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This is What it Takes to Win an RFP From Start to Finish

This is What it Takes to Win an RFP From Start to Finish
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Winning an RFP is always the goal. But often we aren’t sure what it really takes to win—no matter how many hundreds of RFPs we’ve responded to.

There are many moving parts involved with every RFP response. Collaboration and efficiency are absolutely critical, but so is the writing. The quality of your response will determine whether the prospect chooses your organization or one of your competitors.

One of the most memorable deals I landed in my sales career happened with an RFP response. It was a big name company, and a highly competitive RFP. But I knew our product was the right fit, so I did everything in my power to win the deal. And, it worked.

This is what that winning RFP process looked like from start to finish, and some tips on how you can replicate this successful response strategy with your team.

What Happened Before the RFP

Copying and pasting responses as usual into the RFP wouldn’t cut it this time. Because I knew our product was the right fit—and we had a great chance at winning the account—I spent a lot of time getting to know the company. That way I felt comfortable speaking their language when I wrote the content.

I was a sales rep and the RFP lead, so my intentions were completely focused on winning with the energy I put into the project. It was hard work that was not in the scope of my day-to-day sales activities.

There were over 100 pages when I was done, with tons of tables and narrative answers. What made it easier was the homework I did beforehand, like building relationships with the individuals I knew were going to be involved in the review.

Responding to RFPs is part of the sales cycle, and it’s important to remember that selling is an important part of these beginning stages—not only in the final closing stages. By taking the time to understand the company and team members, you’re setting up your RFP response project for success.

What Happened During the RFP

When it comes down to it…what is an RFP?

An RFP is trying to make an apples to apples comparison with multiple vendors. In a competitive space, everybody is trying to get that edge. The RFP response has to illustrate why you’re better than other organizations with a similar offering.

“You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” -Zig Ziglar

With this winning RFP, the deadline was tight and it was during the holidays. Needless to say, it was stressful to get the project done well and on time. In fact, we ended up being late with our submission—which is the kiss of death in the RFP world. However, because I had this existing relationship that I worked so hard to cultivate, they accepted anyway.

I didn’t use amazing language, but because I did the legwork before the RFP project started, I knew the qualifications they were looking for. I repurposed answers from historical RFPs, but I made them more relevant. I took the time to show how much we wanted to win them as a customer. And despite being late with our submission, we still won.

You have to find your edge when you’re responding to RFPs. Going into an RFP, know that five other vendors are probably answering the same way you are. If you answer “yes, we have this function” or “yes, we have this feature” that won’t differentiate your organization at all.

Answer to what they want, rather than just answering correctly. This process takes longer. And when you have a high volume of RFPs, you may not want to do it. So make sure this prospect is the best fit, a customer that you want, then go the extra mile.

What Happened After the RFP

Because the foundation was so strong before the RFP, this company remained a happy customer that stuck around with no contract. They hadn’t switched their software in over 20 years, so it was a monumental change for them.

As they always do with large-scale implementations, things went wrong. And as you recall, we missed the RFP deadline and still closed the deal.

When you take your time and think through an RFP strategy, it pays off. It doesn’t mean you should take the same approach with every RFP that comes your way. But when it’s the right prospect, and you want to win that business, then it’s worth the extra effort when it has the potential to become a lasting partnership long after the close.

Your Turn…Replicate a Winning RFP Process

I’ve won and lost plenty of RFPs throughout my career. This was a strategy that worked well, and you may find it’s something worth trying at your organization.

Before the next RFP lands in your inbox, consider your entire process as having three stages.

  1. Before the RFP – Do the homework. Collaborate with sales to cultivate the relationship and uncover customer intelligence that will make your RFP response stronger. (In your CRM, you can have direct visibility into these activities.)
  2. During the RFP – Tailor the responses. Use the relationship and intelligence to level up your company. Sales should continue nurturing the prospect, rather than going radio silent once the RFP is in progress.
  3. After the RFP – Maintain the satisfaction. Know that the great effort you put in won over your customer. This isn’t a free pass when things inevitably go wrong, so continue deepening relationships months or years after the initial RFP.

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A lot of RFPs are formalities. And RFP responders don’t want to take the time, because they know that. This level of care works when the partnership is an ideal match with your organization. If you really want to win, you need to recognize the best opportunities and do everything you can to win them.

Building the relationship and tailoring your content will help your organization rise above the competition. Whether you’re a team of one (like I was) or you have multiple departments involved in RFP responses, collaborate with sales to align your efforts through every stage of the process.

The average completion time for an RFP deadline is typically 2-3 weeks. Think of what you and your team can do during that amount of time, and work together to create your best possible RFP responses so you can find your edge and win.

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