RFPs to Nowhere?

I asked a contractor-friend of mine what his biggest pain in contract sales was.

His answer was “not getting the opportunity to make a presentation after submitting a proposal in response to an RFP.” After all, he’d spend 20+ hours preparing a proposal and then not get the chance to present.

Wasn’t there an implied reciprocity with customers that he’d at least get the chance to present it in person? He felt he should be showcasing his firm’s differentiation, he had the better service and knew he was cost competitive.

He knew how important making the presentation was because he measured it. When his firm was able to make a presentation they won 88% of the time (and that’s very impressive).

However, when his firm didn’t get to present, they only won 15% of the bids (less than half the industry average*).

So, it’s obvious. Get more presentation opportunities.

But customers didn’t always see it his way – they saw it their way.

How to Get More Presentations

The number of presentation opportunities you get is determined by two factors:

1) Your customer wasn’t planning to allow a presentation – no matter how many hoops contractors had to jump through

-or-

2) You, as the contractor, didn’t make the cut. The customer judged, and they judged you lacking.

Overly simplistic, yes, but this is reality. Let’s look at each of these and see what can be done.

1) Your customer didn’t allow presentations

This happens because:

A. Inexperienced customer – they’re too green and didn’t know they should have held a presentation (doesn’t happen often, but it does happen)

-or-

B. Customer intentionally chose not to hold presentations, because:

They decided to make a decision solely on the submitted proposal

-or-

C. They were not really going to make a change, but had to fulfill a rebid compliance issue. In other words, they were going through the motions and it was a Hollow RFP.

What to do if a customer wasn’t going to allow presentations?

Even a small increase in the number of presentations can reap huge rewards. And you know there are no sure things, but consider trying the following. These tactics are in 2 scenarios, depending on your situation:

Scenario 1) They’re not likely to change their minds and allow presentations:

Get out before you spend the time and effort writing up a proposal. This means qualifying the heck out of them up front, which really means:

• Asking tough questions during your first contact and getting firm, unambiguous answers to how they work their bid processes

• Asserting yourself to get their commitment to hearing your presentation if you provide a proposal

• Doing both the above without upsetting the customer contact and making an enemy for life

-or-

Scenario 2) You believe you can change their minds:

Get them to see the value in holding presentations. Of course, if you persuade them to take your presentation you’re also probably getting your competition the opportunity too. But why not? Your persuasive aren’t you?

2) What to do if you didn’t make the cut?

Unfortunately, this probably happens more often than our egos care to believe.

The good news is that it means the customer was at least going to hold presentations. And it’s also good news in that contractors can work to improve this area.

If you don’t make the customer’s short list for presentations — Get outside yourself. Have new eyes to look at your proposal responses and get their help.

You can do the above with a team of trusted colleagues from your firm. Task them with reviewing, rating and critiquing your latest proposals.

Heads up: this path can be political and time consuming although it won’t cost you anything.

Get an outside consultant to do an assessment (a bit of self-serving promotion here) to find areas of improvement.

Heads up: this will mean investing money, but it can happen faster and with a greater insight into the industry than your in-house colleagues may have.

The bottom line in this situation is to improve the persuasiveness of your proposal document. As importantly, to improve your sales intelligence gathering skills to acquire the essential customer info needed for a persuasive proposal.

RFPs always lead somewhere

It’s true that all RFPs lead somewhere. You just may not want to go where they lead.

So, to the best of your ability, figure that out at the start. Then if you do decide to take up the challenge, make sure you’re doing it with the best chance of success.

Good Luck

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