February 13, 2007

Mind the Gap

Gaps are dangerous. They pose hazards that can keep us from reaching our goals.

Unfortunately, in business processes, we sometimes don't realize there's a big gap looming in front of us until somebody points it out. Then it becomes obvious.

This message is about one of the most common gaps in sales. Is it one you need to watch for?


Tom Sant

Mind the Gap!

If you ride the London underground, you will hear the announcement, "Mind the gap!" It's a warning to watch your step so you don't fall into the space between the platform and the train.

There are lots of gaps in business--process needs, incomplete capabilities--that we need to "mind." In fact, closing the gaps in our business critical processes is a fundamental source of competitive advantage.

The Proposal Gap. For sales people, writing a persuasive proposal is one of the most challenging gaps they face. To avoid it, they resort to lots of creative techniques: Cloning old proposals, changing the names to protect the guilty. Slamming together slabs of boilerplate, even if they don't match what the client wants. Sometimes--and this is the real killer--just ignoring the opportunity completely!

The result? All-night, marathon scrambles to get a proposal done. Missed deadlines--and missed opportunities. Proposals that contain the wrong client's name, incorrect information, or spelling and grammar mistakes.

For example, one of the world's largest telecommunication firms discovered to its horror that sales people were issuing proposals based on old marketing information that was sometimes years out of date. In fact, in some proposals, they were offering products and services that the company didn't sell any longer!

A Two-Track Solution. Closing the proposal gap takes two things: sound methodology and good tools. For example, here are some of the practices that can close the gap for you:

The Primacy Principle. Most of us are susceptible to first impressions. So ask yourself what comes first in your proposals? Is it a focus on the client's key issues and concerns, on their ROI, on their outcomes? Or do your proposals start with your company history, your products and services, your mission statement even? Count how many times your name appears in the first few pages and how many times the client's name appears.

Persuasive Structure. Persuasion is not a matter of fancy words and pretty pictures. It's a matter of structure. There are four steps to follow in organizing your information persuasively:

First, restate the customer's needs, problems, or issues. Second, state the positive outcomes they seek. Third, recommend a solution that solves the problems and delivers the results. Finally, show you are competent to deliver on time and on budget.

If you follow that order, your win ratio will go up. Guaranteed.

Show the Value. The customer wants to see that there will be a positive impact from adopting your recommendations. Base the value proposition on your differentiators (so competitors can't say "Me, too!"), and quantify the impact and display it graphically for maximum impact.

Keep it simple. Eliminate jargon and acronyms. Instead, use short, simple words and sentences. Include content specific to the customer's industry or vertical market, particularly in the cover letter and executive summary.

Automate the Job with ProposalMaster. If you want to produce better proposals and do it a lot faster, you really need to automate the process. ProposalMaster is an award-winning product that incorporates best practices in an easy, intuitive package so that every sales person writes a terrific proposal every time. With ProposalMaster it takes just half an hour to create a customized, persuasive 15- to 20-page proposal.

With a combination of the right techniques and the right tools, you'll close the gap and sail down the rails toward major sales success!