How To Make An Enticing Business Proposal With Reuben Swartz - Episode 81
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Are your business proposals helping you close your deals to the best of their ability?
Business proposals can be a great way to increase your sales conversion rate – but they must be used properly. Doug C. Brown speaks with Reuben Swartz on this episode of CEO Sales Strategies that’s all about business proposals. They discuss why you should make them easy to remember and re-tell, valuable tips about follow up, how to craft a proposal that will get you more closes, and much more.
In this episode you will learn:
Episode’s guest – Reuben Swartz
Reuben Swartz is the founder of Mimiran, the fun CRM for independent consultants who love serving clients but hate “selling”. He’s also the host and chief nerd on the Sales for Nerds podcast. He went from a background in computer science and software engineering to sales and marketing consulting for the Fortune 500. His mission is to help other independent consultants make a bigger dent in the universe and get more clients by using their talents to teach instead of market, connect instead of network, and help instead of sell.
Visit his website: www.mimiran.com
Reuben is giving listeners access to a free, fill-in-the-blank consulting project proposal template for stress-free proposals. See more here: www.mimiran.com/sample-proposal
How To Make An Enticing Business Proposal With Reuben Swartz
We’ve got another amazing guest for you. His name is Mr. Reuben Swartz. Reuben owns a company that specializes in sales proposals. We’re going to talk a lot about what makes proposals perfect and what doesn’t make them perfect, the dos and don’ts. Many people are putting proposals out so early in the process and they’re commoditizing their value when they’re doing that. Reuben and I are talking about how not to do that and how to maximize that so it leads to the ultimate conversion of your sale. He’s a very specialized and focused professional in this area. You’re going to get a lot out of this. Let’s go talk to Reuben.
Reuben, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here.
Doug, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Reuben, tell people what you do right out of the gate because you and I are going to talk about proposals and why they’re so important but give them a little background.
I accidentally built the fun anti-CRM for independent consultants that I wished I’d had when I was struggling to use enterprise CRMs like my big successful clients. I’m also the host and chief nerd on the Sales for Nerds Podcast, which is how Doug and I got introduced. Doug’s got a great episode on Common Sales Mistakes that you should check out.
Thank you so much. Let’s jump to proposals because a lot of people don’t even understand what a proposal is. In my humble opinion, that might sound arrogant but the reality is so many times I see people are like, “I’ll send you a proposal.” Why? There’s no need to establish the whole process, so they go into it. When should one use a proposal? When should one not use a proposal?
The easiest way to think about it is when a prospect asks for a proposal and you have the right information to create a compelling proposal, that’s when you commit to creating a proposal and sending one. All too often, people send proposals without being asked and then they wonder, “Why am I not getting a positive response to this junk mail,” or someone asks for a proposal but it’s either a polite way to brush someone off or they are genuinely interested but you don’t have the right information yet to craft a compelling proposal.
Make sure that you’ve got those two things. You’ve got someone who wants to receive it or who has given you the information you need to do it. If you go to your doctor, the doctor doesn’t start pitching you on surgery right away. They investigate what’s going on and try to figure out what the appropriate next step might be. When you say, “Yes. The knee surgery sounds good. How do we get that scheduled,” they then start moving into the specifics of what a particular operation might look like. Don’t jump the gun. That’s the short way to say what I said in so many other words.
A lot of times, what I have found when people are doing what you were saying is they’re shopping it out. One of two things is going on. They’re using proposals as a request for bid or proposal without saying that or they aren’t that interested in what that person’s saying to them and it’s their polite way of not saying, “I don’t have any interest in what you’re doing here so send me a proposal. I’ll look it over or pass it up to the other people,” whatever it might be. Also, there are legitimate proposals like, “I am interested.” Let’s say somebody says to somebody, “Send me a proposal. I’ll take a look at the numbers.” What would you recommend them to do? Do they send it over or ask them qualifying questions? What would be the better path for them?
