Oh, Boy! An RFP!
Whether you are on the issuing side, sending out an RFP (Request for Proposal) to prospective suppliers, or are on the receiving end, the RFP is seen as an exercise in either asking annoying questions or figuring out how to answer them.
However, eConnections was actually able to find three people who are passionate about RFPs — and lucky enough to talk to one of them. Because talking with David Blume, Senior Director of Sales at RFPIO Inc., put the whole agonizing RFP process in a different perspective.
David admits that he used to see the RFP as a “necessary evil,” as he puts it. But done right, he says, a proposal can “absolutely influence win rates.” He gets his passion for proposals from Jon Williams, Managing Director of Strategic Proposals in the UK, B.J. Lownie, Managing Director, Principal Consultant in the U.S., and Dr. Tom Sant — all acknowledged experts in proposal writing.
It comes down to this. Proposals, whether sales proposals or RFPs, should be seen as critical selling (and purchasing) documents. Given that perspective, one has to think about preparing proposals and their responses as a science and as the art of persuasion.
Two Essential Principles of Good Persuasion
#1: People do not always make rational, logical decisions based on data.
This applies both to the writers and the responders to a proposal. Stating the true business problem in a proposal will solicit more creative, valuable solutions based on the respondent’s expertise. Sadly, all too often, proposal writers already have a solution in mind and are just looking to see how much it will cost.
On the other hand, to truly propose a worthwhile business outcome, the responder must try to uncover the underlying need for a proposal. If not, the RFP and its response, according to David, is “knitted together into a strange patchwork quilt of requirements.”
#2: Business value needs to be specific and quantifiable.
This aspect of persuasion falls squarely on the responder. The greater the understanding the responder has of the business need and the anticipated outcome, the more the response will be seen as a true solution to a business problem.
Coming at that business need is an exercise in “why.” In creating an RFP (and when proposing questions to the issuer), try this exercise:
- Statement: The marketing group is looking for a solution for A, B, or C. Ask: Why?
- Statement: Because we need to do this, this, and this. Ask: Why?
- Statement: Because, if we don’t this, this will happen. Ask: Why? What is the impact?
A series of why’s can begin to uncover the real reasons behind issuing an RFP, often ones that are not captured in the request — and should be.
“It’s like three-dimensional chess,” David notes. “All these pieces are inextricably linked.”
He notes that while RFPIO is specifically designed to assist responders to answer RFPs intelligently and efficiently, there are equally valuable resources for issuers.
APMP is one such resource. The Association of Proposal Management Professionals offers education and resources to members of the proposal, bid, and opportunity management and business development community.
Other resources specific to exhibit program RFPs is the article library of EXHIBITOR magazine and these features right here on eConnections:
The RFP should not have to be an “us vs. them” exercise. It can be a joint venture to solve a business problem where issuer communicates the underlying need and the anticipated outcome. Then the responder can deliver a solution, costs, and return on investment which uses their unique capabilities for business success.
David Blume has 30 years of international sales management experience predominantly in the enterprise software space. The first 15 years in the technical application management arena and the last 15 years focused on sales effectiveness, specializing in RFP response and sales proposal automation.
David says, “I am fortunate to have worked with and been coached by some of the industry's leading proponents of proposal best-practice. This has fueled my passion for helping proposal teams play a more critical role in helping the sales organization to achieve its revenue objectives.”