In the sales world, most of us think that RFP are 3 magic letters.  This thought comes from the traditional definition of a Request For Proposal as an open call to propose business, or an invitation by the prospect for you to submit your proposal, along with every other company competing for the business. The prospect is announcing that there is “demand” for a service or product, and creating the line for suppliers to compete for this demand.

I have never been a big fan of waiting in line.

As sales people, we have to understand that taking control of our conversations and our proposals will always lead to better odds and a better positioning to negotiate terms. The power play by a prospect in creating the RFP line, is to put you in a bidding war, so you are forced to respond using the predetermined measures that your prospect is imposing. This can be especially frustrating if you are the current vendor, and are now competing to keep business you already have. Essentially, the prospect is grabbing control and trying to force you to negotiate in the dark. Very often, however, the RFP isn’t always well thought out, and surprisingly enough, not necessarily built on what is in the prospect’s own best interest.

In recent years, the world of Sales Training and Sales Consulting has been buzzing with talk and strategies of “getting ahead of the RFP”, basically getting out of the line and helping the prospect shape the RFP, so your company has the inside edge on a proposed solution. This is a very valid strategy.

That strategy involves initially backing out of a price war RFP bidding process, and offering to help the prospect with your expertise in designing the RFP to make sure that it truly addresses their most important issues and objectives.

By helping shape the RFP, you are helping the client think through things they may not have thought of, lining yourself up as an advisor, and also bringing into play things which they were not considering (product quality, client support, warranties, etc). You are helping shape the RFP, which means that if they start to see the true overall value beyond just price, you’ll be able to look up after doing that and confidently state, “OK, if that is what you want to make the RFP, then I’d like to submit a proposal for you to consider along with the other choices” 

You helped shape the RFP, as the response to the demand for a solution.  Again, this is a valid and effective strategy.
But there is a step beyond that.  There is a way to actually even ramp up your power position above and beyond helping shape the RFP.
The step of creating the demand that fuels the RFP to begin with is one level up, and exponentially more powerful. It comes from making prospects aware of pain that was already there, but that they were not paying attention to.  It puts us, as salespeople, next to the prospect at the very moment they decide to take action, when pain pushes them out of the status quo.

A sales rep I’ve worked with sent me this note last week, which shows this concept in action.  This reps sells an advertising solution.

“I called the business (restaurant) and spoke to the hostess. I told her I was working on gathering some information for the owner and needed her help. I asked her how many empty tables were there at the restaurant right at that moment, in the middle of the diner shift.  She gave me the number of empty tables and after thanking her, I asked her if she would was working the next few days, and if I could call back. She said yes, so I called her for the next days with the same question. She gave me the number of empty tables for a few nights in a row.

The following week I called and got a hold of the owner.  I told him I had compiled some information that I wanted to share and  wanted to know if he could meet with me.  He asked me what kind of information and I told him that what I had compiled in the past few days.  I also estimated for him how much money he was losing out on.  I then proceeded to let him know how I could leverage those empty tables and bring in additional  revenue from them, and fill empty seats with new customers. He agreed to an appointment and signed an agreement the same day.

5 minutes of analytical retrieving of information got me a new client”

That is a TEXTBOOK example of using a few phone calls to arm oneself with information that not only helps shape the RFP, but in this case, CREATED the RFP to begin with!  This sales rep not only skipped the line, she created it.  No other vendors got to bid on this business, because prior to her quick calls and follow up call to the owner, he had no real specific idea of his pain.  She moved that to the forefront of his mind, and was there to fulfill the RFP the very second it got created.

The principle is to use the knowledge you gather and your expertise to create and shape the RFP when you can.  It is a great way to move yourself out of the vendor line, and into the adviser seat next to your prospect, and help them make a better decision for their business.

Every sales person responds to RFPs.  The good sales people help shape and mold the RFP.

The great sales people fuel the prospect’s desire to create the RFP.