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Why You Should Never Email a Proposal (and What to Do Instead)

A client emails and says “Send me a proposal on X, please. “ Before you do the happy dance, there’s some things you need to think about to create a winning proposal.

Creating proposals can be hard work. You sit down to create the proposal and you begin to wonder…

What to put in the proposal?

What to take out the proposal?

How should I price it? 

How many different options should I include? 

You find yourself exhausted and second-guessing the value you can bring to the table for your client. You persevere and hit “send” anyway. 

Then, you check your inbox.

Nope, no response. 

The follow-up progress begins… 

You send one email. 

And then another.

And another. 

You begin to wonder how many emails you can send before you are officially labeled as a stalker.

Sometimes you get a response and sometimes you don’t. Why? What went wrong? They asked for the proposal, why are they not responding? 

We all experience this.

Years ago, I was speaking on stage at the largest international e-learning conference.  My presentation was going really, really well. You know when you can feel that it is clicking? The audience was laughing and asking questions.

After the session, I had a line of people waiting to talk to me. Each person handed me their business card and said something like, “Hey, this is just what we need. We want to bring your company in to work with our team. “ 

Every time someone handed me a card, I felt like I was on the Oprah show winning a free car.  

via GIPHY

One of those leads in particular asked me, “Hey, I need to put 15 of my people through this. Can you send me a proposal ASAP?”

When I got back to the office, my team and I prioritized getting that proposal out. A drive-thru order for an on-site workshop for 15 is pretty much guaranteed, right? 

We sent off a ton of proposals. 

We emailed all the prospects repeatedly to follow up. 

We sent carrier pigeons. 

Nothing happened. 

Not one of those leads at the conference that were so excited to work with us said “yes” to our proposal. Most of them didn’t even reply to our repeated follow-up.

And you know why? Because I never should have emailed out a single proposal in the first place. 

To write a winning proposal, you have to understand the gap you are helping the client bridge.

Anytime a company just wants to place an order for a proposal without investing a few minutes on the phone with you, it is a big ol’ red flag.  

It is likely they are just trying to get your pricing information which means they are shopping options. 

Getting on the phone or meeting in person helps you figure out what you need to know to put together a winning solution. You need to figure out:

  • What is the problem they have? 
  • How can you help them solve it? 
  • Is it a good fit?
  • What is the value of solving that problem? 

So what happens in a discovery conversation? Let’s walk through it… 

4 Critical Elements of a Discovery Call 

There’s really four things you really need to have in that conversation before you write a proposal. We’ve talked about how to do this in previous episodes.

1) Why?

The first thing you’re doing in your conversation with the client is you’re exploring why they need your help.

  • Why are they talking to you? 
  • What is it that you’re working on? 
  • What is the gap that you’re trying to bridge? 

You’re trying to get a sense of what’s the driver for the client to want to work with you. All of this will be referenced in your proposal. 

2) What is the gap?

Your prospect is “here” and they want to get “there”.

You have to define the gap so that you can define the value of solving the problem in the gap. Click To Tweet

The gap will be clearly called out and addressed  in your proposal.

3) How can you help?

  • What are the different ways that your prospect can work with you?
  • Do you have varying levels of support?

When you are leading the discovery process, you can ask questions to determine the type of support your clients prefer. Your proposed offers are all solutions on how to bridge the gap.

4) What are the next steps?

The fourth focus that you’re nailing in the discovery process is next steps.

  • How are you going to instill urgency for your client to take action? 
  • What is the next step you want them to take?

Summary 

Here is one big thing I want to emphasize: Your proposal is not a pitch. Your proposal is not how you sell. The proposal is an affirmation of what you’ve talked about in the discovery call.

When you lead the discovery meeting the right way, you define what needs to be included in your proposal. 

The next time you have a prospect who wants to place their drive-thru order for your services via email, pause. Get them on the phone or schedule a meeting. If they’re not willing to get on the phone and spend 30 minutes with you, then it is not likely they are willing to invest the time to do the deep dive work with you. 

What will you add to your discovery approach? I LOVE hearing your feedback. It keeps us inspired over here. Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

5 Comments

  1. Bob Martel says:

    Great stuff, Jeanine. Consistent with how I was trained years ago in
    Counselor Selling. I don’t do “proposals” anymore. I send out quotes and a one-paragraph statement of work imbedded in a contract for services, after a phone conversation or two.

  2. Connie Hammond says:

    Great article! Thanks for your insights. Looking forward to more articles on engaging with (prospecting) corporate sponsors / advertisers / partners.

  3. B Westhoff says:

    I totally get this. But the big question is HOW you can convince a prospect to take a discovery call.

  4. Renee' Lacy says:

    Nice to meet you.
    I needed this.
    Spot on.
    You are phenomenal.
    Keep going.

    Expect the BEST
    Renee’ Lacy

  5. Great advice — I have sent too many proposals only to discover that the prospect was simply window-shopping, not interested in buying.

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The key is to figure out the one thing you can do that will make the

BIGGEST IMPACT.

Then, do that ONE thing first.

-Jeanine Blackwell

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