How to finish sales proposals faster

How to finish sales proposals faster
Written by: Karl Sakas

Clients often ask me, “How can I finish sales proposals faster?” As a range, my clients spend anywhere from 20 minutes to nearly 20 staff-hours on creating a sales proposal.

When your marketing agency’s positioning is amazing, you’ll find you mostly jump to creating a Statement of Work (SOW) because your clients are so ready to hire you, they don’t expect formal proposals.

Until then, here’s how you can get a better ROI on proposal-creation time during your sales process.

1) Decide if the particular opportunity is worth doing a proposal.

The fastest way to save time… is to not even start a proposal that isn’t worth it. Depending on your sales funnel, this “worth it” may vary. Dry funnel? You’ll be less picky. Full funnel? Don’t waste time on weaker opportunities. (Of course, you should be working to keep the funnel full all the time, but that’s another article.)

2) Get the prospect to invest time to help you close the sale.

In an ideal world, you’re creating a proposal based on several one-on-one interactions with the prospective client. They’ve answered questions from you about their business goals, including what is and isn’t important. One of your most powerful tools here is an intake questionnaire. Don’t make it too complicated.

3) Invest proposal time accordingly to the opportunity’s likely value.

Consider two categories:

  • You’re going into a 20-agency cattle call, or this is a tiny deal for your agency? Spend less time. And any RFPs are rarely a good use of your time.
  • The prospective client has shared their exact budget and the rationale behind that choice, or you know you’re one of three finalists? Spend more time. Your cheaper services might not even need formal proposals, or perhaps you can use a barely-customized document for those.

4) Choose an angle before you start typing.

That is, decide the overall story you’re going to tell. Don’t recommend specific marketing strategies—giving away “spec” work is not a good habit—but do recommend the process you’ll use to get the results. Clients are judging you on your approach, so if your approach seems careless, they’re less likely to say “yes.”

5) Decide beforehand how many options to offer.

I’m a fan of 2-3 options—a baseline approach and a deluxe approach, or those two plus a middle option. Ensure that each option is profitable by itself—that the cheap option has a small enough scope that you can make money, and that the high-end option doesn’t have so much scope that you can’t complete it without losing your shirt.

6) Automate, but not too much.

Having reviewed many agency proposals, it’s pretty obvious when an agency has created a custom proposal vs. an automated proposal. Last week, I mentioned to an agency owner that it looked like he’d created the proposal in InDesign—and sure enough, he had.

The other end of the scale are automated proposal tools like ProposifyQuote Roller, or Qvidian (formerly RFP Machine / RFP Express). Are those right for you? It ultimately depends on how customized your proposals need to be to close deals.

7) Get input from the team, as appropriate.

Nothing’s worse to your team than their finding you sold something that’s going to be impossible to build… or if not impossible, then at least unprofitable at the price you sold it for. Get input from the “doers” on your team—designers, developers, strategists, and others.

You’ll need to find a balance on getting their sales input vs. taking up so much time that their billable ratio suffers. Part of the reason I recommend a 50% billable target for PMs is that some of their non-billable time includes coordinating estimates for sales proposals.

8) Get someone else to edit your proposal.

This includes proofreading—both for regular typos and to ensure you spelled (and capitalized) the prospect’s name correctly—and higher-level “does this make sense”?

9) Get buy-in from the prospect ahead of time on doing a live Q&A about the proposal.

Say you’d like to review the proposal with them in real time (by phone or in-person, depending on your circumstances), after they’ve had a chance to do an initial review. Get them to book a time on their calendar to do this—either before you send the proposal, or as a condition of sending the proposal. If they won’t commit to spend 45 minutes on the phone, why should you commit to spending six hours on creating a proposal?

Question: What do you do to complete sales proposals faster at your agency?

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