Did you know that there are a whole bunch of people that you shouldn't be sending proposals to? In fact there is only one person in an organization that you should be sending a proposal to and it's likely that many times you're not even sending it to that right person.
The only person you should be sending our proposal to is the buyer. It never goes to committees or gatekeepers.
Who is the Buyer
Let's start by defining who the buyer is. You know that you're talking to the buyer if they could simply say 'yes' to the project and it would go forward. You know you're talking to the buyer when the talk about the budget in terms of owning it.
This is an excerpt from my latest book Writing Proposals that Win Work. Go get a copy and stop sending off proposals that just get rejected.
They're not talking about it in some other department and they don't talk about getting approval from someone else. They don't really talk about taking it back to the committee about approval. If they talk about a committee it should sound like they put it in front of them and it goes forward because they want to move forward.
That marketing person you're talking to who was tasked with finding a designer (or developer) is not the buyer. They're the gatekeeper. The were given a task to accomplish and report back to the real buyer on.
You don't send proposals to them ever.
Now you're asking 'why not?' They asked for a proposal so it just seems polite to send one doesn't it? Sure you may feel awkward telling them you're not sending a proposal in, but you don't want to waste your time sending in a proposal to get rejected.
See the only thing a gatekeeper can do is to not pass your proposal on to the actual buyer in the organization. They only have the power to say no.
Buyers can say yes and they talk about the project in totally different terms. Where a gatekeeper talks about the tasks that need to be accomplished the buyer talks about the strategy behind the tasks.
An example would be the gatekeeper talking about how many ads you're going to put up for a marketing campaign where the buyer is talking about the effect of the ads on their business. The gatekeeper is focused on the tasks where the buyer doesn't care if you only put up one ad, as long as it produces the effect they're looking for.
Talking strategy means you can charge more since you're talking about the value you bring not the tasks you're going to do or the hours you're going to put in.
Finding the buyer
We know we want to talk to the buyer, but how do we figure that out? We don't know the inner workings of the organization and we can't see their budget spreadsheets.
As I said earlier the buyer is the one with a budget. They're the one that can say 'yes' to the project and it will move forward and a check will get cut and sent that day.
They're the ones that can change the 'net 30' payment terms to something reasonable and can get everyone you need in a meeting to actually show up.
The buyer is the one who initiated the request. They own the project and generally become the project champion while you work together. That means they knock down any blocks that come up so you can get the job done.
Anyone continually saying they need approval from someone higher up the chain isn't the buyer. Anyone that says they can't change the payment terms isn't the buyer.
How to get to the buyer
It's all good to know you need to talk to the buyer and to have some idea of how to identify them but what are you going to do if the gatekeeper insists that you can't talk to the buyer directly? What if they're guarding their turf?
To start if you can't get to the buyer don't waste your time on the proposal. Politely decline and say that you don't provide proposals without talking to the buyer first. Don't feel bad, in fact feel awesome because you're not wasting your time sending a proposal to someone that can only say no.
The first tactic to try is mutual self-interest. Say something along the lines of:
I've continually found that talking to the actual buyer yields a bunch of project concerns that other simply aren't aware of. We both want to make sure those bases are covered and we don't waste there time right?
Remember the gatekeeper isn't worried about strategy and they shouldn't be. They're job is to work on the day to day tasks of the business. They're not likely to have any idea of the strategic issues the project will need to address.
A second tactic is to try to scare the gatekeeper a bit. Say something like:
In my experience you end up getting a bunch of questions about my business you just can't answer because you're not me. Nor can you know the questions I need to ask. We're both going to look better and get to a proposal faster if I get to talk to the buyer.
This is also true. The gatekeeper can never know your business to the same depth you do. They can't draw the connections you do as you talk to the buyer and ask the extra questions that come up.
If none of these tactics work just walk away. Not only are you not talking to the buyer you're going to miss a bunch of the value in the project and end up working for less than you should. You're wasting your time on a proposal that's got a low likelihood of acceptance and you've got better things to do with your time like keep marketing and get more clients.
Don't feel bad about not sending a proposal. Only send proposals to the buyer in a project and watch your win rate increase.