RFP response

The power of price quote software in your proposal process

A successful sales proposal has many moving parts: there are the products and pricing, of course, but there are also elements such as timing, being able to demonstrate a complete understanding of the problem your prospect is trying to solve, proposal design, and so much more.

While some of the preceding are solved by a sales rep’s expertise and experience (and good ol’ communication!), many of the steps in your sales proposal process may be improved by intelligent application of price quote software.

In this article, we’ll explore a few ways you can optimize your overall sales proposal process by using the full set of features found in best-in-class sales proposal automation software.

Formatting your proposal

The best sales proposal formats are those that are “customer-first.” You’ll see some old-school approaches out there, recommending you lead off with a lengthy “About us” section, where you detail how long your company has been in business making widgets. WRONG.

Imagine your prospect needs CPR. You don’t start off by telling them, “Well, I was CPR-certified in 2010 by the Red Cross. Since that time, I have successfully given CPR to…” NO. Just give them what they need — a solution to their problem.

Format your proposals so they start with a problem/solution approach, always. And if you’re worried some reps might do otherwise, price quote software can help. Simply ensure the only proposal templates in your system have this customer-first formatting. I.e., don’t give reps the options to go it alone.

Pricing and product configurations

Business moves fast, which means products come and go and pricing changes at an often-breakneck pace — sometimes, in pursuit of the deal, reps will take it on themselves to offer discounts and unique product configurations to get a quote signed.

While “doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy” is an admirable pursuit, it can be a nightmare on the fulfillment side, as your product and finance teams have to scramble to deliver on every rep’s wild promises.

However, if you’re using configure, price, quote (CPQ) software, your pricing and product configurations are centrally administered, which means you need not worry about reps offering deeper discounts on the fly, for example.

You can ensure the only products and prices that can be added to any sales proposal are ones you have vetted. You can even set approved discount levels for each individual rep, giving them appropriate and approved “wiggle room” to use in their pitches.

Report and repeat

Perhaps one of the most powerful ways price quote software can impact your overall sales proposal process is by enabling a repeatable process. This goes beyond a template that can be reused and into being able to repeat and improve upon every client interaction between the time a quote is sent and the time it’s signed.

In most every CPQ system, you’ll find sales analytics and quote tracking tools that give you data about both the efficacy of each proposal and the overall process itself. What proposal template do customers typically respond to? What “nudge” emails work best to drive a signature? What is rep A doing well that you can share with reps B, C, and D?

It’s like that platitude about learning from the past, but in the case of your sales proposal process, and real-time reporting, you can learn from the present, too (e.g., a perfectly timed and written email that helped drive a customer signature can be added to another quote in progress).

You can improve your sales proposal process without price quote software, of course, but it requires a lot of hands-on attention. Leave the hands-on work to where it can’t be automated (your discovery process, meetings, etc.) and leave the rest to business tech like CPQ.

R&D: Create a Proposal based on Research.

Proposal writing can vary from company to company. In more traditional industries, or those with a small sales team, or even those who don’t need the extra business, it’s common to have a rubber-stamp styled approach to proposals. You offer the same products or services, for exactly the same prices, and in exactly the same format for each and every customer. It’s a predictable, factory-like process that creates no stress and is easy for newcomers to understand.

Unfortunately, most businesses would not do well under this model. Their products and services are too diverse, their clients are too picky, and their potential projects are too different for everything to be so perfectly formulaic. Proposals need to be written specifically for the client, and that means a wealth of proactive research before the proposal writing process can even begin. 

The Power of Research

Why research? Research gives you information and understanding about your environment. You may think that you know what the client is asking for, but do you really know who the client is? What their values are? What they look for in a partner, other than what they might have mentioned in an RFP? These bits of information can help you to frame and to shape your proposal, but they aren’t always evident on a superficial level, so you have to do some digging if you want to find them.

Research Tips for Proposal Writing

When it comes to researching a proposal, bear these powerful tips in mind:

1. Focus on actionable conclusions.  

Throughout your research process, you’ll be tempted simply to absorb information. You might find out a bit more about the history of the company or their current client base, but you must always frame these new ideas in the context of actionable conclusions. Yes, this company has a lighthearted, flexible spirit, but what does that mean for your proposal? It means that a lighter tone will be more approachable, and a flexible service plan may be appreciated. If you don’t tie your insights back to something measurable and actionable, you’ll be left with too many intangible factors, and you won’t get anywhere.

2. Really get to know the brand.  

You know what their brand is and what their company does, but if you want to write for them, you’ll need to immerse yourself a little deeper. See what their audience is like: does this brand face any unique challenges with its audience for which you can compensate? See what kind of values this brand has: do they differentiate themselves by giving back to the community? While most proposals are decided on through logic, aligning yourself with the brand’s vision and reputation can give you the edge that you need in a tight competitive spot.

3. Delve into the company’s history.  

You know the brand a little better, but where the brand has been before is almost as important in terms of positioning and understanding. For example, have they recently gone through a rebranding process, with new values and a new image? They may be interested in shifting directions in many ways. Have they broken their historical pattern of handling this service internally? It may mean that they’ll need extra handholding and extra control during the execution phase, which you can play up in your proposal.

4. Learn which other companies they’ve worked with in the past.  

Most companies have some kind of record of their previous partnerships and vendors. If you dig deep enough, you’ll be able to find this information. For public organizations like governmental bodies and publicly traded companies, you’ll probably also be able to find previous winners of bids. With this information, you’ll be able to pick out key points of commonality and to include those advantages in your proposal to maximize your chances of winning.

5. Clarify their main goals.  

Proposal submissions are a projected exchange of value. Your prospective client has a handful of main goals that they want to achieve, which may be stated or implied. If you can help them to achieve these goals, and do so in a way that maximizes your value, you’ll be in a much better position than if you throw out a basic list of services and hope for the best. You have to match those goals as precisely as possible – and show that you know what those goals are – if you want to stand out from the crowd.

6. Look at their competition.  

There are a handful of reasons to look at your prospective client’s competition, but one of the most important is to learn how they differentiate themselves. If they offer better customer service, or a better product, or a different brand voice, you’ll need to recognize that somehow, or account for it, when you describe how you’re going to help them. It may also give you more creative ideas for services that they need to be using (i.e., to keep up with the competition).

7. Look at your competition.  

It’s also a good idea to look at your own competition while you’re in the running, especially if you suspect that your competitors will be submitting similar proposals. Obviously, you need to stand out, and you need to make a better offer than your competitors can, but to do that, you first need to know what they’re offering. You won’t be able to find the contents of their proposals specifically, but with adequate competitive research, you’ll get the gist of their typical angles.

With these research tips guiding your path to more information, you’ll gain ample new insights about you, your competition, and your prospective clients that can inform your proposals and give you the edge you need to land new deals.

Proposal writing isn’t always straightforward, but it doesn’t have to be hard. If you’re looking for a way to make the entire process easier from start to finish, consider using iQuoteXpress’s CPQ software. Sign up for a no-obligation free trial today, and you’ll get your hands on all of our features and functions without any commitment. 

New Call-to-action

Email Etiquette and the Proposal Process

When it comes to building relationships with potential clients, the proposal writing process often comes on the back end of a long drawn out process. It’s only after developing relationships and staying in constant communication that many businesses will accept a proposal from a potential partner. With that being said, companies need to focus on how they build relationships in a business world that often values email over face-to-face communication.

The Trouble with Email

Email is fantastic. It’s quick, easy, and convenient. If you want to tell someone something without investing a lot of time, you simply email them and avoid getting stuck in long conversations. Email is also widespread – meaning everyone has an email address. However, for all of the benefits associated with email, there are also some major disadvantages.

“On e-mail, people aren’t quite themselves,” Will Schwalbe and David Shipley, authors of the book Send, wrote in 2008. “They are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, even more gossipy and duplicitous.”

When you’re face-to-face with someone, conversation doesn’t just involve dialogue. There are non-verbal cues, tone, inflection, and rhythm to the conversation. In email, all of this is lost. Humor is easily misinterpreted, anger is exacerbated, and sarcasm is perceived much differently.

As such, it’s imperative that you’re as clear as possible. Email is certainly valuable – nobody is arguing this – but you must know the rules if you want to avoid confusion, gaffes, and misinterpretation.

