If you had to name the biggest challenges to your ecommerce design or development business, what would they be?
Like most other agencies, you will say, “Clients who keep expanding the scope of work beyond what we agreed on!” Or, “Prospects that let me spend hours on a proposal and then shop it around or ghost me just before signing.” Maybe you'll point to customers who want extensive services on a small budget. In other words, people who may mean well but end up stringing you along, eating your time, and eroding your profits.
Rachel Jacobs, founder of Ecommerce Partnerships, shares top tips for revamping your sales process, screening out poor prospects, and pumping up your conversion rate.
Stop Scope Creep Before You Sign
I used to think there were good clients and bad clients. I now understand that nine times out of ten, it's not bad clients but a destructive client qualification process that drags an ecommerce agency down. This doesn't mean there aren't destructive projects; it just means that a lousy project usually starts from sales. The good news? If you can get the sales process right, you'll save your agency a ton of money and your team hours of heartache and stress!
I've worked directly with over 20 ecommerce agencies in the last year alone and advised hundreds more. I repeatedly hear the same sales challenges—there are not enough leads, prospects have ghosted us, and clients don't have the budget. And then there's the main threat to agency profitability: scope creep.
Sales is a huge sticking point for agencies that don't have a documented sales process. Many agency owners are so bogged down with the day-to-day business that they have no time to grow their agency effectively.
Weed Out Bad Prospects With a Brilliant Sales Process
Most agencies are so eager to get contracts signed that it's often at the expense of due diligence and, more importantly, profit.
And yet, the number one cause of scope creep (which chips away at your profits) is a poor sales process. It's almost impossible to deliver a profitable project when it's been undersold in the first place. Before anyone signs on the dotted line, you need to weed out the clients that aren't a good fit. To do that, you need a well-designed sales process.
8 Steps to Fix Your Sales Process
- Qualify – Before you make the first call, qualify the potential client by email. Essential information includes budget, requirements, and timeline.
- Send a Sales Deck – A good sales deck will let the client know more about your agency before you talk. Ideally, each sales deck is tailored to specific clients.
- Discovery Call – If a client seems promising after Steps 1 and 2, it's time for the discovery call. This is your first call to see if they are a good fit and to understand their requirements further.
- Outline the Solution – When you have a better idea of client requirements during the discovery call, it's time to outline your solution. This is also an excellent time to qualify their budget further.
- Set up the Proposal Call – At the end of the first call, book your next call to run through the proposal.
- Prepare for Objections – You can handle objections in real-time on the proposal call. Consider the questions or complaints you get asked regularly, and make sure you include those in your solution so you answer any questions before a prospect has time to even think about objections.
- Proposal Call – This is your second call, where you run through the proposal with the client to explain your solution. Never email submissions – always present them in person. You can handle objections and questions in real time.
- Send the Proposal with Contract – After the client has agreed to the proposal, send it along with a contract section immediately to get a signature.
Save Time and Boost Conversion Rates with Killer Proposals
Winning more business isn't just about having the correct pricing. It's about getting your prospect to want to work with you. It's making them realize that with your agency as Alfred, they get to be Batman!
To get them to believe, you need a proposal that knocks it out of the park.
But how do you do that? I like to think of a business proposal like a phone number—you must have all the digits in order to get the desired result.
I recommended creating a master template and making it as comprehensive as possible. My proposal template, which I will share with you here, may seem detailed, but it will save you precious time in the long run. Each time you create a new proposal using the template, you can delete the irrelevant pieces and do a quick search-and-replace for the customizable sections. When you get efficient at creating proposals, you'll spend no more than 15 minutes per proposal.
You can use the time you save for what's important — growing your business.
Your Ultimate Proposal Template
Most agency proposals start out touting their own credentials and success stories. Resist this temptation! Remember, it's not about you; you're not the hero of this story (you're Alfred, after all). When you're walking a prospect through a proposal, they only care about themselves, their problem, and how it will be solved.
You need to develop a crystal-clear plan that defines expectations on both sides. Something like: “This is exactly what we are promising you, and exactly how we will do it.” After you've presented the deliverables, justifying your pricing before you give it, offer the pricing and let the prospect respond first.
- Cover Letter: Don't just dive into the strategy and the tactics. Set expectations upfront and entice the client to read more. Think of the opening of your proposal or RFP response as the cover letter of a job application. You want this company to hire your team, but they need a more digestible summary of what you'll offer them and why you think they'll benefit from working with you. Before they read about your services, this cover letter tells them who you are. It also lets you remind them that they solicited the proposal they're about to read.
- Executive Summary: The executive summary shouldn't just summarize what the proposal says; it should state what the prospect wants, where they want to go, and what they need to get there. You should also cover your research and the steps you took to gather your recommendations. This document shows why the client should select your firm. State two apparent facts about the requester or the requester's needs upfront. These should be things that the client knows are true. Doing this first makes the reader more receptive to the remaining points. This helps you present the information in a way that prevents the client from becoming defensive when reading your recommendations.
- List of Deliverables and Services: This is the heart of your proposal document. Categorize the proposal into different sections, such as creative, technology, etc. This will make it easy for the prospect to understand the proposal's other parts and the activities you recommend. In each section, you should list the specific deliverables and indicate what is not included. This last part helps prevent scope creep from the beginning and provides an upsell opportunity for clients who may want more. Don't include pricing in this section. It will stop people from absorbing the information and getting excited about the work you can do together. Instead, they'll just be thinking about dollar signs and comparing your pricing to another firm's price, regardless of what the solution you are recommending includes.
- Project Summary and Pricing: Add an itemized list with a price for each deliverable. This isn't designed to give your client the option to cherry-pick. Avoid asking clients to choose between too many different options. Provide a solid plan of what needs to be done and what it will cost.
- Project Timeline: Present the timeline for the project.
- About Us: Save thiThethe end. Honestly, the client won't care about you until they know what you can do for them and their company!
- Contract Section: Include an agreement or contract in the proposal so the client can sign as soon as possible. Don't make them ask you: Where do I mark? Clients often go directly to your proposal's agreement or contract section, so make sure it's clearly labeled, and the signature lines are visible at the bottom.
Upfront and In-Person (or Zoom)
If you are at the proposal stage with a prospect, inform them that your policy is to present the proposal in person, via phone, or video conference. Why? Submitting in person or by video call lets you explain the details, demonstrate your knowledge of the project scope, and outline your strategy for helping clients overcome their problems, issues, and challenges.
It also allows you to overcome any objections that may arise along the way. You must be willing to walk away from anyone who won't agree to this term because if they don't meet with you, they're not serious about working with you anyway.
3 Simple Questions to See if You're Wasting Your Time
Let's look at one of the most common objections from a prospect: “Send me more information.” When your option says something like this, it means one of two things. Either something is missing, or you're wasting your time. These three simple questions will tell you if you need to help your prospect overcome a hang-up or if you're just wasting your time:
- What information would you like me to send you?
- When would you like me to send the information?
- Why do you need this additional information?
If someone wastes your time, they won't have good answers to these questions and'll give you a generic response. But a good prospect genuinely interested in working with your agency will request a particular piece of information and give you a timeline and a reason.
That's how you'll see if they're the real deal and worth your time. If this is still a legitimate prospect, agree to send the information and set up the next meeting right then and there.