Weekly Observations and Insights on Sales and Selling

Making a Proposal a Proposition

Gary Boye

BUYERS DON'T BUY a proposal. They buy the proposition. That's why any proposal worth the paper it's written on must contain a proposition. As we discussed in the last chapter, it's the proposition that counts. Without it, we're not selling anything, because we have nothing to sell.

In business to business selling, many buyers are regimented into a fixed buying format specifically for their own convenience. That does not necessarily mean that it is a good process. Cutting to the chase or getting to bottom line for expediency is a prime cause of missed opportunities for making better purchases. When salespeople religiously align with such bureaucratic rituals among buyers, they sacrifice their own creativity and put themselves at the mercy of unfriendly inertia.

A Sales Letter in Disguise

A well-written proposal is a sales letter in disguise. The driving force in any proposition can be summed up in two words: "added value." Unfortunately, we hear that term used so often among marketing types it's easy to ignore the meaning. I prefer to refer to "adding value" with the words, "sweetening the pot."

The sales industry is not crowded with good copy writers. That's a good thing for you and I. Few people know that proposal writing is copy writing and the best proposals reflect the skills of good copy writing because that is conversation also.

I'm not blind to the fact that I've introduced a new challenge. I encourage salespeople to become skilled at good copy writing. The pay-off is immense.

Emphasize Features and Benefits.

The best of the best in selling will disassociate themselves from the norm. Submitting a written quotation that merely outlines price, goods, service, warranty, and/or scope of work might well align with what the prospective buyer expects. However, the overriding best practice in sales is to always strive to exceed expectations. A proposal, if constructed creatively, can distinguish a company or representative by offering a benefit not readily available elsewhere. Never should any written communication be perceived as if it were a rubber stamped form. Instead, a well-written proposal can emphasize features and benefits like quality of service and support, prompt delivery, and time sensitive offers that harbor no extra costs.

Headlines in our Proposal

Every Request for Quotation is an opportunity for us to tell our story, not to align with a buyer's mundane or dogmatic process. What do all well-constructed sales letters have in common? They use headlines. Why? Headlines are magnets. All the best sales copywriters agree; people read headlines with a sharper eye than they read copy.

Stay Creative and Ahead of the Competition.

It's important to keep in mind is that the actual process of designing the customer value proposition is an ongoing process. Our competition is likely to begin offering the same type of enhancements over time. In fact, they'll be looking to offer more attractive offers. This means that a company's brain trust must constantly be searching for methods to improve the perceived value of customer benefits so they can maintain their advantage. A well-crafted value proposition makes it possible to not rely solely on price to win the business. Little extras count and they should be highlighted in our proposal.

We Decide Where the Selling Conversation Ends.

Earlier we discussed the "best practice" about making every conversation meaningful. Sometimes we have to interrupt the buying process in order to get it where we want it to go. We decide where the conversation ends. So long as we are fair and ethical, we can shape our own protocol. Requests for quotations that describe the buyer's requirements and specifications are not always etched in stone. Nor are they always accurate. More often than not, negotiation takes center stage.

Without a strong and differentiating proposition all selling processes are sterile. With one, the seller can occupy the driver's seat. Then "negotiation" simply takes the form of "modification". Modify the terms, modify the offer, modify the quantity, etc. --all to reach accord and closure.