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Yaneek Page How to pitch a winning proposal

QUESTION: I started a workforce solutions firm in December 2022, but it has not taken off the way I expected. I sent about 80 letters to small business owners introducing them to my new services between December and now, and in my letter I asked for a meeting with the CEOs to discuss our workforce service options.

So far, the response rate is not good and I have not even had five full meetings. I currently have no customers and no income, which you know is highly stressful since I must pay expenses out of pocket from my savings. I know my services are needed because these companies do not have dedicated people-management resources. What am I doing wrong, and how can I pitch winning proposals fast?

BUSINESSWISE: There are several possibilities as to where you might be going wrong in your approach to this new firm. The first is whether the services you are offering are in demand.

Be careful to avoid the critical mistake of assuming that because small businesses lack dedicated people-management resources this is equivalent to interest in acquiring, outsourcing and even paying for those services. You will also need to confirm whether they value the services you are offering, are willing and able to pay your introductory rates, and whether they feel that what you have created is the ideal solution for them.

Therefore, now is a good time to revisit the data used to determine the extent of the need for your services since it appears that the market is not responding in the way you anticipated. There is also the possibility that the data is either outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete. You may have to conduct new research, possibly focus groups and surveys, among your target group to understand whether their needs have changed or if their ability and willingness to pay remain as projected.

My assumption here is that the prospects you have contacted thus far fall within the target group covered by your initial research. Notwithstanding, you urgently need to validate the data that underpins your business model.

Another possibility is that your pool of prospects is too small and requires wider engagement than you currently have. The reality of sales is that it is usually a numbers and consistency game, meaning that you need a continuous flow of large numbers of prospective clients to meet your sales targets.

Consider the fact that in 2021, Jamaica saw a record number of new business registrations, with over 17,000 businesses and almost 5,000 companies being registered at Companies Office of Jamaica, adding to the roll of over 200,000 registered businesses. Therefore, if you have only contacted 80, fewer than three per day over a near three-month period, that is a very low prospecting number, especially for a new business pitching new services to new potential customers.

My repetitive use of the word ‘new’ was intentional and directly related to the psychology of sales and processes buyers go through before making a purchase decision. Jamaica is a small country, and culturally, people prefer to do business with those they know and trust, especially for services that are as strategic and mission critical strategic as human resources management.

Therefore, as a new business, the approach of cold pitching may not be effective. It may be better to leverage your networks and connections, which will allow for personal introductions to the business owners you are trying to reach.

Word of mouth is still the most effective at-sales conversion, particularly when it comes from someone who can vouch for the effectiveness of your business and services and for you personally as a professional they can trust.

When it comes to sales, the old adage ‘People don’t buy when you want to sell. They buy when they are ready’, still applies. The idea that you will quickly convert introductory offer letters or “winning pitches” into revenue may be overly ambitious.

Timing is also everything. It takes time for decision-makers to consider, do their own research, and make the best decisions in the interests of their business, especially when it comes to expenditure and partnership. Also, companies often execute strategy according to their budget cycle, so your timing would need to be tactical. Note, too, that ‘introducing your services’ is not as useful in sales conversion as providing ‘solutions’ that meet specific needs.

Finally, I am a bit concerned about the language you have used and the extent to which it may or may not resonate with the target audience. For example, in Jamaica, small businesses do not commonly appoint CEOs, but instead are led by managing directors. Also, by definition, small enterprises tend to have between five and 19 employees, therefore the use of the term ‘workforce’ may alienate small business owners who might consider your services better suited for larger businesses and outside of their reach or inappropriate for their needs.

Language, and even the approach to developing a proposal, requires meticulous attention to ensure that it connects with the target audience. In fact, some small businesses may not even have the internal capacity to review elaborate proposals, and that approach, in and of itself, may alienate them.

Hopefully, the insights I have shared will provide some guidance that will allow you to revamp or expand your efforts to accomplish your new customer-acquisition goals and achieve positive financial results. Good luck and one love!

– Yaneek Page is the programme lead for Market Entry USA and a certified trainer in entrepreneurship.

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