Top 7 Techniques to Eliminate Proposal Rejections

By Tom Varjan

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Sadly, for far too many service professionals proposal writing is a “hope-and-pray” game. They sit down with prospects, chat for a while and then volunteer to “submit a proposal”.

In the traditional proposal process the project is not accepted until the proposal is signed. However, there are some problems there.

Not every buyer is ready to buy. Some are just ruthless tyre kickers collecting free information from kind-hearted souls. Some prospects will drag you along, milk you for free information and in the last moment drop out.

Compare it to a bullfight: The matador puts up the red cape and the bull charges. After the spectators have received enough excitement and the bull is dead exhausted, the matador elegantly pulls a sword out of the rolled-up end of the cape and stabs the bull in the heart.

Now let us look at you in the “bullfight”: Prospects entice you for a great project you start working in order to get the gig. After prospects got all the information they were looking for and you are dead tired after dispensing all that information, prospects tell you they are not interested and you can get lost.

Now, here is something. When is it easier to receive that no? Before or after you have spent time, effort and energy to draft your proposal? As you will learn, a proposal – like a marriage certificate - is a short document, but it is silly to offer it unless there is a mutual commitment to go ahead.

So, to make life easier for you, it is a lot easier not to write proposals unless prospects make a commitment to work with you.

You may now say this is silly and nobody works with you unless they know what they get. Well then, think of airport terminals and plane flights. The terminal tells you where the plane is flying to and what terminal it is leaving from and the approximate departure and arrival times.

And you basically make an investment and buy your ticket based on these two pieces of information. All the rest can change as you go along. They do not tell you how many times the driver will change gear, how many times the plane will stop at red lights or at flight channel congestion, or how many times the pilot has to call AA to fix a flat tyre.

A proposal is the same. It is a strategic - big picture – document. The tactics come later and they can change on a dime as necessary.

So let us look at the seven typical mistakes service professionals make regarding proposals.

  1. Not finding the true economic buyer - You must always talk to the economic buyer, the only person in the client’s company who can both authorise and finance the project. Yes, you will bump into some self-important busybodies but make sure they do not take you for a ride. They may pose as decision-makers but they are not. Here is a way of testing it.

    “So, am I hearing correctly that you can write me a cheque now, shake hands and begin the project tomorrow morning?”

  2. Not asking the prospect about the value the project’s completion will mean to the company - Ask prospects to stipulate the value their organisations (and them personally) will derive from the project. The more you focus on the value buyers receive from collaborating with you, the less opportunity you give them to “grill” you about your fees. Remember, buyers must not know your fees until they have reached the last section of your proposal. However, you can demonstrate how much better off they will be after the project, that is, you expose them to the gap – often the proverbial Grand Canyon – between the before and after project situation.

    “As a result of this project, what will you be able to do what you cannot do right now?

    “What impact do you expect on your personal life after successful completion?”

    “What is the financial impact on an annual and decade basis?”

    “So, what is the budget you can dedicate to in achieving the outcomes you have just stipulated?”

  3. Not establishing metrics for the project - Establish how prospects want to measure the progress of the project. These are quantitative, qualitative and – very very important – personal indicators. Also, make sure you have both long- and short-term indicators set for measurement.

    Remember, “writing a 70-page manual” and “running a half-day workshop” are not metrics. They are deliverables, thus totally useless for value-based consulting.

    “How will you recognise the achievement of your objectives?”

    “What measures are you using now?”

    “What kind of short and long-term indicators do you plan to use?”

    “What is the minimum improvement you would like to see?”

    “What is the maximum improvement you would like to see?”

  4. Falling into the trap of discussing implementation methodologies – The proposal is a “big picture” document. It is not for outlining minor details. That is something you will put together later jointly with the implementing team. Prospects know their businesses (content) and you know your stuff (process), and the synergistic application of the two will create the desired improvements in the client’s condition. Yes, tasks and action steps are part of the project, but they don’t belong to the proposal. Jointly with the buyer lay out the objectives of the project, that is, what kind of improvement you want to achieve. Consulting is about the intensity of the collaboration not the poundage of deliverables and the number of hours of manual labour is preformed.

    “What improvement do you expect to see at the end of the project?”

    “What are the three most important issues we must handle first?”

    “What would you like to have more of and less of by the end of the project?”

  5. Giving buyers a “take it or leave it” choice – When you indicate to buyers that there are several ways of skinning a cat, that is, they can choose from several options to achieve the discussed objectives, you psychologically empower them because they can choose. Empowered people are more confident and make decisions more quickly and permanently. You will not have “buyer’s remorse”. Always present options, and make sure one option is above budget.

  6. Talking about your fees too early – If you want your fee to be seen as an investment to achieve a worthwhile goal, make sure you spend all your time talking about the return on investment. If you offer fees too early, you may be perceived as a person who does not give adequate consideration to fees, only throws something out there in hope of acceptance.

  7. Failing to create a definite follow-up plan – You must establish with the buyer how and when you plan to follow up with the proposal. This is especially important if you do not take a payment before writing it. Make certain that you do not land in situations like:

    Buyer: “Don’t call me I call you when I’m ready.”

    Buyer: “Just leave it with me and I’ll get back to you.”

    I won't happen. Always you follow up, or even better, take that commitment deposit.

Organisational Provocateur Tom “Bald Dog” Varjan works with service professionals who are frustrated selling their top notch services at competitive(ly low) fees. You find several special reports, over 65 indexed articles and his monthly newsletter for service professionals on his website at www.di-squad.com.

Source: http://Top7Business.com/?expert=Tom_Varjan

Article Submitted On: August 22, 2004