Strategies to Produce a Winning Proposal when Stuck at the Gatekeeper

Posted on by Curtis McHale | Updated:
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Sometimes, despite all of your hard effort to secure a conversation with the buyer for your next deal, you’re going to get stuck talking to the gatekeeper.

The thing is, without talking to the buyer, you can never produce a winning proposal. If you can’t produce that proposal, you’re wasting your time.

Today we’re going to look at a few of the reasons you may not be able to convince the gatekeeper that you won’t provide more value by talking to the buyer. I’ll give you some tactics to use so that you can increase your chances of talking to the proper buyer on a project.

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They’re Not Impressed With Your Work

There is only one skill that a consultant must have to stick around for the long term. They need to know how to help their clients make smart business decisions. Are you equipped for that?

Do you know the difference between tactics and strategy? Do you know which one the buyer will want to talk about with a good consultant?

A buyer that takes you seriously as an expert will want to talk strategy with a consultant they respect. They’ll want to talk to you about their end goals and make sure that the tactics they are planning on using will fit with their end goal as far as you’re concerned.

Examples of Strategy vs Tactics

Strategy: Become the market leader of sales in the low end for our goods or services

Tactics: Offer discounts on products repeatedly. Offer reduced cost without reduced services for the first 3 years of a sales contract.

Yes, the project that you’re doing is often going to be a tactical one, but discussing the specific implementation details is not what you should be talking about with a buyer. You should be talking about how your work will fit into their overall strategy.

Great consultants will even have extra ideas for a prospect that will help fulfill their strategic goals. Tactics and technical implementation specifics are what gatekeepers worry about because that’s what they deal with in the business.

One large company I worked for was building an intranet to share information across departments. When I talked to the buyer, we talked about how the data should be shared as far as the users were concerned. At no point did we talk about any technology, it was all strategy and goals. All they wanted to talk about was how the collaboration should work for the engineers using the system. Later on, I talked to their IT department about the specific technical details. The IT department was interested in the specific tactics I’d use.

Make sure as you are producing a winning proposal that you focus on strategy.

It was Just a Fishing Expedition

produce a winning proposal - fishing expedition

It’s also possible that the whole reason they talked to you was so that they could pad out their proposal count for the purchasing department. When I worked at a non-profit we did this. We knew who we wanted to work with, but the board said that we needed three proposals to make a decision.

I sent out RFP’s to companies until I had two other proposals on the table. We glanced through them, but we were sitting down with the preferred company in our strategy meetings before we ever saw a proposal from them or their competitors.

If you talk to the buyer and they very politely send you back to the gatekeeper without engaging further in discussion, it’s highly likely that they aren’t going to choose you as their service provider. It’s quite possible that they are already talking to someone at a deeper level about the project. Hopefully, this happens early in your conversations with them so that you don’t waste too much time.

Eight Questions to Always Ask to Produce a Winning Proposal

I try to weed these out before I even get on the phone by replying to every single request for work with the same 8 questions.

  1. Why do you need X feature now and why is it more important than something else you could be building?
  2. Have clients or internal staff been asking for X feature?
  3. What would happen if we didn't do X feature? What opportunities would be lost?
  4. What will happen to your business when we finish X feature? How will it move your business to the 'next level'?
  5. How are we going to measure the success of X feature? (time saved, more conversions to email, more sales...)
  6. What is your time frame for completion?
  7. What is the budget you have allotted for the project?
  8. Who are the decision makers that will decide if this project moves forward?

If I don’t get decent answers to these questions, I don’t book a call with the prospect. Many of your prospects aren’t going to answer the questions and you should pass on working with them because they’re likely not your ideal client.

Don’t be Afraid of Setting Boundaries

Maybe you had a decent conversation with the buyer, and you even did a decent job of talking strategy with the buyer but you still got sent back to talk to the gatekeeper. Like I’ve said, this isn’t a bad thing if you’re working out a few tactical details, the problem comes when you’re sent to the gatekeeper for evaluating your proposal. It is difficult to produce a winning proposal with limited information.

As we’ve already talked about, the gatekeeper usually doesn’t have a deep enough knowledge of the business to understand if the proposal is of high value. They can judge the technical details that the buyer may not know about, but the technical details are rarely what produce a winning proposal.

To build a truly valuable proposal you need to talk to the buyer. You need them invested in the project fully. You need them to spend their time and attention with you. For me, this means that I always ensure that I get to present my proposals to the buyer of the project.

This may seem like a bold ask if you’re starting out in your career, but it’s crucial to make sure that you have the highest likelihood of winning the work. You build a process and set boundaries because they work. They help you produce the maximum value you can to your clients. Don’t be afraid of telling a client that you won’t produce a winning proposal unless you get to follow your process.

I take it as far as requiring that after I write the first draft of a proposal, we both work on it in a Google Doc. We collaborate to get it all right, and if they’re not willing to dig in with me on the proposal, I don’t go any further with the project. That means I never write a proposal if the prospect isn’t invested enough to collaborate.

By sticking to my process, I win 99% of the proposals that get written.

produce a winning proposal

You Let Them Set the Agenda

Just like you need to have a process to build a great proposal, you need to take control of the calls that you have with your prospects. Top notch consultants have goals they want to accomplish in a call and they communicate them with their prospects.

Sample Email to Prospects

Before every call with a client I send them an email that looks something like this:

Hey Bob I just wanted you to know that at the end of this meeting I need these 3 things answered so that I can evaluate if we’re a good fit for doing business together.

  1. My favorite clients are ones that are invested in the outcomes of a project. Ones that devote the needed resources. I’ll be looking to confirm that we’re on the same page here.
  2. I always feel discouraged when my clients don’t get a good ROI on their projects. I’ll be wanting to confirm with you that there is a good ROI for you before we go any further.
  3. I need to know that we’re on the same page strategically and can work together to get this project landed with success.

Do you have any questions you need answered by the end?

That email is what my prospects get a few days before our first call, after I’ve had them answer the eight questions above, and any other questions that came from their answers.

If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take yourself seriously and have a process you follow to build good proposals. That process includes how you treat every contact point you have with a prospect.

If You Can’t Get Buy-In From The Buyer

The final question is, do you put in a proposal if you can’t get buy-in from the buyer? My advice is, no. I put down a hard fast rule that I won’t provide a proposal unless I can get the buyer involved. Without their involvement, I’ll never be able to produce a proposal that is highly valuable to their business, and I am unlikely to produce a winning proposal.

What You Can Do Instead

Instead of using your time on a proposal that’s unlikely to win, do these things to make sure that you’re positioned properly as an expert next time.

  1. Dig deeper into understanding the difference between strategy and tactics so you can talk to buyers with more authority.
  2. Build a client vetting process so you can make sure you’re working with people that fit you best
  3. Build your brand so that you are the expert prospects are looking for.

If you can start talking strategy and have a solid process to use to weed out prospects and produce a winning proposal, you’ll start turning more prospects into clients.

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About the Author

Curtis McHale

Curtis is a husband, father, developer and business coach. He specializes in helping people build a business that lets them spend time with their family instead of working all the time. To learn more about running an effective business visit my website Curtis McHale.

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