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Is “Send Them a Proposal” the Only Tool in Your Sales Arsenal?

Rethink your sales process and improve your tools
Building a business is always about acquiring customers and driving revenue.  And that’s about selling - creating and delivering value. Many entrepreneurs believe their products are so good they sell themselves and all they need to do is present them and then send a proposal and the sale is theirs!
Over the years, having run and advised dozens of companies, I’ve seen every manner of a sales force and sales process, and that rarely was ever the case.  Today, with less and less face-to-face selling, it is even rarer. Successful selling is becoming more and more challenging.  Fewer prospects, more competition, less personal interaction.  And a proposal, which should be near the final step of a sale (more on this later), cannot be expected to do your selling for you.

So, needing to drive revenue to grow, what’s an entrepreneur or small business owner to do?

You need to understand that sales are a process not an event. That said, you need to rethink your sales process and improve your arsenal of sales tools.  Here are seven steps to enhancing both your process and your tools and, in turn, improving your sales results.  The first four revolve around internal sales processes and tools; the next three with external (customer) sales process and tools:

Create a sales culture where “sales is everybody’s job.”

A sales culture starts with first impressions prospective customers get – website (inviting and regularly updated), phone answering (no “voice mail hell,”) social media presence (every post with a purpose – preferably selling). It’s all about “the little things” and how inviting you make it for someone to want to do business with you.  And then it’s about everybody “selling the company” in everything they do; conveying the message that not only do you want their business but that you pride yourself that they will enjoy the experience.  Show them it’s a fun place to work and with lots of genuine people with whom they will enjoy doing business. And that has to start at the desk of the owner/CEO right down to the person answering the phone or sending out invoices. Everybody determined to “go the extra mile’ for any customer or prospect.

Go to school…on your company and its most recent sales history.

Do a hard review of your recent sales efforts. What my favorite sales wizard, Jeffrey Gitomer calls “The Last Ten” – your last ten leads, appointments, sales calls, closed sales, repeat sales, referrals, lost sales, calls for service help, customer complaints, lost customers, testimonials.
This is a great exercise and could be eye-opening! And it doesn’t have to be ten, it could be over the last six months, or 60 days, whatever.  The idea is not only to see what you’ve accomplished but how you’ve succeeded…or not!  This will begin to show you what you need to change and why, to improve your sales process.

Know and respect your competition.

My foundation training in business and sales came from IBM, where I started my career.  And they had a unique philosophy about competition.  That is, know them (do your homework and understand everything you can about their product and how they sell); respect them (never say anything negative about them).  In fact, never mention them to prospects or customers except in the most professional way possible. Emphasize those things your product does better (feature/function/benefit) than your competition, while never mentioning either their product or their name.  Finally, if they have beaten you, head-to-head, analyze the situation and what you could have/should have done better and be ready for the next encounter.

Value-driven sales messages/presentations.

Review all sales messages and presentations and make sure that you are highlighting value.  Whatever your “promise” whether that be ROI, more customers, improved efficiency, etc., you have to be able to prove you can deliver. Selling on price is a commodity game that gets won by the deepest pockets.  And if you’re just a little guy, you’re doomed in a price war!
Determine how you best deliver value to your customers and then be sure you gather the right data from prospective customers to help show your value proposition for them. Make it a part of how you build your CRM data about prospects and customers.
Finally, keep messages consistent from your website to your product sheets to your pitches – all value-driven vs. feature/function- or technology-driven.

Create a relationship/friendship with prospects through regular interaction.

Before there is a sale, there has to be a relationship and if you can make a friendship, even better.  People still buy from people.  And, mostly, people they like. And in these days of email, texting and 140-character thinking, it’s tougher and tougher to establish relationships.  But, for long-term success, it’s a necessity.
Find a way to get with them, face-to-face.  Schedule short meetings to better understand their business, needs, and problems and get to know them, professionally and personally.  Keep product discussions at a high level until you’ve learned how your product can fill a need or solve a problem before you pitch your relevant value proposition. Once you’ve built a little personal rapport, try to get them into a social setting – networking event, sporting event, etc. Continually interact, in person, by telephone and email.  Building a relationship is laying the foundation for your future sales success.

A proposal is a fourth quarter play, not a first quarter play.

A proposal comes toward the end of the game, not at the beginning.  It is a culmination, not a starter. If you do your job and build a relationship and gather the proper data around the prospective customer’s need or problem, then you can begin to discuss the role your product can play in helping drive their business.  Get affirmation from the prospective customer of where they think the value proposition for them is, and then, and only then put a proposal together that documents that “agreement in principle.”  In short, a proposal should solidify an already agreed to set of terms and conditions. It further solidifies a value-driven sales presentation that begins or extends a relationship where everyone profits. Focus on value not price; stay relational, not transactional.

Know the Prospect decision-process – who, why, how.

Finally, as early in the sales process as possible, always know who will be making the final decision.  If it’s not your prime contact, how do you get in front of that person (remember people buy from people). Know what the determining factors for the decision will be and how the decision will be made.  Price will always be part of the final determination, but value, if you’ve put together the right value proposition will always win the day!
As I stated at the outset, building a business is about acquiring customers and driving revenue.  That’s about selling - creating and delivering value. And that’s more than just sending out proposals. Sales is a process, not an event; a process that uses all the tools in your sale arsenal to deliver value.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!

When’s the last time your reviewed your sales process?  Is it simply a “proposal machine?” Please share your thoughts in your comments.  It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner.

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