Be Choosy With RFPs

Beware the conventional wisdom.
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There is obvious value in being vigilant for opportunities to make a sale, and from this common sense instinct comes the sometime common wisdom is that you should always respond to a request for a proposal (RFP). The temptation to do so is obvious: an RFP is at least superficially an opportunity for your business, and passing up any opportunity can be anxiety-inducing. However, some folksy day-to-day wisdom suggests why you should limit your investment in RFPs:

They say you can't please everyone.

If you try, you may find that others aren't putting the care into making demands that you are putting into satisfying them. Even when they are, too many people are asking for too many things, and you are only one person living your life in one way.

What does this have to do with RFPs? RFPs are “please me” requests from another business. Often, they are much more work for you to reply to than they are for the other party to submit. They may not even be interested in all the information you supply them: often, a potential client is just looking for information on cost from as many sources as possible, and this is not the ideal potential client to invest in from a dead stop.

If it makes you anxious to hold back, you should remember that while it’s good to be vigilant for opportunities, it’s also important to discriminate. Your time is limited and valuable, not every deal is equally lucrative or equally easy to close, and you need to be disciplined about how to invest your resources. If you can eliminate dud leads, you can increase your sales by investing in the right ones.

I recently heard an interesting story about RFPs gone bad. Business A’s office received an RFP from an ideal potential client and it generated a lot of excitement. The client was so sought after that Business A did specialized development work, producing a prototype product of the sort the RFP suggested that the client was looking for. How did it all turn out? It turned out the client was interested in something else. The RFP was a throwaway, intended only to get something out there, written by someone in the client’s office without the power to make decisions.

Business A ran into trouble because they were invested and the company submitting the RFP wasn’t. So what can be done? Reply in an efficient way and one that encourages the other party to invest. Say “Here are references to companies for whom we have done similar work.” Say “We would be happy to meet with you to discuss the details of this project.” Reply in a way that weeds out the throwaway proposals and gets the other party investing in you.

Remember that you can’t please everyone; the name of the game is to find and please the right people, this means discriminating amongst RFPs.

Get on Twitter and tell me (@MuellerAC) your RFP horror stories.

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