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The Importance of a Deal Approval Workflow (and How to Create One)

Sales teams are at the core of almost every organization. From prospecting to sending, their efforts throughout the sales cycle are crucial in generating revenue and business growth. But to prevent costly errors from popping up, their work often hinges on sign offs from various stakeholders along the way. While approvals are great for compliance, they can cause major bottlenecks that can doom deals. In an environment where speed and time are of the essence, a smooth approval workflow process is invaluable. Here’s how to create one.

An approved sales document on a busy office desk surface in front of a computer, beside a fresh cup of coffee.

6 min. read

What is an approval workflow?

An approval workflow is a formal process that details an organization's approach to approving documents or data. In a sales context, it's the way your team handles the sign offs of various documents throughout the sales cycle. It ensures that the appropriate people are able to view and approve necessary sales documents efficiently so that reps can focus more on building relationships and less on chasing down internal approvals. Done right, a well-oiled approval workflow process will get deals out the door sooner and help you build sales momentum.

Types of approval workflows

Approvals are necessary throughout the entire sales process, but blanket document approvals are rarely efficient. With the right sales document approval software, you can delegate roles and permissions so that reviewers are only presented with documents that require their sign off, so that they can avoid wasting time on small details.

  • Lead management. A lead management approval workflow allows team leaders to verify and sign off on leads so that sales reps spend less time and energy chasing unqualified prospects.

  • Quotation. Getting accurate quotes to prospects shouldn’t be hard. With a quotation approval workflow, sales reps can delegate approval permissions to team leads, product teams, or operations to ensure pricing is accurate and in line with business needs.

  • Document value. There are times when deals below a certain size don't even need approval. A document value approval process gives reviewers the option to choose which documents they want to review based on value so that teams can spend less time on approvals.

  • Discount. Pricing discounts can help seal the deal, but every discount comes at a cost to your business. A discount approval workflow allows reps to request approvals for discounts based on value so that you can avoid discounting errors that eat into your profit.

  • Terms & Conditions. Deal terms set the stage for your projects and contracts, so they need to be rock solid. With a terms and conditions approval workflow, team leads can make sure that there are no last minute adjustments or mistakes before they’re sent off to the client.

Common approval workflow obstacles

Without a formal process, sales teams face a number of approval workflow obstacles that can put deals at risk:

Bottlenecks

A poorly-designed approval workflow process creates giant bottlenecks for sales reps as they wait for document approval. There are plenty of documents that can go out without approval, but without a formal approval process, reps are stuck waiting for sign off on all documents before they can move forward. This slows their deals to a halt and puts additional burden on the reviewer, who might not even have access to the document if they're away from their computer.

Errors and omissions

As time-consuming as document approval workflows may be, they’re necessary. Without them, materials can go out with mistakes in pricing, discounts, terms & conditions, deliverables, and other costly business proposal errors. An approval process is necessary to ensure that all documents are accurate and up to date before being sent to prospects or clients.

Disorganization

A lack of an approval process leads to a lack of organization. Without clear steps that outline how documents are circulated, reviewed, and approved internally, there is greater potential for delayed, forgotten, or incorrect materials. It’s not a good feeling to lose a deal because the approval request was buried in a manager’s inbox.

Lack of transparency

An audit trail can help you understand where approvals are getting hung up and who is accountable for what throughout the pipeline. But without a formal approval process and the right proposal tools, there is a severe lack of transparency that prevents you from getting the insight you need.

How to create an efficient approval workflow process

An approval workflow process can be as simple or as complex as you make it. But regardless of your approach, every approval workflow should fulfill two purposes: maintain accuracy across all sales documents, and ensure that all documents are reviewed and approved efficiently to avoid impeding the sales process.

1. Create the sales documents

    Using everything we’ve taught you about how to write a business proposal, create the proposal or other sales documents to build your approval process around.

    2. Establish responsibilities

      Identify the person (or people) who approve the documents and which aspects they are responsible for. Identify what is needed from each stakeholder before the document can move to the next step of the sales process.

      3. Set permissions

        Define the level of authority each user should have. By designating users as viewers, editors, or administrators, you can control who is able to edit, reject, or approve documents and ensure that the right team members have the visibility and access they need.

        4. Create a timeline

          Identify any relevant deadlines associated with the sales documents. This will help you set expectations and keep your workflows moving to prevent backlogs for both reps and managers.

          5. Set up alerts and notifications

            Automated alerts and notifications can help you track the status of your sales documents through the entire sales pipeline. Choose when alerts are sent out (i.e. approvals, rejections, update requests, status updates, etc.) and to whom.

            6. Document and communicate

              With the right tools -- like Proposify -- you can view document and user history throughout every step of the approval process. This can help you identify and address problem areas in order to expedite your workflow.

              Benefits of streamlined approval workflows

              With a streamlined approval process, your team will be well-equipped to pump out consistent, accurate sales documents without getting hung up on the little details or cutting corners to seal the deal.

              Consistency

              No more wondering where to send documents for approval or bouncing them around multiple departments until they get signed. A formal approval process means that the sales workflow looks the same every time. Plus, you can set thresholds for adjustments to ensure that documents don’t differ significantly between clients.

              Accuracy

              With set roles and responsibilities, all essential decision makers see and sign off on documents before they’re sent. This ensures that multiple stakeholders can verify information for accuracy, which leaves much less room for error or omissions.

              Efficiency

              Streamlined approval workflows make sign-off easy by ensuring that decision makers can review and approve relevant documents effectively. Instead of requiring approval for all documents, managers can choose what they need to approve so that they can focus only on the details that matter.

              And with notifications, alerts, and mobile accessibility, reviewers have the power to access documents instantly and approve on the go. No more waiting around for managers to get back to their desk or hoping that the document isn’t stuck in their backlog.

              Transparency

              Say goodbye to the black box in your sales process. With streamlined approval workflows, you’ll have insight into the entire pipeline so that you can determine what’s working and what’s not. Complex approval details can help you hold teams accountable and reduce roadblocks so that your sales process runs smoothly.

              Conclusion

              Approvals are a necessary part of any effective sales cycle, but they can really slow down the process. The right proposal software will allow you to streamline your approval workflow process to reduce bottlenecks while maintaining consistency and increasing transparency along the way. Plus, the increase in efficiency can help you cut down on your proposal time so that you can focus on building relationships with your clients.

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