Something to remember as a salesperson, independent consultant or somebody who is crafting this proposal, you don’t work for the person asking for the proposal. They don’t get to say, “Have a proposal on my desk by the end of the week,” and you have to snap to it. I made this mistake so many times. I say this with lots of love to people who might be kicking themselves for doing that. It’s your job as a professional.
Think like a doctor. If the patient says, “Schedule me for surgery on Friday and show me what that looks like,” They don’t say, “Okay. Great.” They start asking questions. The first thing we want to understand is, “Is this serious?” When you start delving into the situation that you as a professional or a doctor needs to diagnose the patient, are they excited to share that information with you because they’re professional too and they want to solve the problem or do they put up a wall and say, “We’re not sharing that information that would be unfair to you. We want all the vendors to go in blind and throw darts at the board?”
I’ve been in that situation and foolishly prepared a proposal, so don’t do that. That means there’s someone who has the information and it’s not you. If they don’t want to share what the real problem is, then they’re blowing you off. I would say, “It doesn’t sound like this is the right fit for you. That’s okay. Let’s both save a bunch of time and I wish you all the best.” Sometimes people will say, “Hold on. I wasn’t expecting you to push back. We do need to solve this problem.” A lot of times, they’ll say, “Thanks. See you later.” You can both save a ton of time.
The thing that we want to do is figure out, are they sharing the information we need to solve their problem? It’s not about creating the proposal. We don’t know if we can make them successful if they’re not willing to share what’s happening, which is what we hopefully want to do and what they want. The other thing I would look at it as they’re sharing the information that we need and then we have a meeting scheduled to review the proposal, so until you have those things, don’t commit to writing one because they’re not serious.
I love the fact that you’re bringing this up because so many people throw out pricing. They throw out this and that. They toss it out there and they’re like, “I hope they call me back.” The fact is if they’re not sharing information with you, they’re holding back. I liken it to, “How would you like to be in a marriage where somebody is not open to what’s going on or any type of personal relationship?”
We probably would get suspicious like, “Why aren’t we talking about X, Y and Z? It’s important to the relationship,” but when it comes to a business context, a lot of sales professionals, consultants, coaches, B2B salespeople and even CEOs and owners do this of companies go, “We’ll get that to you. Tomorrow morning you’ll have that on your desk.”
The reality is I’m like, “Why?” I remember one time, somebody said, “Can you have this for me by tomorrow?” I go, “No.” They did exactly what you said. They were like, “Why?” I said, “It’s because I don’t sense that this is something you’re committed to even doing with me. Why would I waste twenty minutes of my day taking care of it?” Why don’t you tell me no now or later?
Believe it or not, they inked the deal with me. You’re bringing up a huge point of what it takes to win business, which is as people who are on the selling side don’t work for those other people. We’re trying to work with them and we’ve got to come in to solve their problems like the doctor would come in to solve the problems. We got to be able to position ourselves equal to anyways to their status. Why do you think people don’t do that? Is it training from birth? What could it be? The sales channel comes in and they go, “It’s Oprah Winfrey. I can’t talk to Oprah like she’s a normal person,” or whatever it might be.
A lot of people, when they start their careers in sales, tend to be younger. They’re excited to send a proposal to Oprah or whomever it is that they perceive is of higher status in the business world than they are. We also, hopefully, want to please and help people. It takes a little bit of getting over ourselves to realize that the way we do that genuinely is to act like the doctor, not like the secretary who’s going to hand over a document upon request.
It goes with what you’re saying. People often, in these situations, don’t send a proposal. They say they send a proposal and check the box. They move the deal to the proposal stage and the salesforce pipeline or whatever so they feel good and their sales, “We’re in the proposal phase. We’re looking good.” It feels like they’re doing something but they’re sending a brochure with numbers on it and they complain, “All the person’s doing is looking at the price. They skipped over my proposal and looked at the numbers.” You didn’t send them a proposal. You sent them a bunch of brochures that they don’t care about. The only thing they have to go on is the price.
