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Fixing Lousy Proposals By Putting The Customer First

Why I’m committing to refining our customer-facing proposal materials in 2019.

My buddy Randy is brutal. Last week he tore my sales pitch to shreds. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” he admonished when I sent him a proposal containing (among other items) the following product description:

Lutron Wall Plates, Pico Wall box Mounting Bracket

I immediately got defensive. “What’s wrong with describing Lutron wall plates?” I thought. Then I slowed down and realized what a gift Randy was offering. When do we ever get a chance to hear what a customer really feels about our work product. He took time out to deliver very detailed criticism in a constructive fashion. He piled on some more with, “No jargon or three-letter acronyms please. Croc-brain shuts down.”

Also by Henry Clifford: Planning for 2019 — Start Here

I later discovered the “croc-brain” refers to a primal instinct we all experience when considering a purchase (made famous by Oren Klaff in his book Pitch Anything). Clearly we’ve been neglecting this in our sales approach. There’s a saying in aviation: “Fly the airplane all the way back to the hangar.” When we meet with a client and wow them with a great presentation, that’s not the end of the show. It’s just the beginning. Every customer touch point is an opportunity to preserve and enhance his or her opinion of us. When we settle for mediocrity, our customers see it and take note. Our only saving grace as an industry is that we all deliver pretty ugly proposals and have lame pre-sales workflow that isn’t customer-centric.

Because of Randy’s feedback, I’m committing to refining our customer-facing proposal materials in 2019. While I’d like to lay the state of our current proposal documents at the feet of our software package, I can honestly say none of the canned document templates offered by our industry vendors move my needle. Most of the proposals I’ve seen might have photos and some narrative, but for the most part they’re glorified shopping lists. I’ll never forget the first time we used one of the flagship proposal software packages to do a proposal just like the “big boys.” Lame. Canned formats with photos next to shopping list descriptions. What’s funny is I haven’t really seen a proposal that moved my needle from any company out there.

Randy included a few sections in his revised proposal that we’ll make sure to weave into our 2019 overhaul:

  1. Simple descriptions: No more tech gobbledygook for us. Plain English will be the new norm in 2019.
  2. Ongoing service and support options: We do good job of presenting this now, but it’s nice to see this stressed on each and every proposal.
  3. Easy to understand summaries: Our current proposals need to spell out final pricing in simpler terms.
  4. Add-ons and upgrades: I can’t believe we’re not doing this on every job! When I saw this section it killed me. This will be easy to add. Randy also encouraged me to consider what he calls a “warranty uplift” by increasing our warranty term for a flat percentage of the job total.

In an industry full of lousy proposals, we’ve done OK with just being a little bit better than everyone else. What if we were head and shoulders above the crowd across all industries? I don’t think it’s going to be difficult, it just took Randy to wake me up. I thanked him for the gift of feedback. I can’t wait to write the follow up to this article with our new and improved look and feel.

How do your proposals stack up?

Stay frosty and see you in the field.