Preparing effective proposals
Sadly, not all prospects are going to convert to paying customers, regardless of your prices or the quality of your products or services. A great deal of time and money can be wasted dealing with enquiries and preparing tenders or proposals for prospects who are not ready to buy or just plain ‘tyre-kickers’.On the other hand, after ‘wasting’ your time with even one or two of these tyre-kickers, it’s easy to get cynical and become too dismissive of prospects that might turn out to be very profitable paying customers. Determining how much time and energy to spend on prospective customers is a delicate and difficult balancing act. Here are some ideas to help maximise effectiveness when dealing with enquiries:
Have general information prepared and available. Most prospects will try to figure out whether a company is a good fit for them before taking up too much of their (or your) time. Assume your business sells floor tiles. Do you specialise in commercial or residential? Do you only serve a specific geographic area? Do you install counter tops as well as floors? That kind of information enables prospects to weed themselves out before calling you. Of course, a great and relatively inexpensive way to provide this information is on your website.
Ask questions of the prospect.
In professional salesperson terms, this is known as ‘qualifying’ the prospect. By asking a few simple, non-intrusive questions, you can get a sense of how serious the prospect is.
Some questions to ask:
What is the scope of the project?
What is the time frame for the work to be started and completed?
How soon will you be making a decision on a supplier?
How many quotes are you getting?
What other alternatives (not competitors) are you considering? (In the floor tile business example, you may ask, “What other types of floor coverings are you looking at?”)
What are the most important considerations in your decision? Price, quality and/or convenience?
Don’t get star-struck. It’s easy to get excited if you’re approached by a large or well-known company or customer. Don’t lose your judgment. Many high profile customers take up more of your time, take longer to make decisions, and have unrealistic expectations. While having a high profile customer may be attractive, it may not be worthwhile if you don’t make a profit.
Provide prospects an incentive to make a quick decision. It is human nature to put off making choices until the last minute, but that often puts your business in a crunch. If you can, come up with truthful, positive ways to encourage customers to make a decision. This will also reduce the likelihood of a customer shopping elsewhere.
Be wary of prospects who want too much information. Some prospects use proposals as a way of getting free consulting services. This is true of both small customers and large companies.Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. It’s easy to get excited about a prospect, especially if it’s a big one. It’s a good idea to have lots of prospects in the sales pipeline. Having lots of quality prospects helps prevent you from accepting any offers, particularly ones that may benefit your business in the short term, but may be a problem in the long run.
Money counts. Remember, a sale is not complete until the money is in the bank. Until then anything can happen.