We’re all too well aware of the enormous amount of work that goes into the preparation phase of every client IT project. From the idea stage (we need to replace the server architecture) to actually being able to send a proper quote ($18,500 with labour cost) the MSP spends dozens of hours coming up with the IT project plan and the numbers. The hours are tracked as “sales” hours spending time on those quotes but at the end of the day most of those projects never take off. Everybody is bummed, the client calls off the opportunity, the team writes off the time to a “lost opportunity” category and life goes on. However there is a totally legitimate, battle-tested sales tactic that a few MSPs use to cut this unproductive and morale-draining busy work. Let's get into the details.
What is the real problem?
Once you do the work and prepare the IT project quote, then three things can happen:
- Client loses interest during the process, the pain is not there anymore and the issue is pushed to “next quarter”
- Client realizes they have higher priorities seeing the $18,500 quote and saying “we did not budget it in”
- Client starts negotiating but eventually goes ahead
The real problem is that the client receives all the critical information needed for the decision only AFTER you’ve poured dozens of hours into the project scope and planning process, and when the pain and problems are likely not that pressing anymore. That leads to lost opportunities AND time.
The information came too late in the process and was probably much more precise than needed for actually making the decision.
How to fix this?
Salespeople use a process to overcome this problem. Their goals are:
- Strike while the iron is hot - “move things along while they’re in focus“
- Qualify the client’s budget against the solution - “are they ready to pay?”
- Make a “reversible” decision - “do not be pushy”
- Get a “letter of intent” from the client - “evidence of the priority”
They are not pushing people or being salesy. They want to deliver all the information to the client as soon as possible for decision making AND to get proper feedback, to enable them to invest in the opportunity.
They want to move the decision making way up in the process in order to qualify good opportunities and avoid those with less chance of success.
The two best practices they are using are the price testing and the pre-approval in order to move the decision event PRIOR to the excessive work of planning and quoting.
Step 1. - Price Test
The first thing to qualify a client for a certain project is a price test. This is a verbal agreement from the client that within certain conditions they are good to go. At this point it’s pretty hard to guess the right price for us (lack of proper scope) or to commit to any price. So they are qualified for the opportunity with a price test to make sure it’s worth the time.
They use a price range ($16,000 - $20,000) rather than a hard number ($18,500). This reflects the assessment of the magnitude of the work. It does not really make a difference if it is $16,000 or $20,000 to make the preliminary decision. But the client isn’t left guessing between $5,000 or $100,000 and has a reliable budget range.
Second, the salespeople cannot commit anything to the client yet. Instead of saying: “This would be about $16,000 - $20,000 to deploy the solution. Can you afford that?”, they’ll say “last time we solved this problem for a similar size organization it was about $16,000 - $20,000; is this in a range worth solving the problem?”.
You see the difference?
Managed Services Platform Tips
- The IT project roadmap is a perfect place to play with numbers in the budget sheet
- Predefined project templates help to vaguely scope the projects without extensive work
- As these projects are likely going to be custom feel free to add the templates to the roadmap and start editing with them
Step 2. - Pre Approval
Talking is useful but writing is a different level of commitment. Most clients do not realize how much work goes into the project preparation phase, and innocently send you to craft a proposal like they’re fishing. If they realized that this is a bigger commitment on your part, they might take this more seriously.
When companies are making their bigger deals involving a lot of work from both parties they sign a paper called “Letter of Intent”. This agreement is not legally binding but strong enough to demonstrate interest from both parties to invest more time and money.
In your case this is something like a “Pre Approval”. The pre approval requires only a number from the price test and a defined results and outcomes to solve the problem.
If the project scope is templated then you are able to get approval right away. If not you can write a quick brief and send for pre-approval.
Managed Services Platform Tips
- The proposal process is ideal for asking for pre-approval
- You can link your “Terms and Conditions” to the proposal to offset legal obligations
- You can use the note section to state that this is only a “letter of intent” and not legally binding
This is how you protect your time and resources and work only on IT project plans and quotes if both parties have agreed on the boundaries. Most managed services providers are operating in a high trust environment with clients. If the client is aware of the “additional work” needed to actually prepare a proper quote, understands the goal of a project and knows the potential investment, they can easily pre-approve multiple projects. That puts the tech team in a better position to invest more time in higher probability opportunities and not hustle opportunities with no potential for success.