Your Business Prospect Says: “Send me a proposal”

Translation:  The person you are speaking with does not have buying authority

When my business prospect says, “send me a proposal” the sales strategy coach that sits on my shoulder whispers, “The person you are speaking with does not have buying authority.”

I’m very fortunate to have a sales strategy coach looking out for me.  Too many of my colleagues in the sales profession don’t have a sales strategy coach sitting on their shoulder.  Like the dog trained with Pavlov’s Bell, those unfortunate sales reps automatically follow their prospect’s Pavlovian instructions and commence writing a proposal. 

There’s nothing wrong with writing a proposal.  In a perfect sales strategy world, your prospect that doesn’t have buying authority parades your proposal past his superiors in the company’s corporate hierarchy.  That’s the bigger fish eats the smaller fish food chain.  His local manager, the regional supervisor, the area VP at corporate headquarters all must approve your proposal.  Don’t forget Engineering, Purchasing, the Plant Manager, Marketing, Human Resources, plus more may have a voice in approving your proposal, too.  At each step in this approval process, you are delegating the reiteration of your award-winning sales presentation to your business prospect or – worse yet – his upstream (bigger fish) superiors that don’t even know your name.  Sorry, it takes a perfect world for this approach to succeed.

Go ahead.  Write the damn proposal.  Be sure to rub your lucky penny, throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder, knock on wood, avoid walking under a ladder or stepping on a crack in the sidewalk. 

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG??

Here’s my short list: 

  • Like your business prospect, his upstream superiors in the corporate food chain lack the authority to authorize the purchase.
  • Even worse is the corporate policy that grants upstream superiors the authority to “kill” a purchase they lack the authority to approve. In other words, these folks have the authority to say “no” but not “yes”.  (That’s sweet, isn’t it?)
  • SALES STRATEGY HINT:   Most proposals never survive this arduous corporate food chain journey. 

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS MESS??

For the short answer, see my posts:  Meet Mr BIG – Your BEST Business Prospect and A View From 35,000 Feet – The Secret of Doing Business with Mr BIG

HOW DO YOU GET OUT OF THIS MESS??

Step #1       Recognize that you have allowed the business prospect to control the dialog.  Remember Pavlov and stop slobbering like Pavlov’s dog when your prospect rings the bell.  You must regain control of the situation.

Step #2       Recognize that the opportunity to establish a long-term business relationship is nil.  After all, those folks up the corporate food chain don’t even know your name.

Step #3       Pull up your big boy (or big girl) britches and say: “I’m sorry Mr/Ms Prospect, that’s not the way we/I/my company do/does business.”  Without taking a breath continue by saying, “Who, besides yourself, will have approval influence over this purchase??”

Step #4       Shut up.  Don’t say a word.  Look your business prospect squarely in the eye and wait.  It’s your prospect’s turn to talk.  Shut up.  Don’t say a word.  Remember what your mother taught you about interrupting people.  That’s impolite.  Wait for your prospect to respond.  (Be Patient.  You are about to gain control of the situation. If you talk first, you lose.)

Step #5       Listen closely to your prospect’s response.  It should end with the phrase that sounds like, “Finally, Mr BIG approves the purchase.” 

Step #5a     If your prospect doesn’t get far enough up the corporate food chain to tag Mr BIG with ultimate purchasing authority, stop him.  Repeat his litany of corporate food chain approval steps until you get to the last approval, he/she mentioned, the last one (this one isn’t the final approval for the purchase).  Confirm you are correct with a simple, “right?” 

Step #6       When your prospect confirms your recap of the approval steps is correct ask, “And then what happens?”  (SHUT UP. Remember your mother’s lesson on being polite and not interrupting.) 

The response your prospect supplies will determine the future of your business relationship.  If he/she bends the truth about the importance of their role in the decision process, it may be time to walk away.  Bad business is worse than no business.  No solid, long-term relationship was ever built on a lie.  Once again, it’s time to pull up your big boy/big girl britches and take the lead.  Never do business with people of questionable ethics.  Engagement with individuals of questionable ethics requires you to lower yourself to their level.  That’s not good.  Not now.  Not ever.

The more likely scenario will have your prospect unpacking a step-by-step process for approval.  Prompt the description of the next step with additional “And then what happens?” questions.  You’ve reached the objective when you hear “And finally Mr BIG will approve the purchase.” 

Armed with knowledge of the purchase approval process, it’s decision time.  You can continue to sell like Sisyphus of Greek mythology who was forced by Hades to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.  You can continue your efforts to gain incremental approval after incremental approval rolling your sales boulder up the corporate food chain.

— or –

Take your new knowledge of Mr BIG’s role in the purchasing process and sell your IDEA in a top-down manner.  Begin the sales process with Mr BIG.  It’s far better to invest time and energy connecting with Mr BIG than continuing to roll the sales boulder up the hill. 

Here’s a summary of Mr BIG:

  • Mr BIG’s name is on Linked In or your State’s corporate filing website or in any number of other resources.
  • Some initials or words follow Mr BIG’s name. Initials like CEO, VP, CMO, CIO……. Or words like President, Vice President…….
  • Mr BIG’s colleagues, business associates, social partners, service providers, competitors, colleagues, and friends are also Mr BIG or Ms BIG. 
  • Mr BIG knows how to cut thru the clutter to make things happen.
  • Mr BIG thinks in terms of “IDEAS.”  
  • Mr BIG doesn’t respond to “features and benefits.”  
  • Mr BIG holds ultimate buying authority. 
  • Mr BIG can take buying action for items that are not in the budget.
  • Mr BIG can approve a purchase that his subordinates decline.

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