Prospects can be frustrating. We have all had the experience of thinking that the business is in the bag and then what comes next is radio silence. They appeared keen to meet and find out more about our products and services. We burned the midnight oil to prepare a proposal and then – nothing. So why does this happen? 

Here are just some of the reasons.

  1. We don’t understand their decision-making process
    A proposal is just one part of the 11 stages in every buying decision. For this prospect they may be at the market research stage when they ask for a proposal and we have simply provided one more piece of research.

  2. We didn’t ask the right questions in our meeting.
    Pre-proposal meetings are the prime time for us to find out as much as we can about the prospect’s business and yet this is often wasted by purely pitching. Do we know their pain points, their plans, their budgets, their timescales, their previous bad experiences with suppliers?  And these are just a few of the things we should know.
  1. We used the wrong language
    How well matched was our proposal to their problems? Did we show them that we understood their biggest challenges and how the specific elements of our product would solve these?  Did we use their company language or ours? Did we propose next steps that hit their triggers, management meetings or other decision making steps?
  1. We didn’t follow up well
    Did we say that we would call 1 week later at 3.30 and called 1 day late at 9.15?  Indeed, did we ask what the next steps should be? Keeping our commitments is part of the sales process. If we are lax in our follow up what message are we sending about our ability to deliver the goods? Secondly, agreeing up front what the next steps are creates a joint commitment which improves our chance of making contact, but it doesn’t guarantee it. We also need to be resourceful. How compelling are the phone messages we leave, the emails we send, the LinkedIn messages we send?  Who else can we call upon to get closer to our prospect?

  2. Their needs have changed
    Priorities can change, new stakeholders become involved, budgets get cut – or can increase. Proposals can often raise new issues that the prospect hadn’t previously considered, driving a whole new set of criteria – and a revised decision making process. All this can mean that the business may not happen for another 6 months so we need to find ways to stay in the running. Can we provide useful information in the meantime, invite them to relevant events or point them towards other resources?

  3. We didn’t stand out from the crowd
    Few prospects will be simply sitting waiting for our proposal to arrive. They may have seen several suppliers so we need to be memorable. While this could be a novelty gift, if that would be appropriate, it could be our humourous approach, our sensitivity to their workload or an invitation to see our product in action.  Be creative!

So, with these in mind, can you spot what’s wrong with this follow up letter?!

Hi Mary

Can you please take me off your marketing database.

I came to see you and sent you a proposal, which you didn’t bother replying to, despite me chasing it up a couple of times.

I wouldn’t recommend you to anyone or wish to hear what you have to say.

Regards

M…….

So what can we do to give ourselves the best chance of success?

  1. Find out what their decision making process is – the timescales, the steps and the people who will be involved – and match it with your follow up activities.
  2. Ask what needs to be in the proposal, what format it should take and who else needs to see it.
  3. Deliver against the agreed timescales
  4. Get a specific commitment to the next step – and make it a strong one.
  5. Be resourceful and creative in your follow up
  6. Be useful to prospects, through your information, advice and other contacts you can provide
  7. Think long term.

And remember, in sales questions are often the answer.

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