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True Experts Don't "Take a Knee"

Jun 12, 2008
Propose \prə-ˈpōz\ : to set forth for acceptance or rejection, to put forward for consideration

If your child were running in the middle of a busy street to chase after a ball, would you propose he stop?

If your neighbor's house were on fire, would you propose the Fire Department entertain the idea of driving by when they get a chance?

I realize that most of us don't hold other people's lives in the balance as part of our normal work day, but many of us in this arena really do provide services that substantially impact (improve) organizational performance and individual quality of life. What we do is important. What we know is important . . . too important to leave our solutions at the mercy of those often least equipped to determine their value - the client.

If your client has a problem you can solve, why would you propose (set forth for acceptance or rejection) your expert advice on the course of action to take? They either need you or they don't. You're either right or you're not. (And you either believe these two things with all your heart, or you don't.) If they need you - tell them . . . Tell them Why, tell them What, Where, Who, When and How much.

Yes, organizing all of this -- and capturing it in a document you and the client can both reference as your conversation unfolds can be helpful. But please don't consider it, don't position it, and for the love of Mike . . . Whatever you do, don't label it or call it a "proposal."

(The term I use most often is "Recommendation Summary." I've been doing this work for over 20 years. I'm not proposing anything - I'm an expert. I know what I'm doing, and I want to help you. I'm telling you exactly what your problem is, and exactly what you need to do to solve it.)

If you cannot or will not follow my recommendations, I'll still try to help you - at least to the extent that I'll try to get you connected with a (perhaps lesser, but nonetheless, competent) resource to help you take the actions you are prepared to take right now. (In fact, I do this all the time with people trying to solve their Sales Problem with Training, or their Marketing Problem with a Website.)

We can still be friends, let's definitely stay connected -- and we can even go fishing after Church, if you like - but I'm not about to propose you take a course of action, then sit in my office waiting on that phantom phone call . . . hoping you find it in your heart to please baby, please accept my humble submission . . . and then circle back at some undetermined date to tell me all the things in my proposal that you are and are not going to do. "Just Shoot Me Now!"

If you're currently living this "propose & pray" existence, let me offer a little soul saving, money making relief:

Take a brief stroll with me into the "No Bull Zone" for a moment: If the client had the knowledge and skills to actually treat your submission as a proposal - meaning, he's better equipped than you are to accept or reject a specific course of action as the best path to take . . . then what does he need you for in the first place? Are you, or are you not the expert here?

Let's be honest, a great many of our clients don't even know what questions to ask.

How can we (Why Would We) expect them to have the answers?

(If they do have the answers without you - or even just think they do, Great . . . go help someone who needs and wants the help. Again, you can do this - fire the prospect - in a very nice and professional manner by connecting her with someone else who won't hurt them. And when you "fire" prospects in this manner, you'll find that many come back soon enough - with a mindset that will allow you to truly serve them this time around.)

So What?, Now What?

This soul-sucking, heart-wrenching, money-losing pattern of submitting proposals can be largely corrected by exercising just a few key disciplines:

1. Stop calling it a proposal. Many clients will still keep calling it a proposal, of course. You don't have to correct them (though I often do), just never, ever use the term yourself. Simply making this modest shift in semantics will serve both you and your client well . . . help you stay positioned as the expert resource that you are, and help the client avoid shooting themselves in the backside.

I suspect that my Discussion Guides, Engagement Outlines, and Recommendation Summaries look a lot like key pieces of what you currently call a Proposal - especially if your documents are just a few pages or less. I can't think of a quicker way to cut my revenue in half (and my credibility by at least that much) than to take those exact documents and label them "Proposals." The Good News For You: To whatever extent I'm right, the math works both ways. If you take no other suggestion I make on the issue, give this one an earnest try - simply re-label your current proposals, and determine for yourself if it really makes a difference.

2. Stop writing it yourself. Co-create your Recommendation Summaries with the client - and clearly label every version of this "working document" as a DRAFT.

Consider labeling later and final versions as co-authored by your Internal Champion(s). In my experience, this discipline of co-creating is particularly important -- and remarkably effective -- when working with multiple buying influences and complex sales processes. Sure, a piece of this is just good Sales Psychology 101 (capitalizing on the power of engagement, inclusion, pride of authorship, etc.) . . . but your recommendations will actually be better if co-written with the client. The Best Sales Tool on the planet is Doing Good Work. The proposal . . . uhhhh, that's Recommendation Summary now . . . is a work product - often the first tangible expression of your work that the client sees.

3. Stop expecting the document to do the selling. Do your selling before - and if necessary, after - but the document itself is a horrible "stand-alone" Selling Tool.

Early in the process, this living, working document can establish credibility, frame up the conversation to keep the exchange properly focused, gather information, challenge thinking, check assumptions and educate.

Later -- as more information is uncovered and the prospect begins to take equal ownership for both the document and its role in the decision making process, it can serve as a co-created Project Plan or Engagement Outline DRAFT - to be further refined with the client's active participation . . . including the business case for change, desired outcomes, budget parameters, etc.

The "selling" takes place in the creating (and co-creating) of these DRAFT-level documents, and firmly securing commitment (to the need, desired outcomes, and existing plans) from your Internal Champion(s) at every step along the way. The final document (what I usually refer to as a Recommendation Summary) is just that . . . a Summary - capturing the highlights from all of this previous work - and ideally submitted after the "sale" has really already been made.

Two Important Notes On This:

a) I'm not advocating mounds of paperwork here. I (and most of those from whom I've learned these valuable disciplines), write plenty of six and seven figure business with as little as one piece of paper from beginning to end. But if your sales process does require several rounds of discussion and this level of in-depth documentation, DO NOT do it in isolation, do it in partnership with the client.

b) Keep the final document (again, called anything but a proposal) completely separate - and positioned solely to facilitate the final steps in the buying process, in a sale already (at least intellectually and emotionally) made . . . NOT as something for the client to evaluate as an appropriate solution to their problem.

Of course it's appropriate: The expert (you) -- after giving the situation the careful consideration and thorough evaluation you are uniquely qualified to provide -- says so.

4. When asked to submit a proposal . . .

* Clarify what they're asking for - and answer as much of what they want to know in a proposal as you can -- right there on the spot.

* If they still want a written proposal, tell them you'll be delighted to craft a brief one or two page Recommendation Summary reflecting your findings and outlining what you just said - or if they prefer . . .

They can write it up themselves to make sure it includes exactly everything they need and want . . . then you'll review and sign it.

* If the client (or the nature of your sales environment) requires something beyond what I've just described (and securing this piece of business is important enough to you), then by all means do it - but do follow the first three disciplines I outlined above.

You now have a set of expert recommendations on the topic. They really will Solve a Costly Sales Problem for many who read this. I am an expert in the field, and believe with all my heart that you should follow my advice. If you don't, I think you will suffer (financially and emotionally).

By the same token, I'm delighted to help co-create your success, and recognize that I don't have all the answers. So, if you disagree with any of the above . . . What Do You Propose?
About the Author
Stone Payton is a Sales & Marketing Troubleshooter specializing in helping organizations Solve Their Sales Problem. "The Most Candid Consultant On The Planet," and the man who literally wrote the book on SPEEDŽ, Stone plys his craft at: http://www.marketmate.org and http://stonesells.blogspot.com/
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