Feb 20, 2014

3 Questions to Ask Before Responding to a RFP

Requests For Proposals, or RFPs, are brutal. They’re onerous and time consuming to complete, and the average win rate is abysmal. You’ve got a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning most RFPs.

But in some industries RFPs are a fact of life. If you’re selling to government, non-profits or large companies you can’t avoid RFPs. They’re a part of business, and an integral part of the buying process.

If you’re going to play the RFP game, play to win. Ask these 3 questions before responding to any RFP.

Did you help write the RFP?

RFPs are rarely written in a vacuum. The technical and purchasing teams do reconnaissance ahead of time, and educate themselves on their buying choices.

This is your opportunity. Get in early, and work to influence the RFP criteria.

Companies that live and die by RFPs know the early bird catches the worm. They work to solidify relationships upwards of three years before the RFP comes to market. They take a very long view, and invest the time and effort to build relationships, understand needs and demonstrate capabilities long before the purchasing department is tasked to make a buying decision.

If you’re just responding to a RFP from MERX or another RFP source it’s usually a waste of time. Someone else has already done the legwork to win.

How many companies will respond to the RFP?

Being one of ten, fifty or one hundred responders is ridiculous. How can you win with such poor odds?

Choose RFPs where there is a clear need, and you know you can solve it.

Broad RFPs that solicit dozens of respondents demonstrate two problems:

  1. The buyers don’t know what they want? The RFP is a fishing expedition. The buyer has the attitude, “We’ll know it when we see it.” I don’t like those odds. That’s an easy way to burn your precious resources on a bid you can’t win.
  2. The buyer is shopping for the lowest price. If a lot of companies can offer a comparable solution then the lowest price will win. Selling on price sucks, and you’re likely competing with firms that will try to “buy the business.”

Focus on RFPs that have a clear connection to your products and services, and work on bids where there are less than five viable competitors. Choose a playing field where you know the other players, and you know how to beat them.

Do you have the most compelling solution?

Play to win. Do you have the best product or service for the need, and can you offer it for a compelling price?

RFPs are time consuming. They not only suck up your sales people’s time, they suck up precious management resources. Many RFPs take days to complete. Focus your time and resources purposefully.

If you don’t think you have the best solution then don’t respond. Focus on the prospects and customers who really gain substantial value from your expertise.

Choose wisely

I’m not a fan of selling through RFPs, but if your target market requires them — play to win.

Evaluate each request for proposal carefully. Do you know your products or services are the right fit? Do you know who you’re competing with? Do you know you can win? These are the starting questions to decide if you should reply.

Then give yourself a shake. Do you have an established relationship with the client? Did you help them create the RFP? If not, you’re probably late to the party, and the RFP is just a way to justify their preferred supplier.

RFPs aren’t seeking ideas. They’re seeking reasons to reject you. They’re designed to say, “No.” Only respond when the odds are in your favor.

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