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Dhan

August 31, 2020

9 Critical Features to Look for in a Proposal Software

Features to look for in a Proposal Software

If you have started researching proposal tool for your team/company, I must appreciate your intent o break the status quo, to leave behind the age-old way of working. You are on the right path and improve your sales process and in turn help your business grow.

Your research must begin by asking few questions and try to find honest answers to those.

  • What is the biggest pain in your proposal process? spending week to create a proposal, days to get it internally approved, no conclusion/closure to 80% of the outstanding proposals
  • What do you want to achieve using a proposal tool? e.g. cut down turn around time to say 3 hours (including internal approval), smart follow ups instead of blind ones to close 15% more deals.

 

Then while answering these questions, it would trickle down to answering tactical level questions or identifying sales / marketing operations deficiencies, such as

Is it the process that involves too many people or too less?

Do you spend to much time in just creating it or more time in editing/ refining or designing it?

Does our sales/marketing team struggle to put right pitch

Is your proposal process too complicated to quickly get the proposal out or overly simple that clients do not consider it is properly articulated/presented.

Or do you spend lot of time following up with client without getting any positive signals from prospects hence ultimately wasting lot of time in after proposal is created and sent.

 

Of course you need to find true responses/ answers to these questions. But beyond these answers, what I would recommend is reading between the lines ‘does it help me to close the deal or how to improve it, to make the sales conversion happen?’

As you know, more you are able to engage your prospect with your formal proposal, more likely you will be able to close your deal faster. Proposal software is expected to help you get the right proposal out quickly and help you get your customer easily accept it and sign it faster.

 

What kind of a proposal software are you looking for?

There would be lots of bells and whistles one can ask for, in a proposal software but what are those core features to look for in a proposal software.

There are tools you can use to create-edit proposals, there are tools which can not create/edit proposals but you can use them to collaborate, automate, e-sign and track proposal pipeline.

The first set of tools such as Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, Photoshop, etc are used for proposal CREATION.

The other set of tools such as Slack, Docsend, CRM tools, DocuSign kind of eSign tools used discretely/ separately to MANAGE proposals.

Proposal Creation Tools

  1. Editing
  2. Interactive fees
  3. Design
  4. Collaboration

Proposal Tracking, Collaboration, Management Tools

  1. Automation
  2. Tracking
  3. Collaboration
  4. Signing, acceptance
  5. Integration
  6. Reporting

The biggest problem with these tools that merely allow you to manage proposal once it is created-and-send is, proposal is hardly one shot thing. In reality, most sales proposals go through quite a few rounds of review, edits and re-edits. This is where pure-play management tools fall short. You have to turn to editing tools to make changes and upload/send new documents to your clients.

Sales Proposal Writing and Management Tool

Then there are tools which allow creation as well as management of proposals. Well, we think the software that delivers both: creation and tracking/ monitoring/ management is actually a proposal software that we all need.

So let me list down critical proposal software features you must check.

What Are The Must-Have Feature For Proposal Software?

  1. Proposal Creation-Editing
  2. Proposal Design
  3. Proposal Collaboration
  4. Proposal Automation
  5. Interactive Proposal Pricing/ Quote
  6. Proposal Tracking
  7. Proposal Signing and Acceptance
  8. Integration with Other Tools
  9. Proposal Reporting, Dashboard

Proposal software is only good if it helps you close the sales deals.

That’s the bottomline, right?

Let’s see how these features are critical than many other thing you may be considering.

 

Proposal Creation-Editing

features to look for in a Proposal Software : online editor
Can you easily create a proposal. Either using ready to use proposal templates or content library?

What is it?

Sub-features: Online editor, drag-drop controls, WYSIWYG,

Why is it critical?

You need editing features to write, edit proposals. This is where any sales person especially those involved in writing proposals, spend most of their time. It is not only during creation but also whenever client reviews and asks for changes, you will have to keep editing your proposal. You will need a tool that can help you quickly identify what/where changes client is expecting to make, and do those specific changes quickly so that you can quickly turn around your proposal response.

Tools currently used?

Most of us have been using tools like Microsoft Word, Google Doc, Evernote, email tools (seriously?) to create draft of a proposal. It can be edited, refined, (and usually) exported to a PDF file.

 

Proposal Design

features to look for in a Proposal Software : Design options
Can you have better design possibilities so that you can make a proposal look impressive?

What is it?
Sub-features: Use of images, page repeater, styling, responsive on mobile, tablet, use of design elements. branding facets.

Why is it important?

Design has become very important aspect of the proposal. Your prospect/customers are human first, who are in business. So look at the way things have changed. People are using smart phones, consuming media/ content that is designed to catch their attention all the time. You can not expect to have sub-par design and hook up your customers to open and keep reading plain verbose proposal PDF file.

Not gonna happen for long. You will need tools to not only catch the attention of your customers but also impress upon your professional approach, attention to detains and commitment; and right design makes that statement or position your proposal as a promise of delivering quality service/product.

Tools currently used?

