How to stop your deals dying in Proposal
You’ve got an interested prospect on the hook. You’ve just nailed the demo. Your prospect asks for a proposal. You send them a proposal. Suddenly the dynamic changes. Momentum slows, your prospect delays the next call or stops responding altogether. Your VP starts asking why the deal hasn’t moved.
If this scenario sounds familiar, this post is for you.
Before you build a proposal, you need to understand 3 things:
Who else is going to review it
What they care about
What their objections are likely to be
If you can’t answer these questions, your deal is likely to die. Why? Imagine you are a VP and one of your team forwards you a vendor proposal to spend $50k on some new software. You probably haven’t been involved in the buying process so your first (and only) impression is the price. $50k? Seems like a lot of money. You have the budget but you’d earmarked it for something else. Maybe you just ignore it, maybe you say no, maybe you say maybe but don’t commit. This is why many deals die in proposal. Trust me, I’ve been that VP.
Or imagine you are a lawyer who has painstakingly built a contract review process for new vendors. You get an email on a Friday afternoon marked “Urgent. Need to sign ASAP.” You lack context for what problem is being solved so you err on the conservative side and redline the shit out of the contract. Since nobody except you understands sentences that lack punctuation, contain 19th century english phrases like “notwithstanding the aforementioned” and make random use of ALL CAPS, the only way out is with a lawyer-to-lawyer call, which only complicates things further. The deal gets “stuck in legal”. This is why many deals die in proposal. Trust me, I’ve been that person who forwarded that contract to my lawyer.
As a salesperson, there are two ways to avoid these scenarios:
Talk to all the key stakeholders early in the sales process, before moving into demo. (See my earlier post on how to do this, and why buyers actually prefer it).
Create a Mutual Success Plan immediately after the demo.
The goals of a Mutual Success Plan are threefold:
Answer the 3 questions listed above.
Show your prospect and key stakeholders what is involved to get from where there are today (being excited about the product) to where they want to be (realizing the impact on their business).
Create alignment on who needs to do what by when. It takes work to buy a product so this is a good way to validate that your stakeholders are willing to put in the effort on their end. Otherwise, why waste time creating a proposal.
The easiest way to describe what goes in a Mutual Success Plan is to show an example. It’s two slides. Here’s the first one.
On the left side you recap what you’ve learned about the prospect’s situation, challenges, desired impact, desired timeline and what you have proposed as a solution during the demo. Putting this content in front of your prospect at this stage shows that you have been listening and paying attention (which is the #1 thing buyers wish sellers would do more often).
On the right side you map out the team that will bring the purchase to fruition. You’ll likely know some of the names and roles but not all, so identifying them now gives you a chance to speak with them and bring them into the process sooner rather than later. It’s human nature that people are generally less likely to object when they have had a chance to weigh in and feel heard.
Fill in all the information that you have and schedule a call with your existing stakeholders to review, fill in the gaps and figure out who else you need to talk to.
Here’s the second slide:
The first thing you notice is how the milestones extend beyond contract signing to encompass the onboarding process and first executive review. This is important because it shows that approving the proposal and signing the contract are just two of the multiple steps on the overall journey to achieving the desired impact.
Listing the stakeholders and their decision criteria (i.e. what they care about) helps ensure that you understand and address them directly in the proposal and contract. As with the first slide, fill in as much as you can, ask your stakeholders to review and fill in the gaps and schedule calls with each stakeholder if needed.
Identifying the time needed for each step enables you to build a realistic timeline for your prospect to start realizing the impact they are looking for. If the timeline doesn’t align with their desired timeline you can a) reset expectations and b) use it to drive urgency on the buying side.
Finally, scheduling the first executive review sets you up to keep the entire buying team engaged once they become a customer, which lays the groundwork for retention and future upsells.
That’s it. The Mutual Action Plan. Two slides that will help stop your deals from dying in Proposal.
PS My substack analytics is showing that last week’s email about “How to write emails that your prospects will actually respond to” did not get delivered to all subscribers :( It’s a good read if your job involves prospecting.
If you found this email useful, please forward it! And if you got forwarded this email please subscribe! I write weekly about the common sales, marketing and leadership issues that hold back startups from growing faster.