Don’t Write That Proposal until You Ask the Magic Question

The answer to one question will tell you if that proposal is really worth writing.

Have you ever had a potential client ask you to write a proposal or give a presentation only to respond with “Thank you for doing this and we’ll get back to you at some time in the future if we decide to do something”? All that wasted time for nothing.

If only you’d known they were going to say that before you wasted all that time writing the proposal. If you knew they were going to say this, would you have written the proposal? So how do you find out what they are going to say? The way to find out what they are going to say after you have given them your proposal is to ask them the “magic question” before you have spent time and money preparing the proposal. Simple really.

The “magic question” is magical for two reasons. It’s magical as it transports you both into the future (to the time when they have received the proposal you have yet to write) and it’s also magical because much of the need for writing the proposal will vanish after you have asked this question.

So what is this “magic question”?

When someone asks you to write a proposal (or give a presentation), just reply with this question “Imagine that you’ve read my proposal and, without doubt, the solution proposed is a perfect fit for what you want then what will happen next?”

Let’s suppose that the response to your “magic question” was one of the following:

“I would then discuss it with my manager (partner, etc.) to see if they want to move ahead.”

“We’d need to assess it along with everything else we are doing right now and decide on our priorities.”

“I’d need to make sure that the costs are within our budget.”

These answers will have identified to you that writing a proposal is not really the next best step and may, in fact, not be necessary at all. So for the time being at least, the need for writing a proposal has vanished (magical!).

With the above examples instead of spending your time and money writing a proposal, the best next steps could be:

  • Meeting with the manager (partner) as they appear to be involved in the decision making process. Who else is?
  • Asking a lot more questions to find a compelling reason for why they should solve this problem now. If you can’t find a compelling reason, chances are high they won’t be doing anything.
  • Discussing your pricing range to confirm it is within their budget.

Depending on the outcome of these next steps, it may become obvious that this is not a qualified prospect or that you to need to meet with more people and ask a lot more questions before writing a proposal.

Make it a rule that you only write proposals if you know in advance what they are going to say after they have read your proposal and are happy with the solution you are proposing. Only write proposals if you are satisfied with this answer and you know that writing a proposal is therefore the next best step for them to become your client.

(c) 2007, Tessa Stowe, Sales Conversation.

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