RFP, to do or not to do?

Stop, do not fill out one more RFP (Request for Proposal). You might be excited when an RFP hits your inbox, especially if there is a lot in common with what a company is requesting and what you sell. You might be thinking the deal is as good as done as you check off yes to all their requirements and confidentially write those lengthy explanations. Your product is a perfect match, right? Not so fast! Let’s take a look at your chances of actually wining this sale with an RFP.

First, let’s take a look at if an RFP is actually a qualified lead that is worth your time and effort to complete. At the surface it meets the typical qualifications. The prospective buyer is being clear in what they need and they have put a budget and timeline in place. They have also reached out to you for this information. This gives the illusion that the RFP is a perfectly qualified lead. But is it really? The deck might just be stacked against you.

If you were to look back, how many times have you or a coworker excitedly exclaimed that you have an RFP that you were sure to win? Now think about all the time it took to pull together a team to examine each question, perfectly craft your answers to show how qualified your company is, write a proposal and finally submit the RFP. How many times have you failed?

For example, one day we received a call from a lead board member of a hospital. She had done some research on Point of Sale solutions and said she was interested in seeing what we had to offer. She went over her budget and timeframe and introduced us to the other board members who would be making this decision. She wanted the best email address for her to send the RFP. Later that day we received the email and got to work. The RFP was several pages long and took three team members from different departments to complete. We answered every single question, even the ones that did not pertain to us. We were certain that our product was the best solution for them. We submitted the RFP and waited. After a couple of days, we followed up with a call to see how the process was going and we were informed they decided to go with the original company they spoke with. Frustrated with the amount of time we spent on the documents and confused by their response we started to do some research. We found that most organizations only send our RFP’s as a formality when a project’s proposal is more than a specific dollar amount. They have to “jump through hoops” to be able to complete a sale with the intended company.

This is great if you are the original company who has sold the customer on your product, but not so great if not. The other companies submitted proposals for an unwinnable project. Imagine the time, energy, and resources that were used by all the losing companies who never actually had a shot at the sale.

The RFP is so impersonal. It does not allow the issuer to get to know who you are, who your company is and all the real-life things you can do to help them. You are just another quote for them to check off with their supervisors. I suggest that when possible, try to establish some sort of relationship with the company requesting the proposal from you. Can you demo your product with them? Will they share some of their needs and concerns with you? This is the best way to see if you have an actual shot at winning the business.

I want to leave you with some important lessons we have learned over the years of submitting RFPs. The Request for Proposal might have all the necessary lead qualifying check marks but in reality, they are much harder to evaluate than a regular lead. Before you begin, know that you can not anticipate that your company will win just because you answered all the questions right. If you do not have an existing relationship with the issuer you have probably already lost. Consider creating a team to handle RFP’s quickly and efficiently and weed out the ones that present with a lesser opportunity.