Are Your Sales Proposals Working?

The sales pipeline is the lifeline of any business. It's a well-known fact: It's not just sales reps who live and die by the numbers; organizations do, too, regardless of their product, service, or solution. Are your sales proposals up to the task?

In today's fast-paced business and technology landscape, the most important question to ask is whether your sales process is working. Your sales proposals are the culmination of that process. Despite the intricacies of an organization's sales process, there's typically only one thing the customer is exposed to in the final stage of the process, and that's the proposal. It's often the first impression you make on decision makers, and it's your last chance to remind the prospect why they should buy. Lastly, it's an extension of your brand that sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. All are reasons why you need to take a moment to evaluate.

How do you know you need to evaluate your proposal process? Answer these five easy questions—if you answer "yes" to any one of them, your proposal process is probably due for a facelift.

1. Do you use technology to manage your proposal process? If so, is it dated?

2. Are you managing important conversations and documentation through email?

3. Are you unsure which documents are the most current version with the most up-to-date content?

4. Do you lack visibility to proposals while they're being developed internally? More importantly, do you lack visibility to how a proposal is consumed once it is sent to the prospect?

5. Is proposal collaboration—whether between you and the prospect or you and the rest of your team—clunky and disorganized?

When you're dealing with documents, it takes a significant amount of time to create, review, and approve them, and then, finally, obtain a signature. As such, your team is constantly wasting time and productivity, which can, at the end of the day, result in lost leads. The five questions listed above highlight some of the biggest issues plaguing the proposal process today. Not only that, but they're perfect examples of why 90 percent of proposals don't result in conversion.

Creating a proposal that does convert calls for the crafting of personalized, approachable sales documents, which your prospects will appreciate and be more likely to interact with and sign. How do you effectively evaluate your sales proposals to increase conversions?

Consider developing an evaluation checklist that asks the following questions.

Is it organized? Often, when you spend weeks working on a proposal, you know every detail of the document. Regardless of how well you know the proposal, the real question is whether the document is organized well enough that someone else can understand it. Can an important decision maker easily search through it and find what interests her most? Before you send a proposal over, ask yourself, "Are all the sections organized logically, and can a third party easily understand this document?"

Does it address the prospect's pain points? If your company creates proposals that are self-driven, it is time to turn over a new leaf. Instead of writing about your company's benefits, the clients you've worked with in the past, and detailed pricing, first list the pain points you noted during your conversations with the prospect. Then tell the prospect how your company is positioned to help them succeed. Your proposal should address the prospect's needs directly, not your own. While the solution offered and the execution thereof is a piece of the overall proposal, it's not the core. Your proposal should articulate what the problem is and the impact a solution to this problem will have on the prospect's business. Your proposal is, in essence, the solution to that problem.

Are you demonstrating your value without compromising the prospect's needs? Your proposal is your chance to draw a clear correlation between today's inadequate reality and tomorrow's impressive results. Pinpointing your value means positioning your offerings as an investment that will pay for itself many times over. Use case studies to show the results your product, service, or solution is capable of bringing. If you're using an analytics tool that allows you to track your prospect's past activities on your Web site and/or blog, take advantage of this insight to appropriately tailor your communication to their activity, which will strengthen the relationship as well as the likelihood of their commitment to your brand. If you can incorporate content into your proposal that is aligned with what is on pages viewed by the prospect, do it. You can't imagine the impact it has on your conversations when, all of a sudden, you're being educated on and given insight into what your prospect engages with behind closed doors, so to speak. Use the tools available today and stop flying in the dark.

Is it engaging? Your proposal should be professionally written, but also easy to absorb. Too much industry jargon and too many technicalities will turn the reader away or just confuse him. Your ability to break down the complexities and make the problem and solution easy to understand will be another reason the prospect signs a contract to work with your business. If your proposal seems hard to read, then your prospect will assume you may be hard to work with, you don't know what you're talking about, or, worse, you don't care to make sure they understand what you're talking about.

Have you optimized your proposal viewing experience with technology? Proposal management solutions are quickly becoming a necessary tool to improve an organization's sales process. With the inefficiencies of offline documents coming to a head, more sales professionals are turning to technology and Web-based solutions to improve the proposal creation and viewing experience. What's more, the ability to track proposal activity, compared to sending proposals off into a black hole, is a new-age miracle.

Does it address pricing and timeline? No prospect likes ambiguity, especially when it comes to how much they need to pay and how long things will take. Be upfront and let them know your estimates. Outline tactics and goals with dates to accompany each. Laying out your plan means you've thought through the prospect's pain points and devised a strategy to make the prospect successful.

When it comes to proposals, live by these guidelines and always check each box before sending your proposal to a prospect. Remember, a prospect will only buy what you're selling if they're convinced you can help them solve their problems and improve their processes. Make your proposals engaging, relevant, and positioned around your prospects' needs and how your company can help them succeed.

Dustin Sapp is cofounder and president of TinderBox, a Web-based platform designed to manage and streamline the creation, delivery, and tracking of sales proposals, contracts, and business communications.

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