Don’t Let Your Sales Proposals
Do Your Selling for You
Ira Friedman is the CEO of Bay Audio, a
manufacturer of custom speaker solutions.
He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business
Do you bid on projects by submitting
proposals? If so, you are fighting a losing
There’s a lot of psychology wrapped
up in the proposal writing process, and
too often integrators don’t understand
the dynamics that they have set up. This
is why a salesperson often blames some
aspect of the proposal itself if the sale is
lost, instead of acknowledging flaws in the
The Proposal Writing Process
During your first meeting with a
prospective client, you have an
opportunity to sell your company’s skill
set, do a quick assessment of the prospect’s
needs, and throw out some configuration
ideas in an attempt to establish a ballpark
system and price.
The meeting ends with the prospect wanting more. “More” may be a
follow-up meeting, but more likely, it’s a request for a proposal. Triggerhappy
salespeople may even pre-empt the request, and offer a proposal
as a method to end the initial meeting and force a second. Now that the
proposal process is in place, all focus shifts away from salesmanship.
A proposal should serve simply as a confirmation at the end of the sales process.
Your prospect may have three competitive integrators sending
proposals. This exposes the flaw in the proposal-as-selling-tool process.
With three proposals sitting on their desk, your prospect has shifted
attention to the very thing you can’t control: which integrator has
submitted the “best” proposal.
Proposals Subvert Salesmanship
A good proposal is well written, has good visual flow, perfectly explains
the system’s configuration, and presents a price sure to make the
prospect happy. In short, a good proposal is a summation of a good sales
Are you confident enough that your
proposals are the most well written,
look the best, have the most cogent
explanation of benefits, and represent
the perfect price? This is a misleading
question, for certain, because if the perfect
proposal simply restates a competent
sales presentation, then by extension, the
perfect proposal is irrelevant.
Professional sales organizations don’t operate this way. Do you think
Boeing emails a proposal to Singapore Airlines hoping it will buy planes?
Do you think GE overnights a proposal to Brazil hoping to build a new
water treatment plant? Do you think Nike faxes a proposal to Kobe
Bryant seeking him as a company spokesperson? Of course they don’t,
because these companies take sales seriously, and they insist on building
relationships and having conversations with their prospects. Only after
everyone has agreed on the terms of sale does the seller put the offer in
An AV World Translation
Your average sale may be “only” $50k, so justifying a drawn-out selling
process is tough. But do some quick math: let’s say you are lucky enough
to close 33 percent of your proposals. And let’s say it takes you 40 hours
total to acquire a project. Here’s a typical breakdown: 20 hours to hunt
down a prospect, four hours to plan for and hold the first meeting, another
four hours to design the system and draft a proposal, then 12 hours to
follow up until the prospect makes a decision. Because you spend 40 hours
on each prospect and you only close a third, it takes you 120 hours of total
prospecting time (all three prospects combined) to close just one sale.
If, instead, you used salesmanship to land a client and presented your
proposal as a summation tool toward the end, your hours would look like
this: 20 to acquire, four for the first meeting, and eight for subsequent
meetings, during which time you are “designing” the system and finally
presenting a summary proposal. Not only do you save time, but also your
close ratio goes all the way up (typically above 75 percent.)
Prospective clients grant subsequent meetings only if they want to work
with you, so each meeting puts you closer to the sale. Each meeting allows
you to discuss performance, timing, and pricing, and ultimately strengthens
your relationship. The proposal simply serves as a confirmation at the end
of the process.