Selling is repetitive work. Regardless of methodology, reps do many of the same things over and over again.
No wonder sales fatigue is inevitable.
Fatigue can set in anytime, during early pipeline filling right up to contract negotiations.
However, it’s most lethal in the sales-proposal stage: at the moment of truth. This stage is the only time when customers can sign a contract; the only time suppliers can begin to invoice, and eventually collect revenues and profits. Until then, it’s only an opportunity, not a sale.
Like nodding off while driving a car, falling asleep in sales proposals can be catastrophic. Because not only will the sale be lost, but all the time and money invested in prospecting, contacting, and relationship building will be wasted too.
Cascading Symptoms of Sales Fatigue
Sales fatigue can be difficult to see, especially when suppliers routinely respond to lots of bids.
It can feel like drinking from a fire hose, when proposal volume overwhelms. It’s then suppliers get distracted from being effective (to win) and instead focus on efficiency (to meet due dates). Imagine turning out 100s of proposals quickly and easily but winning only a few of them. What was the point?
Sales fatigue at the moment of truth has a series of cascading symptoms. Look for these early symptoms:
- Lack of an unrushed, full review of the proposal’s technical solution — at least one week before its due
- Lack of, or incomplete editorial review to unify the written voice and grammar/spell check — at least two days before due
- Proposal content that is poorly written, haphazardly formatted, and cliche crammed — because there’s not enough time to rewrite it
- The same generic, one-size-fits-all proposal submitted no matter how different customers are
If you miss the early symptoms, sales fatigue will eventually show its ugly face when you:
- Look ahead to the next opportunity & get distracted while in the middle of an important bid
- Lose a large incumbent rebid when you had the insights & the time to prepare in advance
- Lose a new opportunity where you had an inordinately high chance of winning
- Become aware that your win ratio is slipping, or has already slipped significantly
- Realize your sales proposal looks tired, dated & should have been refreshed long ago
- Emotionally prepare not to win a big opportunity by rationalizing away success
How to Combat Sales Fatigue
To combat sales fatigue, it would be easy and wrong to say “work harder: double up on double espressos.” The reality is more pervasive than that, it’s systemic.
Combatting fatigue is a matter of changing and enhancing perspectives, injecting outside energy, and revisiting the smart disciplines you’d started the year with.
And while some fixes can be done quickly, some take time and may require additional expense. Here are a few to consider.
1. Quick Fixes (often within weeks)
1.1 Bring in an Outside Resource to Reinvigorate an Incumbent Rebid
When you have a large rebid coming up, consider bringing in a consultant for capture planning and technical writing.
In addition to sharing proposal best-practices, consultants should bring industry perspectives, customer insights, and another view of the competitive landscape. This outside energy can reinvigorate your in-house proposal team with new knowledge and perspectives.
Additionally, use the opportunity to learn the consultant’s process for your next large opportunities. To do that, include an in-house resource on your proposal team to map the consultant’s process. At the end, you should not only have a competitive proposal, but also a playbook for the next time, without the consultant cost.
Whether to use an outside consultant will depend on the dollar size of your opportunity. That’s why a large rebid can make sense to invest money and increase your chances of retaining your large flagship account.
1.2 Tighten up Bid/No-bid Decision Making
Remember back in the day when you created that matrix of criteria to score whether you’d bid or pass on an opportunity? Time to dust it off, and/or simplify it to a couple of easily remembered questions, such as:
• Do we know this customer well, do we have relationships with decision makers?
• Do we have insights into their inner workings & needs?
• Are they providing a competitive opportunity, i.e. proposal turnaround time, site tours, good specifications & pricing sheets, realistic terms & conditions, etc.?
Then make sure you run all your sales opportunities through it and you’ll reduce the number of wild geese in your pipeline.
2. Mid-term Corrections (1 or more months)
2.1 Refresh your Proposal Cosmetically & Review your Proposal Methodology
Nothing says fatigue like a tired, old proposal. If you feel that way about it, many of your prospects will too.
Consider refreshing your proposal’s cosmetic design – and while you’re at it, increase the document’s persuasiveness. After all, you don’t want your proposals to be a good looking data dump. You want proposals to persuade customers to select you, rather than the competition, or staying put with the status quo.
Fill up your proposal library with the content you’d created over the last year, and don’t forget to format it in your new design style.
In addition to the cosmetic refresh, take some time to review your process responding to Request for Proposals (RFPs) and organic, self-initiated proposals (those non-RFP response ones).
Look carefully at how you work the larger, more attractive opportunities. Determine whether your process leans heavier on effectiveness (customization towards higher win rates) versus efficiency (easier production of generic proposals that may win less).
Consider adding time, resources, and start capture planning earlier for your large, attractive opportunities. Seek to simplify your process at the other end for the frequent, yet smaller dollar proposals.
2.2 Revisit Sales Plan & Zoom in on Most Attractive Prospects
At the beginning of the year you laid out plans that identified your most attractive prospects. You’d considered why you want them, and how successful you’d be securing them. Maybe you even ranked their attractiveness.
Now is the time to revisit that plan and quickly validate the most attractive prospects. If they’re still good, refocus your time and efforts on those. You won’t be able to speed up some prospects buying process (e.g., they’re on a contract purchasing cycle), but refocusing will help re-energize reps by working on the big exciting opportunities.
If you’re confident you’ll be on their bid list this year, start preparing in advance. Consider bringing in a consultant for a new large opportunity as described in “Bring in an Outside Resource to Reinvigorate an Incumbent Rebid” but consider it for a large new opportunity.
3. Long-term Prescription (multiple months)
This prescription is definitely the most complicated of any listed. But if your firm has the luxury (size, resources, and willingness) to provide reps with learning opportunities, consider these when sales fatigue is chronic.
3.1 Operational-embedded Sabbaticals — assign reps to work with their counterparts in your operations, fulfillment, or production departments. Whether it’s a week or month, it can raise reps appreciation and insight into what their customers should know and care about.
Here’s an example, although ABM did this prior to sales fatigue setting in, it shows the value of this approach.
Years ago, it was standard practice at ABM to have new District Managers (with sales responsibilities) to work their first month at night as janitors. That experience better aligned their sales pitch to the realities and constraints of the service they were selling.
It also gave them credibility and authenticity when speaking with customers, saying “I’ve been there, done that. I know what works and what’s unreasonable. Here’s a better way we can help.”
3.2 Customer-embedded Sabbaticals — negotiate with long-term partner-customers the placement of reps within the customer’s organization. Whether the positions are in customers’ call centers, service functions, wherever; customers will get an additional temp resource at no cost. The rep would get first-hand experience available nowhere else.
Of course, customer-embedded sabbaticals will be complicated, and:
• Require a great deal of trust & confidence between customer and supplier
• Depend on the feasibility of the positions to embed
• Hinge on the individual personality & skill of the rep to be embedded
But the insights and potential strengthening of customer relationships may be worth exploring this, even if it’s a one-off proposition.
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