Based on the evolution of sales processes in my company, I uncover why a certain manual technique of creating sales proposals turns into a problem. I also reveal examples of exact solutions which worked for us.
You'll Keep Wasting Time in Sales Unless You Automate Your Sales Proposal Creation Process
The process of selling high tech, high value creative services is expensive. I learned this while running a web consultancy where we sell digital marketing strategy services and custom eCommerce and B2B website development. Driving your sales costs down as much as humanly possible is important if you're looking to scale your growth profitably, but there's only so much you can do as a human.
We spent the first four years of our company's existence creating sales proposals manually.
I was alone in sales and my day looked like this:
- open Microsoft Word
- find the last proposal I sent to the client yesterday
- copy and paste from it
- modify, modify again, and spend hours doing so
- double check and triple check
- save the new proposal on my hard drive as a new document
- email the proposal to the client as an attachment from Outlook
- wait for the client to respond.
People who are still creating sales quotes like this are usually shocked to find out just how much time they've been wasting and that they might have lost some business due to their own mistakes they never even noticed.
They are also pleased to know that they haven't come nowhere near their true sales potential.
Let's go and uncover the problems arising from manual sales document creation process.
You'll have trouble sharing your sales proposals and sales templates
Most people use Word, PowerPoint or Excel to create sales proposals manually. At first, it seems like a no brainer to use Word to create a simple sales proposal, save it as Word template on your local hard drive and reuse that template every time you need to create a new proposal. Everything works fine as long as you're alone in sales and as long as your hardware and software is brand new and functioning.
And then you hire a new colleague in sales. Suddenly you have the need to share your sales templates with her. Your first solution is to create a copy of all your Word template documents and send it to her so that she could use them, daily. Now you have one set of copies on your local disk and she has her own set of copies on her local disk.
It's hard to maintain (update and improve) sales templates
This works great as long as there's no need to update and improve your templates, which - if you're anal about templates like I am - happens almost every day. After a few weeks of sending updated template files to your colleague daily (via email or by throwing her a USB stick over the room), you come up with a better solution: you'll keep shared Word templates on a shared drive which everybody in the office has access to. You feel like a genius for solving the issue in such an elegant manner.
It's not easy and/or cheap to access your work documents outside of your office
Not for long. This solution lasts until your shared drive crashes (you have been creating backups religiously, right? Every day? In three copies saved in three different places?). Or until you want to access those templates from home for a sales lead which cannot wait until morning. Or until your company hires a third salesperson - working from an office in another city. But aren't you a smart person! You've heard of VPN connections which enable employees to access shared office drives from anywhere.* The only problem is that procuring VPNs is like hiring creative services: you can have them fast, cheap and good. Pick any two.
Growing technical challenges and obstacles for your sales team members
Screw the VPNs. You're now leasing a web server for 24/7 access to all your sales documents! The one trick sales geek slowly becomes the organizer of everything IT in your company. Soon enough you'll be teaching your growing sales team how to use FTP to upload and download files from and to a web server. The number of places where you store company documents grows with every iteration in which you do your best to keep your department profitable and yourself sane.
And then you discover the savior: behold, Google Docs and Google Drive! Screw the web server and FTP applications, your sales team is moving to the cloud! No more Microsoft Word documents saved to local disks. Hello document version control that comes with Google Docs out of the box. Hello neatly organized folders in Google Drive, where everyhing is searchable, findable and organized by you personally. Hello true collaboration between colleagues working thousands of kilometers apart from each other. You're in heaven.
You're still manually shuffling physical documents on some disk, which is not exactly automation
Hold your horses, sales rockstar! you've only solved half of the puzzle (the collaboration part and the secure storage in the cloud part). You still haven't automated anything because your team's idea of a product / services database is now a row in a table in Docs or Sheets from which you copy, paste and delete. Copy, paste and delete: that doesn't sound like much automation is happening here, does it? You're still manually shuffling documents on a disk. You can't clone proposals into invoices once you successfully close the deal - at least not without triple checking the invoice document for errors. Numbering of your documents isn't automated and you waste extra time and effort just to make sure your sales document numbers follow an uninterrupted numerical sequence. Here's a post with a reason why every sales proposal must be enumerated. You still cannot perform a myriad of little actions which save you a lot of time and prevent stupid mistakes.
To summarize: your company grows and so do the problems and expenses in your sales department
It's because you're trying very hard to organize your sales with inadequate tools such as Office applications. These tools are inadequate because:
- they can't keep your sales documents well organized in one place,
- it's hard to quickly search and find documents using various filters and search criteria and
- template maintenance rapidly turns into a sales manager's nightmare.
You can easily teach yourself the necessary routines because you're zero overhead to yourself, but your challenges will multiply with every new sales team member to train. You should be busy selling and training people how to sell; outsource everything else to robots.
Use the solution that worked for our digital agency
Ditch your text processors and hard disks and acquire a decent sales proposal application which:
- is hosted in the cloud (your sales documents are stored online, on a network infrastructure secured by the best storage vendors in the world)
- stores products / services in an easily retrievable database, from which
- you can create sales templates, which are the basis for
- fast creation of individual sales proposals.
You'll stop wasting your time because you'll be able to create your product / services database once in one central place. For example, if your sales quotes must contain a line item called "AdWords Campaign Setup", you'll be able to create a service called "AdWords Campaign Setup" in the database so that you could embed that item in a sales proposal within seconds. Create as many services in the database as your business needs.
From individual database items you'll be able to create all the templates you need, store them in one central place and have the templates at your sales team's disposal 24/7. For example, let's say that you specialize in social media campaigns for retailers. Why not create a sales proposal template for your turn-key services with multiple line items on the document, and reuse that template every time you have to create a sales proposal for a retail client who asks for social media services? And when you hire a new sales team member, your sales template teaches her what needs to be present on a sales proposal in order to successfully and profitably sell your complete service. She'll make fewer mistakes in sales.
Template maintenance nightmare becomes a thing of the past: as soon as the sales manager updates a sales proposal template, every other member of the sales team will get the updates, without physically "receiving" them (templates are hosted in a centralized web application and there is no need to send files via email or on a USB stick anymore).
Use sales proposal software made for your particular industry
Niche applications are great because they've been built to understand your business processes and solve the challenges you're facing every day.
For example, we use Simpfinity - our own app which we've built because we couldn't find any other application that would cover all the needs of a typical web development agency. There were other great apps out there, but almost none of them covered sales and project management and client support processes, so before we ended up using three apps instead of one, we built Simpfinity.
Tell us your stories about wasting time while doing tedious work manually
Most of us start in chaos and only education and good information saves us from wasting precious time. I'd love to hear about the way you do your work now and in the past. I'm eager to learn from my peers because on my personal journey to being organized optimally I can never reach the finish line.