We don’t want salespeople writing proposals, simple as that!

However, freeing them from proposal generation can be more difficult than it initially appears.  The problem is not with minor or major opportunities — there’s an obvious approach for each.  It’s the ones in the middle that are the issue!

Let’s consider the extremes first.

Minor opportunity

If the opportunity is a minor one (perhaps you’re selling a standard stock item), the proposal can be prepared by the salesperson’s sales coordinator.

The salesperson simply provides the necessary information to his sales coordinator during the post-appointment update call.  The sales coordinator enters the critical variables into user-defined fields in the CRM and presses the appropriate button to launch the final document.

Major opportunity

In the case of a major opportunity, the salesperson does not take the client’s brief and, accordingly, is not responsible for the design of the solution or the generation of proposals, bids or similar documentation.  As you know, this is the responsibility of the project leader.  Obviously, the salesperson and the project leader consult during this process to ensure that the solution specifications (including price and fulfillment lead-time) are acceptable to both delivery and the potential client.

Mid-sized opportunities

So what happens when a proposal requires a degree of customization (or technical input) that is beyond the sales coordinator — but when the opportunity is not significant enough to warrant the involvement of a project leader.

First, let’s stop thinking about the proposal as a single entity.  In most cases, proposals can be broken into the following components:

  1. Solution specifications (including price and lead-time)
  2. The selling argument (the case for the potential client to purchase — often an executive summary)
  3. Support material

Even if your standard proposal is a four-page letter, you’ll probably discover that it contains these three elements (and, if it doesn’t, it probably should!).

Let’s now consider how we should prepare each of these components.

Solution specifications

Our policy is that the salesperson should never take a brief for a solution that is not a standard stock item.  In those cases where the opportunity is not significant enough to warrant a project leader accompanying the salesperson on his visit, the resolution of this dilemma is devastating simple.  The trick is to have a member of your customer service (semi-technical) team conference-in to the appropriate section of the sales meeting.

In other words, rather than taking the brief himself, the salesperson calls a member of your customer service team, switches his cell phone to speaker-phone mode and then helps your customer service person to take the brief.

Once your customer-service person has the brief it is this person’s responsibility to specify the solution and provide it (perhaps in Excel form) to the salesperson’s sales coordinator.

Selling argument

Here, you have two options. 

You can build an intelligent Word document that enables options to be specified on start-up.  For example, if potential clients tend to have one of three standard buying motives, the document can prompt the user to specify the appropriate one — and then insert text (or paragraphs, charts etc) that are relevant to the particular client’s buying motive.  (To learn how to build intelligent Word documents, Google: "Word Fields".)

If a greater degree of customization is required, the temptation is to have your salesperson spend his evenings writing executive summaries.  As well as being unnecessary (and irritating for your salesperson), this approach fails to exploit a particularly effective selling technique.

If we assume that (given this is not a minor opportunity) multiple appointments will be performed during the opportunity-management workflow, the trick is to position the appropriate appointment in the sequence as a workshop of some kind (Solution Design Workshop, perhaps).  The salesperson should attend this appointment with a PowerPoint template containing the basic structure of your selling argument (a slide for each section of your executive summary, perhaps).

The salesperson should then facilitate the workshop — the content of which is the population of the PowerPoint template with the potential client’s business case.  The salesperson then provides the completed PowerPoint to his sales coordinator (who will convert it into an executive summary).

Obviously, the most powerful selling argument is the one that your potential client has devised for himself (under the skillful tutelage of your salesperson, of course!).

Support material

Our preference is to produce one standard set of support material and reference the relevant passages in the body of the proposal.  The support material can appear in one or more appendices.)

Document compilation

Once the three components of the proposal are in existence, the sales coordinator can compile and submit the final document.

Obviously, it’s the responsibility of the sales coordinator to negotiate a due-date for the proposal with your potential client —and to keep an eye on customer service to ensure that their contribution is provided on time.

The result of this approach is that salespeople can focus on selling (and stay out of the office).  Another consequence is likely to be a dramatic improvement in the quality of the documentation provided to clients.  You’ll probably discover that this approach actually yields a greater degree of proposal customization than you had previously when —notionally, at least — every proposal was a custom document!