I Was Wrong About Proposals

By January 18, 2010Differentiation

For years, I’ve ranted at sales reps and managers about how utterly dumb it is to “submit a quote” to a customer.  A traditional quote does nothing more than list items for sale, prices, totals, discounts and net price.  It provides no differentiation whatever and reinforces the fact that you have nothing more to offer than a catalogue-full of commodities at really, really good (i.e., low) prices.

“Submit proposals!” was my sage advice.  “Make sure the opening sentence or three clearly states the value to the customer.  If you have any real sales talent, you’ll also put that value in terms of dollars and cents.  You’ll paint a ‘Before’ picture, a picture of the ‘Transition’ to your vision and an ‘After’ picture; all of which make the brilliance and value of your proposal intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.

If you and I have ever worked together directly, chances are you’ve heard me state the above with emphasis, enthusiasm and arms a-wavin’ in your face. 
I was wrong.

This past Friday, after an intense, long customer meeting, two colleagues and I decided we had earned a few beers.  In the course of conversation one of them mentioned that he’d like to make a video of me and the other debating the value of proposals.  That was the beginning of yet another epiphany.

I was asked to consider the definition of the word “propose” which means “to submit for consideration.”  Is that really what I want to do?  To passively, more or less hat in hand, pass along an entreaty hoping the all powerful decision influencers and makers will take a few minutes out their busy days to possibly, maybe take a look at my suggestions?  AGGGHHHHH!!!  That’s not at all what I want.

What I really want is “Recommendation Summary” (or “Statement Of Work”) that reflects the research, evaluation and creativity of a relevant, trusted group of customer personnel.  (NOTE:  I just happen to be a member of that group.)

Put yourself in the shoes of the final decision maker and consider how you’d perceive each of the three documents:

  • Quote – How did this make it to desk?  I don’t get into this level of detail & don’t know or care what it means.
  • Proposal – Wow!  These vendors sure dump a load of effort into these things.  And come to think of it, I really liked these guys.  This proposal might make sense, but I don’t have time to read all this right now.  I’ll put it in my active To-Do file and get around to it just as soon as I can.  But first I need to do this, and then that, and there goes that darned phone again…
  • Recommendation Summary – Ah-ha!  My team finally got this finished.  Just in time for the board meeting.  Let me flip to the action plan at the end…  Yep, that’s exactly what I thought from the beginning.  We need to get going on this ASAP.

It’s clear by now that the distinction entails a whole lot more than semantics.  A quote can be submitted by a total stranger.  You can’t be part of a Recommendation Summary until you’ve earned the right to be considered an insider; until your opinion carries enough weight to be sought out and respected by the powers that be.

So focus on moving up the food chain!  If you’re submitting quotes, you’re either a rookie or not very good.  If you’re submitting proposals, you’re a journeyman.  If you’re contributing to (even better, leading) development of Recommendation Summaries, you’re finally doing your real job as a sales rep.

Thanks to Stone Payton and Todd Schnick for the insight.  Also see:

Cut Your Credibility (and Revenue) by 50% With One Word: Proposal

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