Our Prior Manual Proposal Process
Not unlike many of our clients, until a few years ago we managed our proposals and contracts manually and was not the most efficient way to keep track of our sales deals won and lost. We would get a client that would contact us and ask us for a proposal for a particular engagement. Though we keep copies of past proposals, it was still like everyone became a little project unto itself.
We would first understand the client’s requirements and what engagement or engagements worked for them. Then we would complete a customized proposal that utilized some semblance of a template but found still that every proposal ended up being very different. We would then go into our CRM and create a deal set at the proposal stage. We would wait a couple of days and then contact the client to determine if they would like to move forward. It the answer was yes, we then would send out a contract and wait for them to sign it and scan it and send it back. Next we would go back to our CRM which is HubSpot and mark the deal as closed, countersign the agreement and scan them back a copy for their files.
The Light Then Went Off
We started working with a client on the west end of the GTA, who was a manufacturing company, and they were looking for a combined configuration, quotation/proposal system. They liked the one they were using, but it did not include a configuration system which was greatly needed to improve their productivity and also help them with inventory management and planning of shipping. It was a business that had outgrown many of their current systems.
As part of this process, I discussed with one of the owners regarding the vendor they had, as I was looking for a proposal software solution at the time. She spent time explaining how they had used the software and sent me to the site for the business. I was thrilled as not only were they a cloud computing solution, but they were also Canadian.
Why We Chose Proposify
We were able to create templates for our proposals and develop content in the content library for all of the standard sections of the proposal including our contract which is added as part of the proposal. The proposals can still be customized with a section for the client's requirements, but the other sections that are standard can be pulled in from their content library and can be created once and be updated in one place. There is also versioning so you can go back and see when you have made changes.
There are quoting capabilities if you are providing prices for products or services and do not need a configuration tool. You can provide the client with multiple options for a client and let them choose the products and/or services they want and have it calculate the price based on their choice for the overall proposal.
It stores basic contact/company information that can then be embedded using custom fields and variables which makes it easy to customize your proposal and contract. You can then choose if you want a client to digitally sign the agreement at the end or have them initial important pages.
Proposify supports adding video content to your proposal if needed as well, though we haven’t used it as of yet.
Once you send the proposal to the client via email, they can then click the link for them to go in and view the document online, or they have the choice to download a PDF. You are sent notification once the proposal is viewed as well as when it is signed digitally. We then countersign and send a PDF version back to the client for their records.
The software is easy to use and understand. You can get up and running in a matter of hours. It has helped us in making our proposals and contracts to look more professional and has saved us an enormous amount of time in following up for those clients who sign off on one document.
Before using Proposify, we had to go in and manually add the deal and close it within our CRM. Since we use HubSpot, which is one of the many integrations Proposify has with third-party applications, this is done for us. Proposify creates a company and contact record and adds the deal to our pipeline in HubSpot. If the deal closes, then it will also close off the deal as well.
We also use QuickBooks Online for our accounting package. You are able to generate invoices within Proposify for QuickBooks.
The support is amazing. I tend to like to use chat support. They are very responsive and get back to you quickly which is important when you are having an issue with a document that is sent to your clients. If they are busy while you are online – it will send an email to their support, and you will receive an answer via email later.
They Are Canadian
We always try to find products and services that exist in Canada first and support our fellow Canadians. Proposify has been around since 2013 but is still small enough that it treats customers with tender loving care. If you are Canadian, keep in mind by using a Canadian company, you are not only getting a tax deduction for using the software but will reduce the amount of HST owed as well by buying Canadian.
I am not sure how many times a month I hear a client or prospect tell me they hate sales people, they do not trust them, and they do not want to hire them. This is usually after a discussion on how you plan to get your sales increased and how as the business owner, you cannot be the sales person, the marketing person, and the chief bottle washer in the firm. When investigating why they feel this way there are usually similar answers to the questions asked.
How Did You Find and Hire the Sales Person?
In too many cases I hear I found them on Kijiji or this person was the son of a friend of mine and they used to sell something. Ask yourself if you think this is a good standard. A sales person represents your business to your prospects and customers who are key to the success of your business. Does it make sense that you would not hire someone with the necessary skills and experience to represent your business in a professional manner?
