RFP Responses – When to Pull Back

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Far too often vendors invest incredible amounts of resources in RFP responses and resulting Scripted Demos – even when they know they have little (or no) chance of success. If your organization wins fewer than 50% of the RFP’s you respond to, you may want to consider making a change to find better investments for your team’s time and energy.

If you believe you are in a poor position in an RFP response process and none of your requests for gaining access to the customer for a Discovery conversation or re-ordering the script have been permitted, consider pulling back – saying “No” to the customer. [Gasp!]

Here’s why you might want to contemplate this strategy (particularly before investing additional time and substantial effort in a demo competition):

You may be on the customer or consultant’s list of vendors to show that they covered a sufficient number of vendors before making their decision – even though the decision had already gone to the vendor who is first on the list. This is known as being “Column Fodder” (from Solution Selling). Corollary: Be First!

You may not have sufficient capabilities in your offering, particular in comparison with your competition.

Be honest with yourself – if you don’t have a reasonable chance, then don’t invest the resources. Don’t “live in the land of hope”…! If you don’t really have a reasonable chance to win the business, then decline the competition – and invest your team’s time and energy in sales projects that have a higher expectation of success. In these cases, it may be better to fail fast, fail early, and fail cheaply…

Consider Pulling Back When:
• You are clearly not column “A” – the RFP was clearly written for another vendor
• You’ve had no access to the customer for Discovery conversations – the resulting RFP is simply a list of features and functions without context
• The RFP response time was too limited – this suggests that a decision has already been made for another vendor, but the customer’s purchasing process requires multiple vendors be “evaluated”
• There was no ability to change or modify the RFP – again this suggest that the customer has already made a decision in favor of another vendor
• There was no ability to change or modify the demo script – this could be an effort on the part of the customer to establish a “level playing” field – or it may favor another vendor’s offering
• These is no clear Critical Business Issue – the sales opportunity may like end in “no decision”
• There is no Critical Date or Event by when the customer needs to have a solution in place – ditto
Many vendors report that when they do Pull Back and say “No”, customers often come back to the vendors to ask the vendor to participate!
Accordingly, be prepared to negotiate for what you want if the customer says, in response, “But we need you to participate”. Define and know what you want to ask for.

For example:
• Access to the customer/business players/key users
• Ability to rearrange the script
• Adding rows to the RFP – that are included in a subsequent revision

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