 

5 Email Etiquette Rules to Follow

When it comes to proposal writing – or the process leading up to proposal writing – there are certain etiquette rules you need to follow in order to enjoy optimal results.

 

Use a Clear Subject Line

The subject line of an email is the first thing the recipient will see. You have a duty to yourself and the recipient to make sure this subject line is clear and appropriate for the content of the email. After reading the subject line alone, they should have a pretty good guess as to what the email is about.

For example, let’s say you’re emailing a colleague to confirm that your meeting about a certain proposal is still on. A poorly crafted subject would read something like, “Meeting to Discuss Proposal.” In this case, the recipient doesn’t know if you’re emailing to cancel, confirm, or change the meeting. Sure, they’ll know when they open up the email, but you’re setting the wrong tone from the start. A much more appropriate subject line would be, “Confirming 1:30 Meeting to Discuss Proposal.”

 

Go Easy on the “Reply All”

The “reply all” feature has its value, but is widely considered an annoying feature. People often reply to everyone when it’s only necessary to reply to the original sender. Not only can this get you in trouble (if the information is only intended for the original sender), but it’s inadvertently disrespectful to the other recipients. Unless there’s a clear instruction to reply to everyone – or you can gather that it’s necessary based on the context – it’s typically best to limit your response to the sender.

 

Never Use a Pre-canned Template

When reaching out to someone for the first time – particularly when requesting the opportunity to send a proposal – avoid using canned templates. While it’s easy to use a framework and paste in names, titles, and a few additional words for context, you’ll see extremely low response rates.

Business professionals in positions of leadership receive dozens of requests per day. They can easily spot genuine emails from those that are pre-canned. Take the time to write a few sentences that apply directly to the recipient and the situation. This doesn’t guarantee a response, but it does show respect for the individual’s time. If nothing else, the email will actually get read (as opposed to immediately being designated to the trash folder).

 

Avoid Humor

Nobody wants to be viewed as cold and impersonal, but email is not the best place to let your humorous side show. Sure, there are times when humor is okay in email – such as when you’re emailing friends – but resist the urge to inject humor into business emails.

The trouble with humor is that it’s often mistranslated. If someone has never met you in person, it can be very easy for them to misconstrue what you meant. If you ever feel like you should include a “JK” or “just kidding” after something you write, go ahead and hold down the delete button. Only stick to the necessary information. Let your humor shine through in face-to-face meetings.

 

Always Proofread

When you have 10 or 15 emails to send out, it’s tempting to quickly whip one up, send it, and move on to the next one. Resist this temptation. You should always proofread prior to hitting the send button. Nothing is more unprofessional (especially in a proposal situation) than sending an email filled with errors.

A good way to ensure you proofread all of your emails is to require confirmation before sending. Configure your email inbox in a way that forces you to confirm that you really want to send an email before sending it. This extra step will remind you to go back and check for issues.

 

Use iQuoteXpress to Enhance Your Proposals

At iQuoteXpress, we believe our customers need and deserve access to proposal tools that enhance sales team productivity and streamline the quotation process. When this aspect of the proposal process is handled, it becomes exponentially easier to confidently take action and enjoy a healthy return on your investment.

If you’re interested in learning more about our proprietary quoting software, which automates up to 75 percent of proposals and generates accurate quotes, please don’t hesitate to contact us today. We would be happy to set you up with a free no-obligation online demo.

New Call-to-action

Send Me a Proposal: What to Do When You Hear Those Four Words.

For salespeople, much of a given job hinges on just getting heard. But simply meeting with a prospective client and talking through the situation usually isn’t enough to land the contract.

Most bureaucratic organizations want official sales proposals. So how do you respond appropriately when you finally hear those four thrilling yet dreadful words? We’re talking about “Send me a proposal.”

Gathering Important Information

When you get down to it, it’s astonishing how many sales professionals don’t do the necessary legwork before they submit a proposal. As soon as they hear that a company is interested in receiving a proposal, too many throw one together haphazardly and send it. We can call this blind proposal writing.

This is dangerous on many levels, but perhaps the most risky aspect is that you honestly don’t know what the recipient is looking for. A go-ahead to send a proposal is far from the same as getting your proposal accepted.

Don’t assume that because a potential client has asked for your proposal that the company’s going to hand you the deal. The hard part has just begun.

