They Asked for a Proposal - Now What?

Welcome to the Same Side Selling Podcast. I'm your host, Ian Altman. I received an email the other day from somebody who I've known for a long time. He said, What do we do when we get these emails from somebody that says, Hey, we love your stuff, please send us a proposal for x. Now, it might be a phone call they received, it might be an email, but nonetheless, it's a common thing that happens with businesses, which is, hey, we want to buy your stuff. How much is it? Just send me a proposal, send me a quote. This could be a trap. And let me explain why.

Our initial reaction is this is a great opportunity. Somebody contacted us, they're really excited about what we've got, and they want us to send them a proposal. So let's just follow this through.

We send them a proposal. Now we don't hear back from them. And then what's our recourse? Then we're just calling to check-in. We're like begging. We need a cardboard sign and a tin cup. Because like, hey, just kind of check-in. I want to see if you have made a decision yet. Hey, we were just calling to check-in. And it's a terrible way for us to follow up. 

The other thing I want you to consider is this unless you're in a business that is purely transactional, where you're okay, competing just on price, if someone says just send me a quote for your products and services, and you don't have any other discussion with them, then you've just commoditized yourself because you haven't asked any questions. You haven't figured out at all whether you've got something that differentiates you from the competition. 

So what should we do instead? Well, the first thing I want you to consider is this, you don't yet know enough about their situation to know exactly what it would cost. Because when someone says, send me a proposal for x, what we know is that virtually 100% of the time, whatever people put into a request for proposal, often referred to as an RFP, request for proposal, which could be as simple as an email that says, send me a proposal or quote for x, we know that almost 100% of the time, what you actually need to know to verify that you can deliver results is not all in that document. There are usually elements missing, which if you had a good conversation, you would know whether or not you can help them. But we don't have that information upfront. So when someone asks for that information, we're actually doing them and us a disservice by not engaging in further conversations, not really understanding what it is they're trying to do. 

So instead, when someone says, oh, can you send me a proposal for this, you can say to them, you can respond and say, thanks so much. I'm really flattered that you reached out to us. There are a few additional pieces of information I need to know to be sure that I'm sending you a proposal for the right information. It would be horrible for both of us if I sent you the wrong information. I don't either want to overthink it or underthink the situation and send you the wrong thing. Is there no way we could spend a few minutes just to make sure that there's nothing we're missing? Because I want to make sure that we can both hold me accountable for your results. 

So what I've just done is I haven't said, Oh, well, we don't like to respond unless we have a conversation because that sounds like I'm just worried about me as the seller. Instead, I'm conveying that there are reasons that could be in the buyer's best interest for us to have a conversation. I want to make sure that I don't overpromise or underdeliver what it is that they need. And by doing that, what I'm illustrating is that the outcome for them is more important than just the sale. Now what some people will do is say, Oh, well, our policy is that we don't do X, Y, and Z. We don't send this out without a conversation. Well, now you're talking about your policies. And if I'm the buyer, I'm like, I don't care about your policies because you want to run me through some sales process. I don't care about that. I need to give the buyer a reason why it's in their best interest to consider that we might have something better or different, and without that conversation, we can't do it. Now, as soon as I get on the phone with them or as soon as I'm having any sort of dialogue, what I want to do is say you mentioned you want to quote for A, B, and C, what is it that inspires you to look for that right now? Because I want to fully understand your situation to make sure that whatever we propose will meet or exceed your expectations. Are you okay with that? Now, I finished by asking, “Are you okay with that?” because I'm not trying to just convince them, hey, do it my way. What I'm saying is, here's what I'm trying to learn.

Are you okay with that approach that's different than maybe what you were thinking about before? Now I'm not forcing them into a situation. I'm giving them an opportunity to make a choice that I believe is in our mutual interest. At that point, it's a matter of they might say to you, well, I just didn't know how much it is, say, solutions like you're talking about depending on the client. And oftentimes, they will describe it exactly like you have, and those range from, and I'll give you an example, those range from $12,000 to $46,000. And I know that's a ridiculous range that no one could plan for. I need to learn a little bit more so I can give you an accurate piece of information rather than give you that ridiculous range. Would you mind if I asked you a few more questions, so I can give you a little more accurate estimate? Who's gonna say no to that? No, no, you know, I don't want anything accurate. I just want you to spitball it. 

You can then, to further differentiate yourself, say, yeah, I don't know how anybody can credibly tell you how much it's going to cost to do something without asking these sorts of questions. And what happens in that instance is the client thinks to themselves, well, these two other vendors responded to me, and they didn't ask these questions. But this vendor is asking me questions. So if I agree that how could someone give an estimate without knowing this other information, and other people have given it to me, then that should be a red flag on those other vendors. 

So just to recap, here's a really simple concept, someone calls you up and says, please send me a quote, please send me a proposal, what we immediately want to do is respond by saying, first of all, we're flattered. I'd love to give you that information. I want to make sure I get you something accurate. Sometimes there are things that we don't know about that could really modify and make the scope much larger or smaller. I want to make sure that I'm getting this accurately. Can we spend a few minutes so I can make sure I'm giving you accurate information? 

And then as soon as we have the conversation, we want to start going through the Same Side Quadrants that we talked about in Same Side Selling to find out what inspired them to reach out, what's the impact and relative importance of not solving this, what results and success are they looking for, and who else is impacted. And that way, we get the full picture. And then if we do share a proposal and we don't hear back from them, we get to say, when we spoke with you, you mentioned that this is what happened if you didn't solve this. Here's what success was going to look like. Did you already find another way to solve this? And now we have a way of following up in their interest, not just our own. 

If you liked this episode, share it with friends. Please feel free to click Like in your favorite podcast episode. And if there are topics you'd like to hear, drop me a note to Ian@IanAltman.com. Thanks again for joining me on the Same Side Selling Podcast.

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