Most businesses do not give importance to design aspect. Not because they do not want to, but because they do not have luxury of hiring designers for this purpose. Those who can afford to hire designers are seen using tools like Adobe suite or buy pre-made templates from marketplace and get stuck to those.

 

Proposal Collaboration

features to look for in a Proposal Software : collaboration
Can you work with your team as well as client to speed up the creation and closure.

What is it?
Sub-features: Sharing content through common library (for sections, images, fees), adding-replying-resolving comments, notifications?

Why is it important?

To make your sales process more productive, for quicker turn around to your client inquiries, questions.

Tools currently used?

Most of us have been using tools like Slack, Skype, Google Doc, emails,

 

Proposal Automation

features to look for in a Proposal Software : proposal workflow automation
Can you automate proposal in terms of creation, editing, emailing, following up, sharing information with other tools?

What is it?
Sub-features: Use variables/placeholders, section library, e-sign, prospects insights-follow up, categories

Why is it important?

To make your sales process more productive, avoid manual errors.

Tools currently used?

Most of those, who are using MS Word or Google Doc, I do NOT think can leverage benefits of proposal automation. There are technical people who are using macros or some sort to insert values for placeholder variables so that an outgoing proposal does not have client details of previous proposal. Some smart sales guys use email tracking and automation tools to send follow up emails to customers.

 

 

Interactive Proposal Pricing/ Quote

features to look for in a Proposal Software : interactive proposal pricing
Do you know section in proposal that undergoes many changes through out the proposal process especially when it is sent to customer?

No, it is not discount but you got it. Usually these areas are scope of services and pricing. Changes in scope of services lead to budget but in case of self-serving proposals, it is the fees part of the proposal that customers would like to play a bit and understand its impact on the their budget.

What is it?
Sub-features: Can you share pricing/quote with your customers so that they can decide the quantities, choose optional services?

Why is it important?

To make it easier for your client to make changes to proposal pricing by himself/herself without asking you to change it and send a proposal again. This gives a unique sense of budget control for your customers, that s/he is able to decide the pricing. Of course it is upto you to allow/disallow but such interactive pricing can impress your customers greatly, since customer perceive this as your way of working is transparent.

Tools currently used?

Most of us have been using tools like MS Excel, Calculator and outcome of which is entered into MS Word, Google Sheet.

Having an interactive quote/ pricing as a part of your proposal is immensely helpful. Not only it saves time for you and your prospect but your prospect can get impressed with transparency, control over pricing.

Proposal Tracking

features to look for in a Proposal Software : proposal insights

Can you track whether proposal has been opened, viewed by client, to what extent, has s/he signed. Also track many proposals in different states in one go. <Proposal dashboard>?

What is it?
Sub-features: Proposal insights, email notifications

Why is it important?

To understand whether/how well prospective customer is receiving/ reading your proposal. Traditionally you would keep waiting for your customer to respond to your emails/phone calls in which you’d ask him/her whether s/he has received your proposal, whether he had a chance to look at it, etc. You would be hitting in a dark if you don’t know what you don’t know. Proposal tracking changes this. New technology allows you to understand how well your prospect is engaging with your proposal. You receive notification whenever prospects reviews your proposal and some more insights. Proposal insights are more critical to close the deal.

Tools currently used?

Some people use tools like email trackers, Google Analytics, etc. For most people, there is no such tool used, they rely on gut feeling or they keep following blindly with their customer to track proposal status.

Proposal Signing and Acceptance

features to look for in a Proposal Software : online signature
Can your customer accept and e-sign the proposal without all the manual hassles of printing, signing with pen-paper, scanning and courier process?

What is it?
Sub-features: e-sign

Why is it important?

Times have changed. You don’t have to rely on the traditional way of signing proposal. Covid-19 has made it very clear that you better move to online techniques or you won’t be able to do your ‘business-as-usual’. Traditional way of signing proposals is not only time consuming, counter-productive but it is also error prone and the cost of error results in loss of multiple weeks, delayed approval, payment, etc.

Tools currently used?

Most businesses follow print-sign-stamp-scan-courier.

Integration with Other Tools

Today no tool can exists in isolation. Why should your customers enter their contact information twice/multiple times to CRM as well as your proposal tool (or update similar details from proposal tool to accounting software) just because a vendor has superiority complex about his own tool and doesn’t offer API/integration with other tools. Automation/ information flow is the reason why of API/integration is essential today. Of course avoiding manual error, productivity improvement are other benefits of application integration.

What is it?
Sub-features: Integration with e-sign, CRM, accounting, payment gateway, project management

Why is it important?

To avoid duplicate/manual entries and errors associated with it; not only to automate sales process as well as overall business operations more seamless and highly productive.

Tools currently used?

No easy integration available for those using MS Word or PPT or Google Doc. However smart sales people using online proposal tools can leverage Zapier kind of tools to automate proposal process with CRM, accounting, project management and other business tools.

 

Conclusion

That’s about it!! Pick an online proposal software that meets all of these criteria and let it do all the heavy lifting for you.

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