Then, you take the call and true to form you learn everything about their business needs. You learned more, dug deep, and find out what the ever-elusive compelling event is and the timing around bringing your solution on-board. The prospect is excited and you think, “oh man, this is a real qualified prospect and I think it’s a right fit.” Now you’re just as excited as the prospect and he/she says, “can you send me a proposal,” you say, “of course, I’ll get it to you right away.” STOP! You’ve just made a terrible mistake! Here’s what you likely don’t know from a first call.
First of all, do they really want to buy your product? Is this truly the solution they’re looking for or did they just get excited because the passion and enthusiasm you have in your voice transcended the phone line and they’re riding your energy. Are they the economic buyer? Will they sign on the dotted line or someone else? Who else is involved in the decision making process? What is the process for bringing a solution like yours into their organization? What criteria must be met for all the stakeholders to sign off on this deal? Who are the other stakeholders?
As you can see, there is a lot more work that needs to be done here and if you blindly send off a proposal without truly understanding the landscape your prospects operates in; you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’ll send off that proposal which outlines your offering, your price, etc., and then you’ll hear the sound of crickets similar to that of a warm summer’s night.
I was once guilty of this myself and I’ve seen this happen all to often with other sales folks; especially when you’re selling a high-ticket item. The reality is it takes a lot of effort and time on your end to craft a proposal that meets the needs of this specific prospect. More to the point, once you submit that proposal you’re pretty much locked into that price; even if you uncover later that there is a lot more work needed to support this account. So, avoid that pain of disappointment and pile the onion back now to see if you’re going to be making onion soup for dinner or just tearing up after the first cut.
Here’s my response: “Sure, I’d be happy to send you a proposal. I have a few questions first. I’d like to establish that this is truly the product you want. If I told you the product was $1, would you buy it today?”
Prospects tend to get thrown off by this question. “It’s only $1?” Of course it’s not, but what you’re doing here is saying that the money isn’t relevant at the moment. What needs to be established is that no matter what the price, this is the right product at the right time. I’m not saying price is a myth; it’s real and deals do get killed because of price. What I’m saying is that the business case needs to be identified and solved first, before getting to price.
This gets the prospect thinking about the check boxes mentioned above – i.e. who else needs to be involved, what does success look like internally, who will sign off on this, etc. Now you’ve challenged the prospect and you’re getting them to think about if this is truly the right product or if they’re just trying to get a price so they can qualify YOU! I once had an evaluator tell me, “I can’t even take this to my boss based on the price in this proposal.” We ended up doing the deal with her company. Why you ask? Because the business case was strong and that is what ultimately matters.
This tends to be an assertive approach and akin to The Challenger Sale. It’s an approach that most prospects are not accustomed to when soliciting bids with vendors, so you may get some pushback. If that happens, it’s okay to verbally give them a ballpark number because you don’t want to seem like you’re hiding something and being upfront/honest is the forefront of a long-term relationship. Also, this is a good opportunity for you to do some additional qualifying before you go do all the work associated with that proposal.
Say something like, “our standard pricing for a deal like this is $ABC” or “based on what you’ve told me, I suspect this would be around $XYZ” or “in the past, we’ve done similar deals like this for $123.” However, always follow that up with “of course, each business is unique so this is just a general ballpark and the price could be higher or lower based on your exact needs and requirements.” Again, not locking yourself into anything specific that could come back to bite you.
Once you’ve pumped the breaks and slowed things down a bit, the prospect will start thinking about what he/she needs to do internally to move forward. Typically, the result of this type of dialogue will lead to a follow-up call with other stakeholders. That next meeting is the critical moment for you to determine if there is a real deal here and warrants the work of a lengthy proposal with a price tag. It may turn out that there is no deal to be had.
The good news is, if there is a deal here, you’ve made it far enough to set appropriate expectations so when you send your proposal it will have the backing of multiple stakeholders and the conversation will become about “how do we make this happen” verses “should we even do this?”