If you’re delivering a proposal to everyone you meet or speak with on the phone, you’re wasting valuable time and money. Chasing leads that have no chance of going anywhere distracts you from nurturing quality leads, leads that are far more likely to close, leads with better deals at stake.
Some people subscribe to the quantity over quality proposal process. They churn out proposals like hot dogs at a ball game, filling up their sales pipeline and trying to look like ballers (or so they think).
But if none of those proposals closes, who’s the bigger baller? The fast and furious sales rep with 15 proposals pending but only two closed? Or the laser-focused business development pro with five proposals in the funnel and four of them are ready to be signed on the dotted line?
The proposal process eats up a lot of resources - scoping, writing, designing, sending, following up, revising. You need to be sure you’re investing those resources wisely by only sending proposals to sales leads that have a high probability of converting into closed deals.
You need to figure out which leads have that high probability of closing before you enter a single word in your proposal.
How to Qualify a Lead
Straight talk: No matter how great your product or service is, not every potential client is a good fit for your company.
And even though they may have taken a meeting with you, they may not be serious about doing business right now or be the person who can make the final buying decision. They also might not have the appropriate budget to match their project expectations, which is a major deal killer.
So if your sales lead has a check in any of those boxes, you’re not going to be able to convince them of anything, despite your best efforts. Sending them a proposal will be a big waste of your time.
To help you qualify a lead, here are five things to ask yourself to see if they’re proposal-worthy:
Does this sales prospect fit into our target audience of industry, size, or revenue?
You should define your ideal client, the problem that needs to be solved, and how much they’re willing to pay for it. Building bench strength in niche areas and focusing on them allows your team to be more efficient, confident, and profitable.
2. Can our services and expertise help solve their problem and reach their goals?
Smart salespeople know they’re not selling, they’re SOLVING. If your lead doesn’t have a real need for your product or service, the conversation is over. Even if you can convince them, they might end up unhappy (and high maintenance) because they spent money on something they didn’t need, want, or really understand. And you can say good-bye for that long-term, trusted, and potentially lucrative relationship.
3. Does this company have a realistic budget?
This is always a tricky topic to get a straight answer on because many people are hesitant to share their budget with someone they don’t know. They also worry that if they tell you they have $25K to spend then that’s the price you’ll come back with even if you might be able to do it for less money.
But the simple truth is if a potential client’s budget is too small for you to work with then don’t bother with the proposal.
A good way to find out their project budget is to reveal your cards first. In the meeting, explain how much a similar project might cost, even a general range like, “Standard projects usually start at $3,000 but can be as much of $50,000 depending on the scope.”
This way, if their budget is only $500, it ends the deal right there and then and you don’t need to waste any more time.
4. Are you talking to the decision maker?
Don’t waste your valuable time, or your team resources, pitching to someone who doesn’t have the authority to say YES to your deal.
The person you’re meeting with may be the one doing some of the initial legwork, but they might not be the one with actual buying power. Before you prepare a business proposal or develop a pitch, find out what the company’s decision-making process is. Find out with whom the buck stops, and insist that you meet with that person at least once.
It’s important that you speak directly with the person who decides whether this deal closes or not so that you can confirm that the project scope aligns with their needs and that you can deliver results.
5. Are there any red flags indicating the client might be a big jerk?
While managing clients can be challenging, it is part of the business. But what isn’t part of the business, or at least shouldn’t be, is allowing clients to run the show with unreasonable demands or abusive behaviour.
You don’t have to be BFFs with your clients, but you also don’t want to do business with jerks knowingly. Problem clients can cost you money and team moral. If your team is being tortured by one client, they won't be able to do good work for other clients.
If a potential client seems like an a**hole during the sales process, they’re not going to magically transform into the perfect client once you kick off the project. Pay attention to your spidey senses and say no to jerks.
Should I respond to an RFP?
When it comes to RFPs, it pays to be picky. Similar to sales leads, you need to carefully choose which RFPs are worth the effort behind a proposal, especially considering that the requirements involved with RFPs are notoriously more complicated and time-consuming than the average proposal.
Are you able to call or meet with the potential client before responding to the RFP?
Often, and this is especially true when it comes to public sector/government RFPs, the client won’t speak directly to bidders or allow them to ask questions before they receive a proposal. They may let you send questions via email, and then they send answers to the bidders as a group.
Not meeting or talking to anyone may make sense from a fairness perspective, but it’s not a good way to start a new relationship with a client. Hiring a service agency is different than buying photocopiers and wifi. How can you or the client know whether you’re a good fit when you can’t have a conversation first?
Can you present your proposal in person?
At the very least, the client should let shortlisted bidders present their proposal in person or via online conference. That way any questions or confusion can be dealt with right away and everyone can get a sense for what it might be like to work together before committing to the project.
Alternatively, the client should allow companies that have been shortlisted to present their proposal in person or via web conference so questions can be answered right then and there, and both parties can get a feel for each other before signing on the dotted line.
Does the RFP dictate its own solutions or ask for spec work?
A good RFP outlines the objectives of the project and the key business challenges that need to be solved. They are looking for experts to advise them on a solution.
A troublesome RFP will either dictate its own solutions (‘make the buttons purple, and we want a Flash landing page’), ask bidders to submit speculative work (like designs and wireframes), or make bidders jump through unnecessary proposal hoops (submit company financials and full resumes of all staff, insist on 10 bound copies of the proposal).
Have you met or had any business dealings with the company releasing the RFP?
Unless a person you know invites you to bid, and they’re the one making the decision, this RFP is likely a huge waste of time.
RFPs are generally for larger projects with bigger budgets. Most companies or government departments releasing RFPs aren’t going to blindly choose a company they have no experience with and risk the outcome of the project.
This is why it’s confusing when they refuse to meet with bidders before they make a final decision. Hence why you shouldn’t waste your time responding to an RFP unless you already have an existing connection.
Every lead is not a good lead, nor are they worth a proposal. Recognizing which leads are more likely to convert will improve your close rate, help you win better quality clients, and give you more time to go after the next big deal.