When you lose an opportunity, do you wonder what went wrong?  Do you ask your prospects: “Was there something I could have done differently to get your business?”  Do you have a sales process that you follow every time, so that you know every prospect has the same opportunity to say yes to you and your company?

Frequently, small business owners are so busy doing the work they do not think about the fact that if your business is not always growing it is probably dying.  The number one priority of a business owner should always be getting new business, whether it is from existing customers or new ones.  Getting new sales must always be top of the mind for a business owner and therefore, a priority in the planning of their daily activities.

How do you get new business?  If you get all of your opportunities through your own or your company’s marketing efforts, you probably have a follow up process for the prospects that the marketing produces.  If you have a process, and everyone involved in the process follows it, you are probably getting somewhat predictable results from your process.  If you are not getting predictable results then either the people in the process do not always follow it or the process is broken and needs improvement.  If you do not have a process and you want predictable results, the best way to attain them is to develop a process and educate the responsible parties about their role in the process and expectations for any deliverables.

Other ways that prospective clients may come to your company include referrals, networking or some unexpected place like the grocery store or randomly at a meeting that you attend for some other reason than to get business.  In these instances, the buyer of is usually approaching you or someone on your team to purchase from your company.  If that is the case, then getting commitment from those prospects could be relatively easy assuming that the price is in line with the expectations.  Why is it relatively easy?  These individuals are saying “I want to buy from you,” “I think I might want to buy from you” or “I need what you are selling.”  Moreover, they are very likely ready to buy now!

So, what is your process for handling opportunities that present themselves when you are not looking for them?  Do you have a process for handling these prospective clients?  Recently, I have heard several stories of clients who have either lost business or came close to losing business because of their response or lack of response to a request for a proposal.  In one situation, the business owner was asked for a proposal and provided an extensive proposal that was far too extensive.  The prospective client asked for a simple, one page proposal.  The challenge for the business owner was that he did not have a firm grasp on the requirements he was responding to and therefore, was unsure of what he should propose in one page.  Since the opportunity presented itself in an unexpected forum, the business owner did not take the time to clarify the requirements, the current issues/status, or even the purpose of the proposal.  It can be challenging to reign a prospective client in, so that you can get the answers to the questions you have, but it is completely necessary to be able to provide a sellable solution.

Another story I heard twice in a week was of people being asked for a proposal and not getting back in a timely fashion.  In both instances, the business was lost because the prospective client was seeking multiple quotes and the one that came in first got the business.  In these situations, a few clarifying questions could have helped the business owners to get the business.  The first question should be, “what is your timeline for making a decision and/or getting started on the work?”  The second question should be, “are you considering any other companies?”  Knowing the answers to these questions could help the business owner make the decision that they should act quickly to put together a proposal for the prospect.

What is most important to get consistent results is to have a process for getting commitment from prospective clients.  The key is to remember that even if the prospect rather than the business owner initiates the sale, a process must still exist and be implemented.

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