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Proposals at a Tipping Point: Why the Status Quo Doesn’t Cut It Anymore and What’s Next

Do you love to hate your sales doc workflow? You’re not alone. Here’s why tools like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can’t meet the demands of today’s sales processes and how to future-proof your proposals with a more modern solution.

10 min. read



2020 has exposed and exacerbated cracks in many things that once seemed solid, like ride-sharing, the restaurant industry, and even the Royal Family.

This year also has us second-guessing ways of doing things that we just accepted before. I mean, will you ever eat a piece of birthday cake again without thinking about how someone just exhaled all over it?

As some industries slow down due to the pandemic and others see demand increase, B2B sales teams are becoming more aware of how certain processes simply aren’t serving them. That includes the proposal and closing parts of the sales process.

We have people coming to us here at Proposify who want to be ready to ramp up as soon as business picks up and they’ve realized their current methods won’t cut it anymore. And we’re hearing from folks in certain fields where demand has actually increased over the past six months, which means their outdated proposal process is now straining under the pressure.

Why are there so many cracks in the closing process? Why didn’t sales teams notice them forming? Well, people got way too comfortable with status-quo workflows that don’t actually work.

It’s why reps work late to get proposals out on deadline but reject new tools meant to save them time.

It’s why sales leaders micromanage every step of the close over their team’s shoulders because there’s no other way to control it.

And it’s why marketing pros redesign every proposal that goes out because they can’t stand to see hacked-up content and branding, even if that means they become the bottleneck in the process.

All this stress, frustration, and chaos because it’s “always been that way.” There must be a better way.

Spoiler alert, there is, but first we’ll look at how sales teams arrived at this tipping point, why what may have worked before doesn’t work anymore, and then where to go from here.

Why sales and marketing teams love to hate their proposal process

To paraphrase executive leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith, the methods and tools that got you here aren’t the ones that will take you there. So why do sales teams cling to their proposal creation comfort zone?

Here’s how prospects describe their current proposal process to our sales team:

Does that sound like a satisfied bunch of sales and marketing pros? That’s just it—the status quo might feel as comfy as an old shoe, but as you can see, there are definitely some pebbles rolling around in there.

What are they using that makes them feel this way and look for something new? For the most part, it’s the usual status-quo suspects: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, a more design-oriented option like InDesign, or maybe even just a plain-text email via Outlook.

When you break down how these tools stack up in the areas that sales and marketing pros say are most important in their proposal creation process (those would be design, presentation, visibility and metrics, control and consistency, automation and interactivity, sign-off, and speed), you can see why everyone’s getting peeved with their proposal process.

Not a lot of dots on that chart.

For many of the teams that we talk to, the two columns that matter most in their proposal process are speed and familiarity. It makes sense.

For starters, turnaround time is important. Potential clients expect a quick response and sales studies show that up to half of all deals go to the vendor that responds first. Plus, maybe the C-suite expects to see a certain volume of proposals going out the door every quarter.

And, we as humans tend to fear change. An inefficient yet familiar proposal process can ‘feel better’ than an effective one that requires you to change your habits or experience a learning curve. So we slap another layer of sales-strength duct tape here, throw in some extra stress there, and hope for the best. Meanwhile, the process is leaking money everywhere, from delayed or lost deals, deals going dark, proposals going out with errors, and reps spending too much time on docs and not enough on actually selling.

“But it’s what we’ve always done!”

Sigh.

I’m not saying speed and ease-of-use aren’t valuable; they clearly are for both client and sales team buy-in. But they’re not the only factors in a winning proposal process. Let’s look at what else is in the mix here and why they mean just as much.

5 things your proposal process needs to succeed and why

1. Visibility and Metrics

Stop me if this is what your sales process looks like:

If you’re a sales pro, I’m assuming you know how many leads are entering your funnel, your SQL conversion rate, your disco and demo stats, and how many proposals your team sends every week, month, or quarter. What you might not have any insight into is what happens with your proposals after your rep sends it off to the client.

Think about how that flies in the face of a data-driven sales process. Many teams we talk to have no way of knowing if the prospect has viewed the proposal. Heck, some might not even be sure the proposal went out properly, that the email didn’t get trapped in spam-land because the PDF attachment was too big. You have no idea what’s happening with the deal at the most critical juncture: the sign-off.

Proposal metrics are the other numbers that matter. For example, did you know the ideal number of times a prospect views a proposal is two to three? Yup, we’ve found a proposal is more likely to end up as a closed-won if the ‘total views’ metric is within that range and less likely to close if it’s viewed more than three times. This means that if your rep can see and understand that metric, they’ll know that they should follow up ASAP when their proposal has only a single view or several.

2. Control and Consistency

Controlling the look, feel, and content of your proposals and keeping them consistent may seem like a picky detail, but it actually has a huge impact on your prospects.

Have you ever dealt with a company that has a cutting-edge website, a slick product demo, high-touch sales process, and then sends you a bland proposal contract with text-filled page after text-filled page of confusing legal-ese? Well, that’s not the way to build trust and close deals. I mean, will the ‘real’ brand please stand up?

Plus, we see many a prospect come to Proposify after someone over in marketing finally sees the hacked-up, brand-bastardized proposal document the sales team is sending out. This is not about proper logo use or font styles. Or, it’s not *just* about those things. Brand consistency can increase sales by up to 23% by building trust and reinforcing your company’s voice and values.

Sometimes, this means the only consistent thing about a team’s sales docs is their inconsistency. We’ve heard about sales teams that have dozens, or even hundreds, of proposal ‘templates’ in use. With every rep using a different hacked-together version, there’s no way to control what’s happening with proposals.

Reps may be copy-pasting outdated content from old docs, leaving proposals susceptible to costly errors via manual data entry, changing terms and conditions without approval, or even adding unauthorized discounts to get the deal done.

3. Design

Of all the components, proposal design might win the Most Contentious award. Take a peek at LinkedIn or B2B Twitter and you’ll likely find someone arguing that the only way to send proposals is the email equivalent of a number scribbled on a napkin. No branding, no images, and certainly no video. Just cold, hard numbers.

So now I’m going to present my own cool calculations. You see, when we dug into our Proposify database of more than 2 million proposals, we found that using images increased close rates by 23%. And, in industries like SaaS, video can improve close rates by 41%. Video in proposals isn’t ubiquitous (yet!) so it may give your team an edge over the competition.

4. Presentation

Yes, PowerPoint is the OG of presentation tools. It comes bundled with MS Word, it’s familiar, and it has those “interesting” slide transitions. But it’s basically a necessary evil for sales teams that rely on walking their prospects through their proposal.

Microsoft itself estimates that $250 billion is wasted every day on creating and presenting ineffective PowerPoints. Add to that template inconsistency among sales reps, formatting fails, and all the extra time it takes to chop a proposal up into slides, and you’ve got a real proposal presentation problem.

5. Automation and Interactivity (Including Electronic Signatures)

Probably the biggest features that separate a legacy proposal from a modern one are automation and interactivity. They’re no longer nice-to-haves—they’re now a driving force behind deals.

How?

Proposals that use electronic signatures are more than three times more likely to close and close 23% faster.

Proposals with client forms close 65% faster. Now you have all the info you need to ship the product, kick-off the project, or get those next steps moving.

And proposal automation is the best way to avoid errors. Pulling deals details directly from your CRM saves your sales reps time and helps ensure everything is correct.

After all, an average of 1 out of every 100 pieces of data contains an error. A typo might seem like small beans but what if it was a pricing mistake that cost your company thousands of dollars? Or a misspelled client company name that made you look ridiculous? Or outdated product or service description that you were forced to honour?

The solution to proposal creation’s status quo problem

So what’s the solution? I propose proposal software. It’s modern, it’s fast, and, with a bit of training and support, it’s easy to use. Plus it has all the features outlined above.

Let’s look at that graph comparing the tools again, this time with proposal software added in:

Here’s how proposal software checks all those boxes:

Conclusion

With companies continuing to work from home and many still scrambling to implement the tools required to collaborate on proposals remotely, those cracks in the proposal and closing process may soon turn into chasms too big to easily bridge.

Holding onto the status quo for your proposals is dragging down your entire sales process and now’s the time to do something about it. I know, time seems to be the one thing we’re all lacking. But here’s the best part: with proposal software, you’re not alone. You have proposal experts ready to help you get set up and optimize your workflow. (You know ol’ Clippy could never.)

Then, your newly modernized process will have your proposals rolling out in style—and maybe even landing you some Netflix-sized deals.

It’s about more than just proposals.

It’s about world domination.

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