How to Respond To Big RFPs Creatively

To Win Consistently

Published on: October 2017

Written by: Andrew Dornon

While it’s safe to say that few salespeople relish the opportunity of opening a fresh RFP questionnaire or specifications document, it’s safer to say that everyone celebrates major deals.

There are a few key principles and tactics that take the drudgery out of RFPs, and increase your chances of winning. Note: I’m talking about major RFPs, possibly within key accounts, which require a team response and are worth devoting significant resources to.

  1. Select the team.
    You’ll need a project manager to oversee the creation of all deliverables and likely own the standardized response document. You’ll need a salesperson who is an expert on the parts of your business that will be servicing this account. Based on the non-standard deliverables, you also could need engineers, designers, copywriters, videographers, and/or technical writers.
  2. Understand your two audiences.
    Your first audience is procurement, who gathered the needs and specifications from the various stakeholders and generated the RFP. Procurement will act as a hurdle to overcome, but you can clear the hurdle by responding adequately via the standardized response document, and clearly articulating that you are capable of meeting their needs and specifications. Most sales teams need little help addressing this audience. The second audience is the business itself. Simply meeting the needs of the deliverables requested in the RFP will lead to an average number of critical wins at the right price. To win over business leaders an above average number of times, you must demonstrate that you can meet their needs – which is where your team’s creativity comes in.
  3. Define how you win. The RFP should give you decent insight into the results the business cares about. However, the path it suggests you take to achieve those results will likely be vague at best. Your response team must identify the buyers’ core goals and how your organization is uniquely positioned to accelerate the results that each decision-maker cares about.
  4. Prove it. The best way to win RFPs is to show that you can deliver by demonstrating capability at the actual task at hand. This is especially efficient because you are better at what your firm specializes in than you are at answering RFP questions. Depending on the value of the contract to your firm, these efforts should involve between one day and one week’s worth of work for your team. For a design firm, it could mean sending a few rough prototypes along with your response. For a branding firm, this could mean running a focus group to test potential slogans, mocking up brandmarks, and then producing a video of the team discussing the insights they generated and how they would use them to hit the ground running. At the highest end of this, we’ve seen an enterprise IT firm integrate their hardware with the prospect’s software in an over 5,000 square foot exhibit and had executives walk through and literally demonstrated how they could partner together to disrupt the market.

Sidenote: The above applies, when the RFP is requesting the right thing. Occasionally, it makes sense to ignore the RFP entirely and propose something completely different because the RFP is asking for the wrong thing. This is gutsy and fun, but doesn’t come up nearly as often as we would like. When done at the right time, and for the right reasons, it’s a joy.

The key to winning major RFPs is relatively simple: spend less time overcoming the procurement hurdle and more time focusing on inspiring confidence in the business leaders. If you can show the buyers your joint future, then you’ll win these deals at a much higher rate than your competitors who are only following instructions.