This is Part two of five articles, part one - ‘How to stop ‘WE-ing’ on your sales proposals and quotations’
Ensure your proposal positively influences senior decision makers to buy from you.
The majority of sales proposals or quotations fail to convert simply because key decision-makers are too busy to search through your proposal document for what interests them.
Do you make it easy for them to read?
The most effective proposal structure uses a six point sales conversion formula:
1. Capture attention A proposal title that seduces the decision makers and influencers to turn the first page and read on (covered in Part One).
2. Confirm relevance How you will achieve the senior decision maker’s desired outcomes.
3. Build desire Detail how the features of your product or service deliver the three most desired outcomes.
4. Reassure Answer the prospects concerns and fears.
5. Underpin Return On Investment Justify your price.
6. Detail the offer Include everything the prospective customer wants to know about your company and your product or service, to be confident about buying. Yes, this is 'We-ing', but it is point six.
Be honest. Do your sales proposals and quotations include all six points? Most only cover the last and least influential point.
In Part One you explored how to capture the attention of the senior decision makers and how you communicate compelling reasons to seduce them to buy from you. You now need to structure your proposal to encourage busy prospects to read.
Why most sales proposals and quotations fail to convert
A failure of any one of the following four requirements, can kill your sales proposal stone dead.
1. Do the senior decision makers and important influencers already know why you are the best supplier to achieve what they want? Is there any reason why they should?
2. Do all the decision makers and influencers always attend your sales presentations?
3. Do your sales presentations explain how you and your product or service deliver the senior decision-makers’ three most important desired outcomes? Do you know what these are?
4. Do the senior decision-makers always remember and reflect on how you will achieve their desired outcomes, when they short-list and make their final purchase choice?
Put yourselves in the customers shoes
Your sales proposal must convince three levels of people. Here’s how…
- Senior executives aren’t interested in you or what you sell until they are confident you can deliver their desired outcomes – the reasons why they are buying (covered in Part One). You achieve this with a one page Introduction or Executive Summary. (You discover, step-by-step, how to write this in Part Three).
- Functional staff, who will use your product or service day-to-day, need to know the detail of what it does or how it works, especially how it fits in with their job and what they need to achieve. This is the ‘Body of the proposal’, which is never more than three pages long.
- Scrutineering, who may include buyer and contracts departments, human resources, technical, health and safety, unions, etc. - all the influencers who need to know that you are an acceptable and compliant supplier and that what you sell is safe and fit for purpose. We give them all they need to know in an Appendix.
The proposal or quotation elements
Please don't follow this approach slavishly. Different selling situations may suggest a different approach. What is important is that the structure and format of your proposals match the customer's buying behaviour.
About cover letters or emails
Don't put your main selling messages in a cover letter or email. It is unlikely that these will be copied in with the proposal or quotation document when it is circulated. It may have no influence on the sale.
Example - Which oxygen monitoring system would you buy?
Imagine that you are the chief executive of a thriving fruit and vegetable import business. For some time you have been concerned about the safety of the cold stores, where you store your produce. Cold stores often have reduced oxygen levels to control ripening and keep produce fresh. However, a lack of oxygen can harm and sometimes kill workers who enter without knowing if the air is safe to breath.
You receive three sales proposals for an oxygen level safety monitoring system:
The first proposal is thirty-five pages thick and spiral-bound. A quick flick through reveals a mass of technical and installation detail. The title on the front cover reads:
‘B357 Oxygen Monitor System for No. 3 Cold Store’
Not very inspiring! The first inside page is an index of the proposal contents. The second page is a list of Terms of Reference. Frustrated, you search for the price page, which triggers you to say, "How much? They must be joking!"
You pick up the second proposal. Four sheets of photocopied paper stapled in the corner. The first page details their oxygen monitoring system components with a summary price. The second page is a technical breakdown of the monitoring system and the installation details. The third page contains the terms and conditions of sale. The last page is a picture of the product and technical specification.
