How To Consistently Win Or Avoid the RFP (Request For Proposal)

Ray Makela is an author, speaker, and business executive with 25 years of management, consulting, and sales experience. At Sales Readiness Group (SRG), Ray oversees all client engagements and the delivery of sales and sales management training programs.

In this episode of the Salesman Podcast, Ray shares a practical strategy you can use to consistently win or avoid an RFP.

You'll learn:

Sponsored by:

Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Ray Makela
Sales Performance Consultant

Resources:

Transcript

Will Barron:

Do you work in an industry where customers ask for RFPs or request for proposals? Then this episode is for you. We cover everything from the very basics to some advanced strategies of how to get a competitive advantage with them. Hello, Sales Nation. I am Will Barron and welcome to today's episode of The Salesman Podcast. On today's show, we have Ray Makela. He is the chief customer officer over at the Sales Readiness Group, which you can find at salesreadinessgroup.com, has over 25 years of sales and consulting experience. He's a legend, he's super knowledgeable in RFPs. And so with that said, let's jump right in. Ray, welcome back to The Salesman Podcast.

 

Ray Makela:

Great. Thanks Will, great to be here again. I appreciate the opportunity to chat about sales again with you.

 

What is an RFP? · [00:50]

 

Will Barron:

You're more than welcome. Glad to have you on. First question I'm going to ask you, at the risk of offending half the audience here, we're going to be talking about RFPs. What does an RFP stand for? What is it? And then we can dive into why the customer perhaps would want to go down this route of purchase.

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, and no, I think it is a great place to start because sometimes there's been misconceptions around and I think the word often gets kicked around without even fully thinking about what's behind it. So I mean, RFP in the simplest form, a proposal. So, the customer, the prospect is sending this out, is asking for you to submit a proposal based on a set series of requirements and qualification criteria.

 

Ray Makela:

But I think it's also important, there are other acronyms that get used. RFI, which is typically very first in the process, a request for information. And I think in those cases, you know that they really are just kicking the tyres. They're trying to get educated. They're looking for information about capabilities in the marketplace. And also, oftentimes we run into an RFQ or RFQQ, which is a request for a quotation, or request for qualification and quotations, which again is just saying, “Hey, tell us how capable you are at responding.” And you can anticipate that an RFP may be coming after that. But I think when we get an RFP, yeah, there's a number of things we should be thinking about and assessing, it's good to know what the basis of that is to start with.

 

The Person Responsible For Processing an RFP · [02:18] 

 

Will Barron:

And before we dive into why the customer has proactively chosen to do this, who processes the RFP? Is it the decision maker? Would it be someone further down the food chain that perhaps that this has been dumped onto? How seriously should we take the request from the individual? How important is the individual that is sending us that email or that phone call? Who puts all this together?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, and I think it is a very important consideration is that typically RFPs and more and more these days I think, are managed by the procurement organisation or somewhere in the supply chain. And it's the result of the business stakeholders saying, “Hey, we need this capability.” Or, “We need a vendor, a consultant, a partner to provide these services for us.” And then procurement's job is to go out and get three to five quotes, compare pricing and capabilities. And frankly, protect the organisation in terms of liability, and betting, and insurance, and negotiation, all those other things that come into play.

 

Ray Makela:

So, that is their job, not necessarily always to provide, or to get the best capabilities, it's to get the most cost-effective solution that meets those criteria. And so I think we have to peel that back a little bit and understand. And in fact, I'll send you a link to a blog we published on negotiating with procurement and we have a white paper on that as well, because it's an area that I think is becoming more and more important and one that we've looked at pretty closely.

 

The Reason Why Buyers Choose To Go the RFP Route · [04:20] 

 

Will Barron:

Yeah, we did a full show on negotiating procurement with Chris Foss, who is an ex-FBI hostage negotiator. My background in medical devices is all, surgeon wants it, finance wants it. It makes total sense and there's some man or a woman sat at the desk with their arms crossed in a procurement officer badge on, in the NHS here, sat back and, “Give me your best deal otherwise I'm going with someone else.” So, that's a whole other conversation, that we can have you back on and we can dive into it another time.” But why would a company, why would for example, me dealing with essentially the government, and the NHS here in the UK, why would they want to either, for example, go to tender, have an RFP, RFI? Why would they choose to do this as opposed to pick up the phone and just have a more candid conversation with a salesperson?

 

“The best input into a negotiation is to have other options. In other words, we can walk away, we can go somewhere else.” – Ray Makela · [04:57] 

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah. Well, and you touched on the negotiation part. I think it, at one level, it really comes down to the idea of BATNA, which is a common negotiation term, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. As I think many people realise, that the best input into a negotiation is to have other options. In other words, we can walk away, we can go somewhere else. We can look at that. So, the easiest way is to send out this RFP. Now we have three, five, maybe 10 responses initially that we can compare. And so if we don't like the pricing or the solution that one of the providers is giving us, us being the internal organisation, we can go to one of the other options. So, I think at the heart of it, they really are looking to see what is the best solution we can get at the most cost effective price that meets those criteria?

 

Why You Should Be Careful When Responding to an RFP · [05:05]

 

Will Barron:

Should we not be as excited as what we might currently be when we get an RFP then? Because it sounds like an organisation would only go this … and there may be other reasons why they'd go this route, but it seems that the majority of the time they go this route because they feel like they're buying a commodity. They feel like there's plenty of options in the marketplace. They feel like perhaps quality versus price isn't such a big deal in this case. Are we on the back foot when we get an RFP versus if we uncovered this potential business ourselves?

