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Why Do So Many Sales Proposals Fail?

Writing sales proposals can be a difficult and time-consuming task. Yet these proposals are often crucial to creating buyer urgency and accelerating the sale.

Sales proposals are therefore a critical component of the sales process that every B2B sales person should master if they want to increase sales and hit their targets.

But why do so many sales proposals fail to captivate the interest of senior decision makers?

Here we outline some of the key reasons why sales proposals fail and what you can do to ensure that you don’t fall into similar traps when preparing your own proposals.

1. The sales proposal is too long

Sales proposals often fail to make the right impression because they are too long. This has the effect of diluting the powerful messages within the proposal or losing sight of the buyer’s needs and desires. If a sales proposal is deemed to be too long, there is a good chance that it will end up being tossed aside before the buyer has even had time to finish reading it.

With sales proposals, less is often more. In today’s marketplace, senior decision makers are pressed for time so try to keep your sales proposals short. Try to keep the proposal to a maximum of one side of A4 paper. If selling a complex solution and you need to go over this limit, make sure you include an executive summary for the buyer and be sure to get all of your key points across on the first page.

2. The sales proposal is too cautious

Sales proposals often fail to impress because they are too cautious in their approach. Sales proposals that use cautious words such as “possibly” and “might” tell the buyer that you’re not entirely confident that your solution will satisfy the buyer’s needs. This can result in the messages of the proposal creating fear, doubt and uncertainty.

Overly cautious sales proposals can even suggest that you are frightened of legal action if you let the buyer down. This is a big put off because it creates the impression that you are unwilling to make a firm commitment to fulfilling the buyer’s needs.

By using more assertive words in your sales proposals, you will provide senior decision makers with greater assurance that you will satisfy their demands and fulfil your commitments as outlined in the proposal. Your proposal will be viewed as more credible and will be more likely to create interest and a sense of urgency on the buyer’s behalf.

3. The sales proposal is overconfident and reckless

On the other side of the spectrum, sales proposals frequently deter senior buyers because they use over-confident and reckless words. Some proposals make outrageous claims such as “100 percent guaranteed” or being the “perfect” solution to the buyer’s needs.

Although confidence can be a good thing, unreasonable and unrealistic assertions may create the impression that you are either naive or trying to mislead the buyer. Overconfident and reckless words may also give the impression that you are desperate and care only about making the sale. If your sales proposal creates the impression that you are naive, misleading, or desperate, you can be assured that the sale will grind to a halt.

It is important that your sales proposal achieves a ‘middle ground’ between being too cautious and being too overconfident. While sales proposals should be assertive to provide buyer’s with greater assurance of your capabilities, this is not to say that you are entitled to make overconfident and reckless claims. Be assertive but also be measured and confident that you can follow up on any commitments that you make in the sales proposal.

4. The sales proposal is full of unnecessary detail

Many sales proposals fail because they are full of unnecessary statements that should have been covered earlier in the sales process. Proposals that talk up the wonderful features of your products and how wonderful your company is, for instance, are most likely a waste of time since the buyer should already be well aware of these details by now. Buyers are also put off by sales proposals which make generic statements such as “We’d be delighted to work with you”. This is needless and tends to lengthen what ought to be a short and refined letter.

To make a better impression, make sure that your sales proposal is succinct and not overcomplicated. Do not go into detail about your products or your company. To create interest, your sales proposal should immediately discuss the imminent external pressures and challenges facing the buyer and the internal improvements the buyer needs to achieve in order to overcome these pressures and challenges.

Once this is done, you should discuss exactly how your solution aligns to these improvements and the buyer’s needs. Remember, the products and services by themselves don’t offer the buyer benefits – it’s the solution as a whole that should offer real value.

5. The sales proposal is too late

Perhaps the most criminal error, a late sales proposal is guaranteed to create a bad impression. This is especially the case if you have no existing relationship with the potential client.

A late sales proposal will lead the buyer to question your time management skills which will, in turn, cast doubt on your ability to fulfil future commitments. Handing in a late sales proposal also exposes you to the risk that the buyer will have already received proposals from competitors. If the buyer has already read, and is interested in, the sales proposal of a competitor, he or she might not even spend time to open, let alone read, your sales proposal.

To avoid this trap, get a grip on your time management skills and make sure that you provide the buyer with a sales proposal within two days to a week of your initial meeting. Whether you should wait two days or a week to hand in the sales proposal really depends on the complexity of the solution you are offering. The more simple the solution, the less time-consuming the sales proposal should be and the sooner you should send it to the buyer.

6. The sales proposal offers little value

Countless sales proposals are rejected because they offer no obvious value to the buyer. Often, the salesperson has neglected to include clear calculations in terms of the buyer’s return on investment, leaving it up to the buyer to figure out the potential value and return offered by your proposal.

Given the busy schedules and time constraints faced by most senior buyers in today’s environment, many will simply disregard a sales proposal that requires the buying organisation to work out the value and return on offer. It will be seen as an additional cost that is not worth pursuing.

To offer the buyer real value in your sales proposal, you need to include a tangible value proposition with a clear indication of the return on investment that your solution will deliver.

Having already discussed the external pressures and challenges facing the buyer, you need to include the financial implications that will be experienced if these pressures and challengers are not addressed. This should be followed up with the positive performance and financial improvements offered by your solution that satisfies the buyer’s needs.

Finally, you should take time to describe the value-added capabilities that your company will provide which separate you from your competition. Make sure that the value offered by your solution is at least three times its overall cost - this is the sort of return on investment buyers are looking out for in today’s tough marketplace. Ideally, you should also include a payback period indicating the time it will take take for the buyer to recoup the costs of buying the solution.

By including a tangible value proposition with a clear indication of the buyer’s return on investment, the value-added capabilities offered by your compnay, and the payback your solution will deliver, you can be sure that your sales proposal will stand out from the crowd and create both interest and urgency on the buyer’s behalf to move on to the next stage of the sale.

Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase

Contact Sterling Chase for a free consultation.

Why Do So Many Sales Proposals Fail?