Collaborative Proposals

Imagine seeking out a contractor to do work at your house. You're a new homeowner, so you have no idea what this work should cost.

You reach out to five contractors, chat with four of them, and receive three nice-looking proposals. One is way more than you can afford, one is skeptically low, and the other seems reasonable. You have all kinds of questions, wondering how they arrived at their estimates and why there's such a discrepancy.

The fourth contractor asks if they can come by your house to see the space and discuss the work in more detail before sending a proposal. They visit and ask you several questions, some you hadn't even considered. You learn a lot.

Before they leave, they share a few approaches, and you align on one that feels right, along with a timeline and budget range. The budget is higher than you hoped, but you feel informed and excited.

You review the other three proposals while waiting for the fourth in writing. Who will you choose?

I've enjoyed experimenting with the fourth contractor's approach in recent new business calls with our Director of Business Development, Dan. There's something freeing about this approach.

Many prospective clients are looking to get started "yesterday," so time is of the essence. While an extra phone call or two might make the process look slow on paper, I find that having an honest, open conversation upfront can save time down the line and maybe even increase your chances of winning the work.

There's a benefit to a formal, designed proposal, but I'm more interested in the timing than the artifact.

Three contractors thought they knew enough about the job to propose an approach after the first call, leaning on their reputation and a detailed estimate. The fourth contractor slowed down the process and got curious about the work with a visit, understanding there are nuances to every job. They used this as an opportunity to get to know you and the work more closely. Through the process, they educated you and co-created an approach.

It can feel uncomfortable to throw out potential project approaches on a call and start talking about the budget. However, this openness and willingness to collaborate can encourage the same from the client. Sometimes, this is the client's first time doing the work. They don't know what they don't know. By brainstorming together, you can dig into what they're really trying to accomplish, what they can spend, and where you can add value.

In the end, it's impossible to know whether or not you're going to win a new deal, even when you hit it off with the prospective client. So, I find it rewarding to continue trying new tactics. If the client chooses to go with another agency, but we helped them realize what they need, I still consider it a win in some sense. We made a good impression, helped them find the path forward, and gained a new contact to stay in touch with down the line.

This post originally appeared in Edition No. 082 of my newsletter. Subscribe here.

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