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Collaborative Proposals

If you are not selling in a tightly-controlled, RFP-driven sales environment, you might want to consider this collaborative approach for getting your proposals approved.  Proposal collaboration really makes sense now, during these unsure economic times.  It provides the customer with the ability to directly control the content of your proposal as well as the price.

First, some background. 

I’ve listened to dozens of good-natured arguments about which is more difficult—selling tangible products or intangible services.  Those on the services side claim, “Selling products is easy.  You’ve got something the customer can see and touch.  You can demonstrate its use.  Little to no imagination is required on the part of the customer.  They’ve got a spec, you’ve got a product. Ka-ching…  Sale made.”

On the product side, salespeople say, “No, you’ve got it easy.  No products to constrain you.  You can create whatever the customer wants or needs.  Just paint a vision of a solution in their mind and ka-ching…  Close the deal.”

Having spent many years selling on both the product and the services sides, I can tell you that, depending on the circumstances, things come out pretty much even.

But there is an advantage on the services side.  It’s the opportunity to collaborate on a proposal.  A few years ago I wrote an article entitled Instead of Discounting, Back Value Some Value Out of Your Proposal (most recently republished on Paul McCord’s blog).  In the article I suggested that you offer your customer three options.  Many customers like this flexibility.  (It pays to ask them whether they would like three options in advance of going through all this work.)  The approach has worked well for us and for many of our clients as well.  A variation of the three-option approach is the collaborative proposal.

For the past few years at ESR, we have been collaborating directly with influencers and decision makers during the proposal phase of the customer’s buying cycle.  At that point, we’ve already completed the discovery phase, and we therefore have a full understanding of the impact of our products and services on the customer’s business.  We’ve also built a degree of credibility with the customer.

We create a proposal containing a detailed assessment of the customer’s situation, their overall business goals and objectives, as well as the goals and objectives for the initiative, project or engagement.  We then list the strategies required to achieve those goals and objectives, and the tactics to support execution of the strategies.  We also list inputs and outputs, especially deliverables.  We include fees and the term and conditions of the proposed engagement.

We send the proposal to our business sponsor, with the understanding that it’s a working document—one that we expect will go back and forth several times until, as you tell your customer, “we get it right.”  We solicit comments, changes, and suggestions from the customer.  In fact, we expect them. 

If the fees are too high (we typically have tested those in advance of this step), no problem.  We can lower them by removing some deliverables or moving them out into a later phase.  Not comprehensive enough?  We fix that by adding depth and breadth, at a increased level of investment.

The collaboration activity not only provides a platform for building the exact proposal that will meet your customer’s requirements best, but more importantly, it works well toward deepening the relationship.

Have any of you employed this approach?  Has it worked as well for you as it has for us?

Photo credit: © endostock – Fotolia.com

One Response

  1. Dave – I’ve always used this approach whenever possible – and it’s even better if you can do the reviewing & updating face-to-face with the client rather than via trading emails.

    To get their “fingerprints” on the proposal eally helps ensure it’s acceptance – but as you say, it’s even more important because it deepens your relationship. And by doing it face-to-face they can see “live” just how much effort you are taking to make sur eyour proposal exactly meets their needs.


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