On a recent tour of Alcatraz, I learned the story of the famous Alcatraz escapee, Frank Morris. Despite all odds and having limited resources, he and two others managed to escape the island and were never seen again. In some ways, the story of his research, planning and determination reminded me of a good account manager. Veteran sales reps know that focused research and thorough planning are critical to executing a professional proposal.
This can be a time consuming but exciting step–determine what is important to your customer. Do you know your customer’s business initiatives? Do you know how your customer’s sales are trending? Have you read the CEO’s Letter to the Shareholders? You should!
Valuable insight can be gained from your customer’s publicly available financial statements (US 10-K and 10-Q). When approaching a customer discussion or creating a proposal, be sure to include topics and products that solve customer concerns or support customer initiatives.
While working with a rep in the Midwest, I learned our work in creating a Business Alignment Review (BAR) document for his customer revealed a corporate concern about their rapidly growing receivables. The rep explained to the customer how her product would improve communication between the invoicing team and the collections team. The improved communication would result in faster collection efforts, thus reducing the rate of growth of their AR. This alignment between a product sale and the company’s corporate initiative was the very thing that closed the deal as a win.
For more on this important step, see Drew’s blog.
As you prepare your solution set, keep in mind what you learned during your customer research. Be sure your products align with your customer’s initiatives (increase sales, cost cutting, moving to the web, etc.). Remain flexible, yet focused.
As enterprise software companies move away from selling individual products to selling a suite of products (i.e. solution selling), sales reps are required to sell to multiple personas (VP of IT, Chief Data Officer, economic buyer, compliance officer).
Every plan should include contingencies for each persona. It’s important to anticipate potential objections. For example, anticipate objections by the economic buyer. This buyer will certainly pose financial hurdles before a proposal is deemed acceptable.
How should you prepare for the economic buyer? Increase your ability to be creative with the numbers by presenting a single, all-encompassing proposal: one that includes an uplift for the distributor, an uplift the partner and an uplift for potential financing. By including a finance buffer, many of your customer’s financial hurdles can be overcome without requiring additional product discount.
This strategy worked perfectly for a rep in Seattle. When he presented an all-inclusive solution price, he wasn’t surprised to see some sticker shock from the customer. But, because he had built in funds for financing, the customer price was quickly spread into three equal payments. Another closed-won for Mr. Seattle.
As Greg explained, offering extended payments and managing the timing of those payments can be the key to creating budget and closing deals.
The Proposal Presentation
Effective communication both within your team and with the customer is key. With so many buyers to please, be sure to enlist the help of trusted colleagues. Trust your Solutions Engineer to ensure your product set will work smoothly once implemented and trust your Financial Engineer to create a consumable answer to any of your customer’s financial objections.
Before your big meeting, be sure to practice and do some role playing to work out any kinks before you get in front of the customer.
As the group enters the room and settles in their seats, set a comfortable tone and display a casual picture or recent positive news event. If you can encourage informal discussion from the start, you’ll have a better chance of engagement during the formal discussion.
In terms of the presentation flow, I find it helpful to create a common foundation from which all attendees can relate. Perhaps highlighting something your customer’s recent 10-Q would be a good place to start. It is merely an observation of a reliable source. Then transition into the customer’s current state where you would do a general review the customer’s current IT or business environment.
I like to do regular checks with the audience. Ask your audience, “Did I describe that correctly? Did I miss anything? Would you add or change anything from the current state?”
Then, move to the audience to the desired state. It is important to confirm these points. Typically, you start with those things you already vetted with your internal sponsor. Decision by consensus is difficult, so be prepared. Aside from the vetted points, be sure to add some new and challenging ideas.
For example, perhaps your customer research unveiled their spending on litigation is on the rise. If you have a product that will help expedite their discovery process and thus reduce spend on discovery, now is the time to introduce it. Challenge the audience!
Always finish with next steps and a commitment to a time line. Work backwards from the date the signed order is needed (and build in some cushion for unexpected absences or process delays).
Like Frank Morris, you too can escape the predictability of the typical sales rep and become famous for standing out in the crowd as a knowledgeable and impactful account representative. With some dedicated research and proper plan development, your proposal and presentation will certainly make an impact.