What is Sales/ Business Proposal Management?
Have you ever been on the selling side of your product or services? If you have experienced it closely, from inquiry-opportunity to closing the deal, most likely you would have worked on a sales proposal document. When a prospect shows interest in your products/services, it would expect a formal proposal to review your offer.
This is another way of saying,
Enough of TALK and presentation (which was good but), can we get down to the real things?
Can we have the things that you were saying/claiming, written on paper so that we can review it thoroughly? So that we’ll know better about:
- Are you able to understand our challenges well enough?
- What is your solution/approach?
- Who are you?
- How long you have been serving our industry?
- How many people you’ve got to work on this project?
- Who else have you served?
- How long will it take for you to deliver products/solution?
- You will be offering this solution at what cost?
- What are your terms of services, support level, etc.?
Why is a Business Sales Proposal So Important?
There are few reasons why sales proposal document is important
- Proposal document gives you the opportunity to establish your credibility: the credibility of your team, your products/services, your firm
- It has a formal and a tone much more serious than other forms you use (calls, emails or presentations, etc).
- If sales calls, emails or presentations are like battle against your competitors, then proposal document is your pact. You have won the battle but you also need to win the pact.
You would have realized that in the most cases, proposal is neither a single page document, nor it is supposed to be a single person work-effort (we are speaking of sales proposals in general).
Unless you are a single person shop, you will not write proposal all by yourself, you will involve other team members. Typically, even for SMBs, writing a sales proposal document involves more than one individual: subject matter experts/ technical experts, person from accounting, service, support to determine implementation/ delivery timeline, scope of services, service level and pricing (considering cost and margins), etc. You will get the draft proposal reviewed by someone senior/ authority.
And it goes on
Remember, this is just a start of writing a sales proposal. Things won’t stop even after sending the proposal to your prospect. Prospective client would have its team to review your proposal, they would have questions, they would seek clarifications, changes/amendments.
Rarely a sales proposal gets approved in first go. It means the sales-proposal-team will spend more time in writing, communicating with each other as well as prospect, editing/updating it again and again.
Say client agreed to accept the proposal, you will have to save the “Proposal-for-ClientX-Version-Finally-Final.docx” as a PDF and email the file attachment.
Not So Good Ol’ Days
You will print the proposal pdf on a paper, sign it, stamp it and courier it to your prospective client. Your prospective will receive a courier in a week, s/he will have to sign it, stamp it and courier it back to you. This is going to be another week. Meanwhile, if there is any mistake, or error you will have to do the printing, signing, courier process again.
The sales process can get pretty chaotic. There have been numerous attempts to streamline the sales pipeline, keeping prospects warm, engaged, working with multiple departments (internally as well as at the prospect’s end), even trying to gather sales signals from the prospect. By its very nature, the sales process get prolonged, unpredictable and many times frustrating.
The process of managing proposals from the moment prospect expresses formal interest to sharing a proposal, from drafting, editing, reviewing, sending, re-editing to closure is sales proposal management.
Typically this is how the lifecycle of a sales proposal is going to be. It takes anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of years to close a deal. Sales proposal management is not an easy task there are several challenges you face along the way. But what if you have a pipeline of many sales proposals?
Unless you are a special and only provider firm in the whole universe that delivers products/ services to your customer and instead of you reaching out to them to meet demand, they reach out to you for supplying products/ services; you will need ways to manage proposals. Tools that enable and allow you to manage proposals are proposal management software.
What is a Proposal Software?
The wikipedia definition: “Online proposal software also known as proposal management software, proposal writing software, or proposal automation software is a computer program designed to help users develop proposals, presentations, and responses to RFPs. Proposal automation tool is becoming increasingly popular in companies that manage frequent and extensive proposal writing projects. Such software allows businesses to automate more routine tasks while easily tracking multiple versions. ”
In simple English language: A proposal software is a computer program tool that allows you to create and manage sales proposal documents that can be shared with your customer.
Depending on features, access channel, use-case, free-or-paid options, there are various kinds of proposal software.
Google Doc or Microsoft Word are not designed as proposal software; these are general document editing software. Then what is proposal software really?
There is the difference between pizza and gourmet pizza.
Similarly, you have proposal tools and good proposal software. A good proposal software goes beyond just editing the document.
- Creating and editing proposal content is essential
- It allows you and your team to collaborate, share timely information,
- Proposal software boost your productivity by organizing proposal content for speedy use-reuse
- Send a proposal to your client
- Allow clients to open, interact with proposals such as changing quantities/price, commenting
- Allow clients to accept and e-sign proposals
Even the most proposal software available today, work independently on desktop, some of those allow you to work with email, and e-signatures. You can download the proposal PDF to print, sign/e-sign and process the document further.
What is the single biggest thing a proposal tool should help you achieve?
Proposal software should simplify life for your sales proposal team as well as your customers so that you can conclude the sales deal faster. Click To Tweet
Proposal software should simplify life for your sales proposal team as well as your customers so that you can conclude the sales deal faster.
Needless to say, proposal software is gaining huge popularity. No, I am not only referring to the market research findings/reports who are quoting billions of dollars of market size for proposal software but in reality, businesses have started realizing the benefits of using new generation of proposal software. These tools are designed specifically to speed up the sales proposal process with a paradigm shift in terms of design, interactivity, anywhere-anytime access features, reporting, and integrations among other capabilities.
