Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part article. Part I can be found here.
When a sale goes to the competition, sales managers are left asking “Why didn’t we win?” and “What do we need to do differently?”
We addressed three steps to take in Part I of this article. Here are three more key steps.
Respect RFP specifications.
Not adhering to specifications outlined in an RFP primarily occurs when pitching a new deal. However, it also frequently happens when companies attempt to renew an agreement. Timeliness is important. Most executives assume that their sales teams are turning in proposals on time, but research from the AskForensics Knowledgebase shows that 17 percent of the prospects that cited sales team actions as a reason for the loss of a sale mentioned late proposals as a contributing factor.
Losing this way is painful and unnecessary because the RFP essentially provides a cheat sheet on core issues to address. Unless you have a strong relationship with the prospect and they truly see your value, you will likely not get a chance to resubmit your bid. To avoid this mistake, carefully examine the RFP in its entirety. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand the prospect’s true needs. Also, ask multiple executives within the prospect company probing questions to uncover significant factors not mentioned in the RFP.
Think 0utside the RFP.
While it is important to follow RFP specifications, you can experience setbacks if all you do is stick to the confines of the RFP and fail to think strategically beyond it. RFPs often state what procurement or corporate policies require, not necessarily what the business buyers need. Challenge your sales teams to take a fresh-eyes approach to all solutions and proposals before they submit them. Ask your own teams the critical questions before your prospects do. Questions to address include:
Is our value proposition clear?
- What is the total ROI for the client?
- Is it quantifiable?
- Will they understand it?
- How is our solution strategically differentiated from what our competitors will likely offer?
- Why should the prospect choose us?
To succeed, you also have to go outside of just the RFP and establish trust with decision makers to truly uncover and understand the prospect’s business requirements. Having a relationship is critical for establishing trust. In fact, many companies will not respond to RFPs unless they have a relationship with the prospect company’s senior management team. Trust is achieved through direct dialog with decision makers – not with procurement or lower level executives. Candidly discussing their business issues and your solutions, carefully listening and challenging their assumptions, and incorporating their strategic needs into your proposal will go a long way toward building trust and winning the deal.
Be consistent during the proposal process.
Complex deals often involve various teams from the buying and selling organizations. Depending upon the product or service, engineering, finance, sales, logistics, corporate, and C-level executives are involved in discussions and presentations. Coordination, collaboration, and communication within the team is very important. Compounding the challenge is that some of the prospect team members may not be sales-oriented, and this may cause them to be out of their comfort zones in attempting to detect verbal and non-verbal feedback. Here is what a senior executive said about a multi-million dollar opportunity:
“The presentation that was made in response to the RFP and the presentation that we got in the other office were totally not in alignment – there was a complete disconnect. If the response to the RFP had been similar to what we had been led to believe we would get when we left the other office, I completely believe we would still be working with them today…”
Winning and losing is a game of inches, and like athletes in a major sporting competition, it is important to become highly proficient in what you are able to control. Thankfully, being consistent during the RFP process is something you can influence and control by scheduling regular meetings with sales teams to discuss the status of specific prospects.
When involving team members who are outside of the sales group, fully prepare them for their role in the presentation. Invest in collaboration tools that allow all members of a sales team to have access to the same documents. Have a fellow team member review presentation materials prior to a meeting with a prospect to check for consistency with past presentations.
Sales teams mishandling interactions by not fully understanding the prospect’s needs is often the difference between winning a great deal and losing a golden opportunity. However, understanding prospects’ requirements, avoiding canned proposal, showing a total commitment, respecting RFP specifications, thinking outside of the RFP box, and being consistent during the proposal process can help your sales team turn losses into wins.
Rick Reynolds is a co-founding partner and CEO of AskForensics, which assists Fortune-ranked companies in winning and retaining multimillion dollar accounts. Follow AskForenics on Twitter: @AskForensics.