Start by gathering more information. As soon as you’ve gotten the go-ahead, gather your team and decide what information you need to proceed with a proposal. You have to grasp the full specifications and entire scope of the job.

The goal should be to get as much information as possible the first time around. Any proposal recipient is going to expect you to call or meet once to gather details. Some will even find it acceptable for you to ask for details a second time.

But if you keep coming back -- a third, fourth, or fifth time -- your prospective client is eventually going to get fed up and move on. In their mind, you can’t be trusted with a project if you can’t develop and submit a proposal efficiently.

 

Ask the “Why” Questions

It’s also important for you to identify the “why” behind the proposal. And it’s an unfortunate truth that many companies will ask people for a proposal just to get them to stop bugging them.

Upon receiving the proposal, they’ll reject it immediately and tell you they aren’t interested. While this borders on unethical, it’s ultimately up to you to weed out the companies who try to get rid of you from the companies who are genuinely looking to do business.

The way to do this is by asking two questions: “Why now?” and “why me?” The “why now” question is intended to get to the bottom of why the client is seeking a proposal.

Do they have a project that needs to be completed this quarter, or are they lining up a job for 12 months down the road? The “why me” question lets you know how they see you fitting into the picture.

If their answers are precise and concrete, you can be more confident that your proposal will be taken seriously. If their answers tend to be non-descriptive and vague, you might want to reconsider the time investment.

 

Knowing How Long to Wait

Knowing how long to wait before submitting your proposal is not as simple as remembering a formula or rule of thumb, unfortunately. Much depends on the industry, the project, and the client.

Your first few proposals will probably take some trial and error. However, sooner is probably better than later. As you develop a number of proposals over time, make sure to track the results.

Carefully analyze when you send each proposal, how long it takes to prepare it, when you hear back, and what your success rate is. Eventually you’ll be able to identify which proposals get accepted at a high rate and which don’t. This can tell you a lot about when to submit them.

 

Identifying a Response Deadline

Here’s one thing that newbie proposal writers don’t always do: Set a deadline for getting a response. Why does this matter? Well, consider that for every day your proposal sits on the desk of its intended recipient, they have time to forward that proposal to one of your competitors.

This increases the chances that the competition will undercut you and nab the deal … which means you’re losing on two different fronts. In addition to missing the deal, you’re empowering your competitor.

According to sales expert Bruce King, the ideal range is between one and three days. Anything longer than this means the recipient wasn’t very serious about your proposal to begin with.

Again, you need to figure this deadline out prior to drafting and sending the proposal. It’s a small detail -- and may not hurt you all of the time -- but it can come back to bite you on occasion.

 

Establishing Decision Makers

As you communicate with the recipient, begin poking and prodding a bit to find out who is really on the receiving end. Are you merely communicating with a receptionist or are you getting through to the decision maker?

They are both important -- one’s a gatekeeper and one’s a decision maker -- but you have to approach them differently. The earlier on you’re able to establish who the decision maker is, the more targeted your proposal will be.

And as you can guess, this is an essential aspect of getting your proposal accepted.

 

Using the Right Tools

The final thing to think about after hearing those four words -- “send me a proposal” -- is choosing the right tools. Thankfully, we’re no longer in an era when everything has to be done manually.

There are many different tools -- some specific to proposal writing and others that are more general to conducting business -- that can help you facilitate the process and end up on the winning side of a proposal. Identify these so you’re ready to meet your deadline.

 

Contact iQuoteXpress

At iQuoteXpress, we understand the essence of proposal writing and how challenging it can be to manage the process with efficiency and accuracy. That’s why we’ve developed proprietary quotation software that aids in proposal writing and handles one of the more difficult aspects of the entire process: quoting and pricing. Contact us today to learn more about our sales quote software and how it can help you!

How to Respond Effectively to a Request for Proposal.

For some businesses or independent contractors, a request for a proposal (RFP) is what keeps them in business. It’s a promise of work if yours is accepted, but that’ll only happen if your response is high quality and timely. It must beat out your competitors if you want a chance to render your services, and that can be a challenge.

