17/08/2011

Set the questions. Enter the exam.

By Guy Aston, Mid-Market Business Director, Huthwaite International

Often we are asked to help organisations achieve better results from submitting tenders and requests for proposals (RFP). When we explore what clients have done to date, they show us the carefully designed documents, the amazing specifications, graphics, and the quality of the materials they are using. They are baffled because it has all made little difference to the outcome of the sale.

Some clients even tell us they have previously attended successful tendering courses, but to little effect.

Here I’d like to offer an alternative way to approach the tendering/RFP process, and one that I hope you will find much more effective in moving you towards closing the sale.

In an ideal scenario, by the time a tender or RFP arrives on your desk there will have been many meetings within the client organisation to discuss exactly what the organisation requires. We call this exploration the 'Recognition of Need' phase of the decision process. Once an outline of the needs are clear, the client will move to the next stage of the decision process,' Evaluation of Options'. Here, more discussion will take place around the shape the solution should take, as well as what a prospective supplier should look like. It is at this point the tender or RFP is constructed and sent out to possible solution providers.

However, the world is not ideal and if it is at this point your company gets to hear about business opportunities, you may well want to ask yourself a hard question. "If they were not talking to us during the formative stages of the requirement, which of our competitors was helping them?" Part of the 'Evaluation of Options' phase of the decision involves establishing the 'Decision Guidelines' the customer will make to evaluate the various suppliers and their offerings. If you are alongside the customer earlier in the process you can influence these criteria.

One of the reasons it is said that it is cheaper to sell to existing customers is that you know them so much better than your competitors and have an established relationship. A good relationship can give you early warning of possible new requirements. Consequently, you have a much better understanding of their situation and the opportunity to influence their 'Decision Guidelines' early on. One of my customers once said, "Really it's like an exam. What I should be doing is writing the questions that I am going to answer." He was quite right.

As part of their bid prequalification process, a number of our customers now include the question, "When an RFP arrives on our desks, is it the first we know of the opportunity?"

If the answer is ‘Yes’ the probability of the sale succeeding is given a lower score than where the seller has previous knowledge of the opportunity.

The message is, the earlier in any decision cycle you can engage the prospect, the better your chances will be. Simply slogging it out at tender stage is likely to end up as a simple price decision. Winning tenders or RFPs will depend more upon the early cycle work you have been through with the customer than it will upon the physical presentation of the bid.

Now, about those exam questions…

For more information visit Huthwaite Sales Training