To do a proposal, or not?
It may be the perfect time in your burgeoning client relationship to do a proposal to clinch that new business and some paid work.
But as one respondent noted in our referrals research study:
‘Personally, I think proposals are an excuse not to have a conversation with our client.’
This blog provides guidance on:
- whether you really need to do a proposal
- the best time to do a proposal in your prospective client’s journey
- a simple test to check if it’s the right time to do a proposal
- and what you can do instead of preparing and sending a detailed proposal.
What do we mean by ‘do a proposal’ (vs a tender vs capability statement vs brochure)?
In this blog when I say ‘do a proposal’ I am talking about creating a tailored ‘selling’ document that:
- a client has (usually) asked for outside of a formal approach to market procurement exercise or competitive selection process (i.e. not a formal RFT or RFP)
- will be directed to a specific client need or opportunity, and often written with a specific decision maker (i.e. an actual person) in mind
- is (lightly) tailored, rather than a generalised statement of capability or standard brochure
- might set out either an indicative level of investment or firm pricing proposal
- concludes by naming a specific contact at your organisation and suggests a specific next step(s) for the client to take the information forward.
If your proposal decision is about a formal tender or proposal process meaning you need to qualify an RFT through a bid / no bid decision or bid or no bid qualification see JMA’s:
- Simple 20 question bid or no bid checklist
- More comprehensive bid qualification framework in Part 1 of Win more tenders – learn how to say no.
Before you start to do a proposal consider if you really need to – it’s all about timing
With the above in mind, a proposal may be the obvious next step in a service relationship you have been cultivating with a prospective client. Clearly if your prospective client has requested do a proposal to help with their decision making you should hop on and do that (see JMA’s guide to what really needs to go into a proposal).
And bear in mind, for service providers, it can take up to 20 ‘touchpoints’ on your client relationship journey before you ‘secure a sale’ so a proposal might be the most sensible next step, but consider the alternatives – you may be able to avoid having to do a proposal altogether!
Prospective client journey – touchpoints over time
In the absence of an obvious next touchpoint, prospective client request, or other clear ‘ready to buy’ signals, it can be tempting to jump the gun and get going and do a proposal, after all it is tangible and you can point to it as having ‘developed’ business.
Sometimes though, there are signals it is not the ‘right’ time to do a proposal.
Some signs the time may not be right to do a proposal include:
- The prospective client hasn’t actually asked for one, or provided enough of a ‘brief’ to respond against (perhaps they’re shopping around a few providers and will in time issue a formal spec, or they’re just doing some low key market research through conversations)
- It’s too soon in the relationship and you do not yet have a clear fix on how your services align to this client’s likely problems or needs
- Despite your best relationship development efforts they may not be ready to ‘buy’ and a proposal may come across as pushy or miss the mark.
If any of those signals are present, you may be better to ‘wait’ and try for a further discussion to explore the client’s needs before preparing your detailed proposal.
Simple test to see if a prospective client really needs a proposal and is ready to buy – BANT
You can use the BANT sales qualification framework (invented by IBM in the 1950s) to help explore your prospective client’s ‘readiness’ to buy:
- Do they have a budget in mind or set aside for this work?
- What do they spend on their current provider?
- If you don’t know how can you find out?
- Do they have the authority to make a decision to buy?
- Do you know who else is involved in a purchase decision?
- If not how can you get plugged into those decision makers?
- Do they have a need for your service or product?
- Or are they unaware of their problem?
- How can you raise awareness?
- How urgent is this work from their perspective?
- Is it a ‘burning platform’?
- Or is it more of a ‘nice to have’ from their perspective?
Figuring out the answers (not just hoping and guessing) to the above questions should help inform your next steps.
If you conclude you don’t really need to do a proposal at this time there are some things you might try instead.
If you don’t really need to do a proposal at this time, what are some alternatives to doing a proposal?
If you decide you don’t really need to do a proposal, consider progressing your understanding of the prospective client (i.e. their ‘BANT’) and your service relationship through one of these alternatives:
- Further meeting to explore their issues before rushing to ‘diagnosis’ and to gauge their appetite to change or engage providers; perhaps meeting with more of their people and include some of your team.
- Instead of a full proposal try sending an email structured as a mini-capability statement directing the prospective client through helpful hyperlinking to relevant sections on your website.
- Prep a ‘meet the team’ contact card introducing the team with brief details on areas services they offer and inviting them to connect on LinkedIn or get in touch directly.
- Supply your short ‘standard’ flyer, capability statement or firm brochure as a first ‘touch point’ before preparing a more detailed and targeted proposal.
- Invite contact(s) to an upcoming client seminar or internal event or shout them a ticket to an industry event as your guest.
- Develop a useful ‘tool’ or ‘training module’ and offer it free of charge (you can develop it once and then use this with other existing and prospective clients).
- Further desktop research into their operations, organisation, connections and likely concerns (e.g. through annual reports, media mentions and LinkedIn).
Also see JMA’s blog Educating is selling for some other ideas.
Many of the most desirable prospective clients and sources of work don’t have time for a sales spiel – but they probably have time to learn something to their benefit.
Our #1 tip – try to avoid having to do a proposal and do a piece of actual work instead
Possibly the most powerful and persuasive next step is to offer (even better if it’s a freebie) a small service, such as a mini-review of an aspect of your prospective client’s business. There’s really no better advertisement than doing a great job and giving them a taste of the sort of service style and results they can expect should they become a client of yours.
Tender readability remains a problem for some in the 21st century. I still see submission documents that cling to a handful of really old hat tender presentation and formatting techniques. I suspect this is because some of these ‘rules’ are viewed as being more appropriate to a ‘formal’ style of document such as a tender. […]