Share on LinkedIn

I was doing a Q&A after a keynote at a SKO. It was a very sharp group of sales people committed to improvement. A question came up, “Dave you talk about how we differentiate ourselves through creating value with the customer, helping them make sense of what they are trying to achieve, helping them have great confidence in their decision. But a large part of our business is RFP’s. We’re constrained by the structure of the process of the RFP’s, how do we help customers with that.?”

It’s a great/challenging question, particularly for sales people doing government and public sector business. Many of those organizations are mandated to manage purchases through a RFP process. Even private organizations often resort to RFP’s to help better define and manage their own buying journey.

Perhaps to buy time to think of a response, my immediate response was, “I never respond to a RFP that I didn’t write!”

While there is a touch of arrogance in that statement, it does give us a clue to how we adapt our selling process to organizations that are required to buy through a RFP process.

Too often, we wait until the RFP has been written and our “selling” efforts focus on responding to the RFP. It’s the functional equivalent of waiting until the customer is 85% through their buying cycle.

The majority of the work the customer undertakes and where we can create the greatest value is in constructing the RFP. And this process is not much different than buying journeys that don’t have a formal RFP process.

The mistake too many sellers make is trying focusing the customer’s RFP development process on a product specification (sound familiar?). They think, “If the RFP included the key features and functions of our products, we win!” As a result the focus is on pitching products.

But it’s the RFP process is no different than any other type of buying journey, perhaps it’s just a little more formalized.

We create the greatest value by helping the customer think about what they are trying to achieve. What do they need to learn? What questions should they be asking themselves? Who are the stakeholders in both the decision and implementation? What are they trying to achieve? What are the risks they need to understand and manage? When do they need to have a solution in place, what are the consequences of missing that date? What are the things they need to assess, how will they do this, how will they arrive at a decision? And the list goes on….

Like every buyer, the issue is less about product selection but whether they doing the right thing. At the culmination of the process, will they feel confident in the decision they are making?

The process of developing the RFP must be about helping the customer pose and answer these issues. The RFP must be more about “We need a solution that enables us to achieve this,” than, “We need a product that has these capabilities.”

Having said this, sometimes customers are so well “trained” in the RFP process, they may be product focused in their specifications–after all, in our work with them, that’s how we have traditionally interacted with them.

But the RFP process is not unlike any other buying journey. It’s a part of the opportunity/problem solving journey. It’s about helping the customer achieve their goals. Like any buying journey, the customer struggles with what they are trying to do and we create the greatest value by helping them learn and become more confident in what they are doing and that they will achieve their expected outcomes.

The result of this work is a RFP focused on what the customer needs to solve a business problem. It outlines, more formally, what the customer is trying to achieve, why it’s important to them, and how they will make a decision. Of course, if we have done the work with them, up front, we are better positioned to respond in a way that is meaningful in helping them achieve their goals.

Yes, it is sometimes frustrating–most often, we find it frustrating when we have had no involvement in helping the customer develop their RFP. But the principles of being successful are not much different than those that don’t use a formalized RFP process.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here