How To Unstick Deals in the Proposal Stage

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The dreaded proposal black hole!

You have a good conversation with somebody interested in what you do and perhaps you have shared a presentation or a demo with them to take a deeper dive. They seem interested and you are excited about moving them to the next step – your proposal.

You and your team invest time to create a proposal that restates their problem and how you can fix it. Anxious to get it in their hands, you send the proposal via email and then you…. wait. And wait. And wait.

We’ve all experienced the dreaded proposal black hole. Sometimes, there’s no way around it. But usually, there are valid reasons why deals get stuck at the proposal stage.


Why Deals Get Stuck

For starters, communicating such important information via email is not the best option. However, the real problem lies in the sales process itself.

Simply responding to a prospect’s immediate request for a proposal can be a big drain on your resources, especially when the opportunity is not well qualified.

All sales processes need this important step – asking qualifying questions to accurately gauge the prospect’s readiness and whether the new business opportunity is a good fit for the organization.

Here are some specific actions you can take to ensure that fewer proposals go into that black hole and more deals become revenue generating new business.


How to Prevent Proposals from Stalling

1. Use a proven sales process.

Think back to a deal that progressed through to a win and document the steps and actions you took along the way to keep it moving. Put these steps into a written format. (We have a template to help you with this exercise.) It may also help to keep track of what doesn’t work so you have a proven record that you can refer to and refine over time. You may consider hiring a Fractional Sales VP to help develop a solid plan and implement the process.

2. Develop a list of qualifying questions.

This will help you determine the fitness and readiness of the prospect. If you uncover that they are not a good fit, have a resource to refer them to. If they are a fit but not ready, don’t offer a proposal. Instead, offer a presentation and then ask them when you can check in later to see what has changed and whether they are ready to make a buying decision. Send an invitation for the check-in meeting.

3. Determine their budget and share your estimated cost.

I like to give a range. Ask them directly how the cost of your product or service compares with what they were expecting to spend. The goal here is to get the cost on the table early to prevent sticker shock and align the investment with outcomes. If you sense hesitation or get pushback, don’t send a proposal. Suggest another meeting to get their feedback after they have a little time to think about you as a solution.

4. Deliver the proposal in person or via a virtual meeting.

Do not email it. Explain that it is your process to review the proposal together to facilitate a better understanding of how your solution solves their problem and to be able to address questions. At the end of this review, ask them what their decision process is and who else is involved. Offer to assist them in educating others involved and set up another proposal review. If they are the sole decision maker, and they ask for the proposal via email, agree, and ask them for decision timing so you can check in if you don’t hear back from them by the timing deadline.

5. Keep in touch while you wait.

In between the time you send the proposal and when you expect to hear back, send them one or two emails that show them you understand their business. For example, a link to a news article or a press release, a post on LinkedIn you read that reminded you of them, or a simple case study that highlights how you helped someone like them. Maintaining this positive presence not only reminds the prospect to respond but also demonstrates your eagerness to provide value and be of service.

6. Share your next steps in the proposal.

Always include a “what happens next/onboarding process” in your proposal to give them an idea of what working with you entails. The next steps should always be clearly defined. If they know what to expect, they can start to visualize the experience of working with you.


Putting It All Together

It’s common to experience proposals getting stuck. Incorporating these steps into your sales process won’t eliminate the occasional black hole scenario, but it will improve your proposal conversion rates and reduce the time you spend creating proposals unnecessarily.

Need help implementing these steps and landing more deals? Contact us to learn more!