A project enquiry comes in from someone you haven’t talked to before.
How fast can you reach the point where you have a draft contract ready for them, with all project details discussed and negotiated?
For software services, the reference timeframes for me are:
- 5 working days from discovery call to draft contract should be possible without stress or working the nights
- 2 weeks: standard process
- if it takes you more than 3 weeks and the potential client is waiting for you at every step, you risk losing the project just because you are not moving fast enough
Why is it important to move fast(er)?
In my experience of being on the buying side for services, I can tell you that vendors will answer project enquiries within 1 hour, several hours, 2 days and up to 30 days after getting the initial email or phone call.
Even if the prospective client tells you they are not in a rush and that you can take your time, you can bet that other companies will move fast. This means they will be able to influence the conversation and you will end up having to answer to questions or topics that you are not competitive on, just because another vendor wanted that on the table.
Duration is not timeline
Having a draft contract ready in 5 days might not sound so difficult, unless we make a clear distinction between duration and timeline.
The effective time spent (= duration) on the calls, project estimations, preparing the proposal and negotiation might be 20 to 30 hours, split between 3 or more team members: sales, technical and delivery manager (or company owner).
The difficulty lies in the fact that nobody starts their weeks on Monday waiting for a client to email them at 9:00am, having some tens of hours blocked in their calendars for new project proposals.
It’s much more likely that everyone’s calendar is almost full for the week. Other, unexpected, important and urgent topics will come up. On top of all these, you need to find the time to work on the new project proposal when that comes in.
To have even a remote chance of getting a new project from discovery call on Monday to draft contract on Friday end-of-day, you need to have:
- multiple meetings with the client
- multiple internal discussions to design the technical solution, estimate the effort, find skilled and available team members
- another stream of internal meeting to discuss the commercial aspects, pricing, budget, discounts, contractual terms
- have all this documented in the 3 separate documents that are needed, at a minimum:
- Company presentation
- Project proposal (with budget)
- Draft contract
Even the 2 weeks for the standard process looks like a big stretch with all these in mind.
“But my clients are the ones moving slowly”
Startups, scaleups, small companies, even divisions of medium-sized companies will expect you to move faster, because they move relatively quickly.
If you are talking with large, multinational companies with long decision chains, it might take them weeks to move from one stage to the next in the process. But there is a big trap in there, one I have fallen into many times at the beginning of my career in the software industry.
Big companies move slowly between stages. But at each step, within each stage, they expect fast answers. Big companies means bigger projects, with more moving parts, risks and possible unintended consequences for you, which means you actually need more time for analysis, documentation, presentation. Which means you need the skills, process and standardization in place, so you can do everything fast enough.
The bigger issue at play here is that all customers, large or small, who move slowly on their side, still expect you to answer quickly and thoroughly.
Can you afford not to do this faster?
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU
I have been involved, on the selling side, in hundreds of project proposals for software services and technology.
I know from experience that it is possible to build a process and a team that can evaluate, estimate, present and negotiate complex project proposals in a matter of days instead of weeks or months.
It’s just a matter of setting the priorities in the right places and having the discipline to not reinvent the wheel at every step.