“This proposal sucks.” — Your Prospect
Okay, this might not be a direct quote that your AEs will ever hear. But possibly only because your sales team’s prospects are too polite to say it out loud.
That could be exactly what the buyer is thinking, though, when your sales reps take prospects through a well-tailored sales process and then send a weak proposal to close the deal.
And that disconnect is part of why deals can go dark.
You put so much thought into every other touch in your sales process. How are your proposals failing to live up to that standard? There are common—and entirely preventable—reasons why sales stall out at the proposal stage. This post will break them down and show you how to shine up your team’s sales docs to keep deals from going dark.
Why do deals go dark once a proposal is sent?
If your sales team has sales that fall off the forecasted radar, they’re not alone: one out of every four deals ends up going dark at some point in the process.
So deals going dark is a normal, and frustrating, fact of life in sales. A prospect could go radio-silent after receiving the proposal for reasons that have nothing to do with your AEs. Priorities shift, budgets change, or situations pop up that require the prospect’s full attention.
The proposals should make it so easy for prospects to say yes before they get distracted by new projects, looming deadlines, or an impressive proposal from your competitor.
If deals tend to disappear at the proposal stage, it could signal that there’s something about your proposal documents that’s not getting the job done.
Here are six ways proposals can be the root cause of deal delays and how to clear them up before your team sends another dud.
1. The proposal didn’t equip your champion.
A winning proposal includes all the persuasive details your prospect (your champion) needs to sell your solution for you up their internal chain of command. It needs to make a complete and convincing business case, not for why your solution is so great but why saying yes to this proposal is great for the prospect’s business.
Here’s the thing, though: those with approval authority usually don’t have the time or inclination to wade through a long-winded sales document. Your team’s proposals need to get to the point quickly.
Enter the customized proposal cover letter. Your sales reps can use this section to introduce your solution to a decision-maker who might not have been involved in the earlier stages of the deal. The cover letter is persuasive but concise, conversational but convincing. It’s a customized one-page look at why this deal needs to be approved. You can get my five steps to writing a great one to share with your team—plus a breakdown of some solid examples—here.
2. The proposal included too many unnecessary details.
Not only are your prospect’s bosses busy, so is your prospect. And overloading the proposal with information they don’t need to make their approval decision just adds time to the deal’s time-to-close, increasing the likelihood that it’ll go dark.
So what should you take out? Maybe your prospects don’t need an uber-detailed timeline before they even sign off on the project. Or maybe that highly-technical section that was written by an engineer might be better saved for the project kick-off meeting where the customer success manager can walk them through it.
Rethinking an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink proposal approach keeps your sales cycle length in check. Collin Belt, founder of Belt Creative, has seen this firsthand. He found that streamlining his proposals with only the details needed to approve the deal cut his time-to-close in half.
3. The proposal provides a bad customer experience.
Your sales process experience: smooth and frictionless. Your sales team’s proposals: the opposite of that.
If you’ve put a lot of thought into modernizing your sales process and removing friction but are still sending old-fashioned proposals, there’s a big disconnect in your customer experience (CX). For example, think about the last time you had to print out a form, fill it out and sign it, and then scan and email it back. You’re already thinking about ways to procrastinate on this and it’s only a hypothetical form! Your prospects feel the same.
Including user-friendly features in your proposals is a proven way to speed up sign-off and keep deals from going dark. Proposals with client input forms, where prospects can fill in vital details like project start dates and invoice numbers, close 65% faster. And those with electronic signatures have a 23% quicker close.
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4. The proposal didn’t include consistent content.
In a recent survey of LinkedIn users, 214,680 people misspelled ‘manager’ as ‘manger’ in their job titles. Yeah, it’s only a missing ‘a’ but it looks sloppy and decreases trust, especially when these folks go looking for a promotion from their trough gig.
That trust part is important. If each of your sales reps creates their own proposal using their own design and content, it’s going to be hard to know what’s going out and if it actually resonates. These proposals are usually Frankensteined from previous ones so they could contain errors or omit important information.
From small typos to big omissions, these kinds of content mistakes can be costly. For instance, if your sales reps include outdated product descriptions or pricing for your services, your company could be on the hook to honour them.
Think about the opportunity for disaster if proposals go out with incorrect terms and conditions or statement of work sections. If you don’t have insight into what’s going out, your proposals could be making promises you don’t want to—or can’t—keep.
5. The proposal didn’t provide any insight.
Did the deal go dark or were your sales reps just unsure about when to follow up?
When your sales team knows when the prospect is viewing the proposal, which pages were looked at longest, and how much time was spent in the document overall, they can time their follow-up outreach as perfectly as possible. They can follow-up right when the prospect is in the document to field questions in real-time or to remind them if they haven’t gone into it yet.
When you have these metrics, you can analyze them for patterns and trends, too, that can influence your sales process in the future. For example, our research shows that proposals that are viewed two to three times by a prospect are more likely to close. And that number of views is a more significant metric than total time spent viewing the proposal.
Your metrics may differ—but you won’t know unless you track them.
6. The proposal is too perfect.
There could very well be absolutely nothing wrong with your proposal document itself. Whew. What a relief, right?
Yeah, your sales team really took their time to craft a beautifully customized document, working with marketing to include branding and design and images and then going through rounds and rounds of revisions until it’s ready.
The problem is that going through this workflow took hours or days or weeks or whatever turnaround time is considered far too long for a proposal in your industry. This meant the urgency around buying your product or implementing your service dissipated because it took so long to work its way through your inefficient sales doc creation workflow.
So don’t forget to examine the processes surrounding your sales docs, too.
How to keep sales deals from going dark
The only thing you want prospects to say about your proposal is YES. Updating and improving your proposals will help keep your sales cycle short and smooth and your deals from going dark.