Stop Writing Proposals to Win Business

John Tabita
John Tabita

In the last article, I showed you how to stop giving away too much free information, by selling your prospect on the concept of WHY—and leaving the HOW until after he agrees to become a client. If you’ve been following along with my series, then you may have noticed that each “action step” is actually a progression from one step of the sales process to the next.

Having a clearly-defined sales process is the difference between making things happen and wondering, “what happened?” If you don’t have a deliberate process that you’ve consciously thought out, let me assure you that you still have one … except your prospect’s the one in control of it, not you. It probably goes something like this:

  1. You define a “lead” as anyone with a pulse who inquires about a website; and you’ll gladly drive clear across town to meet with such a person.
  2. You attempt to build trust and demonstrate your expertise by offering ideas and suggestions. If they seem genuinely interested, you offer to prepare a proposal. Sometimes, the proposal ends up being a full-blown comprehensive project plan. (After all, how can you quote an accurate price without knowing each and every minute detail about the project and its scope?)
  3. You deliver your masterpiece to the prospect and wait. And wait some more. Oftentimes, you never hear back, and that once “hot prospect” seems to have disappeared through a tear in the space-time continuum. (Yes, I read too much sci-fi.)
  4. You convince yourself this is “standard procedure,” but in reality, you’d do anything to avoid asking for the sale—especially if it means looking directly into the prospect’s eyes and quoting a price. Instead, you hope your proposal will do the selling for you, and you bury the cost on the bottom of page nine.
  5. If the prospect does decide to hire you, you rush off to write up yet another document—a contract—to finalize the sale … praying he won’t change his mind in the meantime. When you do get the signed contract back, you can only hope he actually read it and that something in it won’t bite you in the butt a month from now.
  6. By the time this is over, you’re exhausted (and you haven’t even begun the actual project). You wonder how you got into this, when all you wanted to do was build websites.

In two previous articles, Don’t Just “Propose” … Sell! and Proposals are for Wimps, I called this the “prepare a proposal and hope” method of gaining new business. If this sounds all-too-familiar and you’re ready for a change, then fear not. The key to turning this around is Action Step #3.

Action Step #3: Ask for the Sale Instead of Offering a Proposal

What this Solves:

Preparing endless proposals and never hearing back

Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible to close the deal on a verbal agreement, and then write a proposal to finalize that agreement. I know because I’ve done it, more than once. And in every case, the client was more than happy to do it my way.

At the risk of tastelessly quoting myself, here’s what I said in Proposals are for Wimps:

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.

The simple solution is to turn that on its head. Ask for the sale first.

You see, there comes a point in every meeting where you’ve learned enough about the client, the project’s scope, and his objectives, and he’s learned enough about you and your capabilities to decide whether you are moving forward or not. I came to realize that, when this happened, I would be the one who suggested a proposal, not the prospect. So I simply stopped offering and started asking.

I’ll let you read the other articles for the details, but I know you’re just dying to ask: “How can I get a prospect to agree to hire me if he doesn’t know the price? And how can I quote a price without some type of detailed proposal?” It’s a classic Catch-22.

If you followed my advice in Action Step #2, then you sold the prospect on the basis of WHY: why he wants a website and why he should hire you. In case you missed it, let me recap. You can get a prospect’s verbal commitment to do business with you if the two of you establish and agree upon the following:

  1. What he’s trying to accomplish, his “big picture” objective
  2. That you’re the one to help him accomplish it

If both of these are firmly established, price is merely an incidental. The verbal agreement to hire you is conditional. He’s agreeing that, if the price is right, there’s nothing else preventing him from hiring you and moving the project forward.

Here’s where Action Step #1: Attempt to “Disqualify” Prospects Early-On set you up for success. Remember how you disqualified anyone who didn’t have a budget or who thought $300 was “too expensive” for a website? Assuming your prospect made that cut, he ought to have a ballpark idea where your prices start. Now that you’ve spent some time with him and have a feel for the scope of his project, you’ll need to have a more in-depth price discussion.

The nature of that conversation will depend on the project scope. For a basic 5-10 page static website, I already had an established base price, so I could quote him right then and there. For larger projects, I’d tell the prospect it’s going to be more than the starter price we spoke about over the phone.

I’m watching his reaction. It’s either going to be, “no problem, I figured it would be higher,” or a worried, “how much higher do you think?” Remember, the more time you invest, the harder it is to cut your losses and walk away; so if you’re going to lose on price, now’s the time … rather than a 10-page proposal and three follow-up phone calls later.

Assuming that doesn’t happen and you need time to prepare a quote, how do you go about it without giving away all your best-kept secrets? I’m glad you asked. We’ll be covering that next week.

Next week: Action Step #4: How to Quote a Price without Giving away the Farm

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It’s not too late to get my free guide, 27.5 Must-Ask Questions for Consultative Selling. Just follow me on Twitter and I’ll send you a link.

This is Part 5 of the series Putting a Stop to Abusive Client Behavior:

  1. Stop Client Abuse of Web Designers Now!
  2. Stop the Abuse! 7 Steps to a Well-Trained Client
  3. Stop Wasting Time with Prospects Who Aren’t Serious
  4. Stop Giving Away So Much Free Information!
  5. Stop Writing Proposals to Win Business
  6. Stop Doing the Same Things and Expecting Different Results
  7. Stop Waiting to Get Paid! How to Collect Even when Your Client Delays
  8. Stop Getting Walked on and Set Some Boundaries Already
  9. Stop the Slippery Slope of Scope Creep
  10. Stop Making Endless Design Changes
  11. Stopping Abusive Clients: The Complete Process