has focused on value—what Joe is going to get, what his objectives are, and what he wants to accomplish. If you’ve done likewise, you can count on the subject of price coming up here.

Wimp Test #2

Okay, so I lied; there’s more than one Wimp Test you must pass. As you face the second challenge, keep in mind that prospects don’t necessarily know what the “next step” ought to be. It’s at this stage that I suggest one (and, no, it doesn’t involve me scurrying back home for some proposal writing).

I’ll need to go back to the office and prepare a quote. I can have that ready by Wednesday. Assuming the price is acceptable, Joe, is there anything else preventing us from finalizing this when we meet again?

Notice what I’ve done here. I’m setting it up so that my final document gets signed at the next meeting. If Joe accepts my price when I phone him back on Wednesday, all that’s left is to craft my final document and meet with him one last time for his signature. The paperwork I bring to that meeting is simply a proposal and contract combined into a single document. What used to be two separate documents—and two separate steps in the sales process—now becomes one.

Wimp Test #3

Here is your third and final Wimp Test. What will you do if the prospect absolutely insists on a proposal? Keep in mind that people may have ulterior motives when requesting a proposal, such as:

  1. They may already have a favorite provider, but are required by company policy to get multiple bids.
  2. They may already have a provider, but intend to use your proposal as leverage to demand a lower price.
  3. You’re too expensive, but they’re hoping you’ll include plenty of great ideas in your proposal that they can to hand off to a cheaper bidder.

Or it just may be the way they’re accustomed to doing business. Unless you are a very savvy sales person and you’re willing to ask some very pointed questions, you simply are not going to be able to find that out. So you have a choice. You can stand your ground and risk losing the sale. Or you can cave, knowing there’s a small chance of winning the bid if you submit a proposal. Or, summoning your courage once again, you can offer a third option: a one-page Executive Summary.

Since I have to go back to the office to work up a price anyway, I would agree to provide a one-page Executive Summary in lieu of a detailed proposal. I found that, so long as I summarized the main points we discussed and included the price, the client was happy.

Are you tired of “prepare a proposal and hope”? Will you try to pass all the Wimp Tests at your next client meeting? Let me know how you did.

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John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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