In answering the question, I am following my own maxim (‘Whenever anybody tells me they have a problem, all I know at that moment is that that is not the problem‘) by assuming that this isn’t actually the problem. A more useful question to ask is,
“How come the prospect didn’t contact me after receiving my proposal?”
There are a number reasons and a particular case may be a mixture of several of them
You proposed to do:
This is essentially down to the prospect not identifying his/her business’s actual needs as opposed to what he/she told you it or they needed or, more likely, wanted.
Unfortunately, the responsibility for this lies wholly with you. The solution is to become good at holding conversations which are, really, coaching conversations; which make the subject the prospect and their business—not you and your need for work; and which make the topic of conversation their business’s needs—not what you want to sell them.
In any conversation which includes detail about the prospect’s needs, structure the conversation so that the discussion about what the client needs is not polluted with discussion about what you can provide. Most people start talking about what they could provide far too early. This is because what you could provide is a distraction all the while you don’t know what you should provide.
One pitfall, if you jump the gun is the prospect, even in a position of some confusion, knows that what you proposed is certainly the wrong solution. Being British, he or she may not actually tell you this, but any credibility you might have had up to that moment has been reduced somewhat.
I repeat, don’t assume that their first answer to the question, “what do you need?” is, in fact what their business needs. It almost certainly isn’t.
It was one or more of the following:
This is distressingly common and is hard to excuse. Just because the prospect’s proposals are no better is irrelevant.
In this case, the proposal communicated a lack of professionalism (and perhaps also a lack of care and/or interest) which caused the recipient to have second thoughts about you. That doesn’t mean you do lack professionalism, care or interest, it’s just the impression you unfortunately created. (Though, actually, it probably means that, at a subconscious level, you do have a problem with professionalism, otherwise why wouldn’t you have secured the services of a copywriter, an adviser on writing proposals and bought a book on writing better?)
It’s also worth remembering that a proposal you send to person A in a business or organisation, is likely to hand it to any number of his or her colleagues. You have never met these people; nor they you. If the proposal isn’t compelling in their eyes (and they are, for example, the MD), you’re effectively dead. If the proposal contains slips and omissions, these readers aren’t going to give you the benefit of the doubt in the way the person you met might (because he/she liked your jokes and the meal was nice).
The proposal will be the key to working with the prospect, so there is no excuse for doing it badly.
Of course, if you do lack professionalism, care or interest, then you can be hardly surprised by the outcome.
Either way, it blew out the flame of interest you had kindled when you met them.
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the art of writing (Odell, 1994)
Henry Watson Fowler, Modern English usage (OUP, 2010, ed David Crystal; written 1926)
Steven Pinker, The sense of style (Penguin, 2015)—review: The Sense of Style review–lessons in how to write
William Strunk, The elements of style (Allyn & Bacon, 1995; written 1918, revised, 1950s, by EB White)
… in which case either:
This is basically about wanting to drive the relationship; demanding that things happen how and when you want them to happen, rather than how and when the prospect wants them to happen. This will come across as pushy or needy or both. Neither—surely—are helpful approaches.
This too, is distressingly common and, in my experience, some people find it impossibly difficult to let go of this behaviour. This is often disguised as, “well, sales trainer X told me I had to send out the proposal at that time (so it must be the right thing to do)”. In fact the would-be supplier is simply using this as an excuse to cover their neediness.
The prospect, however, is thinking “I didn’t ask for this, I’m not sure that I want to work with this supplier”. (There are some exceptions to this, such as the IT proposal, which is really a disguised requirements definition and should have been produced as such—see 4 below.)
There is a huge amount of confusion about what proposals are for. Not least because they can have several purposes, which invariably get confused. Before I start, let me introduce a useful maxim:
Whatever you produce that is of value to the prospect, the prospect should pay for.
(There are exceptions, to which I shall return in another article. But the main thrust of this point is true.)
