In the previous blog, we continued our discussion of the critical questions sales management should ask when it comes to closing must-win deals and explored “Can We Make It Easier For The Customer To Buy? in which we introduced the concept of Multiple Acceptable Options to manage uncertainty and risk. In this blog, we’ll show how we can use options in our Proposal as well as address the question “Is Our Proposal Compelling?”

My observation is that B2B sales proposals are treated more or less as a “check box” exercise. Meaning that we are now at the point in the sales cycle where we should give the customer a proposal. When I work with buying organizations to help them position and close critical deals with key suppliers, part of my job is to review supplier proposals. I really hate this task because I already know what almost every supplier proposal will say. They’re all about the supplier and their products, services, features, office locations, growth, recent acquisitions, etc. They’re all innovative, world-leading, and Gartner upper-right quadrant. And I don’t know how this math works, but somehow they all manage to be number one in their field. It’s no wonder customers have a hard time choosing one supplier over another.

In short, the current state of supplier proposals is truly abysmal. And they stay that way because many sales reps simply cut and paste from previous proposals and templates. (With any luck, they also remember to search/replace the customer name!) The other problem is that these proposals are constructed more like marketing documents than ones meant to close a sale. Therefore, the thinking goes, the more pages—pictures, diagrams, charts, graphs, tables—the better. They then become self-defeating, making it harder for the customer to make an informed decision because nowhere are these mountains of data linked to the outcomes the customer wants to achieve. As a result, customers begin to question why certain elements are in the proposal. I submit a huge opportunity is lost in that our proposals could be a strategic weapon if done correctly.

The form of a proposal should follow its purpose and objectives. Its purpose is to seamlessly and quickly bridge from selling to setting up the right negotiation. Its objectives are to 1) reinforce trust and credibility; 2) allow the customer to buy and make it easier to choose you; and 3) manage the uncertainty that surrounds any complex B2B deal.

Let me offer a different approach. With just seven simple slides, we can incorporate virtually all of the concepts we’ve discussed so far in this blog series and make it much easier for the Customer to buy from us, and feel confident they are making the right decision. Look at the proposal presentation template in the figure below.

My clients have used this simple, yet powerful approach on deals ranging from around $20K to well over $1B. The decision was made based on just seven simple slides. First note that this is not designed to be a presentation but rather to generate a dialogue with the customer. The Cover Slide is your overall Value Proposition to the customer – not a listing of the products and services you want them to buy. Or even worse, a long list of acronyms that nobody understands but you.

Slide #2 provides the desired outcomes that we believe the customer is trying to achieve. Our goal is to validate those outcomes and send the message that everything that follows is based on the customer’s desired outcomes. In Slide #3 we simply translate the customer’s desired outcomes into the key Deal Levers that should be in a deal – and get the customer to agree that these are the right Deal Levers to support those outcomes.

In Slide #4 we share what is important to us in a deal. I won’t go into the objections I’ve heard to doing this as I wrote a whole blog on it “Why Not Tell Them?”. In Slide #5 we present Past Value Delivered (PVD). If this is an existing customer, we remind them of the value we have delivered. If this is a new “greenfield” customer, we provide a few examples of customers who were looking to achieve similar outcomes. These first five slides are designed to reinforce trust and credibility while setting up the right negotiation.

Slide #6 is perhaps the most important part of the proposal for it is here that we present Multiple Acceptable Options to the customer in order to manage uncertainty, allow the customer to choose and to further set up the right negotiation.  Slide #7 simply follows the old adage of reminding the customer of what we told them. Taken together, the last three slides allow the customer to choose the best deal for them and feel comfortable they have made the right choice.

This approach is the essence of making it easier to buy from us in this increasingly complex B2B sales environment. It is far too common that sales reps make the complex even more complicated and thus confuse customers. Make the complex simple and easy to understand and you will be rewarded with more business! In the next blog, we will ask “Are We Having The Right Negotiation?”

Good Selling!