Why Your Sales Team Struggles to Get Past the Proposal Stage

By: Teresa Weirich

January 16, 2018

Most any sales professional can recount at least several occasions in which they’ve confidently navigated their way through a complex sales situation, only to send the proposal to the contact and receiving nothing but radio silence in return.

It’s that scenario that is faced all too often by even the most seasoned sales professionals. While there can be many explanations for why a deal ultimately meets its fate at the proposal stage, there are usually a few common culprits. If caught early enough and course corrected by the sales leader, close rates and pipeline confidence can be improved by a non-insignificant factor. In this article, we’ll share a few of the most common reasons that proposals go unanswered, along with recommendations for how to utilize an agile response and alter the sales process accordingly.

1. The opportunity wasn’t properly qualified.

This may seem like an elementary way to open up the article, but it’s not only the most important, it’s the most underestimated. There are many, many factors that should be considered when determining whether or not a prospect was properly qualified early on:

  • Was the original lead sourced from inbound or outbound?
  • Was the opportunity only determined “qualified” because it met threshold BANT (budget, authority, need, and timing) standards?
  • Was a compelling event identified as part of the discovery process?
  • Were all stakeholders not only identified, but incorporated into the discovery process?
  • What criteria was used to determine if the demo was a success or not?

Many sales organizations use a simple BANT protocol to determine whether a lead is qualified or not. However, that tried and true method is being pushed aside by many of today’s organizations in favor of a much more complex qualification process that, rightfully so, takes several steps to fully complete.

You’ve probably heard the famous stat by CEB more than once by now: “buyers are now 57% of the way toward a buying decision when they first make contact with a salesperson.” So, it’s fair to say that a simple BANT protocol is no longer enough as it barely scrapes the surface and doesn’t answer the harder (but arguably more important) questions like goals, plans, challenges, opportunities, and positive and negative implications.

2. Objections weren’t handled early enough in the sales process

When buyers have a few objections that sales professionals can satisfactorily answer or combat, the success rate of progressing the deal forward is 64%. Now, take into consideration how equipped your sales team is to address these questions not as they come up, but well in advance—even on the very first discovery call or in-person meeting. If your sales professionals are like most, they have learned to loathe objections and, more often than not, minimize red flags or dodge leading questions until they have to face them squarely—most commonly at the 11th hour (aka, proposal time).

While not true for all organizations, a common reason for dreading the pushback is because the sales professionals don’t have adequate tools or resources that help them articulate the best answer for that specific scenario. Many organizations have developed spreadsheets or documents containing marketing gold, but those resources lose their effectiveness the moment the sales professional picks up the phone and can’t filter or sort through the document and adjust the messaging for context. Trying to do so on the fly only causes them (and the prospect) more frustration as they attempt to surface what they need at just right time.

3. Sales professionals aren’t learning from their mistakes (because they haven’t been coached otherwise)

That old expression, “you can’t fix what you don’t know” certainly rings true for sales professionals who continually find themselves facing prospects that turn silent or are caught off guard by the proposal. If left to self-reflection only, it would be natural for sales professionals to pick up the phone more, send a higher volume of prospect emails, and try to stuff their pipelines with more deals, hoping that the increase in volume translates into more deals passing the proposal mark. Sales leaders in today’s hypercomplex world know that activity doesn’t translate into closed won new business, but what does, then?

4. New messaging and positioning hasn’t been properly adopted

Marketing spends countless hours refining and testing messaging in the market, and they develop useful resources like persona-based profiles for each of the sales teams’ prospect types. They obsess about refining and tweaking messaging. The problem is, by the time sales professionals are made aware of the changes, they’re already outdated. Short of sending countless emails and hosting bi-weekly stand-ups, it can be difficult for sales professionals to learn new messaging and effectively put it into practice. Like any of us would in their shoes, sales professionals often default to what has worked for them in the past and what they knew. Unfortunately, that messaging is likely outdated and no longer approved company messaging, causing issues as the sales process continues along to the big milestone: the proposal.

How An Agile Sales Methodology Can Replace Ad Hoc Adjustments

Most sales leaders are keenly aware that their team members struggle to get past the proposal stage. They may make adjustments, tighten up the qualification process, or hold all-hands meetings to review new messaging or practice objection handling, but how can they be sure those adjustments are actually helping and not hurting? For most sales organizations, waiting for Sales Ops to pull reports the following quarter or year just isn’t soon enough.

This is where a guided selling platform is invaluable. When sales leaders are able to regularly monitor each individual’s pipelines and also gain insight into deal by deal metrics and business cases while viewing prospect conversation notes, they can help the sales professional not just win one prospect, but help them overcome their challenges in future scenarios. Now, when they implement a change, they can monitor how it impacts the sales process in near real-time, and continue to make iterations to ultimately guide team members to help them do what they do best: close deals.

  • Teresa Weirich's Headshot
    Teresa Weirich

Ready to Learn More?

For more information on best practices of great sales leaders, check out the Costello resources below. If you’d like to see Costello in action, request a personalized demo of our real-time sales playbook software.

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