The adoption of proposal software has been on rising, its pace has been hugely accelerated because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The recent pandemic has forced organizations to work online in, safer, quicker manner. Once you understand the benefits of using proposal software, there is no turning back to time-productivity sucking, confusing and frustrating traditional ways.
As its popularity is rising, now proposal software is also referred by alternative terms such as
- Proposal management software
- Sales proposal tool
- Proposal writing software
- Proposal collaboration software
- Proposal automation software
- Quoting software
- Sales enablement tool
- Sales productivity tool
- Interactive quote software
You can call it by any name but the bottom line is, it should make it simpler, faster for the sales team to get the proposal out and help customers clearly understand proposal information to make a decision.
Short answer: to stay ahead in the game and win more business
Let’s understand this: for any reasonable business that needs to pitch its products/services to its prospective customers in a formal way, you will have to send proposals. If you are going to send a proposal, you will be using some or another proposal editing tool (at least).
Proposal editing is indispensable for almost all businesses.
Now there are primitive tools like MS Word that will allow you to edit a proposal. There are design tools like InDesign that will allow you to create a great-looking proposals.
But is that about it?
No, if you work as a team, you will need to work together, collaborate, share ideas/ask questions, make edit, re-edits. How would you do it then?
May be moving to Google Doc, Google Spreadsheet, Google Slide, or may be Zoho suite of products. It will enable your team to start working together, keep making changes together.
Google Doc is free (as a Gmail user and you pay a small fee if you use the business suite). Would you need a separate proposal software other than Google Doc?
Think about it.
- Will you keep making changes to the single document or keep copying the content to (and save as) multiple docs?
- Will add label/ folder to these document to segregate and end up having piles of folders, a document that would become unmanageable within a year or two – e.g. to extract the content of one or two sections, you will have to keep opening an entire document, close it, open another one?
- Design: you can’t build an impressive proposal using word processors
- Can you templatize the proposal so that you don’t have to Control + F, Replace+All every time?
- Can you easily track which doc is sent to whom?
- Can you gather insights about the proposal sent to your customers?
- Can you know the status of the proposal sent to multiple customers?
I have seen four kinds of people/businesses
- People who are happy about whatever they have achieved, though the business hasn’t been growing and don’t invest seriously in ways to get themselves / their business to the next level. It is a matter of time and they are on a downward path. I call them LOOSER.
- People who experienced business growth without much consistent effort or don’t apply any growth strategies, are LUCKY
- Those who have gone through a crisis (or perceived crisis) and do not want to end up in the same situation again, hence try hard to grow the business by innovating and applying growth strategies. I call them FIGHTER
- People who are growth-focused, never stop. They always keep looking for the ways to fire most engines, all the time. I call them ACHIEVER.
You could be in any of these squares. One should always attempt to move to the top-right corner and consistently remain there.
If you are a LOSER, why on earth you are being so stupid to let it go down? Come on, be the FIGHTER.
If you are LUCKY once or twice or maybe thrice, do yo think it will go on forever? Don’t leave it out to your luck. you just need change of mindset to apply growth and become ACHIEVER
If you are FIGHTER, it is matter of time and applying your learning, and you will become ACHIEVER.
This GROWTH matrix is applicable to most cases (including personal growth), the same is true in case you are asking questions – whether you need a proposal software or not. I am convinced that the use of next-generation tools, refining sales process for growth with optimal effort, leveraging best practices-learning of others, accepting our own mistakes, and learning from those mistakes, never stop experimenting is a growth mindset.
I believe use of online proposal software is certainly a part of a growth mindset. So it is a wrong question to ask whether you are ready to use proposal software or not.
The right question to ask is – How do I find and use right proposal software? It depends on your business, target customers, growth potential, etc.
Before you start online search for proposal software, it will certainly help you to understand what are the types of proposal software available.
Types of Sales Proposal Software
The categorization of proposal software can be done based on
- General purpose editing software or designed for managing sales proposals?
- Free/ Open Source vs Proprietary/ Commercial
- How can I access it?
- Who all will access it?
- What all features will the proposal software provide?
- Where will the data reside?
- Meant for individual, small business or enterprise?
- Part of software suite or standalone proposal tool?
- Designed for all sectors or specific industry use cases?
Depending on these aspects, sales proposal software vendors have developed and offered proposal tools for their customers. Let’s go and check these categories one by one. Let’s look at the types of proposal software.
Important Features of a Proposal Software
There are new generation of proposal software available for you to evaluate. These tools offer range of features to create-track-manage proposals. Some of these tools are focused on only creation part, some are heavily betting on design aspect, some tools do not allow creation/editing but you can track user interactions with proposals, whereas few tools allow creation-design-tracking-collaboration-automation and such crucial functions.
There are nine features to look for in a good proposal software. Some of these features include.
- Proposal Creation-Editing
- Proposal Designing
- Interactive Proposal Pricing
- Proposal Tracking
- Proposal Automation
- Proposal e-Signing & Acceptance
For more analysis on the non-feature aspects of the tool, refer to 12 non-feature aspects of a proposal software post.
Best proposal software for your industry: