Mar 14, 2017

3 Steps to Eliminate Sales Proposals

Proposals are a standard step in the B2B sales process, but they’re brutal. Sales proposals slow down the buying process, reduce sales productivity, and most importantly, they’re unnecessary.

Replace your sales proposals with contracts. The logic is simple. If a customer isn’t ready to sign an agreement then there isn’t much point sending them a proposal either.

Ok, I am leading with a strong position. There’s more nuance to this idea then a simple call to arms.

Salespeople would gladly stop writing proposals if given the option. The problem is they can’t. They’re using sales proposals to close deals, because they don’t have the right infrastructure to eliminate them.

Sales reps are writing proposals to clearly articulate value propositions, capabilities, and pricing. They are documenting exactly how the solution will work, and working to instill confidence in the customer. It’s a critical document, especially if the brand doesn’t sell itself.

To eliminate sales proposals your organization has to provide the sales team three things:

  1. Strong brand
  2. Effective marketing collateral
  3. Training and culture

Customers Choose Strong Brands

The stronger your brand the more velocity you can drive into the sales process.

Velocity is a key measure of brand performance. Customers who love your brand are fast, efficient buyers. They don’t “kick the tires” or ask for proposals. They buy, because they know your brand, like it, and trust it.

A strong brand translates into faster sales. Instead of establishing trust and rapport, salespeople can leverage the customer’s existing relationship with the brand to advance the sales process.

Marketing Anticipates Questions

Everything that goes into a sales proposal can be clearly documented elsewhere:

  1. Website: An effective B2B website should sell as well as your best salesperson. It should clearly articulate your company’s value proposition, educate customers on how your services work and what they can expect, and drive them to next steps.
  2. Sales Collateral: You won’t publish all of your content on your website. Some information has to be presented in context. Provide your sales team standard documents that answer customer questions. There’s no reason for your salespeople to write custom documents for common questions.

You can make your sales team a whole lot more efficient with the right collateral and marketing support. This also fits into how your customers want to buy. A key trend in B2B marketing is customers binge before they buy.

Customers do their homework before making a major purchase decision. They study your website, download your white papers, watch your videos, and get informed.

The burden of facilitating the binge falls to marketing. The marketing team has to anticipate customer questions, and provide customers the information they want when they want it.

The better your company facilitates the customer’s binge, the easier it is to eliminate sales proposals.

A Culture of Selling

The final step to eliminating sales proposals is cultural.

It’s hard for a salesperson to say “no” to a customer request, especially if it’s for a proposal. A request for proposal is usually a good sign. The customer is demonstrating a buying signal and wants a written document.

The challenge is to guide your team to offer a service agreement instead of a proposal. This has two benefits:

  1. Qualify Buyer Intent: It doesn’t cost a customer anything to ask for a proposal, and many people use the request as a way to deflect salespeople. Train your salespeople to ask, “Would you like me to send the service agreement?” The customer’s response can be very revealing. If the customer isn’t ready for the service agreement then there’s more sales work required. The deal isn’t ready to be closed.
  2. Improve Sales Performance: Writing a custom proposal is time consuming. Salespeople can spend two to six hours on one proposal. This is an unproductive use of time if the customer isn’t ready to buy, which leads us back to qualifying buyer intent.

Providing a proposal is the path of least resistance for the salesperson, but not necessarily the best route. By challenging and training your reps to eliminate proposals will make them better salespeople.

Make the Sales Proposal a Brochure

I’d love to fully eliminate the sales proposal, but some customers just can’t live without them.

Another approach to streamlining the proposal process is to standardize the document. Treat it like a brochure:

  1. Cover Letter
  2. Product or service information
  3. Service agreement

The body of the proposal can be standardized. If your website sells as well as your best salesperson, you can basically pull the service pages and use them in the body of your proposal.

Using your website content in your proposals has the added benefit of raising the bar for your company’s marketing collateral. If the content isn’t good enough for your proposals, it’s not good enough for your website.

In these proposal templates, the only areas your salespeople will have to modify is the cover letter and service agreement. They’re basically sending a contract with a few extra pages. This will save your reps tons of time, and satisfy your client’s need for a formal proposal.

What do you think? Send me a note on our Contact page, or chat with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

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