How I Wrote Winning Proposals for Multiple Decision Makers

Throughout my career I have often found myself creating proposals for prospects who were not the sole decision maker. In many cases internal stakeholders like HR, Accounting or Operations had a say. When that was the case, I had trouble winning the business.

After one such disappointment I sat down with the prospect, a woman named Carrie, and asked what had gone wrong.

What she told me changed my approach to proposal writing.

Carrie worked for a financial institution as a sales director, overseeing a team of advisors. Our firm ran training programs for advisors, which is what I had proposed to Carrie. But as much as Carrie wanted my firm’s help she hadn’t been able to sell it to the other departments in the company. And that was a problem because, although the advisors reported to Carrie, the budget for training—out of which we’d get paid—belonged with HR. And HR wasn’t interested.

As we talked about why HR had dug in their heels it became obvious that a fairly basic social psychology effect was at work.

A couple of ten-dollar words

It had to do with a simple concept wrapped in a couple of ten-dollar words. The idea is called Reactive Devaluation. But it’s not as complicated as it sounds. In essence the phrase describes most people’s natural inclination to place less value on ideas that they didn’t come up with themselves.

Some call it not-invented-here-syndrome. In Carrie’s case, she wanted to hire a firm to help her advisors. But HR—guess what—they had issues. They were used to developing solutions for the company’s advisors. They felt they owned that role. They meant well. But reactive devaluation gave them a bias against someone from outside their department.

It’s a common problem and if you don’t recognize it and adjust for it, closing business will be tough. So what do you do about it?

Changing the game

The key to overcoming reactive devaluation is to bring all the stakeholders together in the decision-making process and find ways to make all of them feel that they are part of the successful solution. Eliminate the us-versus-them mentality.

The next time I needed to create a proposal for multiple decision makers I did a lot of things differently.

A party for everyone

Prior to starting my proposal I focused on finding out who the stakeholders were and what they wanted. As usual, HR would be part of the decision, along with the sales director. I then worked on finding ways to include all the parties in developing the solution. I wanted to create a situation where everyone felt ownership of the solution and would look good when it succeeded.

I offered to work with HR to integrate some of their existing materials into our training program and to have their internal trainers coach the advisors. That way, the advisors would see the trainers as real champions of their success, which was important to HR.

This new, cooperative model—while more work and more expensive for us—was a huge hit with both the sales directors and HR.

In essence what I was doing was building an internal business case for my solution—one that brought all the parties to the table and gave them the tools they needed to succeed.

The last word

When you’re faced with a situation in which your prospect is not the sole decision maker, it’s best to change the game. Rather than playing along with the us-versus-them dynamic, frame your proposed solution as a team effort in which everyone can participate—and win. In short, find a way to make everyone look good.

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about the author

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