How to Deliver Sales Proposals that Create Customer Value

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Selling products and delivering sales proposals that create customer value requires buyer and seller understanding of pain points, product and price.

Certainly, these subjects are the center of most communication between seller and buyer. However, at some point, these elements must be more formally addressed and ultimately documented. That process is quoting and proposing, and sales pros will tell you that knowing when and how to do this effectively is important.

Throwing out pricing information too quickly has the effect of focusing the buyer on pricing. It also sets an expectation level for more formal price quotes later in the sales cycle.

Making a proposal too early in the conversation also carries some risk. If you are making a proposal without a full understanding of the buyer’s needs and pains, the buyer will likely perceive you as being careless and, perhaps, even rash.

If you are a sales manager, one of your frustrations is not being able to be there for every conversation between rep and buyer. If you are not there, you can’t jump in and head off those premature pricing discussions or slow down attempts to initiate the proposal conversation before the buyer’s needs are fully understood.

Luckily, there is technology available to help sales fulfill these requirements correctly and also at the proper time.

Price Quotations

Salespeople have all experienced those conversations with a prospect where they are asked, “Just give me a ballpark quote. How much is this thing gonna cost?”

Frequently, prospects will ask this question as a quick way to get the sales rep disqualified. They may be busy that day, or they may already have a perceived solution in mind. Regardless, if they can get your number upfront, they can confidently say, “Forget it; you are way over our budget. Get lost.”

Pricing should only be discussed when specific options for specific problems are being evaluated. If you are selling anything more complicated than chewing gum, that conversation is not going to take place during the initial call.

Sales managers used to talk a lot about how to “control” the sale. More accurately. this control should be all about controlling the timing of the sales conversation. Sales automation software guides the seller through predefined steps or phases of the sales cycle. Each phase covers a specific portion of the selling cycle.

On a larger scale, customer portals and other guided-selling tools provide high-value content to online visitors who are seeking information related to specific pains, needs and possible product solutions.

Some pricing guidance can be provided in this format if appropriate. However, in many cases, the customer wants to gain knowledge on their own and engage with Sales to discuss pricing and other specifics related to the purchasing of the product.

Once engagement is underway, CPQ technology makes this process somewhat automatic because CPQ is driven by a scripted interview. Questions asked and answers given drive more questions and more answers that ultimately reveal specific product options. The options revealed may include a delivered price or a line-item price.

If it is appropriate to provide this level of pricing to a buyer, CPQ will produce a quotation document that includes several very necessary features. Any quotation must include a descriptive statement of what is included for the dollars quoted. Additionally, the quote will be time-stamped for future reference.

Future conversations, hours, days or months later will require that you are able to see what those prices represent in comparison to other numbers that may have found their way onto the table.

If you are simply tossing out numbers over the phone, selective memory on the part of the buyer will always recall the lowest price discussed and not recall any conditional limitations. You must have the ability to pull up a document that specifically states that on this date, this was quoted at this specific price, based on these conditions.

A price without a detailed description is not a quote at all; it is merely a number. CPQ makes sure your quotes are really quotes and not just numbers.

Sales Proposals

For some small, simple product sales, a quotation document will serve as adequate documentation for a sales transaction. Many commoditized products may be shopped for in this manner.

Other more complex products may require more interaction. eCommerce solutions have evolved to the point that many complex products can be successfully sold without the intervention of a sales rep. These solutions may allow the prospective buyer to download a simplified proposal document.

I may know nothing about sizing tires to specific wheels or automobile models, but I can input my car make, model and year into the Tire Rack· website and confidently pick out new wheels and tires for my ride.

However, more complex products, higher-priced products and products that require supportive services such as ongoing maintenance or installation should always be sold using a proposal.

For these types of sales, there is simply too much at stake to assume that everyone understands and knows what is included and what is required to ensure a successful outcome.

Sales managers and sales reps sometimes see the proposal process as something akin to writing a term paper in high school. It connotes lost weekends, page after page of written information, endless hours of research and other negative impressions.

Seasoned sales managers know the frustration of uncovering unaddressed issues late in the cycle. Salespeople who are willing to work through a statement of work or statement of need are assured that there are no hidden issues waiting to be uncovered at the last minute.

Sales automation and CPQ technologies should include a proposal generation capability. This provides a certain amount of automation that will eliminate the all-hands-on-deck call before a weekend or holiday. It also means that there is a process where the issue discussed and the pains defined are accurately described and accepted by both buyer and seller.

Proposals do not have to be encyclopedic in nature; they just need to cover certain specific areas. Here are five key elements to include in any proposal.

  1. Restate the prospect’s objectives– You think you understand what the customer needs. This should be put into writing, and it should be as accurate as possible. This assures the customer that their needs are indeed understood, and it protects Sales from future complaints about missing functionality or other performance issues.
  2. The proposal generation feature within CPQ utilizes notes and documented conversations to help create a concise statement regarding the specific needs and expectations of the buyer.

  3. Do not emphasize your product features and benefits– The proposal does not need to include a lot of marketing-collateral-type documentation. A much more useful way to talk about product is to align specific features and benefits with specific pains. The customer does not care if the product is available in 85 different colors; they want to know if it fixes their issue.
  4. CPQ is perfect for backing up and credibly addressing this type of requirement. It will perfectly match an option to a requirement, an assembly to an environment and a whole solution to the customer-stated needs.

  5. Be concise and make each word count– Proposals do not need to run on for page after page of written content. The more concise and the fewer words the better. Think in terms of economy and precision of language.
  6. CPQ will not add fluff to your proposal. Any content generated by CPQ will be useful in nature and based on accurate information.

  7. Offer options, but do not offer a full menu– When I sold office furniture, I had a sales manager who required that we only offer three color options during furniture proposals. Throwing multiple colors, finishes and materials into the proposal will do nothing but delay the order. As my manager would tell me, “You’ve just turned everyone into a designer!”
  8. A few legitimate options can get the prospect to say yes quickly, but overwhelming them with all manner of possibilities will just confuse things. CPQ is helpful in this regard by identifying what constitutes a real option and what is just another way of doing the same thing.

  9. Include the basic elements of a contract– A proposal is indeed a contract. If things fall apart after the sale and if the buyer and seller find themselves in court, you can be sure that the proposal will be part of the discovery documents related to the case.

Again, this is where brevity and accuracy are most useful. What are you offering? What is the consideration involved for the product or service? Who is obligated to do what and what limits are agreed to in terms of performance with regard to any of these elements?

The document does not need to sound like it was written by Perry Mason or reference specific legal precedents. It should cover the basic elements of a contractual agreement.

Proposal generation products such as CPQ will ensure that the proposal includes an offer, a statement of consideration, a statement of mutual intent to establish an agreement and a way for parties to indicate acceptance of the stated elements within the proposal/contract.

Quotations and proposals are indicative of progress within the sale. Sales managers and sales reps should embrace these events as the important performance milestones that they are. Customers also should embrace the quotation and proposal experience as evidence that they have successfully quantified their needs and identified a solution.

Technology makes this portion of the success journey something to look forward to rather than something to dread.


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