Propped Up

You're a saleman. You live or die on the proposal that you write. It's your future, and it's all in your proposal.

When you meet with your prospect, your job is to hand him a great-looking proposal. That alone is your deliverable. All the equipment and workers come later. For now, you sit face to face with your important prospect as you ask him to write you a check for $100,000 or more. All you have given him is your proposal...really just some pieces of paper. They had better be some good pieces of paper!

After many years of designing, selling, and installing large-scale residential, and commercial AV systems, I became frustrated with the process of writing proposals. I wanted something that would automate my proposal process and give me fast, dependable results. It was my job to design the system, write the proposal and close the sales. I searched all the tradeshows, but the products I saw were too expensive and cumbersome for me.

So my company began working with a software design team to create a no-nonsense solution. For 12 years we used it to sell millions of dollars of high-end systems to my elite clients in Colorado. We kept improving the workflow until I can now write a $100,000 proposal in about 10 minutes. It worked like magic, so we called it BidMagicAV.
Since news of that software has spread, I have had lively discussions with more than 100 installation companies. I found new companies often create proposals manually with Word or Excel. Many used QuickBooks for accounting, so they tried to use it for their proposals.

As companies grew, many told me they were frustrated and were searching for software that would help them move their business to a higher level, but not at the cost of overwhelming them with additional tasks and complexity. These conversations gave me new insights into the process.

Managing any company consists of creating a system that allows you to control it and refine it. McDonald's has a system so well refined that goofy 16-year-old kids can run the restaurants. How do you think a bunch of 16-year-old kids would do running your business? Even though your jobs vary, a systemic approach is vital. You obviously can't manage anything with a bid written on a word processor.

Hidden within the proposal process, I discovered 10 keys that allow us to manage our entire businesses. The process of setting up whatever proposal software you choose should empower you by unleashing management power. The proposal creation system itself is a powerful system management tool. Involve your whole team in making these decisions.

1. There are millions of products you could sell. Entering these products selectively in your system is a critical management tool. When you become a dealer for one company and not another you are making a vital management choice for your future.

2. Now, establish the products table in your proposal software that limits the products from these suppliers to exactly which items you choose to sell. Are you a Crestron dealer? Do not enter all of its products into your proposal system. If you tried to sell and stock every SKU, then that would be bad management. Choose only your favorite models of touchscreens, card cages, and interface devices that fit the profile of your company and the price points of your target clients. Pre-design exactly what works for you. Entering these choices into your proposal system defines your company image and differentiates you from your competitors.

3. Establish set prices for every product you sell. Set your markups and control your profits in your products table. Use the software to set selling prices that are automatically pulled in every time you create a proposal.

4. Establish a standard installation price for every product in the table. Do you need two hours to pre-wire that pair of ceiling speakers? Does it take a half hour to trim them out and another half hour to finish the hookup and testing?

5. Figure standard prices for cable, hardware, and programming that are included every time you install that product. Also include any accessories and create reusable template systems and modules that you can modify to sell again and again. This speeds proposal creation and guards against forgetting important accessories.

6. Think about all the time you will spend designing this system, coordinating with the architect and builder, ordering and delivering the products; doing all the rest of the "office" and "legwork" time required. Drawings can be done with CAD or Visio. All of this must be factored into the proposal's bottom line.

7. After your "standard prices" for installation, cable, etc. are set in stone-only then can you take management to the next level. No job is standard, so your system needs the power to quickly adjust charges based on any unusual requirements.

8. Do you really know how much money you made on your last job? Did your team finish the job in the hours you bid? You cannot manage anything without this feedback. A job profit report gives you this information. Then you can evaluate who, what, and why-and improve the process.

9. Knowledge is control. This is the payoff for good management. You can now look at your last job results and adjust every element of the process. How many hours did you really take to put in that Middle Atlantic rack system? Adjust your price for next time. Did your installers go nuts fighting control problems with that video projector? Remove that item from your proposal software, and your salespeople won't sell it again.

10. When you set up automated prices in your proposals you gain the power to manage every part of your installation and your profits. This gives you confidence to go out and sell, more power to grow your business, and hopefully more time to enjoy it all.