How to Get Your Proposals Approved to Gain Unstoppable Competitive Advantage

How to Get Your Proposals Approved to Gain Unstoppable Competitive Advantage

Be a fly on the wall of a coaching conversation with Mark S A Smith and a sales rep about challenges getting his proposal accepted by the decision making team.

Sales Rep: So last week my boss gathered us sales guys together, and we listened to a webinar that you were a guest on, and it was the Biggest Selling Mistake in Business Today and How to Eliminate It Forever. It was very good and the whole team, we got a lot out of it. It was great.

Mark S A Smith: Thank you.

Sales Rep: The question that I had in regards to that, you had a great pie chart there with customer motivation, your relationship and product, and with that you had objectives, priorities and criteria.

Mark S A Smith: Yes.

Sales Rep: In the priorities you talked about budget, scorekeepers, commitments, and deadlines. I was kind of wondering about the scorekeepers part. The rest of your little quad graphs and stuff were really good and I found that a really good way to interpret a lot of this stuff. But as far as like connecting with your customer, my question is what are some practical steps of actually making sure you’re connecting with the right person when you’re trying to sell your product?

Mark S A Smith: All right, like what product?

Sales Rep: We do office furniture, so.

Mark S A Smith: Great, great. Let’s get specific about that. What’s the type of customer that you’re selling to? You selling to an owner, you selling to someone in operations? Who is-

Sales Rep: It can be different depending on like how big our … Like we do kind of like small to medium size businesses. So there’s a lot of chances to get in front of the owners, but we also do stuff with cities and townships and people that are working on budgets and maybe another committee. So it sometimes depends. So I’m wondering, you know, if there’s a committee who’s looking after a project, but then they have to get approval from somebody else-

Mark S A Smith: Right.

Sales Rep: … and finding out that overseeing person or couple of people may have something or some ideas that are very different than what the committee has set out on.

Mark S A Smith: Right on, and that is frequently the case as you find. So the fundamental concept here is that if you’re working with a single decision maker, one person, and there is no scorekeeper. So you’re talking to someone who owns the company and they don’t have to report to anybody. They don’t have to explain their situation to anybody. You just talk with them about, “What are you looking for? The furniture you’re buying, is it reflecting the brand of your company? Do people come to your organization to do business with you? Do you want something that creates a cool and hip environment so you can attract Millennials to come and work in your culture? Are you looking for something that is utilitarian and cheap as possible, lowest cost, because you really don’t care? People come here to work, you want them to get the job done, you want them to get the hell out. So what is the objective? How do you see your choice of furniture supporting your objective for your company?”

That’s magical, because most other people who sell furniture, they say, “Well, we got this top of the line, we got this bottom of the line.” No, no, no, no. Don’t make them decide. A customer confused cannot choose. So instead, you have to figure out what is the objective? Are you trying to minimize costs because you’re grooming the company to sell? Are you trying to create a really cool environment? You get the picture, right?

Sales Rep: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark S A Smith: And you’ll figure that out pretty quickly about how you want to go about that. Then you can very easily make that pivot to say, “Based on what you’ve told me, I think here’s a line of furniture that’s going to hit that mark for you. Let’s take a look and see if it does.”

Sales Rep: Okay. And that works really well when we’re talking right with the owner.

Mark S A Smith: Right.

Sales Rep: But the difficulty I run into is like I’ve recently done a job where I worked with the planning committee that was supposed to be in charge of the project. We got through everything and we communicated very, very well and it was a very good working experience with them. Then I get the bomb dropped on me, “Oh, we have to get this approved by our upper-management team.”

Mark S A Smith: Yeah, right.

Sales Rep: And then we present it to them, or they presented it to them, and then it was very, very different from everything and all the work we had done. Everyone that would be working in that space was very happy, but then all of a sudden the decision from up top was something that was very different than what we had already done. So- I’m wondering how you can combat that or make sure that … Any ways to figure that stuff out ahead of time?

Mark S A Smith: You bet, you sure can. Are they looking for a quote or are they looking for a proposal?

Sales Rep: Okay.

Mark S A Smith: So, the case you told me about, did they ask for a proposal or did they ask for a quote?

Sales Rep: They did ask me for a quote.

Mark S A Smith: Okay.

