Finish the Year Strong: Proposals that Close

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From Scot MacTaggart, host of The Pitchwerks Podcast and cofounder of local strategy firm KRNLS, The Werkshop helps readers to scrutinize and practice a different sales or business development skill every month.

In the last few weeks, a higher-than-normal number of readers have asked me to take a look at their proposals. In those, I saw a lot of unnecessarily complexity, where it wasn’t clear what the pitch or value proposition was. The experience showed me that I need to do a public service this month, and focus on the basics of proposing and closing.

Ready or not, the 4th quarter of 2019 is kicking off, and everyone needs to remind themselves how the holidays and next-term budgeting make the last quarter painfully short every year. If the overly complicated proposals I’m describing sound like they could have been yours, stop now before you totally cramp your calendar.

Here are a few approaches that you can use to propose and close as efficiently as possible as the year winds down:

  • Make the transaction clear. A friend of mine got me using his very specific construction for quote clarity about 10 years ago. He includes a simple sentence and bulleted list on the first page, and treats them as an executive summary, and it always starts, “For the sum of [Price], plus applicable taxes, [Vendor] will provide…” and then he follows it with a list of bullet points. This approach sets the buyer at ease, spelling out the terms of the trade.

  • Consider setting an expiration date. New prices and labor rates often take effect January 1st of a new year, and you don’t want to pay a higher price just because your proposal didn’t take it into consideration. And If you’re trying to fill out your 2019 numbers, you’re probably enticing the buyer with a special price, so there’s nothing wrong in explaining why the price won’t be honored after the new year.

  • Boil it down to a yes / no decision. Every proposal should be complete and self-contained. If your closing statement can’t be boiled down to two simple sentences, you’ll confuse the buyer, need more calls and meetings to close, and miss some deals. Consider using a “Conclusion” section at the end that says “To summarize the proposed transaction, [Buyer] is asked to pay [Price] to [Vendor], with payments due [Payment Schedule]. [Vendor] will then provide [Product], which will be available [Schedule].”

  • Leave the options out. Do everything possible to avoid a “choose your own adventure” multi-option proposal. Options make the proposal much harder for the buyer to understand and to calculate. They are guaranteed to slow the deal down. Be sure to use all your qualification tools. Probe and question until you really understand what the buyer needs, and if they still insist on seeing multiple options, then present each one as a separate document. Again, each one should stand alone and be ready to approve as a simple yes / no decision.

  • Include the whole document package. If they have to approve contract language or fill out some other forms, include them with the proposal so they can review everything all at once.

Finally, it’s important to remember that buyers don’t enjoy a drawn-out procurement any more than a vendor or sales rep enjoys a long sales process. Everyone wants their work to be as frictionless as possible. It’s easy to forget that sometimes, just as it can be easy to forget the basic – but effective – fundamental concepts in the bullet points above.

Now, more than any other time of the year, don’t get cute. Say what you have to say, bring it to a clear offer, and get on to the next task. If you haven’t already hit your annual goal, you’re cutting it close. No point in making it harder on yourself.

This Month’s Challenge: Go back a few months and look at the proposals you have open. If they don’t follow the guidelines above, contact the buyer and ask if you can send them an updated version. This will give you the chance to practice the ideas above, and also to offer any year-end sweeteners you are willing to extend as a way of solidifying 2019 before it goes into the books forever.

Want to talk about this? Have questions? Tell us on Twitter! Tag me at @pitchwerks and use the hashtag #SNPwerkshop so others can follow along!

Contributing Writer
Scot has been a sales rep, a marketer, a manager, an executive, a consultant and a corporate advisor over the past 20 years. He is currently the creator & host of The Pitchwerks Podcast and the co-founder of KRNLS (growth strategy company for startups and small businesses).