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5 Techniques to Help You Win that RFP. (Forget the Font.)

What makes a great RFP?

Responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) can be a long and painful process. And yet, it’s become a critical part of sales. 

Everyone who responds to an RFP has a picture in their mind of what the winning submission looks like. 

Will it be me or someone else who wins this deal? What makes the best response? Is it the font? 

(Hint: it’s not the font)

I’ve seen hundreds of proposals over the years. And while there’s no exact science, there are some repeatable strategies that can increase your odds of winning.


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Here are the 5 RFP best techniques:

1. Don’t write notes, write responses.

I’m always baffled by some of the brevity of the responses.

Rushed answers like “Yes. No. Maybe in the future. We don’t do that.” will not help your case. They look more like scribbled notes than a professional response to a proposal.

Short, unexplained answers leave room for the customer to fill in the blanks. That’s not going to improve your chances of winning.

Always try to explain your answers. If you don’t meet a requirement, explain why.

We get it, you want to spend as little time writing as possible. Assuming you’re not already using an RFP automation tool, that makes sense. But consider how much effort your customer puts into crafting the proposal document. It would benefit you to reciprocate that effort in your answers.

2. Less is more

In that same vein, let me advise you to not treat the RFP like you’re writing a book.

An effective RFP does not need to read like it was written by a professional author. Every answer does not need to be a college-level dissertation.

There’s someone on the other end of that submission who has to make sense of your answers. So keep your answers to the point and trim the fat where possible.

For example, instead of writing 3 paragraphs on your network architecture, include a diagram. This leads us to our next point.


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3. Include links to supporting content

You get a question like this:

“Do you support [insert obscured integration here]?”

You respond “Yes.”

The customer is probably going to ask “How do you do that?”

Instead of waiting for the inevitable follow-up question, include your supporting material upfront. Link to web pages, documents, or diagrams that can help explain your response.

Most RFP response templates contain a “supporting information/explanation” section so make sure to use it. Even if they don’t, you can always add more depth to your answers or submit content alongside your submitted RFP materials. Who’s going to stop you?

4. Ask questions 

This is a great way to keep your customer engaged during the RFP process.

Far too often, respondents will complete an RFP and throw it over the wall. Then they wait, hoping for a response. This is not a winning strategy, and prolonged episodes of silence can hurt your deal.

Asking your prospect questions throughout the process can not only keep you in the conversation, you can use these as opportunities to reveal information about the competitive process.

Clarifying questions about requirements is also critical to writing a winning response. Don’t think it makes you look “weak” – the reality is most respondents will not meet every requirement for a project. Getting clarity on what’s truly important to the buyer can greatly improve your odds of winning.

Here are some examples:

  • “Why did you ask this particular requirement, is it something you’re seeing from competitors?”
  • “How important is this requirement? Did you know you can get better results with XYZ?”
  • “ABC is on our roadmap. How do you recommend we reply to this question?”

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5. Address customer objections preemptively in your response

One of the best things you can do is to use the responses as a means of objection handling.

Every RFP is essentially an asynchronous sales dialogue in written form.

Pretend you are having a conversation and the customer challenges you on a particular requirement. Are you just going to give up on the call right then and there?

Obviously not.

So when faced with a challenging RFP requirement, fight back and explain your case.
Include trap-setting questions the customer can ask your competitors. For hard requirements you don’t meet, ask the customer why these requirements are important. Explain alternatives and provide customer proof for how they can go about the problem with your solution.

Every answer is an opportunity to embed something you do better than the competition.


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Bonus: Here are 3 RFP practices to avoid

  1. Not Responding
    This is a common piece of sales advice:
    “Don’t respond unless you know you’re in a position to win.”
    Yes, you should avoid wasting time on an RFP where you’re not best positioned to win. However, declining to respond to an opportunity is not a strategy.
    You should be able to quickly determine if you’re just being used as a comparison to someone who has already won the vendor selection process. If not, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t respond
  2. Waiting until the last minute
    Early bird gets the worm. You don’t want to be the last company to submit at the 11th hour. It doesn’t matter if the selection process takes weeks, or even months. Getting the RFP done quickly will allow you to get back to selling.
    Far too often, we see companies prolong the process to a point where it looks like they’re submitting a rushed book report at the last minute.
  3. Assuming no one reads the document
    No one’s REALLY going to read these massive responses, Right?
    Wrong.
    The reality is that most companies that run vendor selections have dedicated team members who manage the process. That’s a mistake that will lead you to poor/incomplete responses.
    Remember, “assumption is the mother of all.”

Conclusion

Responding to an RFP is painful. We get it.
But what’s really painful is wasting the opportunity on a sub-par response.

Follow these guidelines to generate responses that can increase your chances of success.

Image by Drazen Zigic on Freepik

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