In the technology age, interactivity is a must-have for any business that produces and delivers digital content, i.e., virtually everyone now. Consumers expect to be able to quickly and easily engage with the medium
delivering this content in a way that meaningfully adds value to their user experience. This value add might simply be informational-- e.g., links on a blog to supporting articles or other, related blogs. This supporting content can add value to the reader as well add credibility and validity to the opinion, theory, facts and statistics expressed and cited in the blog.
Value can be added to digital content through participatory interactivity-- e.g., functionality on a recipe page that allows users to add comments on it. Participatory content tools add to both the individual user’s experience as well as to the digital content itself. As an avid consumer of online recipes, I often return to a specific recipe link for a commonly made dish. I could get a similar recipe on dozens of SEO’d sites, but I have bookmarked one because I want the great suggested recipe improvements that I know have been added as comments.
Of course, nowhere is interactivity more crucial to the delivery of digital content than when the call to action is transactional. When one is providing content for the express purpose of convincing a customer to buy, facilitating this purchase in every way possible through interactive functionality is job one.
Companies in virtually every industry that sell through digital media, whether it be on the internet, within email campaigns, or via mobile apps are working to add and improve interactive functionality. Tools that allow customers to review products, to interact with sales/support personnel, to configure custom products, to modify quotes, orders and shopping carts, to apply coupons and discount codes, to view 3D images of products, and ultimately to transact have all been shown to enhance the buying process and increase sales. For this reason, they are in widespread use. However, there is a notable exception-- a space where this mass adoption of interactive tools to enhance sales has not occurred.
For the most part, digital transformation in general has arrived, or is pounding down the door of manufacturers. Adoption of sales automation software solutions has taken root and continues to gain momentum in the manufacturing industry. Sales teams have realized massive collective ROI through the optimization that CRM/CPQ solutions provide by digitally transforming virtually all facets of the sales process. Marketing campaigns, customer and contact management, quoting and product configuration are just a few examples.
However, the most crucial piece of content that manufacturers’ sales teams produce, what wins or loses them the business remains the proposal. And companies who make and sell physical products using a sales team have been and continue to be a laggard in providing dynamic, interactive proposals to customers and prospects. The PDF, the staid, static, virtually functionless PDF, remains the medium most often used for creating and delivering proposals to B2B buyers of manufactured products.
Currently, a buyer’s RFP for, e.g., $10 million worth of custom pumps will typically get them ten static PDF proposals from ten manufacturers’ sales reps. Meanwhile, back in the digital age, a 16 year old can find, choose and buy a $100 video game on a mobile web store in a UI that gives him reviews, demo videos, chat and one-click purchase to support his buying UX.
This is the case, despite the fact that:
- The PDF format is inherently static and doesn’t lend itself to interactivity between the creator/sender and the recipient.
- The proposal is the end, crucial client facing deliverable that sales automation solutions ultimately produce.
- A far superior medium for supporting interactive quotes and proposals, HTML, is and has been available for decades.
Modern sales automation solutions leverage HTML web pages, typically sent via links in an email containing a personalized message, as the medium for delivering quotes and proposals. This facilitates the support of interactive functionality that creates an immersive Ecommerce like buying experience for customers.
Line Items on an HTML proposal can become interactive, so they can be deleted and their quantities edited by the customer. Comments on the rep’s bid can be entered by the buyer and sent to their salesperson via email as well as accessed and archived in their CRM. Links to live chat apps with sales can be inserted into the proposal. Ultimately, the customer can accept the quote to confirm purchase with a single click. Optimally, the acceptance will convert the quote contained in the proposal to an order in the sales automation solution and notify the salesperson.
When applied to a proposal, the value of all of these interactive tools is identical to the value similar tools bring to web pages and mobile apps that sell retail products and services. They engage buyers, foster a collaborative, immersive buying experience, differentiate sellers brands from competitors and increase sales. A PDF provides information. Truly digital, interactive proposals sell product.
A PDF also lives on an island, i.e, while most sales automation solutions support proposal templates, customization of individual proposals and email delivery of the PDF, once it is sent, the proposal is disconnected from the software. No information comes back into the system from a PDF. Modern HTML based proposals are delivered via secure URL’s that are part of the sales automation solution itself. So information and interaction collected by all of the interactive tools the proposal provides are all delivered and archived in the software. The opening of the proposal, repeat visits to it, time spent on it, clicks on links on it, comments gathered by it, can all be tracked. The proposal is associated with applicable customers, projects, events like trade shows as well as the sales reps that sent it. This data increases salespeople’s efficiency, but can also be leveraged in reporting and business intelligence and analytics tools to increase sales leaders’ visibility into the sales process.