If a prospect skipped over your entire proposal just to look at prices at the end, you didn't send them a business proposal. You only sent them a brochure they don't care about. Click To Tweet
I agree with you. I’ve made that mistake in my career as well. I used to have a sixteen-page proposal. It was when I had the telecommunications, auditing and consulting company. I would bring that thing in there and it was chock-full of good information but they always went to the last page, looked at it and said, “What am I saving here? What is the process we’ll talk about later? What’s the investment?” They would drop right down. That was my fault, not their fault, because I didn’t educate them on what should be in the proposal and what they should be queuing in on. They naturally drop right to the bottom line.
That was me commoditizing my value. Even though I would get a pretty high percentage of wins, I could have got a better percentage of wins if I had educated people. One of the things about educating people is, as you said, “What are the next steps?” You don’t send a proposal without the next steps. That’s brilliant because too many people don’t even think about that. If they think about it, I don’t even think they have the courage to ask some of these people. How do you build that into the process, whether you have the courage or not like it’s mandatory and it just happens?
It’s a couple of things. Sometimes we have this notion that there’s a battle between the salesperson or whoever’s doing the selling and the prospect. They’re negotiating, fighting and trying to get the upper hand and all that. I’ve been in sales cycles like that. They’re awful and I don’t like them. Hopefully, you’re not battling with your doctor, for example. You’re trying to collaborate to solve a problem. When you look at this, you are a professional. The doctor is the professional. They tell you what needs to happen. “You need to not eat the day before. You need to do this and that.” They’re not doing it because they want to be a jerk to you. They’re doing it so that you can get the results that you need.
If you’re going to do this project with somebody serious about doing the project, you need to sit down, review the proposal together and make sure that it says what you want. If there are little changes you need to make, you can make them so you can get to the project. It’s not about me trying to outwit the prospect. It’s about me trying to help them.
That mindset, for me, was powerful because that’s what I’m here for. I’m an engineer. I want to solve problems for people. I don’t want to do sales stuff. When I thought of it that way, I would get awkward and weird. When I think of it as this is what I need to do to help this person or figure out that I need to send them somewhere else, which is also an acceptable outcome, I then can do it naturally and easily. Whatever you need to do and think about to make that happen, do that.
First of all, you should have a proposal template that lays out what information you need. If you have the information in there, then you can populate the template with a compelling proposal. If you don’t, you might say, “Doug, I’m excited about what we’ve talked about so far but I need to know when that person is coming back from vacation. They’re an important part of making this project successful. You mentioned they’re out and how are we going to hit the timeline,” and so on.
You then can craft a story. A proposal is a story, not a brochure. The hero is the buyer, not the seller. That’s the big mistake we make. We tend to send a brochure that’s all about us, instead of, “Here’s the story of how the buyer is presented with their obstacle.” Overcomes the obstacle with our help and gets all these great benefits. You schedule a meeting to review it, which hopefully is them saying, “Yes. You got it. Let’s do this thing,” or maybe there are further questions. You then can go jump into the work.
What I found is, going from the 10-page brochure wear proposal to the 3-page, “Here’s the story of what’s happening and how we’re going to do this together,” they love reading this. They read every word. You can sit there and watch them read it because it only takes a couple of minutes and then the value looks great. They then say, “Let’s do this thing. They sign it and you’re done.”
That is essential for them to have the story. I love what you said because it’s above the buyer. The buyer is only interested quite frankly what is in it for them. If you want to put a little tiny blurb of whatever you do, that’s fine but do three lines. Other than that, it is all about the buyer. There’s one piece to this that you hit on but I don’t think people got and I want to bring that forth. It’s got to be retellable. Your proposal has to be something that somebody can take to someone else and carry our retellable story to that other person.