To improve your chances of having the RFP accepted, you’ll want to draft a timely response. There’s more of an advantage to a speedy response time with your RFP than many people realize. It’s like getting a 10-second head start in a race. It may not be much, but it could mean the difference between your proposal being accepted and it being thrown out. Having your proposal take the first place in the queue ensures that the requester will read yours with a fresh set of eyes without comparing its weaknesses to other proposals. It’s the advantage that you may need in order to be chosen.

Unfortunately, the average response time for a proposal leaves something to be desired. Though the average time differs for every project, it can take several days or even weeks to send a proposal following an RFP. Such a long wait time is not always the most favorable of options.

However, thanks to Configure Price Quote (CPQ) software and modern technology, those sending out for proposals are expecting a higher standard. They’re looking to reward those who use their resources to their fullest extent in order to bring about a speedy response time without sacrificing the quality of work. If you’re looking to get that head start on a high quality proposal, there are a few things that you should try.

 

Use CPQ Software

First and foremost, be sure that you’re using the right tools. CPQ software is the best way to define accurately the price of goods for the purposes of your proposal. It applies dynamic pricing schemes to regular templates in order to deliver a more accurate reading.

CPQ software can also reduce the time needed to define pricing for a specific proposal format. CPQ software, like that from iQuoteXpress, is designed to make complex analysis and variables look simple on the page. That way, it’ll not only be speedy to make, but it’ll also be simple to read, highlighting important factors like excellent products, service charges, and configuring compatibility.

 

Understand the Process from the Beginning

You can’t expect to begin the RFP process flying blindly and come out with a speedy, high quality proposal. You must know the ins and outs of creating a good document. This involves clearly laying out the needs and questions of the customer in a single document that’ll compete against a series of other documents.

As a part of this process, recognize the time constraints. You want to get the product out quickly in order to beat competitors, but some projects are much larger than others and have many more components. The larger the project, the more time that it’ll take. You can speed up the process with CPQ software, but be sure that you don’t sacrifice the quality by moving too fast.

 

Be Ready for Last Minute Requests

You might be staring down a tight deadline to finish your proposal and still be faced with last minute requests that you’ll need to fit into your proposal in order to meet the requester’s needs. The more complex the project is, the more difficult it is to pull such a document together.

It’s always a good idea to consider all of the variables before writing your proposal. That way, when a last minute request comes in, you’ll have plenty of material to work with before submitting the proposal. If you’re prepared, your proposal is guaranteed to come in faster and at a higher quality.

 

Plan Your Time

Time management is something that most people struggle with in business. It’s difficult to balance multiple projects and devote the necessary quality. However, if you want a quick proposal turnaround, good time management is essential.

Begin the project by setting a deadline for yourself. If you want a good head start over your competitors, it’s recommended that you set a deadline that’s significantly shorter than the one presented by the requester. Then, meet with your team to discuss some doable benchmarks in getting the proposal finished early. With this kind of strategy, you could cut the response time down from days to hours.

 

Use Templates

Though you want there to be an original quality about the proposals you write and present, there’s no shame in using templates as the backbone in order to expedite the process and make it easier on you. You’ll obviously change the content to match the needs of the presenter, but using a template as the outline is an excellent strategy.

If you’re handy with your preferred proposal development program, you might choose to make the proposals from scratch. If not, using a few versions of a proposal template is a good place to start. You can customize it to meet your needs and the needs of the client while saving yourself a lot of time and efforts.

 

Have a Signature Statement

You’ll want something that can stand out from your competitors and brand the proposal as distinctly you. In general, a signature statement can achieve this, and it can be prefabricated in order to save time. You can simply slap your signature statement into the introduction or conclusion, and it will be easy to pick your proposal out of the piles of others.

 

Get Accurate and Time-Saving CPQ Software with iQuoteXpress

At iQuoteXpress, we’re hoping to make your RFP response as quick and painless as possible. Our CPQ software accelerates the proposal writing process with high accuracy and quality. If you’re interested in a customized solution that can cut away hours of work, contact us today

New Call-to-action

Rejected Again? How to Fix a Bad Business Proposal.

Business proposals are tricky to get right. As with any application or pitch, it takes some finesse to create a proposal that will interest the receiving party. Even if you follow all the requirements, a poorly written proposal is unlikely to be taken seriously – let alone accepted.

