February 2003
Easy steps to enhance proposals

Talk value instead of price to win over clients and secure more work
How exciting is it when you’re asked to prepare the first proposal for a new customer? The experts say that, on average, a sales rep can expect to make between five and eight calls on a potential client before being asked to make a recommendation on producing a job.

These prospecting calls may have been made over several months, or in some extreme cases, over a number of years. (My longest wait from the initial call to receiving an order was seven years. To this day I am still quite amazed at how long it took and what a fabulous account it turned out to be.)

I have always felt, and have tried to convince others of it, that from the moment you’re asked to make recommendations about a project, the customer has determined that your organization is capable of doing his work. After all, you’ve made a number of calls over the previous months and showed the customer relevant, interesting work about how you solved printing problems for other organizations or how a recently completed project could be adapted to his needs. It is imperative that you be seen as a source of information and knowledge. You must never meet with a customer or a prospect without a printed piece or idea that will help his organization be more competitive, raise its profile or foster some uniqueness in the marketplace.

Having earned the confidence and trust of a customer, your job as sales rep must be to confirm his decision to choose you and to ensure that his superiors in the company feel the same way. Not one but two people must understand the benefits of dealing with your firm. This is even more important if the buyer is in a junior position or new to his firm.

So all you have to do is prepare a proposal with facts about dealing with your firm followed by a benefit for each fact showing how it will impact the final printed piece. It can also be beneficial to state that you’re committed to this project and to give your word that the work will not only be produced satisfactorily, but the process will exceed expectations. The customer will appreciate your involvement. Not only does this initiative provide an additional level of comfort for the client but it will reaffirm his decision to select you as a supplier.

Add benefits to the facts
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t used the words quote or estimate to identify the information being prepared. Regular readers of this column know that I believe these words should be banned from our industry. To start with, they are not synonymous and, in my experience, 99.9% of the time they’re used in reference to price. Is it not the goal of sales reps to highlight other important facts about the work and not let the price be the determining factor in awarding a project? Besides, when you only talk about price, it is almost always too high.
Putting a price on paper and hoping it will be low simply not good enough

Think for a moment what would happen in your organization if the words quote and estimate were replaced by proposal and recommendation. Does it not immediately start people thinking creatively about solutions for the customer? Recommending different stocks, a different size, better and more varied use of colour and talking about the benefits that can be derived from the uniqueness of your equipment shows the customer you are working hard to provide him with great value.

It is easy and inexpensive to add an extra colour to the process work or to add an overall varnish or an aqueous coating that enhances appearance and durability. In most instances, it’s a lot cheaper to add value to a job than to reduce the price. While your competitors are talking price with the customer, you are talking value and ideas to enhance a project.

When the mindset within an organization becomes one of solving problems or coming up with better solutions for your customers, every operation, from estimating to production, plant and shipping will get more involved and help bring more work into the company.
As a rule of thumb, on jobs of $1,000 give at least three facts and benefits in your proposals to make the work look different. On jobs of $5,000 give at least five reasons, and on projects of $10,000 or more provide an even more extensive list. Believe me, this works.

The true benefit of presenting your recommendation like this is that you have much more to talk about than the price. You can construct images of how the work will look and the benefit it will deliver and, as a result, help divert attention from price to value. Even if the customer reverts to the price, you have the opportunity of explaining the benefits in your proposal that far exceed price differentiation. It is important to remember that in 99% of purchasing decisions, the customer’s main responsibility is to obtain a product that will be most useful and represent his company favourably at a fair price.

This fact has been tested and proven many times in several industries including our own when buyers continually rank price the fourth or fifth most important element in choosing a supplier/partner for a project.

Putting a price on a piece of paper and hoping it will be low enough to get the work is simply not good enough. Jobs must be analyzed, suggestions and variations must be offered, and facts and benefits must be outlined on your proposal. This will garner more work with much better margins. This is a guarantee. .

Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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