RFPs — Ask Rarely Asked Questions to Get an Edge

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An RFP arrives.  You’ve been proactive.   While you weren’t able to keep the opportunity out of the RFP process, you knew the RFP was coming and even influenced it.  You also expect that the incumbent too has had influence.

Most effective salespeople at this stage immediately begin to dig into the RFP and immediately begin to create a list of questions to ask the customer to fill in any gaps.  While this is absolutely the right thing to do — two small steps are often missed that can make a big difference.  First, calling or emailing the client to say thank you for the opportunity to participate in the process and next to add questions about how the RFP was put together.  Most RFPs today reflect a lot of research and preconceived ideas.

By asking about the process your customer used to create the RFP you get a real edge to help you win.  For example, say “Thank you for including us and getting the RFP to me.  I’ve carefully reviewed your RFP.  It’s truly comprehensive.  May I ask how you put it together?”, and you will learn if it was one person or a project team from different disciplines across the organization, if the customer use social networking to speak to other customers with similar issues, what research has been done, and how far along in the sales process is the customer.

Once you understand this and have gotten answers to your RFP content questions, don’t forget to ask about the post RFP process to evaluate the responses to find out:

Does the customer have a grading tool for evaluating the RFP?  If so, what is it like/what is on it?  [Things such as match to needs, value-add, implementation, metrics, price, responsiveness.] What’s most important?.  How many providers are being considered?  How many will be invited in?  What will happen to competitive responses once the proposals are submitted?  Who will review them?  (Some organizations go so far as to send team members blind responses to eliminate any initial preconceived notions about providers.)

When asked, most customers will share this information if you ask them for it.  Along with your other questions regarding the strategy driving the objectives, learn about the RFP process itself.  Today most customers are really thinking through their RFPs. They are proud of their input.  By asking about the process they used you get the chance to compliment them, create an edge for yourself, and gain insights your competitors won’t have.

© 2011 L. Richardson
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