Collaborating and Prioritizing: Close a Sale Prior to Delivering a Proposal6 Oct, 2004 By: Steven Power imageSource
Collaborating and Prioritizing: Close a Sale Prior to Delivering a Proposal
most sales procedures, the salesperson presents a proposal immediately after
conducting due diligence to determine the prospect’s applications, problem areas
and current costs. Many salespeople have adopted comprehensive discovery
processes that include the examination of workflow, document management
applications, variable data printing, color printing, production printing,
outsourcing, and e-forms.
While these expanded discovery processes can lead to the identification of many
opportunities to innovate the prospect’s document environment, and thus produce
many selling opportunities, they can additionally create a disconnect in the
If you are a salesperson who has been extremely thorough in your discovery, you
may have identified several problems and have a wide scope of recommendations.
Let’s say, for example, that you’ve documented 12 to 15 problem areas and
therefore recommended solutions for each. Those individual solutions likely
contain an element or combination of products or services that will need to be
included in your subsequent proposal.
Here are the questions: What normally happens when you charge in with a proposal
that is wide in scope, requiring prospects to drastically change the way they
operate? Furthermore, because your proposal is wide in scope, it reaches a
relatively high financial threshold. What normally happens to huge proposals?
Usually, when too much change is suggested too fast, too much money is on the
line, which means too much commitment to one new vendor is involved. The
prospect will get spooked and do one or all of the following: build up a
resistance to change, get more people involved in the decision, start to
comparison shop, and, at the very least, invite the incumbent vendor in for a
quotation. The result is that you’ve done a lot of work for nothing.
Here, however, is where some brilliant strategy and a little patience pay offs
I train sales consultants to package the findings of their discovery process
into an executive summary, which includes a detailed description of the
prospect’s current state complete with problem areas. For every problem area,
the salesperson recommends a cost effective solution. Again, if you have
identified twelve problem areas and are recommending 12 solutions the proposal
can quickly get out of hand. The executive summary is presented to the prospect
prior to the delivery of the proposal, providing an opportunity to create a
The strategy is to get your prospect to participate in prioritizing your
recommendations and become involved in implementing your solutions before you
even deliver your proposal. By collaborating with your prospects to identify
which of your recommendations they want to initially implement, you improve your
chances of having your proposal accepted.
By prioritizing your recommendations, you will, in effect, “right-size” your
scope of work and your related proposal to a digestible chunk. This will most
likely ensure that the prospect approves your proposal without getting more
people involved in the decision or waking up the incumbent vendor.
In consulting we call this “phasing in the solutions.” Phase one is to implement
the top three to four solutions over a reasonable time frame and measure the
results. Phase two, upon confirmation of results, or earning the right, is to
implement the next three or four prioritized solutions, and so on, until all the
solutions are implemented over time.
Phasing in solutions gives the prospect a chance to implement manageable
projects without assuming the huge risk associated with introducing drastic
changes, totally changing vendors and committing huge financial resources all at
once. This process also helps you initially implement a manageable scope of work
and deliver quick results. This leads to greater credibility, trust and
acceptance in implementing subsequent phases.
This is where patience comes into the picture. If you embrace this consultative
process, you must be prepared to scale down your initial scope of work and your
initial proposal to the top three to four priorities, get those solutions
implemented, measure your effectiveness (results), and return every 90 to 120
days to review your results. Then you can prioritize the next three to four
THE IMPLEMENTATION AGENDA
Sales eagles have used the simple implementation agenda for decades as a way to
open the closing conversation well before showing up with a proposal and
In my model, the implementation agenda is first presented in the executive
summary presentation before a proposal is delivered. This step allows you to
collaborate with the prospect on the logistical process for implementing your
solutions. It also helps you open the discussion as to how and when you intend
to close the sale.
On your implementation agenda, simply list the steps both organizations—buyer
and seller—will need to take to successfully implement your solutions. By
identifying the steps in sequence and attaching realistic time frames for each,
you are pacing your prospect through future events that will lead to the sale.
The first few action steps and dates should be easily agreed on by both the
buyer and seller. For example, prioritizing the recommendations and then
reviewing the proposal for those solutions should present no push-back from the
prospect. Remember that the next step is for the prospect to approve the
proposal, and that the date you’ve attached is the same date as your
presentation of the proposal.
In reviewing your implementation agenda, you want to know where you stand, what
the prospect is thinking, the probability of closing the sale, and a realistic
time frame for closing the sale.
If you’re going to get a push-back or stall at closing time, find out beforehand
what it’s going to be, why, how long, and what needs to happen in order to get a
favorable decision. In a way, you’re inviting a push-back, an objection, or at
least asking for a further education as to how your prospect makes decisions and
conducts business. Here’s where your prospect may say, “I can review your
proposal next Tuesday, but I’m not in a position to approve it at that time.” So
far your goal has been accomplished—you’ve opened the closing conversation.
It’s up to you to simply ask the prospect what needs to happen in order to
approve the proposal. Get it out on the table now, before you even propose! You
may hear anything from “I need to run this by my executive committee or
accountant,” to “It’s our policy to send out Request for Proposals for these
types of acquisitions.”
Engage your prospect in discussing the specifics of this internal
decision-making process and garner input as to a realistic time frame for
implementation. During this conversation, you can modify the implementation
agenda, adding action steps and reassigning dates until you’ve arrived at an
agreement that works for both you and the prospect. By discussing the required
steps for concluding the transaction, you’ve engaged your prospect in a
collaborative closing conversation.
I know some salespeople who successfully present their implementation agendas
with the dates left blank. They engage their prospects right from the start,
partnering with them, making requests of each other, offering proposals and
counterproposals, and making commitments to each other’s action steps, jointly
deciding on realistic dates for completion. The outcome is to get prospects
involved in and committed to closing the sale. Remember, all these closing
action steps and dates are worked out and committed to before you even deliver
your final proposal.
Take a wild guess at the closing ratios my clients enjoy when they present a
proposal for solutions that the prospect has already prioritized and
pre-approved in principle. Keep in mind that they are presenting their proposals
on agreed-upon dates, and that the prospect knows full well that the next action
step is to approve the proposal on that same date. If you guessed around 80
percent, you’re right!