Archives For Proposals

How did one of my clients close a million dollar deal?

1. It started with  an event – a prospect, someone she had not done business with in the past, came to an event geared toward educating our audience on the trends and risks associated with today’s cyber criminals.

2. An assessment was done – it was complementary, but led to a greater discovery process that was fee based.  Not a million dollar assessment by any means, but capable of introducing my client to just about anyone in the company.  This took a change in the solution provider’s approach – normally they would send the engineers in to gather some data, put together some plans, and pitch it to IT.  All of this had to be changed – the sales person had to get involve with senior management; she had to put her consultant’s hat on.

3. Gathering business related information, brainstorming over the right questions along the way, and building a strategy to create justification along the way – this required figuring out exactly who would be involved in the approval process, and what politics might get in the way.  Most of this was outside my client’s  normal process – but she was willing to take the steps – take on the risk of failing in order to reach her objective.

4. Delivering the results – normally this would be emailed over to the client.  We had to change this.  Instead, she insisted on meeting with both managers and technicians.  The presentation would have been given by her engineer, but not this time.  Instead it had to be done by her.  Something she wasn’t sure she could do.  But she did.

5. In the end, they said they would take a look at it.  No immediate close, but momentum in the right direction…two weeks later, a decision was made in favor of moving forward.  What made this successful?

  • There is no guarantee – these are people, subject to every kind of inconsistency.  My client’s job was executing the plan and hoping her clients would see her value. They did.
  • The discovery process had to change – it had to be re-engineered for executives, using impact related questions.  The end result had to demonstrate impact vs. likelihood.
  • The report had to be written by non-technical people, in business language, and the presentation had to be delivered to business people by business people.

None of these things were in the sales person’s normal comfort zone – she had to step out, take a risk, and do something she had never really done.  It could have failed, but it didn’t.

© 2011, David Stelzl


Vegas Shot from the RIO

In a recent executive coaching meeting, the subject of RFPs came up…this is a common issue for both resellers and technology manufactures – one worth addressing here…

The confusion comes when we try to relate this to the sales strategies I’ve described over the past several months.  The four things buyers buy – is this operational efficiency, risk mitigation, return on investment or competitive advantage?  Creating an effective value proposition means selling to the 95% who don’t know they have a need, but this person seems to know all about their needs.  Am I coming up with one of the four things or is the client?  How about the four meetings I’ve written about?  Which meeting are we in – where are we entering the sales cycle?  All of the rules suddenly don’t fit.  How about the fee setting rules; is there a way to value price this request?

The request is almost always initiated by an influencer – someone without liability, so where is the urgency?  In my 4 meeting sales model, it isn’t until meeting three that you would be discussing budget, and that would happen only after value has been demonstrated and quantified with asset owners.  Fees discussions usually take place by phone after I review the client’s exact needs and pin point exactly what we are going to deliver- at this point I am looking for a verbal agreement.  Without a verbal, there is no written proposal in my world.  So now, in this new situation, you can see we have violated almost every rule.  We are taking a request from an influencer, bypassing the value proposition phase  with asset owners, eliminating any type of discovery or assessment, and now we are sort of working with an influencer to discuss price –  the wrong person; and way before any value has been established.  It doesn’t make sense because it isn’t a good way to buy or sell.  In most cases you will lose this sale to the person who was chosen before the RPF was ever written!   And the client will end up with something that doesn’t really meet their need.

Here are a few rules I follow to keep this from happening.

1. I understand RFPs are written, usually because the influencer is required to get competitive quotes.  Remember, influencers have needs, and staying within budget isn’t one of them.  Given the chance, I  thank them for the opportunity, and then work to get a meeting – my hope is to get a meeting higher up, either now or in the near future, but before I write anything.  At this stage, I am looking for the true needs of my buyer, working to meet them if possible some some creative alternative.

2. The winner has already been chosen in most cases – knowing this, I also know it will be an upset if I win, therefore we need a strategy that upsets the entire process.  This usually requires convincing someone internal to the process, that they won’t acheive their desired results if they continue with their current approach.  Luckily, RFPs have a poor track record of delivering the desired results, so this isn’t .  Showing up with some case studies helps reinforce this point in the mind of the buyer.

3. REFs strip out the value differentiation of mine and any competitor offer, other than price.  There’s no reason to continue unless I can convince someone to take a look at my value – which is always my intellectual capital, not my price.  Rather than spending 40 hours on a response, I spend my time trying to connect with the buyer on this topic.

4. If all fails, I am ready to walk.  But always on good terms.  There’s no reason to upset those who truely believe they are doing the best thing for their company, or simply following what they have been directed to do.  Instead, leave on good terms, with the buyer wishing you had responded, but wondering why you did not.  There may be a future opportunity in the form of a rescue mission if things don’t turn out as expected.

© 2011, David Stelzl


I like to think of my proposal as a letter addressed to someone rather than a sterile document opening with a third-person narrative of the company I am selling to.  I address them personally…


John Smith,

RE: Fall Seminar Series

I understand you are working to build your sales over the next twelve months through a series of customer facing events that will target executives in midsize companies. etc.

Most proposals are so difficult to read that,…well, nobody actually reads them.  Worse, there are marketing departments that have created templates that company policy says, “Can’t be changed by the rep.”  How ridiculous!   Fine, if the template is great, but the truth is, they are not.  You go through months of work trying to get to that moment where you present your proposal, and then everything comes to a screeching halt while managers and legal try to find time to interpret your company’s document.  Can’t we make this easy for the customer?

© 2011, David Stelzl

It takes me about five minutes to write most of my proposals.  Whether my fee is $200 or $100,000 dollars for the project in question, the proposal looks the same and communicates the same information. The difference in fee has to do with the value I am proposing, not the format of my proposal.

© 2011, David Stelzl

One issue that repeatedly comes up in sales coaching sessions is how to write an effective proposal.  A few comments before you write anything…

… you should be clear about what a proposal is.  Marketing groups and managers have done a disservice to their sales team by creating mammoth documents, unreadable terms and conditions, and a format that looks more like a legal will than a friendly agreement to buy.  What is a proposal?

  • Think marketing!  This is the final marketing piece.  You might have delivered one-sheets or data sheets, presentation material, or perhaps a findings document, and hopefully you had marketing in mind.  Your documents should have been professional looking, easy to read, and pleasing to the eye.  What about the proposal?
  • A summary of everything you’ve agreed to.  The deal is done, now we are just agreeing in writing, so this should clearly reflect all we have discussed and agreed to.
  • Boundaries of scope.  The proposal outlines what we did agree to, but also clarifies boundaries to stay within.
  • A contract.  This is your written agreement, so it should clearly state what you will deliver and how.  There should be no question.


The proposal is not:

  • Another selling tool.  The deal is sold at this point – but the agreement is only verbal until this is signed.
  • Ideas, guidelines, or negotiation.  You should have already agreed to a scope at this point, and the fee has been established.  If there are fee changes, there will be scope changes.
  • A time to be clever – writing esoteric pros.
  • A competition to see who can write the longest document.

Take steps to make buying from you easy to do…

© 2011, David Stelzl