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Sales Strategy
The Gold Mine in Your Back Yard: The Case for Modern Quote and Proposals
Feb 3, 2010 | Kent McNall lock

A substantial return on investment awaits your business in automating your quote and proposal business processes.

For the average non-retail, non-professional business, that statement is a fact – because that same business, on average, has developed some very inefficient business processes around one of the most fundamental deliverables:  A quote or proposal for their goods and services. 

For many – if not most – businesses that depend on the creation of quotes and proposals for their livelihood,  this process area is one of the most significantly broken – and represents one of the easiest, highest ROI “fixes” in business today.

The root of the problem for many was once one of the greatest blessings for sales professionals: 

The spreadsheet. Yes, the spreadsheet.

There are still a lot of great things about using spreadsheets to create quotes and proposals.  They’re easy to use, ubiquitous, and reliable.   They’re flexible – a trait treasured by sales professionals (if dreaded by their management).  A spreadsheet is both the vehicle for calculation and presentation in one.  They are capable of creating very simple or extremely complex documents.

There are drawbacks as well.  Spreadsheets are difficult to connect to Internet-based data stores for content, pricing, and availability information.  They don’t integrate with our operational and CRM systems, the software that runs our businesses and performs our accounting functions.  Flexibility and lack of security have a big downside as well.  

Creating complex spreadsheets with arcane formulas and macros is both difficult and error-prone – and a long-term maintenance headache.  If a spreadsheet-bound sales team has ten sales professionals, there’s a good chance they have ten different versions of the spreadsheet, creating consistency and accuracy issues.   In today’s contexts, these downsides are killers – creating tremendous productivity and quality holes in our organizations.

When we started using spreadsheets to do our quotes and proposals, we stopped thinking about the process of creating quotes and proposals.  It’s time to start thinking again – because solving this business problem can truly become a gold mine in the back yard. 

It’s time to elevate and automate the quote and proposal process. Here are five ways modern quote and proposals can create happier customers and positively impact your bottom line:

The ROI of Quote and Proposal Automation:

1. Elevate the Quote and Proposal Process.   Depending on your industry, the amount of time it takes to actually create an accurate quote can be dramatically reduced.  The process can also be simplified.   The same is true for longer proposal documents.  There are many reasons for such a productivity gain:

• Ready availability of online information relating to quoted products and services, replacing manual steps and research
• Creation of pre-defined “templates” for quote and proposal creation, saving repetitive effort
• Reduced steps and effort to generate and deliver the quote to the customer
• Automated internal review and approval processes
• More advanced capabilities, such as configurators

The ROI benefits of increased productivity and reduced time-to-quote are direct and impactful on sales:  Reduced time is a clear savings, but putting an accurate, quality quote in the customer’s hands sooner helps win business and beat the competition.  Easier, faster quote and proposal creation also creates happier sales personnel.

2. Reducing Steps from Order to Fulfillment and Invoicing

We encounter a startling number and ratio of businesses that are re-entering their quote information multiple times in multiple systems.  The record is six – the same data being entered six times into six different systems.  Be sure to take a hard look at your own process before chuckling over this one!  It’s more common that you might believe. 

A typical scenario:  Data is entered into a quote (1).  It is re-entered into a CRM opportunity management system (2).  When the business is won, accounting enters it again into a sales order or invoicing system (3).  Purchasing enters it into a purchase order (4) and again into a vendor web purchasing portal (5).  It’s not difficult to imagine the tremendous cost of this inefficiency, not to mention the errors that are inevitable. 
 
These inefficiencies are bad enough when a business at least has multiple departments and personnel to handle the administrative overhead – they’re so much the worse in a smaller, entrepreneurial business where the owner and key staff are bogged down with such tasks.

Possibly the worst effect of this type of unproductive process is on the psychology of the organization.  When a business process is a repetitive, tedious, error-prone hassle, we tend to avoid it; to procrastinate.  Some clients we’ve worked with had literally moved away from doing certain types of business because of these painful processes.

High return is to be gained from dramatically reducing the number of steps and time it takes to move an approved quote through the necessary business processes.  In many cases, repetitive data entry can be eliminated; communication and workflow can be smoothed and automated.   The direct productivity boost in this area of ROI can be one of the most substantial when modern quote and proposal automation is applied.

3.  Deliver Quality, High Impact Documents to Your Customers

Many sales professionals, and in turn the businesses they work for, don’t’ do their sales opportunities justice with the documents they create and deliver to the customer. 

A quote or proposal is often one of the first impressions made on a new customer.  These documents represent an easy, inexpensive means to communicate your brand, image, and messaging to that customer.  Your quote is also a chief battleground with your competition – in fact, the most direct battleground in many cases.  You should put forth you best effort to create the most attractive, high quality documents you can, with no compromise.    Most businesses do not do so, to say the least. 

Revitalizing your sales processes with high quality documents provides very measurable ROI, but also unlimited ROI – because improvements in this area can literally lead to your company making sales that you might not otherwise have made.  Depending on the value of your average opportunity, the ROI from this area of improvement is almost open-ended.

4.  Drive Better Knowledge Transfer to New Sales Associates

One of the most impactful ramifications of the antiquated, arcane, and difficult-to-learn quote and proposal processes is the inability to get new sales associates up to speed and productive within the organization.   Knowledge transfer – about products and process – is almost always “tribal” in nature, passed on by the grizzled veterans of the sales department or directly from entrepreneurial owners to the new sales team members.

The problem is that those same grizzled vets are often under motivated to do so, famous for hoarding knowledge and miserly in sharing it (particularly the entrepreneurial owner).  The psychology of this would daunt Freud himself, especially since the inability to create successful salespeople is one of the biggest constraints on growth in the SMB space.

A modern automation of your quote and proposal processes will provide for direct, self-documenting knowledge transfer to your sales force, new and existing.  

The ROI and benefits can be the most significant of any ROI area, both short-term but particularly long-term.  Reducing the “time to productivity” of your new sales team members has a very direct and measurable positive impact. 

Many businesses can easily reduce by 50 per cent the time it takes to get a new salesperson up to speed if your quote and proposal platform is an active component of your knowledge transfer. 

For those businesses whose growth is stopped by the inability to grow their sales capacity, how do you measure the ROI of the solution to that particular problem?  It is potentially the difference between achieving the growth goals of the organization and complete failure.

5.  Competitive Differentiation

In many industries and market segments, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have meaningful competitive differentiation.  The traditional battle grounds of price, customer service, selection and delivery have been scientifically sliced and diced, margins are razor-thin, and offerings can be difficult for customers to differentiate.

Sales as a service – now there’s a thought.  Your sales process is the first service you are offering to your customer, and it sets a tone for the entire relationship.   The quote or proposal should be seen as a part of that service – delivered with high quality, accuracy, and above all timeliness and as promised.  The quote and proposal is like any other area of competition with your market rivals.  Your process has to be better.  The deliverables have to be better.  The quality has to be better.

Conclusion
The good news is there are software platforms designed to modernize the quote and proposal process, help you differentiate by how you deliver the quote, in a manner that is convenient for your customer, and helps them take immediate, simple action. Modern quotes and proposals – high quality, interactive and graphical -- help you seize the opportunity and make it easier for them to say "Yes!" 

About the Author:

Kent McNall is the CEO and co-founder of Quosal Inc. creators of the first software package that automates sales quote and proposal preparation and document management.  With a 25-year career as a Northwest entrepreneur, executive, and sales professional, Kent brings extensive experience and expertise in business process automation, particularly in the areas of ERP, CRM and sales tools and technologies.  

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