RFPs are a competitive knock-out sport: there’s only one winner who makes it to the podium. In my long experience as a senior account executive, there are ways to get an edge. Most elite sportsmen have some inside technique that just gives them a tiny advantage, but enough to win. I’m going to tell you my secrets for winning your next RFP.
The RFP has to show how you are the best fit for the job, right? That all starts with focusing on the relationship you have with your prospect.
Since Q4 is coming to a close, you need to make—or better yet—exceed your sales targets. It’s time to refocus on your prospect, so you can increase your RFP success rate and reach your sales goals.
Why do organizations lose RFPs?
That’s a big question, but here are some things I see consistently happening with organizations. The reasons are actually very simple…
- They don’t give themselves enough time.
- They don’t tailor their content.
- They don’t send the final draft.
As you have probably experienced firsthand, the time issue has an avalanche effect on everything else. The RFP quality just isn’t where it needs to be to win. There are so many people involved in an RFP response process. If you’re not on top of the process, it will show.
Part of the solution is improving your RFP response process as a whole. The other part of the solution falls in your court when you’re in sales. A couple of mistakes here and there might be overlooked if you have an established relationship with the prospect ahead of time.
A big reason why organizations win RFPs? They built a solid relationship.
Why the relationship is vital for RFP success
Establishing a relationship gives you the edge over your competitors. It also helps your potential client understand you, your product or service, and what’s in it for them. They’re not coming into this RFP blind. They will already have a knowledge of your product, personnel, and skills and they can see the benefits more clearly.
Ever heard of relationship selling? Hubspot describes it best…
“Relationship sellers prioritize their connection with the customer over all other aspects of the sale. They develop trust—usually by adding value and spending a lot of time with prospects—before attempting to close.”
It’s key to have a relationship ahead of time—at the very least to have had one conversation so you know where this RFP is coming from. If you receive an RFP out of the blue, contact the person issuing it and find out the background.
Is the opportunity worth pursuing? Or is this one of those situations where the issuer simply needs some bids to fill a procurement quota? Once you’ve decided to continue forward, it’s time to gain as much information as possible so you can start your RFP at a distinct advantage.
Research absolutely matters for your RFPs
Be diligent in your research. Increasing your RFP win rate involves a little homework upfront. This helps you make the most out of every conversation you have with a prospect, so you can tailor your RFP responses in the best possible way.
My own research process includes tracking LinkedIn profiles. Usually, there are two people you’re speaking with during the sales process. On LinkedIn, look both of them up and find out how long they’ve been at the company.
Sometimes if your prospect is a newbie, they may see this particular RFP as their big initiative to make an impression. It’s going to be very important that they put a good foot forward during this RFP evaluation process and select the proper vendor.
Put a little extra thought and time into that research phase—and be sure to check their previous companies and roles. When you do your research, it gives you a few more talking points so you can build a little rapport. People tend to respond better when they recognize the extra effort. It’s also easier to follow up with them later on.
Ask great questions to show quick value
From your research, create a list of detailed questions beyond merely the scope of the RFP. There is only so much you can find out with digital detective work. The best way to find out the answer to an unknown is to ask your prospect directly.
“Act like a win for your prospect is a win for you. Together, you’re trying to find the best possible outcome.” – Hubspot
Often times you will discover vital information as I did recently with a prospect. I asked a fairly simple question about their current RFP process to see how our response management platform might fit in. They told me this: “We’re moving to a cloud model and migrating all of our content to SharePoint.”
This helped me understand exactly which features I needed to share about RFPIO so they quickly understood the value of our solution. I didn’t mess around with features they wouldn’t care about.
Knowing these specifics made the conversation worthwhile for both of us. Then, I was able to communicate that sales intelligence to our RFP writers so they could create better content.
After you submit the RFP, follow-up
There are some practical steps you can take to ensure your RFP has the best chance of winning. And, these steps are often missed by organizations because they don’t build a follow-up strategy into the master plan.
This first follow-up step may sound like a no-brainer, but I’ll say it anyway. After you submit your RFP, confirm that the issuer received it. This follow-up is an opportunity to continue the dialog with the decision-maker. That quick email gives them the impression you are eager to do business with them.
Sometimes they don’t let you know you have moved on to the second round promptly, so again a quick call can help. Use that time to briefly reinforce how your service or product plays in with their future plans.
You always need to have a plan for following up, and maybe sending additional information if needed. Think of the issuer’s needs, and you’ll always know what those content assets look like. When you’re proactive about following up, it shows the issuer that you want the deal. So, do what it takes to stay top of mind.
“The main principle underpinning relationship selling is simple: Always think about the long-term impact of your actions.” – Hubspot
RFP software keeps track of the entire deal
From a sales perspective, it’s nice to have a system like RFPIO that allows you to communicate and have a forum to discuss issues internally among your team. RFPIO allows you to keep track of all your notes about the sales process and the deal. Not necessarily just about the content of the submission, but also collating all the other information surrounding the proposal.
One of RFPIO’s most important features for you is Salesforce integration. Since the RFP is being worked on by other people in your organization, tracking progress is key. With RFPIO, just look in your Salesforce dashboard to find out that information quickly and easily.
You want to have a system that can automatically alert you about different tasks and follow-ups and things that you need to do. For example, if I need to send somebody an email in three weeks, there’s zero chance I’m going to remember that unless I have a system in place that alerts me. So, having all sorts of tasks set up within RFPIO is extremely helpful.
Winning RFPs is significant for your company’s bottom line. If you look at the dollar amount of the total projects you could win, it might be huge if you are consistently winning bids with perfectly-tailored proposals.
The relationship is an important part of both your RFP process AND your sales process. Put some time and energy there and you’ll see the pay-off.