We’re not always talking with the actual buyer. We should be but we’re not always. Sometimes we have to talk to some influencers or whatever it is to get the next meeting to get to the buyer. Even though people say, “No, you can always get to the buyer.” It’s not true. Try to get to the President of the United States. You’re going to go through some other people before you can get an appointment with the President of the United States. If you could take that story and it could get to the President of the United States and they go, “That makes sense,” you’ll get to the President of the United States.
I’m even going to flip it around a little bit further. Retellability is so important, even if you are talking to the buyer, because the buyer will often want to ask folks on their team, “Does this make sense?” Those people don’t have all the context of the conversations that you’ve had with the buyer because you were so good at getting to the buyer. They can’t say yes but they can say no.
Understanding who else is going to be involved in the process and what their concerns are so that you can craft the story in a way that they say, “When we connect the ERP to the Robotron 2000, we’ve got to make sure the coupling still works,” or whatever it is the CEO doesn’t even know about but they’re going to ask the guy who’s responsible for that, “Does this make sense? Is this going to work?” “That sounds like they’ve got it all thought out,” versus, “They don’t mention anything about that so we’re worried.”
The thing is, a lot of times, people in the sales process don’t think human resources, operations or IT can knock a sale out. They all do. If we’re not proposing what’s in it for not just the buyer themselves but looking at how it affects the overall company, that’s exactly what happens. It’s never happened to you and myself.
I remember sitting down one time with a guy who was the buyer but he had to report to other people within the company and the board was also going to be part of the knowledge base on this. He said to me, “Doug, if this goes bad, you are going down in flames because I’m not taking the actual blame for this.” They hear people like us that have been seasoned in this a long time. We don’t go through these things.
That’s why how we’re seasoned. We’re very well-seasoned.
Bill Gates never heard no. That never happened. You have an anti-CRM which I thought was cool and I took a look at it. I never asked you this but is there a proposal process for this?
It’s funny because that was the genesis of the whole thing. It was never intended to be a CRM. It was me saying when that meeting that I’ve got scheduled with the buyer gets rescheduled and then I’m in that phone loop of, “I’m wondering if you had any questions on my proposal,” feeling like the boy trying to ask the girl to prom or something like, “Do I call her again or do I look too desperate,” that was the whole thing that drove me so nuts that I started building this thing. I was like, “If I put my proposals in the cloud, I can at least know when someone’s reading them and I can do some other nice stuff too.”
That was the thing that was driving me nuts. They’re like, “We got to start November 1st,” and then the meeting gets rescheduled and they’re like, “I got sent to wherever. I’ll be back in two weeks. I’ll try to work on this on the plane thing.” I’m like, “Do I need to have people there in November or do I need to keep them billing over here?” I wasn’t even thinking of it as a sales thing. It was more like, “How do I keep my sanity with my people?” I can’t control if they’re going to sign the deal but I can at least know if they’ve read it. There’s a bunch of proposal stuff in there that makes life a lot easier.
Ladies, gentlemen, he, she and they, when you have it laid out in that capacity, it is so much faster and easier to do. I used to handcraft my proposals over and over. I’d spend a few hours on a tiny proposal. When I started templatizing that, it was like a whole new world. It was crazy.
I want to say one thing about that because it’s important. You can almost think of it as a 2×2 matrix where you’ve got a short period or a long amount of time per proposal and you’ve got a generic one or a highly customized proposal. People complain about spending too much time on proposals and people aren’t closing them usually because they’re too generic. With the right templatizing and automation, you can be in that upper right quadrant where you have a highly customized proposal that doesn’t take you a long time to create.
The more time you’re not spending creating proposals, the more time you can spend prospecting getting out there and doing other things. We got past all this and got a second meeting already set up. We’re going to send the proposal out. We send the proposal out, jump on an airplane, go to a couple of events and see clients all over the world.
