The Root Cause of Lost Deals: Hint You’ll Find the Clues In Your Proposals


Last week, I was at the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) Sales & Marketing Summit. If you haven’t been before, I strongly recommend it. These are the folks behind Challenger Selling and they’re doing some ground-breaking research on what makes the customer tick and what’s required—from both a Marketing and a Sales point of view—to win in today’s challenging environment.

At the event, CEB talked about how the customer has too many choices, too much information, and not enough time. Just like you right? And that’s not all, they often have to make their decisions with many people getting their fingers in the pot. Of course, these many different people have many different views about what’s needed and those views are based on different motivations (personal and other). Picture that you’re buying a car and 5 of your neighbors will all have a say in what you get. You’d probably give up. That gives you a feel for how difficult B2B buying and selling is today.

How can you make B2B buying easier?  That was a fundamental question of the conference. Ease of buying is key. When a purchase decision finally gets made, you can be sure that the winner of the deal made the buying process easier than the one who lost the deal made it.

To be clear, easier doesn’t mean cheaper. It doesn’t mean better financing terms.  To be “easier” means to “un-complicate” things. Sometimes it means fewer choices rather than more. (Definitely read The Paradox of Choice by  Barry Schwartz). Sometimes it means start small rather than big. Always, it means to help the prospect understand what to consider and what will be needed to align members of the buying team. Certainly, YOU have to understand what’s needed to align members of the buying team.

Un-complicating the decision process – as a theme – was carried through to Qvidian’s session, where David Blume, VP Strategic Alliances (a knowledgeable and engaging speaker – no pitch given) stepped people through the 7 Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing. The presentation was called “Not All Proposals End in Marriage, Even in Vegas” and it’s based on research that’s included in Tom Sant’s book “Persuasive Business Proposals.”

I will focus on just one of the seven deadly sins, “Not Making It Easy to Understand and Use.” Now, why on earth would anyone write a proposal that was difficult to understand? One reason is that we want our proposals to sound impressive and so we use acronyms, jargon and product names. According to Qvidian’s report, “using them tends to create barriers between us and our potential customer, raising the level of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance.” I don’t remember off the top of my head what cognitive dissonance is, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t help to reinforce a ‘yes’ decision.[1]

Clarity is fundamental to persuasive communication. When people don’t understand, or feel confused or intimidated by what we’re talking about, the response isn’t to hand over a bunch of money.

Ask yourself a question, “When was the last time you reviewed the proposals your team sends out?” Have you done a win/loss analysis? How can they be simplified? Do they use too much jargon? How would revenue be impacted if we could improve our proposals?

Perfect proposals won’t guarantee a win, but proposals that include the 7 deadly sins are much more likely to go straight to – well, you know where.

Here are some actions you can take if you want to learn more about successful proposal writing, Qvidian, or CEB:

You can watch David Blume give the CEB presentation in a live webinar November 12th.

Download the report: “The 7 Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing” (I recommend you sign-up for the webinar even if you read the report. The presentation is broader and the narrative is really interesting)

Buy the Challenger Customer, the latest book by Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, Pat Spenner, and Nick Toman. And get a copy for your colleague in Marketing (or Sales).

[1] I looked it up and it means, “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.”