Sales Rep: So I guess that would be my question to them, “Is this really a quote or is it a proposal?”

Mark S A Smith: Right, right.

Sales Rep: Okay.

Mark S A Smith: And so, the reason why is, if they’re asking for a proposal, then your next step is, “Okay, usually when people ask me for a proposal for office furniture, the reason why they’re asking is because they need to persuade somebody else about the choice. Is that the case for you?”

Sales Rep: Okay.

Mark S A Smith: See how that sets that up?

Sales Rep: Yeah, okay.

Mark S A Smith: And, you know, the whole idea is that they need to persuade somebody else, right?

Sales Rep: Okay.

Mark S A Smith: Those are critical words.

Sales Rep: Yes, yes. Right, absolutely.

Mark S A Smith: And if they say, “No, no, no, no. We don’t have to persuade anybody else.” “Okay, so then you’re looking for a quote so you can compare what I’m suggesting that you purchase against another vendor, is that right?” So nail down the rationale for what they’re asking for you to do. And if they’re saying, “Yeah, our policy is to shop three different vendors.” “Great, you know, a thing I love about when customers ask us to do quotes, is because it keeps my competition honest.” You see the reposition there?

Sales Rep: Yeah, I think so.

Mark S A Smith: All right, then the next thing you have to say is, “So how’re you going to make your choice? Strictly on price? Or are there other things you’re going to be involved in? Such as if you have a problem with the furniture, we would be there to back you up? We stock parts in case somebody breaks a chair. You know, a lot of places if you break a chair you just have to throw the damn thing away, we stock parts so we can fix it for you. There’s a lot of things to take into consideration when you make a purchase. We just want to make sure you’re comparing apples to apple pie, okay?” You get the picture.

Sales Rep: Mm-hmm (affirmative), right.

Mark S A Smith: So that’s quote. Proposal, the next phase is, “Well, I could write a proposal for you, but I’d just be guessing. And, quite frankly, I’m telepathetic, because I have no idea what’s going to persuade those folks to buy and to go your way.” See how it’s positioning it?

Sales Rep: Yeah, okay.

Mark S A Smith: To help them go your way. “So would you be willing to help collaborate with me on writing this proposal, so that it’s written to be as persuasive as possible, so you get what you want? Would you be willing to do that? I’ll do the heavy lifting, would you do that with me?”

Sales Rep: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark S A Smith: And what are they likely to say?

Sales Rep: Hopefully yes.

Mark S A Smith: Yeah, of course, because they want it.

Sales Rep: Yeah.

Mark S A Smith: Because, otherwise, they wouldn’t be asking you for a proposal.

Sales Rep: Yeah.

Mark S A Smith: Great. “Let’s schedule a time when we can sit down and we talk through a way they make their judgements. How they judge, what they’re looking for to say ‘yes.’ So that we can put together a proposal that you present to them and they go, ‘This is great, this is exactly what we’re looking for and you’re a winner.'” That sound good?

Sales Rep: Okay. I like that, yeah.

Mark S A Smith: You never want to write a proposal without understanding how the decision-making team is going to judge the proposal, because otherwise you are just shooting in the dark. And here’s the problem, you’re the one that suffers, not anybody else. So the way you set it up is to become a … Sit on the same side of the table as the buyer when it goes to getting approval from their team.

Sales Rep: Okay.

Mark S A Smith: Is that cool?

Sales Rep: Yeah, that’s great actually, that’s very good. Thank you so much.

Mark S A Smith: Oh, you’re welcome. That’s actually a very easy thing to do. The thing to keep in mind is when you have multiple decision makers, everyone of those people have a different view of value.

Sales Rep: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark S A Smith: And we have to understand what their view of value is, for us to make a proposal that meets everybody’s “yes” criteria. Everybody has something they have to see before they can say yes. It is something they have to feel or something they have to know before they can say yes. Our job as a salesperson is to figure those things out and, fundamentally, our job is to reduce perceived risk to the point where they feel that we are the right choice.

Sales Rep: Okay. That’s great.

Mark S A Smith: Cool.

Sales Rep: So yes, thank you, that definitely brings a little more juice to that, so that’s really great.

Mark S A Smith: Good, I’m glad to hear that.

Sales Rep: Yeah, no. No, that’s great. I’m going to share this stuff with the rest of the guys here.

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