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  • Mercer Smith-Looper

6 ways PDFs harm your sales process

Culturally, we like to point out outdated things, like classic fashions, older phones or computers, political practices that are behind the times. These types of things are fodder for sometimes-judgemental social commentary. But with ancient business practices, that’s not the case. You’d probably notice and comment if you saw someone using a cellphone that looked like this:

But you wouldn’t if someone sent you a PDF, even though the two things came from the same year (1993). However, just like the cellphone pictured above lacks the form and function of modern cell phones, PDFs lack many features that new technologies used for contracts and the sales process have. Here are six reasons why you should reconsider using PDFs in your sales process.

PDFs are hard to work with

When you send a PDF to someone, they are never delighted to receive it. The first thing that runs through their mind is probably figuring out how they can find the file on their computer after downloading it and what they need to use to open it. Once they’ve done that, it’s the struggle of figuring out how and where to annotate it and change the font back to a standard size and color.

Beyond that, the PDF file may be too large to fit in a typical email, depending on the file size. Sometimes you’ll need to zip a PDF to be smaller to send or send it using a third-party tool like Dropbox. By choosing to move away from PDFs, you take all of the extra steps out of engaging with whatever content you’re sending your customers. You want your sales process to be as smooth and as easy for the customer as possible, and PDFs certainly aren’t that.

They aren’t customer-focused

Given how tricky it can be to get a PDF open, sending one emphasizes to the customer that it isn’t their ease that’s at the top of your mind. That’s especially the case given that, usually, PDFs are a contract or something that you need the customer to sign or review for the deal to close. You’re sending them something they need to handle with a tool they have to take extra steps to use.

Using a third-party service or requiring your customer to download functionality to sign a doc makes things more difficult for them rather than easier. The fact that PDFs aren’t always mobile-optimized doubles this difficulty. If a customer is trying to navigate the contract on their phone, they may run into trouble with file download locations and what size the document presents as on a mobile screen. Mobile web traffic accounts for 52.6% of all web browsing, so there’s a strong likelihood that at least some of your users will run into this trouble.

In the sales process, you want to ensure that your customer doesn’t have any entry barriers—having to download an additional tool even to sign a contract or review a proposal is a huge blocker to the sales process’ progression.

They lack clarity

Outside of using a third-party tool, there is no way to direct a user step-by-step through a PDF. Without the added guidance, you can expect to send a PDF back and forth at least once to ensure that the customer fills out all appropriate pieces of information correctly.

Companies with a more formalized, guided sales process generate 28% higher revenue growth and create better-ranked experiences for their customers. A PDF is like the wild west, with very little ability to guide or structure the customer experience. Choose an option that allows you to custom-fit and give customers the assurance and guidance they need as they go through your sales process. You’ll create a better customer experience and save your team time. 

They are hard to replicate and scale

Ideally, you want the number of sales that you are completing to grow and scale. But PDFs aren’t scalable, especially if you are trying to create them with fillable sections to work around some of the issues with usability that we mentioned above. Every time you want to make a change, you need to recreate and redesign them. You can’t just copy and switch out text easily by default with a PDF like you can with more flexible documents, and the process of changing them can’t be done “on the fly.”

As you grow, you’ll need to put processes in place that make your job easier rather than harder. PDFs will slow you down and make things difficult right when you are trying to pick up speed. Establishing urgency is an issue for 42% of salespeople—don’t let your ability to move quickly through the process slow down your customers unnecessarily.

They are unattractive and boring

When using PDFs, you put yourself at the whim of whatever technology the person receiving it needs to use to open it. By the time the customer opens it, it may be compressed, stretched, or otherwise changed from the original version you intended to send. Beyond that, you can include nothing other than text and images in a PDF—no videos, no moving animations, and, as we touched on above, no guidance for how the user should interact with the document.

According to a study by DemandGen, interactive content gains two times more engagement than static content—you want your prospects engaging with your contract, don’t you?

Using a PDF limits you to just sending across images and pictures instead of putting together a living, breathing, compelling document. You should be sending something that excites your users, not bores them.

There’s no reporting

As an industry, we are hungry for data. We track sentiment, satisfaction, open rates, email clickthroughs, and even survey responses on Twitter. But PDFs are a dark spot when it comes to understanding engagement. While you can, in some cases, get a notification if someone has downloaded a PDF, there’s no real information on what they’re doing with it, who they’re showing it to, and what progress they’ve made on filling it out.

Research from HBR uncovered that 50% of high-performing sales organizations define themselves as having “closely monitored, strictly enforced or automated” sales processes. On the flip side, 48% of under-performing organizations have non-existent or informal ones.

Using customer activity data, both from within your sales documents and outside them, you can create a custom-tailored sales process for each customer. For instance, if you see that they have interacted with your form or sent it to a few colleagues but not responded to your email, you can use it to trigger a new email series to reengage them. Beyond that, having information about who has or hasn’t seen your sales documents also opens up knowledge about who the decision-makers are and any potential opportunities for expansion in the future.

Stop using them.

There are so many options outside of PDFs that will make you and your customers’ lives better. Create beautiful, living, documents that reflect the needs and interests of your customers. Use video and guided tours to add additional context to your proposals, and take the back-and-forth clarification emails out of the picture.

Creating Qwilr Pages helps you stand out to your customers and takes some of the load off of your employees. Without PDFs, it won’t take a ton of time to make changes to a document, custom-fit it with new specifications from the customer, or even make templates to move forward faster in the future. Your sales team and processes will gain more velocity, and your customers will gain a new way to engage with sales proposals and contracts.

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