Five Steps to More Proactive Sales Proposals

By Toby Murdock, General Manager, Upland Software

We’ve all heard the Benjamin Franklin quote, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” While the maxim covers a wide range of topics, in sales it’s especially true when it comes to the traditional reactive approach to the request for proposal (RFP).

Preparation is everything. This means that, even when an RFP comes through the door without advance warning, sales and proposal teams should be able to turn it around quickly with thoughtful ideas, carefully researched information, and highly relevant data points that prove their firm is the right for the job.

If you take a proactive approach to sales proposal processes and data sets, you’ll have relevant information at your fingertips even when the unexpected happens. And that’s another old maxim: “Expect the unexpected.”

Today, RFPs include increasingly more complex requirements that often consist of hundreds of pages as well as supporting materials. Today’s buyers want to see that you understand their specific industries and business needs, in addition to demonstrating your capabilities.

For example, it’s not enough to explain to a health system that you have a mobile app that can help it engage in telehealth. The company wants to know how well you understand the challenges of today’s clinicians in improving the health of underserved regions, elderly populations, or people with disabilities. They want to hear about success stories in their markets to understand how your expertise and services can be applied to their company’s challenges.

That’s a tall order when you have two weeks to provide the full solution package. However, with proper planning and research, a look at past RFPs, and a central database of reusable and relevant content, your team will land much higher on the curve than you may initially think.

Being proactive in how you approach sales proposals draws from lessons learned, relevant content, and competitive research and analysis so that, when the RFP with a quick turnaround hits, you’ll have an initial solution platform developed – letting you quickly draw from information at your fingertips.

What can you do to get a jumpstart on RFPs and sales proposals? Below are five key strategies for success.

1. Seek Out Good Sales Leads (Before They Come to You)
Top sales teams identify important influencers and decision makers for key accounts they would like to win months (or even years) before the sales proposal becomes a reality. A ready-made toolkit of content, processes, and research will help your team hit the ground running. Yet, when it comes to crafting a compelling RFP response, there are also many ways to proactively pursue a good sales lead before the company even knows it needs your services. Example: Perhaps they just announced they are relocating – a good sign of healthy growth. Maybe they just announced new products or a new round of funding, which could indicate potential need for a new infusion of innovative solutions and services to ignite their next phase of growth. By meeting with candidates and building a relationship, information you uncover could help your proposal rise to the top of the heap.

2. You Can Win If You Don’t Play
Sales teams don’t ever seem to have enough time, yet they continue to pursue sales leads that have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. Many teams respond reactively to RFPs with the idea that, “You can’t win if you don’t try.” By taking a more strategic approach, however, and carefully analyzing past RFPs that failed and learning why they did, you can determine your chance of success – potentially saving time and resources so your team can move on to the surer bets.

3. Make It Personal
Once you’ve engaged with the prospect and you understand the company’s position and needs, the next key step is explaining how your offerings can address their specific challenges to find solutions. Many people might think this is the easy part, but that’s not always true. Information about your offering should be carefully framed to continue to focus on the specific needs of the prospect – not on your solution itself.

4. Concisely Hit the Key Points
Once you’ve done the advance research and customized your response strategy to meet the unique needs of the client, a succinct proposal should articulate this by:

  • Summarizing your understanding of the prospect’s needs
  • Indicating the positive outcomes of a partnership
  • Showcasing positive results and use cases
  • Providing evidence that your solution is up to the task and will be delivered on time, on budget, with specific outcomes

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
There’s no question that each and every sales proposal takes company-wide energy and resources. Researching key markets and top companies and articulating that you understand their needs (while keeping product or service information up to date) is time consuming – but these actions must be leveraged as much as possible. Create a content library and personalize, localize, and customize data so it can be accessed across teams and used for future proposals. Likewise, integrate with a CRM system to build and nurture the relationships described above. Automated solutions can help you better manage resources and data so you can focus your time on activities that give you that extra edge.

Achieving success is all in the planning. Sales teams no longer need to wait for the RFP to hit before they begin developing a winning proposal. In fact, these days that strategy may well leave you in the dust. By taking the time to proactively research good candidates, gain an understanding of specific industry trends and issues, and get to know your candidates while also refining and assessing existing content and results, your team will be prepared. A proactive approach drains the chaos out of fast RFP turnaround process and, in our fast-paced industry, helps ensure your proposal andteam have that extra something to set you apart from the competition.

Toby Murdock is general manager at Upland Software.