If You’re On Time, You’re Late: Why You Need to Beat the Buyer to the RFP

I don’t have the exact quote, but last week at the 2009 Sales 2.0 Knowledge Share Conference, I heard Rich Blakeman, VP of sales at Miller Heiman, say something to the extent of, “We want to get to the prospect before he creates his RFP.” I wanted to get up and applaud not only because I agree with him, but also because I had been meaning to write about this forever. I first got the inspiration when I was meeting with the VP of sales from one of our blue-chip  (top 5 technology company) customers.  He told me how he preferred not to get leads when they had their project already defined.  He preferred to get them earlier so that his team could shape the content of the project or RFP.  This was a big-time company with a big-time sales team. Another customer loved being in early and providing clients with questions to ask vendors, knowing those questions would position his company ahead of the competition.

So, the lesson is: Getting leads early will help you later on. Here are five tips to help you efficiently stay ahead of the RFP:

1. Lead nurturing: GROUNDHOG DAY! I keep saying this over and over, but it’s important. It’s one thing to have sales keep following up with someone before the sales cycle. It’s another thing to have marketing help in this process. You can’t stay in front of the RFP and succeed if sales owns the prospect from so early on. You need to continue to market to the prospect via email with a variety of different educational offers.

2. Sales nurturing: Following the above: If we want sales to get to prospects early, you have to have a process to allow sales to put these prospects back into the nurturing cycle. For most processes today, once sales get the lead, it is owned by sales.  Success is dependent on sales dropping voice mails and “checking in” for months. Instead, let sales do their preso and if it’s early, score the lead appropriately and have marketing keep the prospect warm.

3. Relevant, “early-funnel” content: I love whitepaper offers like “Creating an RFP,” and “25 Questions to Ask Potential XXX Vendors.”  This is pre-RFP content that helps sales shape the project in your company’s favor.

4. Looser BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time frame): I get why BANT is hot again, and I support it. Just don’t forget that it is worth pitching a client when all he or she has is the “A” (authority) and the “N” (need), even if it is latent need. And get sales involved early. As mentioned in the second tip, sales can recycle leads back into the buying cycle and your organization will not lose track of the potential opportunity.

5. Web conferencing, Webinars and the rise of telepresence: You don’t have to hop on a plane to meet potential customers.  Use Web conferencing to get to the pre-RFP client without the time and expense of travel.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • Those whitepapers should be building the buyer’s purchase criteria. If they accept your purchase criteria, then building their RFP is easy whether sales does it or they do it.

    In a value-based fees approach, you sell the client an audit. The audit qualifies the client further and lets you determine the value, so you know how much you can make. This is another beat the RFP approach.

  • Craig: Many of my clients not only supercede the dreaded RFP, but get onto the team that creates it! and then win the bid – of the RFP that they wrote themselves!

    We use Facilitative Questions to help the prospect consider not only their Identified Problem (ie ‘need’) but all of the internal systems issues (people, policies, initiatives etc – all that hidden stuff that sales doesn’t handle cuz it’s idiosyncratic to each buyer’s buying environment) they need to manage before they can consider choosing a vendor or a solution. In this way, we are seen as true consultants in that we are helping the buyer manage all of the background stuff that needs to be managed prior to a purchase.

    In this way, we get onto the buyer’s buying decision team well before they even write the RFP, and they either just choose us without having to go through the RFP process, or they have us write the RFP.

    Of course, the sales folks must be doing their prospecting calls regularly (daily) – and lots of ‘em.

    Hope this helps. Sharon Drew Morgen sdm@austin.rr.com