I used to work for a company called Paetec Communications. I was driving all over New Hampshire and showing my kids like, “That was my client.” We’re driving three hours right around New Hampshire. I’m up in the mountains and seacoast. They’re like, “Dad, how many miles a year did you put on your vehicle?” I was like, “35,000 that type of thing.” They’re like, “What?” We can get busy when we’re on our professional days and forget things. I have found follow-up to be one of the most important parts of this whole process. How do you follow up with these things?
The most important thing is to have that follow-up meeting scheduled where you’re going to review the proposal together. What I’ve found is if you set this up well, you should have a good percentage of the time meeting with them reading, eSigning and you’re on your way. It’s not always. Sometimes that meeting will get rescheduled. Life happens. Sometimes, they need to clarify a couple of things and then go back to the IT person like, “Reuben added some details. Does this work?”
You’re a salesman par excellence, so there’s always the next step. The meeting could be in-person meeting or remote but preferably in-person. Sometimes that’s not possible, so I like to do it over Zoom. If you can’t do Zoom, do it by phone. If you’re doing an online proposal, you can send the link right before the meeting and they can read it. I sat in a room with somebody. I have my laptop out and we can make little tweaks as needed but you’re doing it together.
If that doesn’t happen and they say, “We still want to move forward. We just need to clarify X, Y and Z.” Another outcome is they could say, “No, this is not for us.” “That’s great. Let’s not waste any more time.” When’s the follow-up going to be scheduled? “We’re going to do that again.” The other trick is if you’re doing this online, you’ve got that follow-up meeting scheduled for next Friday or whatever it is but on Tuesday you notice they’re reading the proposal again. That might be a good time to reach out, give them a call and see how the internal deliberations are going and if there’s anything else that you can do to help.
Being able to make that contact while they’re reading the proposal is a superpower because instead of leaving those voicemails, “I’m just wondering if you had any questions and missing each other like ships in the night,” you can have a good chance of having a conversation when they got the proposal in front of them and that’s what they’re thinking about.
Relevance. I’m sounding like a school teacher but that’s meaningful relevant communication. That’s what you’re saying that can happen. When they’re reading the proposal, it’s fresh on their mind at that moment. You don’t have to say, “I’m spying on you.” Don’t forget that everyone else is busier than you are. That’s always how I look at it because there are people that busy.
They might read that proposal, have questions, set it down and then when you go to the next meeting, they’re going to ask you those questions but if you have contacted them while they had those questions, you could have cleared that up and maybe closed the sale on that next meeting versus pushing it off to the next possible meeting that could happen again.
All these things happen. For busy companies, there could be coordination issues at the second meeting. “Joe is on vacation for two weeks, so we got to wait for another month before we could set the appointment.” In the meantime, somebody comes by and goes, “Brother, I have this person that does exactly what you’re looking for.” Competition gets in the game. Speed to close is very important. It’s of the utmost importance if they can read when they have the proposals coming through as you reach out and clarify these things. The more engagement we get, the bigger and higher the trust as long as it’s good engagement.
That’s the important point. It’s not like you’re spying on them and trying to do the hard sell. You are trying to interact with another busy professional trying to solve a problem for them and with them. Busy professionals appreciate that if that’s how you’re coming at it. If you’re coming at it like I’m trying to trick you and close you, then they’re not going to appreciate it.
When sending a business proposal, you are trying to interact with another professional to solve a problem with them. If you are coming like a trickster, they will not appreciate it. Click To Tweet
I still remember the first time I sent a proposal through my system, the guy was like, “This looks pretty good but can we make some changes?” It’s because I called him up when I got the notification. We probably changed five words in the proposal. We agreed on exactly what it should say. He said, “Send me a new version when you get the chance.” I was like, “If you go back and look, I’ve already made those changes.” It’s what you’re saying. We do five minutes of work instead of a month of back and forth where who knows what could go sideways.
