** Updated this post to better reflect and communicate a legitimate strategy in responding to RFPs **
Crappy news this past week regarding a large RFP I was participating in. It was one of those kinds of deals that all of us sales types dream of. A really, large, significant deal – the kind of deal that forever becomes your go-to story during the interview when asked, “Tell me about your best win?”
As I mentioned in earlier posts, I was in the RFP process with a very large company. The RFP process was the culmination of several months of work and sessions and demos where I and my team had hundreds and hundreds of hours invested. As typical for a company of this size, this RFP process went way longer than initially intended and it took some really quirky turns as it progressed. Anyway, I received notification last week that we were not selected. In an effort to keep this from becoming a book, I’ll forgo all the gruesome details share my “lessons learned” in a series of posts…
Lesson 1: Test the RFP process initially.
When the RFP came out, there was a clause in the instructions that said for the duration the RFP process, the vendor would be forbidden to communicate with the company until contracts had been signed. I have never encountered this length of duration in my 20 years of selling. To me, this seemed to be a completely unreasonable request from a sales perspective. It is designed to take the business out of the negotiation process after the evaluation is complete. This ultimately left me (and the customer) in the dark for more months than I care to detail.
I recently returned from the Karrass Negotiations Skills training class (another post coming on that fantastic seminar) where I learned a ton. Upon completing that training and reflecting on this sales process, particularly this silent period clause – which was a thorn in my side – I realized that I should have pressed on this and called it out early. A bit about me – I’m a very straight up kind of guy. My “yes” is “yes” and my “no” is “no.” My character is my most prized possession and if I tell you I will do something, I will do it. I’m going to hold to my word, even to my detriment.
Here’s my new thought - if I could do it over, this is how I would have played it.
I would have called out the quiet period in the RFP and told my sponsor that we would not respond this clause intact as it was written. I can see you looking (virtually) at me like “Say what! Are you crazy? Not respond to a deal of this size?”
Think about all I might have learned by resisting early…
- How much chutzpah did my sponsor have? Would he or she fight for my right to communicate? Would he/she be my insider and tell me “ignore procurement and call me on my cell phone – I’ll keep you posted.“ During a sales cycle of this size, length, and magnitude, it is imperative to have someone who will message on your behalf and let you know what the competition is doing.
- How well positioned was my company/solution? Is my company a “must have” respondent or am I simply column fodder? Had my sponsor merely replied with “You have to. Procurement’s rules, ” then I could have made a business decision to respond or not waste mine and my company’s time with the RFP response, demos, meetings, etc, or known that I need a new sponsor who would fight for me.
- Who else is my champion? In a giant deal, it’s a requirement to have multiple angles and contacts. Over the course of this RFP, the ownership of this project changed hands three times. Guess what? I didn’t even know the third person who owned it.
- You might win. What if standing up over that clause wasn’t that big of deal for procurement and they simply said, “OK.” It is never know until it’s tested and pressed. Best case, you get what you want. Otherwise, I might have at least gotten the time period shortened to something more reasonable. Either way, you better position yourself for success with more knowledge.
It’s really a no-lose strategy – with much insight to gain (your sponsor’s influence and ability, your company’s standing, procurement’s power and resolve, etc.). Best case, you answer the questions and get to talk to your sponsors through the entire RFP without skirting the rules. Otherwise, you might get a shorter window of quiet period.
No matter the response – you know I would have responded!
** Update ** Interestingly enough, after the process was over, I spoke to the prospect and learned that they indeed were very serious about that clause. People at their company had been let go for talking during the quiet period. I would not have been successful in getting it changed, but perhaps I would have learned a little more than I knew when the quiet period began.
Let’s discuss this strategy? What do you think?