In theory, a quote should be enough. After all, if you’re trying to land a client, what matters more to them than how much the project costs? As it turns out, a lot matters. Read on to learn more about how you can correct some of the biggest blunders proposal writers commit.

The Problem: Bad Proposals (and What Happens to Them)

Think about your proposal as a product. With this frame of mind, it doesn’t matter what you sell – whether it’s lawn mowers or lab equipment – because the customer always knows what they’re paying for prior to making the purchase. This is especially true in the brick-and-mortar retail world, where customers have the chance to window-shop, compare prices, try on clothes, and taste product samples.

Unfortunately, when a client invests in a service, they don’t have the same opportunities for browsing and perusing. Instead, they have to choose what to buy based on their own research in addition to the (sometimes blind) faith that the business in question will provide it.

You could have a flawless record, excellent samples, a stellar web and social media presence, and tons of positive referrals and testimonials – but that’s not enough. Simply put, your proposal is what’s going to turn them from an interested party into a buyer.

Your proposal isn’t a formality; it’s a sales presentation. If what you send isn’t good enough, the client’s not going to read it – instead, it’s going out with the recycling.

So what should you do instead? Read on for some ways to turn a bad business proposal into something worth reading.

 

Mistake #1: Failing to Understand the Customer

In a case like this, failure doesn’t come from simple ignorance; it’s a product of failing to do your due diligence and key into the prospect’s precise needs. In writing a business proposal, the first thing you should ask yourself – and your team – is, “Who’s our client?” The second question is, “What does my client want to buy?”

What to do instead:

You already know your company (or, at least, you should). You know your staff, your products, and your business interests. But the purpose of sales is not to show your chops as a great salesperson or to convey the excellence of your product. While those are components of making a sale, it’s up to you to focus – above all else – on the client.

 

Mistake #2: Rambling On (and On and On and On…)

A business proposal should be concise and to the point. Your company is wonderful, and you do wonderful work, and you’re the best in your industry. But there’s only so much writing about your specifications and accolades a client can read before their eyes glaze over – and they toss your proposal out with tomorrow’s trash.

What to do instead:

Get to the point. Of course you want to set yourself apart from the rest. But, again, the way to do that is to center the client. It’s not about how great you are; it’s about how your business will meet a client’s need – and do so better than your competitors could. Outline the benefits of your service and show what makes you valuable – but keep it down to two pages or less.

Certainly, take a little time to introduce your team and their roles – and include headshots, since these can be a good way to break up large blocks of text in the business proposal. They’re also a way to make your proposal more personal. Make sure everyone smiles!

Don’t get into the gratuitous details, though – like the professional associations that include your teammates as members, for example. This is especially true if you’ve paid to join these associations. These are unlikely to impress the client. The focus should always be on previous projects and accomplishments.

If you’re sending a web-based proposal, don’t write pages and pages about everything you’ve achieved as a company. Instead, insert hyperlinks to preexisting information, so they can see for themselves what you’re capable of. If your submitted proposal is printed, attach that information as an appendix and not in the body of the text.

 

Mistake #3: Failing the “So What?” Test

Your proposal shouldn’t read like the “About Us” page on your website. Again, you’re not giving a history of your business or explaining; you’re presenting your business as a solution to a problem. Capture Planning calls this the “So What?” test.

When the customer reads your proposal, what are they getting out of it? If you can’t answer this before you send it, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got even more of a problem when the customer doesn’t even know what you’re proposing.

What to do instead:

Literally, ask yourself – “So what?” What are you proposing, and why should they care? The person reading your proposal likely has countless competing proposals, and their job is to select the best one. Yours should express your specific solution and why it’s better than all the others. We already know what you stand to gain from this deal, but what does the customer stand to gain? Include enough information for the customer to make an informed decision – and make it enticing. Do away with everything else.

 

Contact iQuoteXpress Today

Having great content for your business proposal is just the first step. At iQuoteXpress, we’ve developed software designed to help businesses just like yours deal with the proposal process. Using our software, you can store critical information – such as client data and proposal requirements – to facilitate the process of writing and submitting proposals.

Interested in learning more about how we can help? Contact iQuoteXpress today for more information and to download a free demo of our software - no contract or obligation required. We’re excited to see what we can do for you.