This is the forth part of a multi-part series about the turns of events I had to go through and how the startup/product idea of Fresh Proposals software was conceived. There have been moments of failure, painful realization of the inability to change things around us with existing resources and mindset, overcoming failures, keeping up faith-patience and a lot more. I have penned down the essence of these things. I hope you will enjoy this ardent journey of an entrepreneur and how SaaS product is built, marketed.
My E-Commerce Experience
In the middle of all of these, I ordered a few things using an eCommerce website. As I was about to finish off the purchase, looking at the cart, I realized, it is so simple and straightforward that I can add items to the cart, change their quantities, select add-on items. To be sure, I can also see all the taxes, discounts and the final amount before I proceed to payment.
“Things I buy, pricing is all transparent. As a buyer, I am in control of the whole transaction.”
These were the exact thoughts in my mind and suddenly it sparked something in me.
And The Trigger: How About Proposal Pricing
What if the prospect also gets the option to change the quantity of items, or duration of service or number of subscriptions (monthly/ yearly) or select/unselect optional items by itself?
What if we create an online proposal tool that solves most of the pains/problems I have been going through and also provide interactive pricing experience to prospects?
For prospects, they will feel that they are in the control of pricing/ fees they are paying for, They can see mandatory products/services items, updated quantities, optional items. The discount, taxes, sub-total as well as final totals are getting updated as soon as they make changes to fees items.
For Vendors: Service/ Product Provider
As a vendor, I don’t have to keep doing the stupid work of updating MS Word/ PDF file every time. I can enlist pricing items, choose which items are optional/selectable, for which items quantity can be changed, etc.
No more worry or extra consciousness to check if everything in pricing is updated correctly or not.
This was the EUREKA moment for me.
I agree, products listed on an eCommerce website are mostly commodities and your own product/ service in a proposal are at a totally different level. But hey, we are talking about the buyer’s experience, the transparency, the ease of using for both customer and vendor.
I was already frustrated with the way I had to go through pains of creating proposals, keep changing it over and over again, cluelessnessaftersendingproposals, unnecessary email chains, etc. This Amazon cart experience got me thinking seriously about creating a proposal software that can make life easier for the sales team creating & sending proposals, a self-fulfilling experience for clients.
And I started listing down the things which will help proposal creator, collaborators and clients. Initially I got these things
- Content library
- Interactive Fees table
- Proposal editor that offers flexibility to include text, images and more
- Online signature to allow client to sign off proposals
- Proposal engagement analytics
- Overview of sales proposals across the company
This is how the idea of proposal management software was conceived.
Validating The Product Idea
Even before writing the first line of code, I started validating the idea.
- Are there other people who feel the same pain as I do?
- Will others use such software and will they pay for it?
- Who are those ‘Other’ people? What is the ideal customer profile (ICP)?
I started talking to other people who were dealing with sales proposals (mostly sellers). I asked them which tool they use to create sales proposals (90% said MS Word and rest said Microsoft Powerpoint / PPT, Google Doc or Excel). How much time do they spend creating, sending and following up a proposal? How do they get insights/signals about proposals being viewed?
Something we all know all the time but somehow, that day I realized rather the fact got underscored that
Sales Proposal is a Necessary SALES THING!
This is the reality, right? Impressive proposal can change the decision in 180 degrees and mediocre proposal can push buyer from positive bias to the other side of the fence. You invest a lot of time in creating, sending it. You may not get win the deal but you can’t deny that
Sales proposal are absolutely required in most business decisions and both sides are of the table are frustrated with conventional approach. And largely this approach hasn’t changed in last 2-3 decades
It is a necessary evil for almost every sales process and honestly, most people don’t enjoy writing proposals over and over again.
And there are reasons why many people hate working on proposals.
As a Vendor
- You go blank. It is very difficult to start writing proposal from scratch
- Conventional tools with limited capabilities to create proposal: MS Word, In Design
- Every time you have to spend hours creating proposals. There are too many files, emails before and after proposals are sent to prospects.
- So many other tools you have to use : email, calendar to keep track of follow up email, email tracker, document storage like Dropbox or Google drive or local storage, document tracker, courier or digital signature tool, and many more.
- After all gruelling efforts, you are clueless whether/how the prospect GOT it or not?
As a Buyer
- Folders piled with proposals and most of them look same
- No easy way to ask for clarification, changes to proposals
- Asking for price change, discount means delay of a day or more
- Signing off a proposal is long process
Right from the beginning, it was pretty clear for me that I am going to build a proposal solution for vendors (sellers) and not for buyers. In case of the buyer, procurement team is considered as cost center whereas sales team (vendor) is considered as revenue center. And business are fine to spend on revenue-making side than cost center.
I did not decide on the name a proposal software solution. I was referring it just as proposal tool. I deliberated and tossed few names, none clicked as much. Finally, I decided a name which in turn changed to Fresh Proposals.
I started penning down: advantages, limitations of current proposal tools, how Fresh Proposals will make things simple, better for sellers as well as buyers, etc. I wrote something like this
What Changes with Fresh Proposals Software?
- Ready to use templates and content library will help you to create and send proposals quickly
- If you use professionally designed and well-structured proposal templates, your proposals will look far more impressive than the rest and will make you look dependable (“we should work with these guys” kind of) vendor/ service provider.
- Your team will be able to collaborate effectively to prepare proposals avoiding erroneous or duplicate content. Responding to client queries will be so much easier.
- Additionally, following three things will be a game changer in sales conversion
- Interactive Pricing: Since proposals are sent as a link, your client can check pricing, change item quantities, select/unselect option items, view taxation/ discount and total amount changing immediately as they select/ update an offer. In short, your prospects will feel that they are in control of proposal pricing. That’s a psychological advantage you will have over your prospects.
- Online Signature: Usual pen paper signature days are over now. It was nice signing proposals and contracts in the past but online signature is a new normal now. Prospects will be impressed to deal with vendors who are using cutting edge technology in proposals as well.
- Proposal Interaction Insights: Whenever a prospect opens a proposal, views it or even signs it, you will immediately receive notifications. Insights you will have based on how prospect interacts with your proposal – when did s/he open, which sections did s/he view, how long, how many times, etc; These are solid sales signals you will receive, you can leverage these to your advantage and close deals faster than your competitors.
There is a lot of research and experiments we did (and doing even today) while building Fresh Proposals. It has been our singular focus to simplify the proposal process, cut down the time in creation and maintaining proposals, tracking sales-revenue growth,enable sales signals for proposing teams to take advantage of the information, etc.
I am planning to share our journey about how product was designed, USPs identified, validated with prospects, identifying early users, experience with early users, SEO, content marketing, social media, digital marketing experiments, etc. Stay tuned to this space for more.