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Part 1 of 2: Followbright And The Case of the Big Proposal Request

By Erin  |   Business Website Tips

proposal please speech bubble

The phone rang.

It was a late afternoon in the third week of April, 2012.

I quickly saved the email I was working on, switched on my headset and answered, "Followbright, this is Erin. How may I help you?"

From the other end of the line a man with a mild French accent spoke, "Yes, hello. My name is Arnold and I'm looking to speak with someone about getting a quote for a new website."

The call came in from Canada, the man represented a company in the luxury custom furniture industry, and we spent the next hour exploring the company's goals, expectations, and needs.

I'm sorry, we can't help you.

Although I've handled all client and prospect communications for our web design & development company for over a decade now, and as much as I'd love to say that I instantly bond and rapport with each quality prospect that calls in, that's simply not the case. We're not right for everyone. And as this call continued on, my gut was telling me we weren't a perfect fit for Arnold. He seemed skeptical and aloof, and though I couldn't see him, I know for a fact he never smiled once during our call.

And then, as our call neared the one-hour mark, he asked the question: "Okay, Erin. So when can you send us a proposal?"

I sighed. I sighed because I knew what I was about to say next was most definitely not going to turn his frown upside down.

"Arnold, I'm so sorry, but we're not going to be able to provide you with a proposal."

Pause.

I continued, slowly. "It's not because we don't want to, it's because we can't. We can't possibly provide you with a solution that would be of any value  whatsoever after speaking with you for just an hour. For smaller, simple projects with straightforward goals, we can absolutely propose simple plans of action after initial conversations (we always need more than just one, though). However, your company is looking to potentially invest tens of thousands of dollars into a website and online strategy, and you're expecting that website and strategy to have a tremendous impact on your company's bottom line, correct?"

"Correct."

I continued. "So here's the challenge: For us to pretend we know what services or products or strategies or actions would make your company the most money and have the biggest impact after a 50 minute introductory chat would be unethical. It would just be downright wrong, and we don't do that to people."

Think about it this way

"Arnold, may I ask you a question?"

"Yes."

"Would you feel confident with a quote for a new custom home if it was prepared for you by a home builder who'd sat down and chatted with you about your preferences and ideas for, say, an hour or so? Would you expect them to put together a master plan with all the details and pricing after getting to know you for an hour?"

"No, of course not. But look—all the other companies I'm talking to are giving me proposals. That's why I'm asking you for one."

My analogy had fallen on deaf ears. PNP (Proposal Now! Paralysis) was winning.

"Arnold, do you feel these other companies have a clear understanding of all your needs, goals and challenges? And that it's possible for them to be clear about the exact website and marketing strategy your company needs after just one call?"

"I don't know. But that's how we're doing it."

"Hmmm. Well, Arnold, I'm wondering... are you even clear on what you're looking for at this point?"

"No."

"I guess then, well, I guess I'm struggling to understand why you feel a web company would be able to tell you exactly what you need after one chat?"

"Look, like I told you: we're collecting proposals and we're going to compare all of them and see which proposed plan would give us the most value. That's how we're doing it."

"I understand, and that's very common. Unfortunately, Arnold, I'm afraid we won't be a great fit for you. We just can't know what you need or put together a plan for your business unless we're able to do a "deep dive" with you. We can't make recommendations about how to solve your problems when we aren't yet clear about what those problems even are yet."

Pulling a detailed, effective plan out of thin air? It's not possible.

I took a breath and continued, "You're considering copywriting, positioning strategy, a brand new website design, Content Management System, and hosting. You're considering Inbound Marketing to generate leads to your site after it's launched. Yet you're not actually sure about what you really need and honestly, at this point in time, I can't be either. Putting together a plan that's right for you requires collaboration, exploration, and time. To be confident moving forward we'd need to work together to create a master plan—a Website Blueprint that would maps everything out, eliminate guesses and assumptions, and ensure we're all on the same page—for the right reasons."

"Hmmm. Ok," Arnold answered. "Maybe we'll think about that." 

I knew that was a polite way of Arnold saying, "No thanks," and I was fine with that. I could tell his mind was laser-focused on getting proposals and nothing was going to change that.

We each said thank you and goodbye and hung up the phone.

I leaned back in my chair and sighed. I was exceedingly curious as to how Arnold's company was going to reach a confident decision about who they'd choose. And even more curious as to what web companies were going to propose for such a large project based on quick call with Arnold.

The story doesn't end here, though.

Check out part 2 of this story to find out what happened next.

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