3 Keys to Sell a Big or Complex Project

An IT company I work with was struggling to close clients for its network overhaul service.  Prospective clients kept disappearing–sometimes they’d explicitly balk at the price tag, other times they’d just stop responding to calls and emails.  It was especially frustrating because they could tell that many of these prospects desperately needed the kind of help they were offering.

climbing to bigger projects

© depositphotos/michaeldb

I’ve found that many businesses struggle to sell their big or complex services.  As a result, too many of their clients are smaller, less interesting, less profitable projects.  So today I want to share three tools I’ve found very helpful for landing more of the bigger, more exciting, more profitable projects you’re looking for.

Help the Client Visualize the Project from their Perspective

When my IT client and I dug into their failed sales, we found that the lost clients didn’t understand what the proposed project would look like.  This surprised us, since the proposal included many pages of details describing the timeline, scope of work, etc.  What we realized was that the clients were actually overwhelmed by all of the information, and they got the impression that this would be an incredibly complicated–and therefore overly expensive–project.

The IT company had the common misconception that, in order to justify their fees, they need to describe all the details of their work.  But in fact, I have found it much more effective to focus on the inputs and outputs the client can expect.

So they reframed their proposal to describe the project from the client’s perspective.  They described what would be asked of the client (inputs, meetings, etc.), and what deliverables and results the client can expect.  This helped clients visualize the project more intuitively, and the IT firm soon booked several large contracts.

Don’t List Component Prices Unless it’s Truly a la Carte

I recently reviewed a proposal from a design firm that I advise.  The proposal described five steps and indicated the price of each step.  At the end, it listed the total price.  I asked if clients ever ask to skip a phase, and they said: “Yes!  But we can’t let them, it doesn’t work if you leave something out.”

Many of my clients run into this situation, and I have consistently found that it is eliminated by deleting the prices from each component.  The design firm, like many companies, worried that clients would freak out seeing only the big total cost, and wonder where all that money was going.  But they found, as I consistently see, that deleting the component prices simplified their sales process.  It eliminated most of the second-guessing questions from the client: “Do we really need this part?”  “Can we cut or shrink that part?”   Because now the client sees the steps as part of a big process, instead of multiple areas of expense that need to be examined and controlled.

Price in Phases

There is one exception to the above suggestion.  Sometimes it can be effective to intentionally separate the proposal into multiple phases, and explicitly offer that can sign up for just Phase 1 now.  I find this is especially beneficial with projects that will span long periods (typically over six months), and also when your client has little or no experience doing projects like this one.

A client of mine recently solicited proposals for a rebranding project.  This was the first time he’d ever done such a project, and he was overwhelmed by the huge price tags and long timelines that came back to him.  The firm he hired broke their proposal down into several chunks, and happily suggested that he just sign up for Phase 1, and see how it goes.

I know, you want to sell the WHOLE project, not just Phase 1.  Here’s why this is a good strategy.  First of all, you will edge out competitors who are offering the client an all-or-nothing proposal.  Additionally, since you are good at what you do, Phase 1 will go great.  If you wrap up Phase 1 by describing what Phase 2 will look like, and most clients will happily engage you for the rest of the work, appreciative that you let them do it on their timeline.

Share Your Experience & Questions

What have you found effective at selling large projects?  What lessons have you learned?  Please share them in the comments below!

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