Friday, November 28, 2008

Interesting question...and answers

Thanks to proposal expert Chris Whyatt of Practical Bid Solutions who asked a question to the combined minds of LinkedIn - it was this:

Producing a proposal for a prospective customer is the stage of the sales process that most sales people dislike/avoid the most? True (If so, why?) or False?

My experience (based on nearly 10 years of running Practical Bid Solutions and 20 more is sales) is that sales people hate proposals, either proactive (no ITT / RFP etc) or reactive (with ITT / RFP etc) because a/ they get little support from their employers b/ they are not trained to do it, and finally c/ their writing skills are probably rusty.

It's a good question, as many people who are great persuaders in a face-to-face setting can't do the same when they have to put pen to paper. That's why people like Chris exist and why Learn to Write Proposals exists - to try and help people and businesses improve their proposals and win more work.

(Oh, and by the way - I have no affiliation with Chris or Practical Bid Solutions but plenty of respect).

I hope no-one minds me revealing some of the highlights to the wider world. Here are my favorite two answers to the question - If you want to know more then go to LinkedIn and search for Chris and view his questions. 

I think this is true but only in part. Proposals and ITT / RFP's are often significant endeavours involving many man days of effort not just from the sales person, but also from many people from other parts of an organisation, for example pre-sales, delivery, legal, support, etc., etc. To put a high quality response together involves coordinating, leading and bringing together the efforts of a virtual team, many of whom are focused on other things. 

The talents that lead a person in to sales, and which help them excel there, are different from the talents required to project manage and respond to a proposal, diligently follow a bid process, assess/balance resource effort and commercial risk against the reward the endeavour may bring - if it proves ultimately successful. 

On top of that Sales Management usually expect a sales person to maximise their customer contact time. Sales people are expected to be out in front of customers, not back in the office, coordinating and writing. If they spend too much time at it it can, ultimately, be to their career peril.

And another...

Sales people put their priority where they have more probability to win. This means, working with customers they already have a developed and good business relation and selling company solutions that are habitual. 
Your question is absolutely the opposite from these two previous factors, which means increasing the risk from loosing a lot of time and at the end, not closing the business. Why? The prospective sale cycle is not known by the sales person, the customer needs and decisions makers, either. The Sales person has to teach everything about its company, the product and create connection with the customer, all this involves a lot of effort. Additionally, a sales person knows that is easier to sell and have a happy recurrent customer if the solution is a usual one from the company’s portfolio. 

At the end is it all “Time x winning probability x Amount of business” and a good sales person knows how to make these calculations. 

Getting away from this opportunity is probably the best decision a Sales Person can do, because at the end the opportunity cost will be huge from not working in other businesses where the sales person has better position

I'll be giving my thoughts to this question in my next blog because there are a lot of important issue that this question (and the answers) raises. 

Once we've analysed this a little more maybe we can find a way of making writing proposal slightly less painful for our salespeople.