Some businesses and government departments have a more formal process for collecting pricing information from suppliers. These are called Request for Proposals or RFPs for short.
The purpose of the RFP is to level the playing field among several suppliers by forcing everyone to present their information in a similar format. This allows the prospect to more easily compare apples with apples. This process is much more helpful to the prospect than it is to the salesperson hoping to make a sale.
Because the RFP doesn’t allow for much, if any, creativity, all the “selling” must be done before the RFP hits the street. By the time the RFP is issued, it is usually too late to qualify the prospect or to gain any insights into what the prospect is really looking for because contact with the end user is usually forbidden after the RFP has been issued. This is particularly true in the case of government RFPs where you can be disqualified for having direct contact with anyone other than the person issuing the RFP, which is usually the purchasing department or contracting officer.
Replying to an RFP can be a costly affair. Much time and many resources are often required to properly respond to one. This is why the general rule for responding to an unsolicited RFP is, don’t! If you didn’t know it was coming, you’re not likely to win it.
Unless you were aware of the opportunity well before it hit the street and have had a chance to qualify the prospect, there is a high likelihood that the opportunity is already wired for some other salesperson that has been working on the opportunity.
Just because a company calls and asks you to participate in their RFP process doesn’t mean you are truly in the running. It usually means that the company wants to have a number of choices or is using the RFP process to keep their current supplier “honest.”
The fact that you were unaware of the opportunity doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an attempt at getting the business. Just realize that you are probably the underdog in this particular situation and you should limit your investment of time and resources.
For more information on this topic, please refer to The Right Skills.
Salesforce Training & Consulting is a professional sales training firm and registered Salesforce.com Consulting Partner based in Toronto, with offices in Boston and Chicago, providing sales coaching, sales management consulting, salesforce implementation, sales training and sales personnel assessments.