Hiring a salesperson is similar to how you should hire all personnel, but with a little extra due diligence. You need to develop a job description that includes the requirements and expectations for the position, the qualifications for the jobs, and the soft skills that you believe are necessary to fit into your business. If you do not understand what this should require, get help in developing a professional job description.
Do not list the job on Kijiji or hire the son of a friend who sold something once. Sales is a profession just as marketing and finance. You cannot make just anyone into a sales person. Use professional job boards such as LinkedIn or hire a recruitment firm that specializes in hiring sales personnel. In many cases, some firms specialize in particular industries. Because someone was a top tier salesperson selling cars does not mean that that individual will be successful selling technical equipment. Sales is not sales – it is industry specific, and the sales process and sales cycle is most likely completely different.
It is also important to understand that the skills differ for direct sales people and those that sell through channels. If you are hiring a direct sales person to run your channels, you may find your salesperson is trying to sell for your channels. If you hire a channel sales rep who is more relationship focused to do direct sales, this could be a skills mismatch. Understand the type of sales person and the skills you need to perform the job.
Once you decide to interview candidates, make sure that you have an understanding of the type of interview questions you need to ask and you do the proper background and reference checking. If you are not sure how to do this, get help from the outside. There is even testing you can have sales people take which can help you for a small fee and is offered by many recruitment firms. They also can help you take care of the interviewing and background and reference checking.
Sales people are good talkers, and we all want them and need to be, but it is important if you feel you are not able to see through the “talk,” be sure to get some help with the interview process.
Before you bring a salesperson on board, you need to have an employment contract reviewed by a lawyer that outlines expectations, probationary periods, confidentiality clauses, quotas, pay & commission structures, and any additional job requirements.
How Did You Train the Sales Person?
I do not know how many times that I have heard it said, “They came in and did nothing and didn’t sell anything.” I then ask, what kind of training did you provide. In many cases they say, none, as they were an experienced salesperson when I hired them.
Someone can be good at selling and understand the requirements for sales in general, but they do not know or understand your products, services, and company. The ownership of training of sales personnel or any staff for that matter about your business and products and services is up to you. The sales process for your products and services may be different from the last ones that they sold, so it is important that you explain how this works in your business.
If you are hiring someone that is out of school that has not worked as a sales person, then it is your responsibility to train them in sales skills as well. You cannot expect someone who has never performed in a sales role to hit the ground running.
How Did You Manage the Sales Person?
Did you make a mistake before of thinking that once you hired the sales person, they would work on their own and would be ready to go out and do their job? Sales people are employees like any other employee you hire, and they need to be managed, but this management is a lot different than other types of employees.
Sales personnel are goal based reward-driven people. They should not have to apologize for this as this is what sets good salespeople apart from low performers. You need to set KPIs (key performance indicators) which are realistic and obtainable for your business, and you or the manager of the sales personnel need to track and monitor performance.
As a manager of sales personnel, you need to provide them with the tools to track their contacts, prospects, opportunities and other key performance indicators that you are measuring. This can be a CRM (Customer Relationship Management System) or could even be Excel Workbooks. There is no excuse for any business not having a CRM today, as there are several that offer free options for small businesses which include HubSpot, Insightly, and Zoho to name a few.
Meeting with sales personnel on a weekly basis is vital whether this is in person or over the phone to get an understanding of your forecasts, pipelines, and issues that they might be having. As their manager, it is up to you to help them in resolving issues and finding out why the forecasts and pipelines are not as expected. Early on there will most likely be the requirement of four-legged sales calls where you accompany them on a sale.
We had a client that was upset that after they hired a new salesperson that they did not hit the ground running. In talking to the owners, it came to our attention that most of their sales to date had been referrals, and through people they knew, so even they had not done “real sales” for their business, and now they were expecting a salesperson to come in and know their business and sell without any guidance, training, or management.
If you find yourself in this predicament, this is when you need to bring in a coach or consultant to help you understand what needs to be done for your business and possibly guide and train your sales personnel.
What Happened When Your Sales Rep Quit or You Let Them Go?
Getting rid of a sales person if it is your choice is harder than other employees, as you have to have shown that you have provided them with goals and set expectations, training, and proper management. If there is an under performing salesperson that you choose to keep after the regular probationary period of 90 days, it will take you 60-90 days to get rid of them if you do not wish to pay severance and the possibility of them taking a lawyer.