Reuben, how do people get ahold of you? I imagine people are sitting here on the other end going, “This guy’s pretty smart. I need to talk to him about proposals. I’m a consultant or business owner. I could use proposal software.”
You can find me at Mimiran.com. You can find me on LinkedIn. There’s a bunch of Reuben Swartz’s but I’m the one who’s at Mimiran and Sales for Nerds. You can get my fill-in-the-blank proposal template, which is what I developed over years of using the wrong templates and finally realizing that this was stupid in a waste of time.
This is the template that I use and folks have seen great success with it. Whether or not you’re using it in conjunction with the software, you can put it in Word if you want. You can grab that off the website. You can find my podcast at SalesForNerds.io. We’ve got lots of incredible guests including Doug. If you’re interested, I’ve got an online course on sales proposals that’s 80% off on App Sumo so you can find that there as well.
Reuben, thanks for being on the show. I’m grateful you’re here. I know people got a lot out of this. Let’s stay in touch. Come on back and do another episode together.
That sounds great. Thanks so much, Doug.
What did you learn about proposals that you should be flinging out there and hoping for the best? No, you want to set yourself up as a professional and be equal to the other individual whom you’re speaking with. You want to be an expert, so you become an equal and then you become an expert through education.
You want to always have a second appointment set before you send a proposal. You want to make sure you’re supposed to send the proposal because if you send the proposal like a rookie, then what they’re going to do is take that rookie component of that. Think about it as a resume. They get hundreds of resumes coming through the process. As they have hundreds of resumes or thousands of resumes, they look through them and go, “This one goes in the left bucket. This one goes in the right bucket.”
One of the buckets is higher or lower and you don’t want to be in the higher because if you’re in the higher, that means there are 100 other proposals in there that they got. You want to be in the lower. Preferably, you want to be in the third bucket, which is, “One side, terrible. Middle, could do.” Your proposal is the only one that stands out. That’s what you’re looking for. That’s the one you want to bring to the next level.
Make sure it is retellable, so it goes up the chain or down the chain. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t have the software, get his proposal template and reach out. At least get something to cut your time doing proposals. If you have to do 4 or 5 proposals a day and each one of them is taking you 1 hour to do, that’s 4 or 5 hours on top of your day but if you can cut that down to 1 hour, you saved yourself 3 hours a day. It’s pretty easy math.
If you like the subject matter and you would like to hear some specific subject matter, let us know what it is. Maybe you would be the guest or someone else would be the guest but you can reach out to us at YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com and let us know what your idea is. We’ll review it and get back to you either way. We’ll let know, “We could do an episode on this or we can’t.”
If you love this episode or any of the episodes, please give it a five-star review and tell your friends. The more people that know about this, the more people that we can help. It amazes me consistently when people reach out to me and they go, “I heard this on this episode that you did. It gave me another idea and it changed my life around. I wasn’t expecting it to do that but this positive thing happened out of it.” We love to hear things like that. That’s why we keep doing this show again and again for the people out there.
If you want help getting yourself or your sales team, getting them to the top 1% of earners in the industry globally in your area or if you’re a company that’s looking for experienced elite sales performers, the top 1% and you want people like that on your team, reach out to us as well. You can reach out to me directly at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com, LinkedIn at DougBrown123 or call the company at (603) 595-0303. Go out and sell something. Sell a lot of it. Sell it profitably. Do it honorably. Play win-win. Make someone happy. Make yourself happy. To your success.
- Reuben Swartz
- Sales for Nerds Podcast
- Common Sales Mistakes – Sales for Nerds Previous Episode with Doug Brown
- LinkedIn – Reuben Swartz
- App Sumo – Sales Proposals the Right Way Online Course
- DougBrown123 – LinkedIn
Reuben is giving away a free, “fill-in-the-blank” consulting project proposal template. Get yours here! https://www.mimiran.com/sample-proposal/fill-in-the-blank-consulting-proposal-template/