02 Aug A Proposal Isn’t Just Paperwork. Six Tips To Create Effective Sales Proposals
Today, I saw an ad that promised to “generate proposals in minutes.” Another ad offered software that produced an automated sales proposal and saved 42% of your time. A third ad shouted that you could “easily create a sales proposal. Just fill-in the blanks and print!” These ads came as no surprise. With shrinking payroll dollars, an expectation of doing more with less and added pressure from a hungry competitive set, time has become a more valuable commodity in most every sales department. Add to that the changes technology has brought about in the way we communicate: e-mail, texting, IM’s, and it’s no surprise that proposals have been relegated to paperwork status.
From the proposals that I have reviewed lately, it seems that we may not even know the difference between a proposal and a contract. Remember those 5 sales steps we learned when we first started out: opening, questioning, presenting, handling objections and closing? It doesn’t matter whether you are a hotel sales newbie or a seasoned veteran; these straightforward steps haven’t fundamentally changed at all. Note that presenting and closing are two very distinct steps. Simply put, a proposal is an extension of your presentation; a contract is a formal agreement, a pact between you and the buyer. A proposal should outline beneficial solutions that persuade the planner to choose your hotel. It does not include “we’ll-break-your-knees-if-you-don’t…” language. Save that, if you must, for the contract and the attorneys.
Let’s do a quick test. Take the last proposal written by each member of your team and spread each of them out on the conference table. And don’t forget to throw your latest proposal into the mix as well (you do still write proposals yourself, don’t you?). What do you see? A unique collection of targeted solutions, each reflecting the personality of that particular sales manager? Or a pile of Stepford forms, all copied from a template that requires only rates, dates and space to be completed and e-mailed?
Today I’m recommending that we try incorporating a little old with a little new. Combining some Madonna with a splash of Lady Gaga. We can use technology to our advantage but don’t be afraid to incorporate a little old school. Here are six tips to get you started.
- It’s all about them…not you. Meeting planners are more concerned about how you can best meet their needs than how wonderful your company may be. Focus on them and what your questioning skills have uncovered. Notes a little skimpy? Call back and, this time, listen to what the planner is telling you. Get all of the information that you need to create a kick-ass proposal. And remember, when your customer is ready to know more about you or the company, they will do what most people do today: Google you.
- Avoid feature throw-up. You know what I mean…when you regurgitate everything there is to know about your hotel whether the client needs it or not. Generally, this manifests itself as a long list of bullet points. Toss that approach today and concentrate on the meeting objective and the business needs that come with it. Don’t forget the planner’s own needs as well. Focus on the features that will be a part of the solution, always combining the feature with a benefit statement specific to the objective or needs of their particular meeting. It’s not all about rates, dates and space. In fact, that’s the easy part. If you provide solutions that explicitly meet the business objectives of the client and that play up your points-of-difference, you will find yourself creating indelible value for your product.
- Be yourself. Write as if you are speaking to the customer. As a former English teacher, I am encouraging you to be a little more casual and let your personality show through the proposal. Stop looking over your shoulder for the nun and the ruler. One rule though: use active, not passive voice. Thought you wouldn’t see that again after 5th grade? You might have to look it up. And forget the hotel jargon and acronyms.
- Show some style. Use props. Yes, props. This is where technology can really make a difference. Include testimonials, pictures of people attending a successful event (not miles of empty banquet tables or lobbies with no guests), video clips. Electronic proposals open up a whole new world for you. Evaluate the complete proposal package to determine if it has enough “wow” factor to move it to the top of the pile. Don’t forget about the power of Skype, my favorite tool of the day. There is no reason why you can’t do every sales presentation in person. You can talk about your hotel’s stunning beachfront location, but what if your Skype “set” shows that view in the background? And remember, Skype works just as well across town as it does 1,000 miles away. It you are finding it difficult to schedule a meeting for the presentation, suggest a video call.
- Include an Investment page. There is a huge difference between cost and investment and we spend way too much time using words like charge, price, rate, fee and expenses when discussing an event. A cost immediately conjures up visions of money slowly floating away into a big black hole, never to be seen again. An investment is money spent with an expectation of getting something back. Businesses and organizations invest in meetings because they expect to gain something from them. That is why it is important for you to thoroughly understand the meeting objectives. Use them to position your solutions. And when it comes time to discuss “costs,” shift the semantics. When you successfully demonstrate how their investment in time and money will pay off by partnering with you and your hotel, you will get more business. More importantly, it is the first step in the development of a mutually beneficial, potentially long-term, relationship. And that, my friends, translates into repeat business.
- Ask for the business and indicate next step. Always. In today’s competitive environment, the person who actually asks for the business and vigilantly follows up in a timely manner is the person who has the best chance of closing the sale.
Writing a dynamic proposal, one that the client actually reads instead of flipping to the back page, is time consuming and requires creativity and intense concentration. Face it; most people don’t like to write. Why? Getting started seems to be the most common roadblock: finding the time, developing a compelling opening. It could be, however, some of the most lucrative time spent in a standard work day.
Going back to that investment part for a moment…..Suppose a salesperson makes $50 an hour and spends two hours on a customized proposal for a $10,000 meeting scheduled to occur within the next 90 days. In financial terms, that would be the same as purchasing a 90-day CD for $100 and withdrawing $10,000 when it matures. Still think pounding the pavement is your best investment?