In most complex B2B sales environments, a proposal plays a significant part in the decision making process. But it’s not your proposal that really matters - it’s the internal proposal that the project’s sponsor submits for the approval of their colleagues.
That’s the really important proposal. Assuming that you are the recommended option, it’s confirmation that your sponsor has selected you, believes the business case is sound, and is willing to submit the formal case for change to the internal approval process.
Doing the selling internally
Your proposal ought - if it is to do its job - to provide the critical foundation for their proposal. So it’s always puzzled me that so many sales proposals do so little to anticipate the sort of questions that are inevitably going to be asked before an order can be raised.
Your prospect’s internal proposal is the document that really needs to “do the selling” internally. Your sponsor may be so confident in what you’ve created that they simply create a cover document and wrap it around yours.
Appealing to the approvers
But more likely, they are going to have to come up with something more that addresses the expectations of the group that makes the final decision. Depending on how well you have navigated the prospect organisation, you may know some or all of the players.
Some of those players may have the capacity to say “yes” to the project. Many more of them will probably have the capacity to say “no” or - just as bad - the ability to kick the project (and your proposal with it) into the long grass.
Competing aginst other priorities
You can reliably assume that some of the stakeholders will have their own pet projects, some of which may be competing for funding with yours. You can probably count on the fact that at least one of them - maybe more - will ask something along the lines of “please tell me again why we need to do this now?”
Your sponsor’s proposal needs to anticipate and address all of these issues - and if they are basing it on your proposal, you had better help them out. You see, your proposal - and theirs - isn’t really about you, or your solution. It’s about the management of change.
Why change > why now > why you?
It’s about why the organisation needs to change what they are currently doing at all, why they need to change now rather than later and - only when the first two have been addressed - why they need to change to your solution.
It’s about how the proposal relates to the organisation’s priorities and key initiatives - and how it answers the question “what’s in it for me, my department and the company” for everyone involved in reviewing it.
You can (and should) start establishing the groundwork early on in the sales process. When you uncover an issue you know you can address, resist the temptation to come up with your solution there and then.
First, you need to ask your sponsor some critical questions:
- What impact is the issue having?
- Who else is affected, and how?
- How does it relate to the organisation’s top priorities and initiatives?
- How have they tried to address it before?
- What would happen if the current situation continued?
- Why does the issue have to be addressed now, rather than later?
- What financial justification will be required before the project can go ahead?
Here’s a simple truth: if your sponsor doesn’t have good answers to these questions, this is a big red flag. If, despite your help, they still cannot answer them or connect you with people who can, the opportunity is questionable at best.
Covering all the bases
Even if your sponsor can come up with credible answers to these questions, don’t leave it at that. Really explore, really dig in and get to the heart of the organisation’s motivation to change - and their likelihood to sign the project off.
Incorporate your learning into your proposal. Make a solid case for change. Make sure it addresses every stakeholder. And when you’ve got your sponsor’s support, work with them to make sure that their internal proposal really covers all the bases.
Don't assume your sponsor can do it without you
Don’t ever assume that your sponsor, without your help, can make the strongest possible internal case for change. You’d be surprised how many internal proposals fail because the sponsor didn’t address the needs of the ultimate decision-making group.
If you (and your colleagues) have invested months of work in the opportunity, ensuring that your prospect’s internal proposal presents you in the best possible light would seem like simple common sense. But you can’t count on it happening without your thoughtful involvement.