You pick up the third proposal. It’s in two parts. The first part, neatly bound, is seven pages long. The second part, headed ‘Appendix’, is much thicker and spiral-bound. The heading on the first part reads,
‘Oxygen level monitoring for no. 3 cold store’
Directly below are three bullet points.
- To safeguard the health and lives of your employees
- To minimise risks of litigation and employee compensation payments
- Full compliance with health and safety regulations
Notice how the bullet points tell the senior decision-makers that this is about achieving their three ‘most desired outcomes’. These will encourage readers to turn the page and find out more. The Functional Staff and Scrutineers will say, "That's exactly what the boss wants."
Which of these three proposals would influence you to buy?
The Executive Summary page
The ‘attention grabbing’ elements of the title page are continued through into an executive summary or introduction page. This is a one page résumé of how you will achieve the senior decision-maker’s three most desired outcomes. For a very high value proposal the executive summary can be extended to two, perhaps three pages, but do bear in mind it is a summary and you want to encourage everyone to read it.
The executive summary starts with an ‘affinity’ paragraph. This summarises the background to the purchase – why the customer is buying. This is followed by three paragraphs, each outlining how your product or services will achieve the senior decision maker’s three desired outcomes.
The final paragraphs are a summary of the way the customer gains and a return on investment justification. How you write a compelling executive summary (with examples), is covered in Part Three of this series.
The ‘body’ section of a proposal
The ‘body’ section of your sales proposal details the various aspects of your offer and other information required by the customer. If you are responding to a customer’s ‘Request For Proposal’ (RFP or RFQ), this is where you answer specific points. However, a cold listing of what you offer does little to stimulate the customer to choose you or to buy.
The body section should cover the Interest, Desire and Convictions elements of a classic sale. So it's 50% about the customer and 50% about what you are selling. The trick is to connect every element or feature of your offer to the outcomes the customer wants to achieve.
This is communicated on two levels.
- The ‘Functionary’ level connects with your product or service features. For example, the functionary benefit of twenty-four gears on a bicycle is that it makes cycling more efficient.
- The ‘Strategic’ level connects with the customer’s desired outcomes. The strategic outcome of twenty-four gears is that you can comfortably visit many more locations during your cycling holiday.
What are the ‘functionary’ benefits and ‘strategic’ outcomes of your product or service?
What the body section typically includes
- Start by touching base with the customer’s specific problem or need. This is your opportunity to assure the customer that you understand their situation and what they want to achieve from the purchase.
- Detail your product or service, and specific features. Connect each one to the customer's desired outcomes. If a particular feature doesn't help to achieve one of the customer's desired outcomes then it has no value. It will damage your sale. Don't include it!
- Give reasons why your offer is superior. Exploit competitor weaknesses. (Don't make direct attacks on competitors - stay generic and talk about the way alternative products/services fail to measure up.)
- Outline any service, support, training, etc. you include. Put the details in the appendix.
- Outline a calendar of events and timetables if appropriate. Put the details in the appendix.
- Outline the key points of your guarantee or warranty. Again, put the detailed document in the appendix.
Conclude with evidence to support your claims and why the customer can believe that what you offer will achieve their desired outcomes. Refer to your previous experience with this customer and with other, similar customers. Use relevant case studies and testimonials.
How you write the Body section is covered in more detail in Part Four of this series.
The ‘appendix’ is the repository for all the information that functionary staff and buyers love to analyse. If the appendix is short then place it at the back of the proposal. Write 'Appendix' in bold at the top of each page so everyone knows this is supporting information. If the appendix is vast then consider putting it in a separate document. Senior executives don’t want a heavy sixty page tome.
Things to include in an Appendix:
- Responses to information requests
- Supplemental information
- Project timescales
- Schedules of parts
- Schedules of works
- Price breakdowns
- Your contract terms and conditions
- Contact information
- Case studies
- And anything else the customer needs to know.
Coming up in Part Three - ‘How to write a compelling Executive Summary or Introduction’ Explore the power of an Executive Summary or Introduction and how you write to kill off most of your competitors – all in a single page!