To win an RFP sales campaign - do the opposite of your instincts
42% of all formal requests for proposal or tender do not result in a procurement*
How can this be? Are not RFPs a vehicle companies use to buy products and services? In fact, they rarely fulfill that function. Ironically, RFPs are usually used as a corporate tool for de-selection of vendors. They do not help a company outline or develop a needed solution; instead they attempt to block good Needs Development in favor of an exercise in Vendor Olympics.
How do you know if you are responding to RFPs correctly?
Some key questions are:
- Does your sales process treat RFP sales campaigns differently than ‘regular’ ones?
- Do you have a separate strategy for responding to RFPs that helps you differentiate, but NOT based on feature/functionality?
- Do you track success and failure of RFP sales campaigns separately from non-RFP campaigns?
If the answer to these is ‘no’, read on.
What an RFP Really Is
First, let’s all agree on what an RFP really is. Although the Procurement department of most corporations exists to support a formal RFP approach, typically these tenders are a “document by committee” that often ends up being vague, self-contradictory, and incomplete. It is a means to “lower” the bar so that vendors can be homogenized because such comparison requires a least common denominator. As such, RFP efforts become political footballs and descend into nothing more than a mechanism to eliminate the “also-rans” – something that could easily have been done without an RFP.
Your Competitive Opening
Because of the banality inherent in the RFP process, you have an opportunity to use the entire process to your advantage. How? Because most RFP response skills are uniformly mediocre among the average sales rep. Consequently, most respondents to an RFP:
- Blow-off major elements of a professional RFP response
- Do not understand RFP “dynamics”
- Respond in a vanilla manner (same style, same bland verbiage, same marketing approach)
- Are late in preparing a response (see this post by The Proposal Guys)
Thus, RFP positioning and responses offer you a chance to differentiate.
Adopt an RFP Strategy
Think George Constanza.
Remember the episode when he did the opposite of everything his instincts was telling him to do and the results were off the charts. That is the approach you should use in developing your RFP strategy. Conventional wisdom is dead wrong.
First, you should revise your sales process so that when an RFP is introduced, the campaign strategy changes. The RFP enables you to communicate consistent “win” themes and get above those who may have been blocking your message. As you conduct your RFP response strategy, take note of how the customer reacts to each of your RFP moves; this is VERY instructive. To be successful, your RFP response strategy should be counter-intuitive; will distinguish you from the competition.
Sharon Drew Morgan offers similar advice in her post on Winning the RFP Business.
There are specific steps you should take at each phase of a formal RFP process, but the remainder of this blog post will discuss just the first – the Question and Answer (Q&A) Phase.
The Q&A Phase: What not to do
When an RFP arrives via e-mail the first response can range from lethargy to panic. Either way, vendors consistently put little effort into the Q&A phase. What little effort they do expend usually consists of a Solutions Consultant or pre-sales Engineer submitting a small number of detailed and unimportant technical questions in a less than a professional document. Meanwhile the sales rep is more worried about orchestrating the response to the RFP itself.
Making the Q&A Phase your Silver Bullet
Follow these steps in responding to your next RFP Q&A phase and you will set your campaign on the path to success
- Read the RFP introduction and background sections with care..Compare them to the technical requirements sections and look for disconnects.
- Think of all the business, financial, and operation considerations that are not being adequately addressed from their perspective, not yours as a vendor
- Then, craft a set of account-specific questions that focus on the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what/how’, and reflect the following criteria:
- Detailed: ask all the technical ‘hows’…but no meaningless technical questions
- Gap Exposing: identify requirements that should have included because of of their stated business objectives but are missing (because this is a document by committee)
- Comprehensive: addresses all aspects of the RFP with your insightful questions
- Insightful: asking probing questions not easily answered by a technician - for the questions to be routed to the business side
- Relevant: tie requested capabilities to business value
By the quality of these question, it should be obvious to the company that, compared to competitors, you are:
- More competent to address THEIR industry-specific issues
- More technically adept at assessing THEIR pricing concerns
- More experienced at solving THEIR business challenges
- More focused on THEM making more money
Future blog posts will discuss how to respond to later phases of an RFP. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on how you have successfully leveraged the Q&A phase of an RFP….
*SBI benchmark research from 2010
Author: Mike Drapeau
If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by subscribing by Email or RSS.