Demystifying the Proposal Process // Part 1: Informal Sales Proposals

If you’re a business owner, sales rep, or business development team member, you know how crucial a sales proposal is to the success of your business. Today we’re looking at the proposal process as it relates to a more informal inquiry. We’ve mentioned the informal inquiry before—essentially, the informal sales pitch typically starts with a simple “Send me a proposal.”

In some form or fashion, that’s it. That’s all you get. But how you respond to a four-word request could lead to giant results for your business. In this blog post, you should walk away feeling confident—the proposal process isn’t always a large, drawn-out production. Sometimes it’s just taking the faithful steps toward an exemplary response. A response that should take your future client by pleasant surprise.

How Do I Engage the Informal Sales Process?

In short, any sales response should be timely and succinct. Consider your first meeting or conversation with a prospective client. Whether they call it a proposal or not, you should take thorough notes on their current needs and what your business could offer them in return. If there is a possibility said client would benefit from your services, consider a follow-up email with a request for a second meeting to review your recommendations for their business. And then at that secondary meeting, immediately after the meeting, or even a day before the meeting, send the proposal document or email detailing how you can help. And try to get them a response within a week of your last conversation.

In the document or email, include 1) an overall understanding of the project at hand, 2) a page of references with quotes or work that is similar to what you could provide for them, 3) a brief description of the team they’d be working with, and 4) a few reasons why they should work with you—which could include a few graphs with data points on your expertise and results. The purpose of addressing those four points is to create an opportunity for a dialogue about what pricing structure the customer prefers.

So . . . What About Pricing?

Without a doubt, any prospective client will want to know about your pricing structure and fees as soon as possible. Like we said at the end of the last paragraph, don’t lead with pricing, but expect it as a next step.

If the client is interested in how your services might line up with their need, your next step is to follow up with a few key questions that might determine pricing.

  • “What is your timeline?”
  • “What is your budget?”
  • “What are your largest goals with a project like this?”
  • “Do you prefer to work with a flat rate or hourly rate?”

Although you shouldn’t be afraid to name your standard pricing up front, some of their answers to those might influence your rate. For instance, you could acknowledge a “small business” or “nonprofit” rate—or other pricing incentive—if their budget isn’t typically what you work with. Sometimes small jobs lead to big (and loyal) customers in the long run.

My Network is One Thing, But What About New Leads?

Growing your network and list of prospective clients is a cyclical process, through-and-through. Most importantly, it takes time, patience, and resilience. But first ask yourself the question: Does our team have a sales-cycle process to begin with? From start to finish, it’s crucial you nail down a standard sales lifecycle for winning new business. Over time, you will be surprised at how many new leads come from honoring the process.

There are many ingredients to baking this “new-client” cake. Email follow up, networking events, social media, and sometimes at your kid’s baseball game. You never know when a new lead might present itself, but you have to be ready. Consider the following eight steps in an example sales cycle:

  1. Introduction*
  2. Client expresses need
  3. Send client follow-up email
  4. Address their response with pricing
  5. Win the deal
  6. Whether you win or lose the deal, ask if they know of others who could use your service
  7. Do excellent work for your new customer
  8. Ask your customer how well you served them and if they know anyone else who could use this service? If yes, ask for them to make the introduction* for you.

Can you see how a simple process like this might create more and more leads over time? It might sound simple (and informal) but the results will pay dividends for your business. In a future post, we’ll look at demystifying a more formal RFP response and the necessary steps you can take to win business. For now, know that anywhere you go can present a new opportunity—as long as you are ready to engage in conversation with others. We’re happy to know you’re one step closer to answering the call.