I Was Wronger Than I Realized (…about proposals)

Back in January, I blogged about an epiphany I had regarding proposals.  It was quite an eye-opener, since I’ve been exhorting sales reps to improve their proposal-writing skills for years (…actually it’s decades now.  Yikes!)  So two short months ago I converted to “Recommendation Summaries” that reflected the thinking of the team of folks consisting of me and customer personnel.

A BIG improvement, and one that very quickly led to an even bigger one.  Read on to see how the process evolved.

The initial shift from Proposal to Recommendation Summary was quite simple and consisted of two things; using a new name for the document and noting which parts of it reflected the concepts contributed by which team member.  I was still the one writing the whole thing.  And logically organizing it.  And adding touches to make it more compelling.  And proof-reading it.  And polishing it.  And re-writing it.  And making it look professional.  (As the King of Siam once said, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera and so forth.”)

Then it re-occurred to me that the power of this new-style document stemmed from the fact that it reflected a team effort.  Team?  What team?  I asked all the questions, dug up all the research, did all the really, really time-consuming writing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera and so forth and (happily) gave most of the credit to others.  I found myself asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

That’s when I stumbled on a other new best practice by accident.  A customer decision maker asked me deliver a Recommendation Summary a week early because he was going to be out of the country for a while.  “Would you mind if it’s just a draft?” I ask.  “…a pretty ugly, really rough draft?”  Sure, no problem,” he says.  “I just want to get a general feel for where we’re headed.”  So he gets the semi-organized draft complete with logical gaps, typos, bad grammar, a few quasi-snarky comments about how things at the customer are currently done and a note to myself about needing to tighten up the ROI calculation.

So what shows up in my e-mail three days later?  Would you believe a note thanking me for confirming his suspicion that an aspect of their sales compensation plan was way out of whack and needed to be changed?  (That was one of my quasi-snarky comments.)  AND, a suggestion about how to do the ROI math?  AND an attached, heavily edited update of my draft?  Believe it.

Based on that, here’s my new, new set of recommendations about proposals:

  • Stop submitting proposals  (Do I need to remind you about how dumb price quotes are?  Again?)
  • Start circulating rough drafts of Recommendation Summaries among all the customer decision makers and influencers requesting their insights
  • Include a deadline for the final Recommendation Summary (Since everybody can see that everybody was copied, everybody will assume that everybody provided input to every version in timely fashion so “we” can meet the deadline.  That, by the way, is called building consensus and obtaining buy-in.)
  • If possible, use wiki technology, like Google Sites, instead of e-mail to collaboratively build the document
  • Include stray thoughts about future projects and extensions to this Recommendation Summary (Get ’em all thinking about the longer term implications and the value of your continued participation as an important member of the team.)
  • Continue to do a great job with all the pain in the butt writing stuff for the final version

Try it.  Add this set of best practices to your repertoire.  Let me know what you think and how it works out for you.

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