You receive the call from a prospective client informing you that you, lucky devil, are being chosen to respond to their Request for Proposal. You are excited, and what’s more, you know with absolute certainty that they are interested in purchasing what you sell. You believe in your company, and you are going to dive in and respond. Surely you will be chosen to present, in which case, you will distinguish yourself and your company. If all goes well, you will be chosen as the their new partner.
But wait! Before you respond to the RFP, you need to ask yourself—and your prospect—some questions.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Why am I receiving this Request for Proposal? If you are receiving a request for proposal completely unsolicited, it is highly unlikely that you are going to be selected. It’s more likely that your prospective client is doing their due diligence by letting the RFP. They have also likely identified the one or two companies that they are going to consider seriously. If this is the case, you are column fodder for the prospect’s spreadsheet analysis. Your response may only be included so that they can validate their decision and prove that they did their due diligence.
If you have done nothing to acquire the RFP, you have done nothing to believe that you can win it or to believe that it is worth your time.
Why am I completing this RFP? You must be honest with yourself in answering this question. Are you completing the RFP because you really don’t have a pipeline? Is your interest in completing the RFP that it is easier than prospecting, even without the same likelihood of success? Are you being honest with yourself about your chances of winning?
There are many activities that feel like work but produce no results. What is your real reason for investing the time?
Questions to Ask Your Prospective Client
You aren’t obligated to respond to Requests for Proposals. Your prospective client is trying to do their due diligence, and you are trying to be a value creator. You might be surprised how hard your prospective client tries to sell you on responding. Asking questions can help you determine whether or not you have a real opportunity, and great questions can pull you out the pack. Be polite, but ask the difficult questions.
Why are you letting this RFP? If the answer to this question is that they let an RFP every couple years to make sure that they are “getting the best deal,” there probably isn’t anything compelling them to change. If the client suggests that they are trying to learn “what else might be available” or that they “would like to see what’s going on in the market,” there may be an opportunity for further discussion. But you have to continue down the same line of questioning.
If your contact can’t tell you what they hope to gain, the RFP is probably being let to put pressure on their existing supplier.
What factors are driving a decision to change? If there aren’t legitimate reasons to change, then the RFP is likely an exercise to gain a better price. It’s unfortunate that so many salespeople and sales organizations believe that by giving the client a lower price in an RFP that they can in fact win the business. If price is all you have in the way of value creation, I promise that your lower price is going to be leveraged to reduce the price of the present provider.
Absent other compelling reasons to change, you are better served spending your time prospecting than completing an RFP.
Are you absolutely changing or adding providers? I have asked this question dozens of times. Sometimes the client will tell you that they are not likely to change. Then you know that completing the RFP means you are taking a flyer. On more than a few occasions clients have told me that they are absolutely changing or adding new partners.
Your odds are improved if the current provider is being removed or new suppliers added.
Why am I receiving this RFP? If you haven’t made the calls and nurtured the relationships to deserve to receive the RFP, you have to be skeptical about your chances of winning it. If your prospective client tells you that they found you on the Internet your odds of winning are slim; you are column fodder. This is true even when they tell you how impressed they are with your company.
If you don’t deserve to receive the RFP, you don’t deserve to win it. Completing it is simply rolling the dice (which isn’t always a bad idea, but more about that later).
What would you need to see in a response for us to gain an opportunity to work with you? Ask the question. Don’t limit yourself to the decision criteria in the RFP. It’s subjective. It’s not what they are looking for. You need a conversation. You need a dialogue. You need confirmation that if you provide value creating ideas in your response, that you are given an opportunity to compete.
Ask the follow up question: “How would we best demonstrate that to you?”
Can we schedule a meeting? Ask for the commitment. If you are going to put your time into answering a request for proposal, your client owes you the time to make sure it is meaningful for both of you. Remember, some of your competitors have met with the client. The existing supplier, who is also likely responding, has had countless meetings. The contact may suggest that it isn’t fair to allow you to have a meeting. At least one the competitors has the enormous advantage of getting to know the client (their present supplier), and I would wager a few others created enough value to have made the short list even before completing the RFP.
You have to argue that your role in creating value begins with an understanding of their real needs and an exploration of how you create value.
What are our real odds of winning this RFP with only a written response? It’s a tough question. Maybe ask it this way: “I appreciate the opportunity. As good as we are, we find it difficult to create value for our clients when we only complete an RFP—even when spend a lot of time and energy on the response. We mostly find that we win when we know our clients and when we know how to give them the help that they really need. What do you think are real odds of winning are without having the relationships and without really knowing how to help and what else might we do to explore working together?”
All RFP’s aren’t “non-opportunities.” Sometimes it’s right to take a flyer even on non-opportunities. Getting to the table can help you open opportunities. Completing the RFP and opening a dialogue can give the opportunity to open the relationships that later allow you to win the client. But before you invest your time completing an RFP, make sure you are investing it for the right reasons.
When is it a good idea to respond to RFP’s?
When is it a bad idea?
How do you create value for your prospective client through the RFP process?
Have you ever had a client let an RFP even though they had already committed to you? When the RFP was just the client pretending to go through their due diligence?
What questions do you need to ask of yourself before your complete an RFP?
What questions should you ask of your client to ensure you are investing our time wisely?