You, Integrated: Secrets of Winning Proposals: Part II
Last month we discussed the key goals of a professional proposal—now let’s explore the most common methods used to create proposals.
Word processor software is cheap and easy to learn. However, it’s also the least desirable method. Why? Hand typing wastes the most amount of time. Since there are no predefined product and pricing tables, the user must individually research, type and price each line item. Then all totals must be hand calculated. This is not a repeatable process, and lacks all possible connection to the workflow of ordering, installing, billing, tracking and project management.
Spreadsheet software is a slightly better choice because the method can include calculations within cells. The process usually involves cutting and pasting products from existing proposals into new ones. Advanced users can create macros and output proposals to reports that can be formatted and controlled. A real product database is still lacking, and customizing in-house can wind up taking months or years. Formulas can easily be lost, resulting in major calculation errors.
Some companies use accounting software, which has pronounced pros and cons. On the plus side, the process of creating inventory items with fixed pricing establishes a database that is repeatable and controllable. When an estimate is created for a customer inside accounting software, the process of working with bookkeeping and accounting is already in place.
Accounting software also has some major drawbacks: Salespeople are rarely trained in accounting software. Giving your salespeople access to sensitive company financial data is never a good idea. The product database is usually clunky, difficult to navigate and does not include all elements of the cable, hardware, accessories and labor needed to be included. Accounting software cannot create a professional proposal. Instead, the printout resembles an invoice you would expect to get from an auto repair shop. If you want to make a good impression with elite clients, this is not the way to go.
Professional proposal software developed for the AV and security industries is definitely the tool of choice. This type of software provides a high quality document that fits the expectations of your clients and shows your company in a professional light. This class of software includes automatic calculations of all required pricing for equipment and labor. Each creates a system solution that includes a database of products and connections to hand off the finished proposal to accounting and project management.
I suggest that you seriously research what is offered, and how each might fit the needs of your integration team; your chosen method of creating proposals will affect your entire workflow. The right software choice can incorporate sales contact management, project management, work orders, job status tracking, inventory, ordering, timecards and more.
Some proposal software is well suited to the needs of a busy salesperson who must design the system, create the proposal and sell to the client. This salesperson requires time-saving solutions that provide a fast, easy workflow.
Other software in this category is a better choice for firms that employ additional system designers to construct proposals needed by the sales department. That type of software requires extensive training investments and extended startup efforts. They may include additional documentation but will require more time.
Explore the professional solution that works best for your company. The best sales results occur when your choice frees your salespeople to stay focused on selling and meeting with customers instead of burying them with complex computer tasks.
Don’t overwhelm your prospects with a 50-page document if that makes them uncomfortable. Find the amount of documentation that will provide the best results for your team, given the size of your staff and the time commitment to the software they can really make.
When you finally hand the finished proposal to your client, you should be able to take pride in your presentation. It should be clear, complete and to the point. It should provide a complete overview so that your customer smiles and says, “You have delivered an excellent proposal. I am convinced that you understand my needs and that your company can provide the high level of professional service we expect.”
Better proposals are essential to help you reach your goals of increased sales and profitability.
Good selling! •