A belated Happy New Year to everyone! In my previous post I ended with “…there is one thing that is common to every B2B sale, at some point you will submit a proposal for consideration. The time has come for the B2B proposal to be elevated to a strategic imperative – especially when it comes to enabling customers to quickly and easily answer their questions and sell internally for you when you aren’t there.”
Customers don’t need more information about us (which is what most B2B proposals are about). Studies show they are already overwhelmed by the volume of supplier information. Rather they need the right information about themselves – that answers their key questions and is organized in an easily shared and consumed format. One that your champion or enabler can use as he/she sells internally on your behalf.
Let’s be clear that no proposal will likely ever answer all the diverse questions from the various buying influencers at a typical B2B customer. In my experience when working on the buying side, our proposal must answer the obvious key questions that will be asked virtually every time. This is even more critical today when the bulk of the buying discussions happen virtually within the customer. Help the customer easily answer these questions and odds are you will get a “seat at the table” to finalize any unanswered questions or nagging details.
Remember that many of the buying influencers or key decision makers have not been involved in the day-to-day details of our sales campaign. Also, we are asking for their attention when they are distracted by a multitude of priorities – many may be perceived as higher than what we want to sell (our products and services). Therefore, our focus must be on what they are interested in which is buying better outcomes for the business and themselves.
And we won’t get their attention with a 100 page spiral bound masterpiece with four color graphs, charts, diagrams, tables, etc. They don’t have the time or desire to read it. They pay people to read this kind of stuff. What they want are answers to five fundamental questions:
- Why do we need to do anything?
- When can we expect success and what does it look like?
- How will this supplier help us achieve these outcomes?
- Where has the supplier previously delivered on similar outcomes?
- What is the best and/or lowest risk approach to move forward with this supplier?
So why not organize your proposal to answer these obvious questions? You can do it in five pages. A simple and easy to digest proposal would flow as follows:
Simply title the cover page as the outcomes the customer wants to achieve. Now we are telling them this proposal is about them and informs why they should want to read it. Believe it or not, that’s usually a lot more interesting to buying influencers than something titled as our products and services. And it directly answers the first question of why do anything and why you might be relevant to them.
Expected Results We Will Achieve:
Detail the various specific outcomes important to the customer and answer 1) what will be accomplished; 2) how much it will improve; and 3) by when it will happen. The “We” in the title of this page is us and the customer. These are the results we will jointly achieve and answers the second key question of when that could happen and what success could look like. In short, it gives them a glimpse of a new and improved future state.
Together with the cover page we are building trust with these internal stakeholders. Customers trust us not because of what we know about our products and services, but rather what we know about them and what they want to accomplish.
How We Will Achieve Success:
Here we will “connect the dots” between the critical aspects of our offering (products, services, support, etc.) and the desired outcomes from the previous section. I’ve found this is much easier to do with a graphic or table when there are a lot of “moving parts” to our offer. We are demonstrating that we know what will be required to accomplish the customer’s outcomes and that our offer(s) only contains what is needed to do so. This answers the third question of how we will achieve them.
Past Value Delivered:
Give the customer 3 or 4 examples of other customers who wanted to solve similar problems and achieve similar outcomes including the results that were delivered. Don’t fret if they aren’t from the same industry as it’s more important to be relevant to their current needs and situation. Also, don’t provide the “NASCAR” graphic of all the logos our company has done business with. Every competitor has a similar slide and thus there is no differentiation. This clearly answers the fourth question of where we have done this before (these should also be our references).
Together with the “How We Will Achieve Success” section we are building significant credibility with these buying influencers. We are more credible when we can clearly connect the dots between their outcomes and what is in our offer – and demonstrate that we are a business focused on delivering customer’s desired outcomes.
Options For Moving Forward:
This is the heart of our proposal and where we invite the customer to help us craft the right deal for them. We accomplish this by providing customers with three options in a 3 column table format so that the buying influencers can easily compare the different outcomes and aspects of each offer. Crafting options that advance our sales strategy as well as minimize our risk due to uncertainty is an art as well as science. It will take much more space to describe how to construct these options than we have here today, but I have written about it here and here.
By providing options to the customer, we are in effect telling them they will get to participate in the buying decision. Who would not like that when they are buying? By weighing different options, we are enabling the customer to make a more informed decision. And we’re increasing our odds of success because we’re competing against ourselves (our options #1, #2 and #3 against the competition). The vast majority of the time, the final deal is a combination of one or more options. And that’s OK because it’s now the customer’s deal (not our deal) and it will get closed quickly! This answers the fifth question of what is the best approach for them to work with us.
That’s it in a nutshell. I’m often told that “there’s no way our proposals can be condensed into a handful of pages or slides!” And I understand the challenge. However, when you place yourself on the buying side of the equation, would you rather wade through 100 pages of mostly marketing material about the supplier, searching for the nuggets that apply to you? Most definitely not. It’s easy to complicate things and complexity leads to uncertainty and confusion – which in turn to leads to a no decision for us.
It’s hard to simplify and clarify the key points, but we will be well rewarded by customers who are earnestly trying to make an informed decision. After all, they aren’t in the business of buying – they are in the business of their business. Help them to quickly answer their key questions. As a start, use this format for your Executive Summary if you still feel compelled to write a young novel. Or use this format and put all the other stuff in the Appendix.
Remember, once a customer decides they want to buy their overriding question is “Who understands us and what we’re trying to achieve – and who do we trust to help us get there?” And they will never be able to Google an answer to that question. A well-crafted proposal will give them the answer – when you aren’t in the room.