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How to write a sales proposal for IT services

Find out why business assessments are the key to sales proposals for IT services, according to sales coach Gil Cargill.

IT assessments are the heart of a consultative sales cycle for MSPs and IT services companies. Without them, a proposal is just a quote and customers will see you as a peddler, not a partner, according to Gil Cargill, founder and CEO at Gil Cargill Consulting Group Inc. and speaker on a recent Continuum Managed Services webinar, titled "Building Client Sales Proposals."

Assessments make the invisible visible, he said.

In the webinar, Cargill shared tips with partners on how to write a sales proposal for MSP services and IT consulting services, as well as how to deliver it, for more business and better customer relationships.

"The vast majority of MSP proposals that I've seen don't identify nor do they quantify a problem from the prospect's point of view. Therefore, they aren't cost-justified," Cargill said. Those kinds of proposals lead IT services companies to lower their profit to win a deal, get rejected after they bend over backward for the prospect or see a prospect shop their scope-of-work statement to the competition.

An assessment is key to avoiding those problems. They quantify a customer's pain, which they're often unaware of; after all, most small and medium-size business owners don't know what they don't know.

Assessments also make you look like a professional; make it easier to sell; fund your practice, especially if you sell your assessments for a fee; facilitate sales proposals that describe how you're going to change part or all of the customer's business operating conditions; reduce frustration; and reduce the sales cycle.

"[Assessments] make the customer aware of situations they didn't know existed and they make the customer understand that they can operate their business better when they have a relationship with you," Cargill said.

To determine how to charge for an assessment, Cargill advised the following formula: Figure out the amount of time needed to do an assessment, then multiply that number by three and then multiply that number by your company's hourly rate. The total is what you should charge for an assessment. If and when the customer engages with your company, you can credit that money toward the contract.

The sales coach also noted that it's easier for partners to bring in a good conceptual consultative salesperson to sell assessments than it is to find a good conceptual consultative salesperson who's an expert in IT. If you make such a move, "your sales ratio will go up, you'll have more control over everything that's happening in your business and your margins will grow dramatically," he said.

Cargill said the sales process should begin with a discussion, in conversational language sans the tech talk, about how you helped other businesses. The discussion should explain the time you saved other companies, the money you helped them make, and so on.

The vast majority of MSP proposals that I've seen don't identify nor do they quantify a problem from the prospect's point of view. Therefore, they aren't cost-justified.
Gil Cargillfounder and CEO, Cargill Consulting Group Inc.

"If you can present yourself as a business consultant that does technology work, you're more valuable than the guy down the street who fixes PCs," he said.

If the sales proposal you plan to give to a potential customer doesn't include the expense your prospect will face if they say no or postpone their decision, what you're handing them is a quote, Cargill said. And the proposal must include proof that what you're promising can be delivered by your company, and it should quantify the cost of downtime and the value of their data.

"A professional doesn't have to close hard. If you have to close hard, that's a sign that you didn't do an assessment," said Cargill.

There's more than one type of assessment and proposal. The sales coach called them the Selling Assessment and Selling Proposal and the Telling Assessment and Telling Proposal.

The Selling Assessment and Selling Proposal are required when you approach a stranger and tell that stranger that you can help them solve one or more of their business operating condition challenges.

The Telling Assessment and Telling Proposal is when someone approaches you and asks for help. This type of proposal is boilerplate, talks about technology feeds and speeds and requires little effort to create.

The bright idea of the day, as Cargill put it, is the Selling Assessment and Selling Proposal. It documents every step, every process and every result if you're going to get a customer to go through a major change. Selling Proposals compare and contrast existing and proposed situations, how you will help them solve problems and improve operations.

"It's quantified, stresses results and justifies investment," he said.

The proposal should include more than a dozen elements -- title page, proprietary information, cover letter, table of contents, scope of work, executive summary, company profile, service considerations, current method, proposed method, comparison, product/service recommendations, implementation schedule, summary of advantages and pricing summary.

The proposal should be delivered at the time that you want the customer to decide and sign. "Never drop it off, never fax it, never mail it," Cargill said. If a customer is remote, FedEx it for a specific delivery time and coordinate it with a conference call and collaboration session and put the proposal up on the screen. Or better yet, let them see the proposal for the first time during the collaboration session and then email it to them.

Cargill said that in a face-to-face situation, you should bring two copies of the proposal and make sure the customer understands that you're there to do business. The final steps in the sales proposal process: Ask for the order and close the deal.

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How important are assessments to your sales process?
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Very important. Assessments ensure no sales team member is wasting time, and makes sure sales numbers are either being reached or lets us know if they are sliding. Everything from distribution to production is covered in the assessments and the data collected helps us mold and form a better strategy and campaign to get our products to market.
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