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RFP’s Suck!

by David Brock on March 22nd, 2014

My friend Jim Keenan is stirring up the pot with his latest blog post, Finally The Truth About RFP’s.  Be sure to read it and the comments.

I’ve really mixed feelings about the post, I both agree, and I disagree.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think RFP’s Suck, we never respond to an RFP that we haven’t written.  And I think that may be the point Jim’s struggling with in his post.

By the time the RFP is written and issued, the selling is done.  The purpose of the RFP is vendor selection.  So if we wait to start our selling until the RFP is issued, then we deserve the outcome we get.

But if you look at RFP processes, the selling is done long before the RFP is ever issued.  It’s done through engaging prospects and customers early, helping them identify opportunities, helping them identify problems, helping them decide they need to do something about it and change.

The selling continues by helping the customer organize themselves to buy, helping them align disparate agendas, priorities, and motivations.  It’s helping them decide and define what they want to do and why.  It’s helping them define the expected outcomes.  It’s helping them define all the issues around achieving those outcomes, what their requirements are, what the risks are, how they will justify the investment to senior management.  It’s helping them determine how they decide, then documenting those requirements in a meaningful way.

And that document is the RFP.

So if the first time we are engaging the customer is when we receive the RFP, it’s not a bad customer process, it’s a missed opportunity on our part–or sales error.  Someone was involved (or should have been) early in helping the customer buy–it just wasn’t the people who become aware of the opportunity when they see the RFP.

So this is actually more of a sales problem than a problem with the RFP process.  Yeah, I know there are a lot of crap RFP’s out there, but that’s still a sales problem.  Where was sales in providing the customer insight and leadership in helping them understand and develop their requirements?

If all you do is respond to RFP’s, good luck.  But frankly, I think it’s laziness and doing the customer a disservice.  And you get the outcomes you get.

But what’s this mean to the rest of us.  We’re facing much of the same thing.  With customers self educating through the web and other sources, depending on the research you believe, they are completing as much as 57-70% of their buying process before engaging sales.  While they may not present you with an RFP, in reality, they are doing exactly the same thing as those who have issued the RFP.  They are framing their problems, what they want to achieve, their change management process, their requirements, and their decision making process without you.

But someone, possibly your competitor might be in there helping them.  They might be the people who provided the insight to get the customer to start the initiative in the first place.

Getting engaged with the customer when they publish their RFP or when they are 57-70% through their buying process is not a customer problem.  It’s bad salesmanship!  We’re late to the party, we’re not creating the value we should, we deserve what we get.

RFP’s suck.  I hate seeing RFP’s because it means I made a mistake.  I missed an opportunity to truly help my customer, provide some leadership and create value.

I agree with Jim and many of the commenters.  Don’t waste your time responding to RFP’s  — unless you wrote it!

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