Stop running blindly into RFPs thinking that it’s a quantity game. It is a mistake to view all RFPs in the same light.  If your sales team has been fortunate and proactive enough to ‘influence’ the RFP, the likelihood of winning is nearly guaranteed. But if your team did not influence the specifications, is your only choice simply “No Bid?”


Leverage the How to Make Your Number in 2018 Workbook to access a revenue growth methodology to hit your number quarter after quarter, and year after year. The Revenue Growth Diagnostic tool will help you assess your overall sales strategy, including your sales process to win RFPs.  Investing a few minutes will help you to pinpoint keys to your success in making the number.


Two Kinds of Sellers 


  1. Driver: The seller is in the “driver’s seat” because the sales team has succeeded in influencing the specifications; this is often the incumbent.
  2. Passenger: The seller is “just along for the ride” when a competitor is the incumbent or has influenced the specifications.


As a management consulting firm working across many industries, we have witnessed a unique characteristic of world-class sales organizations: They not only distinguish between the two types of RFPs, but they also employ a proactive approach for each. If the sales team is in the Driver’s seat they will follow the RFP instructions and provide the required information. However, if the sales team is a Passenger they will respond in a very different way with different objectives. This doesn’t change the short term results, but over the long haul, the results for Passengers are far more positive.


The Purpose of an RFP


At the outset, it is important to understand the true purpose of a Request For Proposals. Buyers would like to think that it is a structured way to gather information, evaluate responses and select a vendor’s solution. However, the RFP is not intended to select a winner; the purpose is to de-select the losers. If the seller has not influenced the specs, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Devoting the effort to respond to an unwinnable RFP is a waste of resources that could be deployed on other opportunities. But there is an alternative for the Passenger other than simply declining to respond.


A Different Goal

Obviously, the goal of a Driver is to win the award.  The goal of a Passenger must be different. It is to gain awareness and to alter the buyer’s attitudes for a future opportunity.


For the Passenger vendor, the chance of winning the RFP award is slim. But this is not all bad news because the RFP response is actually a very valuable selling opportunity, even though it is not a closing opportunity. Unlike an unsolicited proposal which soon is buried beneath a mound of desk detritus, the response to the RFP is guaranteed to receive some dedicated attention from the buyer’s decision team. This is a unique opportunity to provide a response that piques interest and is a forum for defining differences from the competition (who are all conveniently responding with mechanical conformity and compliance.) Here’s how it is done.


Gaining While Losing

The 4 basic steps to respond when you are a Passenger:


1.      Ask Questions: Every RFP offers the opportunity to ask questions. The Driver doesn’t ask any questions because the specs are wired for them. The other Passengers recognize the futility and they don’t ask anything either. Seize this opportunity to be different and focus energy on the question-and-answer period to make inquiries that are:


  1. Detailed
  2. Gap Exposing
  3. Comprehensive
  4. Insightful
  5. Relevant


2.      Just Say Yes: The answer to every requirement is “Yes.” Remember that the RFP process is intended to de-select, not to issue an award. Final negotiations and the specific implementation details happen later. The Passenger vendors all lose here and never advance to the finals. Be creative in crafting positive responses.

3.      Price in Ranges: RFPs usually require detailed pricing. This is often framed from the perspective of the Driver vendor so is time-consuming and another basis for de-selection for the Passenger vendors.


  • Unless specified, avoid line item pricing
  • Provide multiple priced options, especially when not requested by the RFP
  • Brand these options so they are tied to business value
  • Provide multiple configuration “alternatives” — each with its own pricing and storyline

Since the pricing will not conform to the RFP specifications it will be noticed.  Take the opportunity to present an offer that captures the buyer’s imagination.

4.      Summarize for the Executive: For the typical voluminous RFP, the decision committee does not have time to read every page. So each RFP submission is often reviewed in detail by one ‘screener’ who grades the submission for compliance (and, of course, de-selection.) The Executive Summary page is the exception. Everyone on the decision team will read this page as a token effort to equitably consider every offer. Spend time on this one page – make it clear why your offer and your organization are different. 


Take Action on Your Next RFP:


I encourage you to try this strategy – you really have nothing to lose. At a minimum you will save some valuable selling time. And you will improve your chances in the future. The steps outlined above are described in more detail in our RFP Strategy Response Guide


A sales process will only deliver world-class results if the sales force devotes time and energy to winnable opportunities. Losing quickly is important. Enable your sales team to also lose effectively while setting the stage for future wins with a sales process that includes an effective RFP Response Strategy.


Read this recent article to access a checklist to evaluate whether you should enter an RFP.


Would you like to spend some time with me reviewing the latest best practices for developing a RFP Process?  Come see me and the SBI leadership team in Dallas at The Studio, SBI’s multimillion dollar, one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art, executive briefing center. A visit to The Studio increases the probability of making your number because the sessions are built on the proven strength and stability of SBI, the industry leader in B2B sales and marketing.


Have expectations gone up and left you wondering if you can make your number? Here is a Revenue Growth Diagnostic tool that will help you understand if you have a chance at success. Take the Revenue Growth Diagnostic test and rate yourself against SBI’s sales and marketing strategy to find out if:


  • Your revenue goal is realistic
  • You will earn your bonus
  • You will keep your job


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Andy Hastings

Leverages expertise in operations, sales and marketing to implement new strategies that help clients make their number

Prior to SBI, Andy spent 8+ years at Constant Contact in a hyper growth SaaS environment. He brings significant expertise in direct sales, channel sales, marketing, operations and project management. Most notably, he delivered results on projects that included sales and marketing strategy, CRM design and implementation and sales productivity / enablement. Known as a problem solver who can quickly diagnose sales and marketing gaps, develop a strategy and lead cross functional teams during implementation resulting in organizations making their number.

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