Friday, May 20, 2011

 

Five ways to get around the RFP process

If you're selling to big companies or the government, requests for proposal (RFPs) may feel like a fact of life. And in some cases, there may be little you can do to avoid a mandated process. But in nearly every one of these organizations, your prospect hates the RFP as much as you do.

With the right approach, you might just win the business, get it faster, make the prospect happy for not having to complete the process, and avoid wasting more time filling out someone else's forms.

These won't all work every time, but I've seen each of them work more than once. Here are five ways to get around the RFP process and win the business.

1. Build relationships & preference early
The better the prospect knows you, is comfortable with what you can do, the less likely they'll feel the need to do the RFP in the first place. In many organizations, the RFP isn't about making the absolute right choice. It's about reducing risk. If enough due diligence goes into the decision, it's much harder to second-guess the choice or the chooser (or at least so the theory goes).

But if you already have the prospect's confidence, if they already trust you and what you can do, that risk is already mitigated. The need for the RFP has been bypassed altogether.

2. Write the RFP guidelines for them
Your prospect hates the RFP process too, I guarantee it. In many cases, they may have no idea how to write the RFP document to begin with (and/or don't really have time to do it). If you volunteer to give them a framework to use, you can not only save them time but create an RFP that helps position your product or service to win.

This doesn't happen if you don't ask. Few buyers will ask their vendors to do this. But if you ask, and they trust you to be relatively objective, you might get the job...and, eventually, the job.

3. Participate only via partners
RFPs can be an enormous time-suck. Why not let others do most of the work for you? There's plenty of business to be had out there by attaching your product or service to another company's RFP. Does it mean you might get less of the business? Possibly. Does it mean you might get business for which you didn't have to do a lot of up-front work? Yes.

To make this work long-term, you'll eventually need to reciprocate. No partner is going to put you in an ongoing series of RFPs if you're truly just freeloading off of their hard work. But worst case, if you play this right you'll be in far more RFPs for a fraction of the time and cost.

4. Follow up later to clean up the mess
Since RFPs are about mitigating risk, it stands to reason that the best vendor doesn't always get the job. In fact, some RFPs are written and executed such that the best RFP writer gets the job, which had nothing to do with the job itself.

Whether you lose the RFP or ignore it altogether, follow up with the buyer a couple months later and ask how things are going. If all is good, you wasted less than two minutes. But you'll also find buyers who are already fed up with their chosen vendor. And in the spirit of mitigating risk (and helping the buyer who just made a bad, first decision), you can swoop in and clean things up.

5. Avoid them like the plague
You probably saw this one coming. There can be big dollars in play behind that RFP, but think carefully before you devote the time and cost (hard or soft) to going after it. How many other prospect relationships could you foster with that same amount of time and money? How much proactive prospecting could you do based on observed pain and need, instead of published RFPs?

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