Stop Writing Orders

So You Can Start Developing the Prospect

If you are depending on your proposal to win the job, you have already lost the war.

I received an email from a client the other day who just realized why his sales team needed his help on so many deals. He said,

“It dawned on me today….We are not SELLING!!  We are just taking an order.  My sales people are stuck on building that order based on what the client asked for. I started thinking back to when I was starting the company and doing all the selling.  I could sell to anyone… because I sold the “value” of our service.  I rarely remember a day when I took an order.  My prices (end price) would fluctuate based on the client and how bad I wanted it. How do I get them away from just taking orders?” – Frustrated Owner

Order takers don’t negotiate – until it’s much too late. The process of taking orders (customer service to most industries) is administrative. Selling is strategic. You can’t build an order until you know what people want and too often they want a lot for not much money. Good salespersons ask better questions before building an estimate.  Teams that focus on improving their prospect qualification process will have the strategic advantage when it is time to close the sale. The three steps to selling are (once again): Qualify, Position, Close.


You need to arm sales persons with some questions to better qualify the potential customers.

“What interests you in our company? How did you find us?”

“What are you basing your needs on? Would you like suggestions?”

“How will my proposal help your process?

They also need some better answers and follow-up questions.

“Yes, we are well-known and I’m glad you contacted us. Is working with a market leader important for this project?”

“This is a comprehensive requirements list. Can you tell me more about what fit and finish is appropriate for you?”

“If your goal is to find the least expensive solution, then there are companies that you can negotiate with. Is this a one-time only project or do you anticipate to need support for events in the future?”

When the answers indicate that the customer is really only shopping for best price and will not give you the opportunity to differentiate, then shift gears. Explain to the buyer,

There are two proven approaches for getting the best deal. One is to engage several suppliers and go back and forth and hope that you catch one of them at a weak moment. That takes time and won’t be of much help when suppliers are all busy, which occurs several months each year. Or, you can set your budget and requirements. If I don’t have to play bidding games, then I can offer the most value on the first pass. We both save time and money. Would that be helpful for you?”

Sometimes, the client isn’t prepared to show respect or interest in your value. Do I need to explain how to deal with that?


Once you have a qualified prospect, you may find that many customers don’t have an idea of what their budget is until a supplier gives them a number. Show them three pics of projects similar to theirs (you need a library of typical projects, three of each). Then have a value, options, and fit and finish conversation:

“Version 1 can range from $2000 to 4000 depending on size of audience, stage, and lighting. Version 2 is a higher profile event. You can add a band or other talent. We can create more looks and fanfare. This runs from $5000 to 10,000. etc….”


There is nothing wrong with learning a few scripted phrases.

“If we can provide the project scope with these two alterations for $2500, will that meet your needs? If so, let me finalize with my team and send over the contract.”

Then add,

“Would you also like to consider the other options that you liked so much?”

Don’t worry about upselling as much as getting the baseline deal confirmed. Upgrades and changes come to those that win the project.

If you build those sample project pic/budgets and load them in an iPad, you can help your team slow down the rush to ‘build an order’. Get a qualified customer with a budget and an expected fit and finish, first. If you need to build a complex proposal, at least you will have an agreed upon baseline of expectations and a clearer path to confirmation.

Tom Stimson MBA, CTS helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Since 2006, Tom has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Please send your questions to: