What HR Can Learn from Effective Sales Proposals

A sales proposal has three basic objectives.

  1. Demonstrate to prospective clients that you fully understand the issues they’re facing and that you “get” what matters to them.
  2. Persuade the prospective client that you have the expertise, competence and support to deliver an optimal solution effectively and professionally.
  3. Provide supporting evidence and a clear rationale that can serve as justification for the prospect’s decision to commit.
    Photo by nlst6dh, Flickr

Most importantly, an effective sales proposal reflects the challenges and needs of the prospective client and focuses on overcoming those challenges and satisfying those needs. It doesn’t try to convince by listing the features of the products and services being offered. And it never attempts to force a prospect to buy.

To be successful, the proposed solution should help the prospect solve problems, achieve objectives and look good to the rest of the organization.

So what does this have to do with HR?

Aside from the fact that the actions and influence of HR have a direct impact on the way customers are treated by staff, the HR function itself involves a lot of persuasion:

  • Persuading employees to follow policies, complete training, and resolve differences.
  • Persuading managers to complete performance reviews on time, provide appropriate feedback to team members, and address performance molehills before they become mountains.
  • Persuading executives to incorporate HR planning at a strategic level, support leadership and other employee development initiatives, and provide an adequate budget to fund competitive and discretionary compensation.

If HR Professionals take the time to apply the fundamentals of sales proposals to their communications with the people they’re seeking to persuade, it might help overcome some of the resistance they commonly face. As an example, consider the following guidelines for writing an effective sales proposal when we swap out the word “customer” and replace it with “employee.”

  • Clearly demonstrate the employee’s perspective in your solution.
  • Address your employee’s issues and concerns, and provide clear solutions for each.
  • Cite your employee’s name and needs frequently [throughout the proposal].
  • Mention the employee before you mention your organization in paragraphs and sentences.
  • Focus on the benefit to the employee rather than on the many great features of your solution.

Not every HR interaction involves persuasion. Sometimes there are simply policies that must be communicated and rules that must be enforced. But, as Mary Poppins would say, “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” In much the same way, the art of persuasion and a few basic sales proposal techniques can help elevate some of HR’s challenging conversations to a win/win proposition.

As Daniel Pink describes in his book, To Sell is Human, we all spend a significant amount of every work day persuading others—as much as 24 minutes of every hour! Good sales people understand that potential customers are people first and that, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Employees are also people first and they typically react in exactly the same way when someone tries to shove an idea at them.

Effective HR practitioners know this and become adept at persuading others by taking the time to understand their needs and by focusing on what matters to them first.


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