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Recently I had a chance to talk with him about his strategies for dealing with prospects at the final stage of their decision-making process.

What do you suggest sellers do to minimize the perceived risk associated with doing business with them? Too many sellers emphasize all the reasons why their offer is the safest choice. Resist the urge to take that approach. Be candid about your views of the potential risk your buyer faces and, chances are, your buyer will reciprocate.

Then, create a communication approach that identifies each specific risk and provides compelling evidence for how you plan to mitigate it. Offer relevant examples of how others have successfully managed similar risks. That throws everything off -- and sometimes even totally derails a sale. What suggestions do you have to prevent this from occurring - and deal with it if it does?

You can make it easier to manage this change if you can predict and prepare for it. Ask yourself, will your offer affect them or their staffs , and in what way? If yes, expect one or more of them to be part of the decision-making process at some point. Also, be sure to periodically ask your buyer how the decision process is unfolding, with a particular emphasis on who will be involved in the decision. Once you identify potential new decision makers, learn as much about them as you can.

What are their business priorities, operating constraints, and key challenges? If possible, try to meet with them before they get directly involved with the sale. The point is to bring a new decision maker up to speed quickly, and with a favorable opinion of your proposal.

Based on your experience, do you think buyers and sellers see proposals differently? If so, how? For buyers, besides revealing potential costs, a sales proposal serves two important purposes. First, it demonstrates how well the seller listened to and understood what the buyer needs. Most sellers know that buyers are looking at proposals in this way. Still, the most common proposal you see in the market is full of seller-centric language, jargon, and generalizations.

What are the stupidest mistakes that sellers make in their proposals? First, some believe that every proposal must follow the same template, no matter what. Besides, following a template can stifle creative thought. Second, proposal writers have a tendency to "bury the lead," as journalists say. Finally, some proposals are just sloppy about grammar, spelling, and language. It sounds like a small point, but clients have rejected more than one proposal for spelling errors.

Instead of describing all of the wiz-bang things your client gets from working with you, emphasize the few that matter the most.

Think of your proposal theme as describing the end state your buyer wants to reach, not the means for reaching that state. For example, if your proposed solution helps the buyer achieve better customer service, with reduced costs, make that your proposal theme. Think of the proposal theme as an expression of value. Then, return to the theme again and again in your proposal. I often find myself giving that advice to sellers.

McLaughlin is a principal with MindShare Consulting LLC, a firm that creates innovative sales and marketing strategies for professional services companies. Before founding MindShare Consulting, he was a partner with Deloitte Consulting, where he served clients and mentored consultants for more than two decades.


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