Falling at the final hurdle

by | Mar 16, 2020

Hurdle fail

Last week, after two transatlantic flights in three days and in slightly jet-lagged fashion, I dashed off a hasty LinkedIn update / rant on the general lack of business writing training in the sales profession. Here’s a direct quote:

“Given that almost all high-value sales opportunities will end up in either a proposal or a formal bid regardless of sector or industry, we’re constantly amazed at the lack of any sort of training that most salespeople receive in this area.”

Ring any bells?

I’d been inspired by a recent trip out to San Francisco where, at the invitation of one of the largest software businesses in the world, the Sales Engine team delivered a successful training day for around 60 of their first annual intake of new sales recruits.

The sales training that these teams receive is immersive and intensive, spread across 4 solid weeks at a purpose-built campus and only those who can demonstrate the highest potential are invited to join. These are people being groomed for a high achieving career in sales, so it’s vital that they get all the tools and techniques required to help them perform at their peak.

So this year, alongside the familiar sales training themes of questioning and communication, buyer mapping, negotiation skills and sales meeting best practise, they decided to get really smart and bring in a team of proposal geeks. That’s us.

The training we delivered was focused around how to develop, structure and write powerful and persuasive executive summaries for bids and proposals. Because, as a company that supports our clients through the bid and tender process, the thing we see far too often both from newcomers and seasoned sales professionals alike, is poorly written executive summaries. Mostly these bang on about themselves and how great they are, with little to no discussion of the customer they’re supposed to be writing it for. They also frequently don’t align well with the work done by their bid/proposal team who have actually been trained how to curate compelling content, and so do a better job of the rest of the document.

To say this is a wasted opportunity is an understatement. Bids and proposals typically arrive at the end of a long line of investment, effort and time not just from the salesperson, but also from all the other supporting teams including marketing and demand gen, product, pre-sales etc. They also arrive at the point of highest revenue generation and their job is to act as your sales tool within your customer’s organisation.

Our CEO Steve Robinson had this to add:

“It is fascinating how central to sales success writing powerful and compelling executive summaries and proposals is. Yet a ridiculously small number of salespeople have actually been taught how to do it. Picking up your predecessor’s proposal content or approach to an executive summary won’t cut it in today’s competitive environment. Time for sales leaders to step up and start giving their teams ALL the tools they need to win business!”

Whether you like it or not, if you’re in high-value B2B sales, writing proposals and executive summaries is almost certainly part of your world. The executive summary is the one document likely to be read by ALL of the key decision makers and influencers, so it should be your company’s best work, not the thing written hastily at the end by someone with strong sales skills but no formal training in writing winning content.

In this new era of sales enablement, why would you give your teams all the resources, collateral and skills they need to succeed at every stage of the sales process EXCEPT the final, critical one where they need to actually communicate the entire proposition in written form. It makes absolutely no sense and costs your business money!

So, if as a result of the current environment you find yourself travelling less and with more time to reflect than normal, maybe you should take a moment to review the written content of your sales teams. Ask yourselves whether it really is as good as it should be, and if you haven’t given your teams the training and support they need to do this critical function well, then feel free to contact us and we can help you plan to drive change where it will have the greatest impact.