Early in my career I learned a harsh lesson.
I was in corporate IT sales and uncovered a burning issue for a prospect. He needed a quick solution and asked me to create a one page proposal confirming we could do the job.
I did, but before sending it, ran it past my sales manager.
“John” was old school.
“You can’t send a one pager! It doesn’t look pretty. We have to bind it. And where’s all the material on who we are? Our profile? How long we’ve been in business?” The list of guff went on.
Suffice to say that process took a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I got an email from the prospect saying the job had been given to someone else.
This highlights the fatal mistake of not listening to the ultimate decision maker and just giving them what they want rather than getting side tracked by someone with a different agenda.
There is only one rule regarding proposals. Don’t do them!
Instead create “Statements of Work” which encapsulate your conversation and conceptual agreement. In other words you’ve already agreed the way forward. Your statement of work simply documents it.
It’s a subtle shift in your mindset which goes from “I’m writing this in the hope that it’ll get accepted” to “We’ve already agreed on the way forward and this encapsulates it and makes it formal”.
Statements of work should be short, sweet and to the point. And never, ever, create one unless you have pre-agreement that you’ll be doing the work. Okay, that’s two rules. *smile*.
You can read about the other critical sales rules regarding being in on the ground floor and only dealing with decision makers here. I suggest you do so as this article will help you hone your sales message and save you a lot of heartache and wasted time, money and effort.
Back to statements of work and what should go into them.
I learned this structure from Alan Weiss, author of 46 books on consulting who puts it best. “A proposal is not an exploration, it is a summation.”
Every Statement of Work should contain:
- Situation Appraisal or Summary: This is a few bullet points which summarise their current situation and validates their feeling they’ve been listened to, heard and understood.
- Key Objectives: The operative word is “key”. These are ultimately what they want. There should be no more than three to four. Any more will dilute and confuse by going into too much detail.
- Challenges: What stops them getting what they want. List the various areas they’re having difficulty with and want to overcome.
- Our Focus Together: What you’re actually going to provide. Detail it well as your prospect needs to understand what they’ll be getting. Keep it results oriented.
- Measure of Success: How will they know they’ve succeeded? This is their evidence criteria.
- Value to You: You should have elicited the value of solving this issue in your sales conversation. List it here. Once again, no more than three to four points. This is the ultimate outcome they’re looking for. Make more money, save time, make life easier etc.
- Why Use Us: Social proof is important. Put in three to four relevant testimonials which showcase similar results we’ve achieved for other organisations.
- Joint Accountabilities: This is something often neglected and I have seen projects fail because of it. It’s a partnership. Your clients must agree to play their part in their own success. You need to stress this point and make sure they understand and agree.
- Investment: Detail the fee and your payment terms. Also detail any exclusions such as travel & accommodation, third party providers etc.
- Risk Reversal: Ultimately we all fear losing. Is there a guarantee? If so what are the terms? Do they need to prove they’ve done their part of the bargain first? This helps remove objections and the barriers to moving forward.
- Agreed To: The proposal is a statement of work – signed by the prospect and becomes the contract.
Now the observant among you will have noticed this proposal structure closely mirrors a sales conversation.
While I may not ask the questions in exactly this order, every one of them needs to be answered and covered off if you’re going to succeed.
And remember, never create “proposals” without first getting conceptual agreement that they’ll work with you.
Anything else is a waste of time, effort and money on your part!
And finally, this is the most important rule of all.
Never, ever leave a meeting without booking the next one.
Have a firm date by which you’ll have the statement of work in their hands. And get a commitment (preferably a meeting date and time) when you’ll sit down to move things forward.
This one simple thing will help avoid that awful “I’m just calling to follow up” dance where you keep trying to get hold of them, getting more and more frustrated as they don’t respond.