RFPs for Sales Training…Just Wrong!

Once in awhile, we see an organization’s open invite to salesforce training firms to submit their proposals for a salesforce training assignment, with a list of all of the required criteria.  The fallacy of such an exercise continues to amaze us.

RFPs and the Consultative Sales Approach

Think about this.  True consultative selling, the practice that most organizations would want the sales training company to instruct, requires a thorough examination by the potential vendor of the prospect’s needs.  This takes the form of at least one discovery session where good questions are asked of the prospect in order to get a better understanding of the core problems.  Further meetings to ask more questions, involving other stakeholders, along with potential observation sessions with members of the prospect’s sales team are all considered best practices by top training firms prior to submitting their complete recommendations for performance improvement.

Clearly, a salesforce training firm that purports to train your sales staff on proper consultative selling techniques, should obviously be demonstrating these same techniques when trying to win business themselves. In fact, they should be experts at this, leading the charge on how to correctly structure a sales meeting, capture you attention and interest immediately, perform a thorough needs analysis, present a solution tailored to those needs, handle all of your objections flawlessly and execute a successful series of closing techniques for each meeting designed to keep the sales process moving forward, all while making the prospect feel enlightened and engaged with each step. In fact, the sales process should actually serve as the perfect ‘audition’ for the sales training vendor vying for the sales training engagement.

The Problem

The RFP process eliminates any chance of this happening.  Because of the way vendors are requested to submit their solutions without doing any background research, or discovery, to assess the real nature of the challenges, the entire process is flawed.  Here are the three primary problems with this method:

#1. The organization looking for a solution is already undertaking their own diagnosis of the problem.  By limiting the involvement of the consulting firm early on and forcing them to provide a list of their credentials based on their pre-defined criteria, they are forcing potential solution providers to address the way they would solve the problems as the organization sees them, and not the problems that the training firm would find upon conducting their own discovery.  At Salesforce, we have often met with future clients that believe that they need sales training workshops to correct the problems associated with their teams’ performance, only to learn upon further investigation, that training workshops are simply part of the solution, and that the entire organizational system, including things such as hiring process, onboarding of new sales hires, compensation design, CRM, etc., are all contributing factors to lower sales results. Without engaging in this discovery process, we simply are not able to make the proper recommendations leading to the best solution.

#2. By removing the discovery process from the sale, the hiring organization is not able to select their preferred training vendor based on an analysis of those vendors’ ability to effectively sell themselves. An organization should seize the opportunity to assess a number of different training vendors by watching them each go through the process of asking good questions, presenting early-stage recommendations, handle objections, put proposals together and ask for commitment at each stage. This is one of the best ways to ascertain whether or not the practices exhibited by the training firm in the selling process are those that they would want their own salespeople to follow.  A training firm might complete an RFP to the satisfaction of the hiring firm but may do a lousy job when it comes to actually selling. Watching the way that the training firm’s own reps sell, should tell a lot about how that training firm thinks about what selling looks like.

#3. We have always wondered about those sales training firms that actually bid on, and win RFPs.  What exactly are they training?  After all, if the basis of consultative selling is to engage in a thorough discovery before actually making recommendations and quoting rates, then the RFP process pretty much removes any form of consultative selling from the procedure.  Those firms that win RFPs must have done exactly what we would tell firms’ salespeople not to do – make recommendations before doing any discovery.  So either those firms are training something entirely different, or they are telling that company’s salespeople to follow a process that they themselves are unwilling to follow, or at least, willing to forget about if it means getting a chance to win some business.  In effect, those firms are saying, sure, we know that good selling means asking lots of questions and doing some investigation to really understand the problem, before recommending solutions, but, hey, just don’t expect us to do it! Do as we say, just not as we do.

So, yes, we understand why sometimes RFPs are necessary.  But definitely not for sales training.

SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and Salesforce.com training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, providing sales leaders with the direction and support to ensure that their sales training programs are properly designed and executed. And we do not reply to RFPs.

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