For non-performance of sales personnel, you have to provide in writing a notice of non-performance and provide them with 30 days to improve their performance. This needs to be placed on their file. This is the first violation and is why it is important to do this sooner than later. During this period, you as their manager have to show that you have gone out of your way to help them improve performance. At the end of the 30 days, if nothing has improved then you need to provide them a second written notice of non-performance and that if improvement is not seen this could be grounds for termination. In many cases, sales people will have already started to look for another position and will leave before the 60 days is up. If they are still in your business, you need to provide them a final letter stating that this is the final letter and if performance is not seen at the end of this period, they will be terminated. By going through this process and documenting properly, could most likely mitigate and lessen your exposure to legal action and severance pay.
The last complaint that we hear is that the sales person just up and quit on them and took their customer list and gone to the competition. The question they ask is if there is any recourse? In most cases, we find out that there has not been a formal contract where this type of information was outlined as part of their employment contract. Without a contract that outlines the terms of their employment, there is not really any legal recourse.
When it comes time to hire a sales personnel for your business, this will be one of the most important hires you can make. You want to hire the right personnel to represent you and your brand outside your business, so it is important to take this decision seriously and invest the time and effort in bringing the right person on board, training them on your business, and managing them properly so that you have a productive sales force.
If you need help in this area, this is an area where we have helped many of our clients. We can also help you hire other professionals to work with such as recruitment firms for finding candidates or corporate lawyers for developing the right employment contracts and advising you when you need to terminate employment for performance.
There have been many articles written saying that Cold Calling is Dead and that is just not the case. As someone who has years in Marketing too numerous to admit I am a big believer in other forms of lead generation in order to build your sales, but one cannot leave the old tried and true standby of cold calling. Not unlike the majority of small business owners, I hate to cold call. I was made to do it throughout my life and at times the thought use to give me hives. It had nothing to do with not liking to talk on the phone as I have never been accused of being lost for words or being afraid of the phone. It is all about having the right opening and catching that person's attention in the first 15 seconds.
I do not know how many articles I have read by marketing proponents saying traditional selling is dead and it is all about Social Media. I believe Social Media can help build awareness, credibility, and build connections, but I have not been able to attach a revenue figure to what I have made from utilizing social media. Others talk about email marketing, which can be useful, but is one medium that I have come to hate. For some reason, those that seem to be business card collectors love this medium. We all know them. You meet them at a networking event, they want your business card and the next thing they have determined whether you are a fit for their product or not that it is ok to add you to their "spam" Newsletter blast that goes out every week or so. I don't know about you - but delete or unsubscribe are the first things I usually do for most. Though there are laws outlining the use of SPAM, this has not seemed to dissuade too many small business owners who think they are below the Government radar and will not get caught. In Canada, you need to actually have "permission" to email.
Cold calling does work if done correctly. I will be the first one to admit, if someone calls without their monotone " I am reading a script voice", and engages me in the first 15-20 seconds, I will continue to listen to what they are selling. I find those that call about business related products or services usually have an easier time gaining my attention than the guy wanting to kill my weeds or try to convince me more than the guy calling last week with the same script that I really do need to read the Toronto Sun.
Most people will not make a snap business decision to purchase something over the phone unless they are ready to buy, so the goal you should have in mind is to get an appointment with the prospect. Here are some tips to keep in mind to increase your chances of getting the appointment. The focus of this will be on B2B since most B2C cold calling is out due to the Do Not Call List in Canada.
If you know cold calling will work for your business, but there is a lack of time or skill to do this in your business, this service can be outsourced easily and can be very cost effective. Do not do this on the cheap thinking you can get anyone to cold call. Who you hire is representing your business and if they make a bad impression, this is what the client remembers. Look for a firm that has a guarantee on leads or appointments. Do not just pay for someone to call and charge for the time they are dialling for dollars. Do not hire and pay for those that base this on an outrageous telco rate. They should have Voice over IP and should not be charging like call centres did in the dark ages. Check their references as well. You want to make sure that if you make one or two sales, that you have covered the cost of the service.
Once you have an appointment with someone and they are qualified - your sales close ratio should be fairly high. It is about getting an appointment and is something that can be measured. It is true Social Media is free and it is easy to send out a email Newsletter blast, but before you spend all of your time doing that trying to figure out impressions, clicks, and conversion rates - don't give up on cold calling, because it is not dead yet and can be measured.
RK Fischer & Associates