I’m also aware that, if your business is in replacing double glazing, the punter doesn’t need a proposal, he or she just needs a quotation.
But, for people who are suggesting that they can supply services, whether in IT, marketing, finance, HR, consultancy (especially consultancy), and the rest, the following applies.
It’s a two stage process:
1 will the punter become a client?
2 and, if they do, what are you going to do for them?
You cannot be clear about the latter unless you, and they, have a very good idea of what their needs (not wants) are. That requires professionalism, experience, competence and more, on your part, and time on both your, and their, parts. Most service providers, because they think they must only deliver one proposal, skimp on this. They can’t invoice for this proposal (the recipient is not a client yet) so they spend the least possible time on it. This means they get it wrong.
Let me repeat that, because most business don’t get it. Most service providers set themselves up to fail because they don’t have the expertise needed, and won’t spend the time needed to find out what the client actually needs! The client, however, will ruthlessly hold them to what they proposed, when they wake up at 3am (which they will), realising that they have signed off the first thoughts of what they need. Something they won’t fail to let you know next morning. Profits go down the drain, stress becomes a daily routine for weeks, and you can kiss goodbye to any repeat business.
I’d go so far as to say that, if the proposal turns out to be right, it is a sheer coincidence.
The remedy is obvious, but, I am afraid, it takes some daring to carry off if you, and you prospects, expect something different.
You need two proposals.
The purpose of the first is to get the prospect to become a client. It isn’t to tell them what you’ll do if they were to become a client because you, and they, know you don’t have the information yet to pronounce on that. It will state that one of the first things you’d do would be to conduct a brief, focussed investigation which would result in a requirements definition. You would explain that the now-client would have to sign this off and you would subsequently hold them to it.
This requirements definition is effectively the second proposal. This approach is good for stifling ‘project creep’, ie the failure of the supplier to stop the client making changes to the requirements down the line.
The prospect may baulk at this extra work but, on the whole, prospects get the message that an decent investment in the early stages of project obviates the need for stressful firefighting later. It is never more expensive to do the job properly and clients who demand detailed proposals, before you have sufficient information, are best turned down. They will make your life a misery later, will erode any margins you might have looked forward to, and, because they still won’t have thought through what they need, the final deliverable will still be inadequate (whether it’s a coaching programme, outsourced HR services or an IT project).
In reality most prospects are relieved that someone knows better than they do how to get the best results for them and are only to pleased to acquiesce to reasonable, professional suggestions (OK, demands).
… which they only realised after you left, and they don’t know how to raise them, or don’t want to raise them.
This is a version of “you shouldn’t have sent it until your relationship with the prospect was stronger” above, and/or 1 above, and the remedy is the same.
It is almost always the case that the prospect will think of something negative the minute you have left the room. It is a good idea explicitly to ask the prospect if they have any reservations and don’t take no for an answer. One in hundred really won’t have any reservations. All the rest will be impressed that you can read their mind. But they still won’t surface those reservations ubtil after you’ve left.
… right now than reading your proposal.
Again, let go of the need for things to happen how and when you want them to happen, rather than how and when the prospect wants them to happen. Be patient.
Not much you can do about this. Best assessed case by case. Be patient and, if necessary, forgiving.
Ultimately, it boils down to why you would want to send a proposal in the first place.
I do not believe that proposals are useful in converting a prospect to a client.
The question in the prospect’s mind is, “do I want this person working for my business?”
The question the proposal addresses is, “what work would I do if I worked in your business?”
These are not the same question. The first question should be dealt with in one of the one to one meetings you have with the prospect. It doesn’t need a proposal (unless the person you are talking to needs to have something to show colleagues, in which case, go ahead). You then produce at least one other document, pointedly called, say, “Requirements definition”, which is a good, professional piece of work based on interviews with the now-client’s staff, for which you invoice handsomely.
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2017 Jeremy Marchant Limited . published 5 february 2016, extended 12 july 2017 . image: Free images
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