 

Ray Makela:

Well, and I'm a realist here will, and I think we really need to think about it because there-

 

Will Barron:

I set that one there for you, didn't I?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, no, it's great. Because I think there are a lot of people in the industry who would say, “You know what? You'll never win an RFP that you get, that you didn't know about. It's probably written by the competitor. It's probably rigged and you should just stay away from them.” But the flip side of that is we may not be able to do work with that organisation unless we respond. And so there's a whole process and we'll talk through that a little bit, about vetting and understanding and improving our chances of competing for that. But I think we should be careful in responding, that your chances are going to be lower when there's an RFP, but many organisations have become really focused and are getting a lot of value of managing them through procurement. So, that's the only way that they can let, as you said, a tender, or let that agreement, is if they've gone through an RFP process. So, it's a natural state, or it's a potentially necessary evil if we want to do work there.

 

Will Barron:

Okay. So Ray, my experience of all of this is I wouldn't literally fill out the paperwork myself. I might do all the research for it. This is the last company I worked with in the endoscopy world, but the RFP, or loads of different acronyms here, depending on the NHS trust and the private hospital, or they all have their own different style of paperwork, but RFP essentially, I wouldn't fill that out, the product specialist would. So, I'm blind to this process of whether it's a physical paperwork, whether it's an online form, whether it's an email with just a list of questions. So, we'll dive into that in a second.

 

How to Fill Out and Respond to an RFP · [07:53] 

 

Will Barron:

50% of the time, I'd get an email and I won't use the language that the product specialist would use in his emails, but essentially I'm not filling this BS out, would be 50% of the replies I'd get, because he knew that we weren't going to win it. He didn't want to waste his time on completing paperwork where it could be better spent elsewhere. So, what does it look like when it arrives if we are going to fill out ourselves? Just in case anyone is new to sales, new to a new industry and they know it's coming, but they've not seen an RFP yet. What does it real, practically, physically look like?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, so, I think actually more and more, we're seeing some sort of online procurement. So, it's being managed sometimes by a third-party vendor. You're given a login and you're asked to put your qualifications into certain forms, and in some cases very limited in terms of the amount of characters, the text that you can comply. Oftentimes, and I think this is more traditional, they give you a format to follow and say, “Okay, you need to complete these 10 sections. You need to answer these questions.” And sometimes there's a spreadsheet or template that you're asked to then complete with your pricing and qualifications. So, they're trying to structure the responses so that they can compare apples to apples as closely as possible when they make those decisions.

 

Ray Makela:

I do want to clarify one thing that I think really speaks to the heart of what's going on behind these RFPs. I think it's something that I've maybe changed my thinking over the years, is it's often we think of procurement or that supply chain person almost as the enemy that as you said, you've worked so hard to develop the relationship in the organisation. And then procurement sits there with their arms crossed and says, “Okay, you got to comply.” Well, I think we need to treat them as another stakeholder in the sales process and we need to realise that they have their own objectives and priorities that they're trying to accomplish. And it's not, frankly, even though it may feel like it, it's not just trying to beat us up over price and get the absolute lowest cost. They're trying to provide a solution to the organisation, protect the liability, make sure the vendor is going to be around to actually deliver and deliver successfully, make sure they're acting ethically and that they have a history of being able to deliver these types of projects.

 

Ray Makela:

So, there's a whole number of things that if we try to put ourselves in procurement's role, we're thinking, “Oh, I realise they're trying to do a job too. How can we work with them? And ideally, if we can help them be successful in satisfying those requirements, maybe we can actually develop a relationship there just like we have with the other stakeholders.”

 

Why Business Managers Typically Don’t Like Replying to RFPs · [10:34] 

 

Will Barron:

We'll come onto that after this. We'll come onto that next because I think that's real practical. The audience will be able to really implement some of these strategies with procurement within five seconds of listening to the show, Ray. But before that, going back to my business manager internally, the product specialist, why would he send me these snotty emails when I'm bringing him potential new business? Why would he immediately after four seconds say, “We're not doing that. We'll not bother replying.” What does he know about this situation and this RFP that I perhaps being more green to sales, more naive to sales, I haven't quite understood yet?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, I think it is the heart of the question, as you said. If somebody who's more senior is probably like, “Yeah, well I know the [inaudible 00:11:18] that.” And chances of winning that opportunity are automatically lower than if you were just in there really selling and maybe there are a couple of options, but you have a good relationship. Well immediately, and that's why we always want to ask, “Well, how many people did this RFP go out to?” And typically they'll send it out maybe five to 10 different vendors. Maybe they'll get intents to propose or intent to bid from a shortlist of five or so. And then they're going to narrow that down and then we're going to have to present, and then they're ultimately going to get to a solution.

 

Ray Makela:

So, your chances of winning that RFP are automatically lower. And I think in your case, they've had experience that said, “You know what? We're probably not going to win this, especially if we're just filling it out blindly. So it's not worth this effort of going through all the hoops to provide the specifications and the technical capabilities and the references when our chances of winning are likely pretty low.”

 

Will Barron:

I know something that I got told to look out for with these documents is … and this will make no sense unless you're a complete nerd listening to this, but I was selling endoscopy camera systems. Our system was 1080P, progressive, full screen, refresh. The competitors was 1080i, so interlaced made no real difference to the image on the screen. You could barely tell the difference. If you had two screens next to you, maybe one would have slightly less motion blur, but the other one would have then these jagged lines when you go fast from one side of an abdomen to the other, which clearly didn't happen very often, but you could tell who essentially the surgeons wanted, what data they'd fed to procurement retrospectively of the RFP document, in that if the competitor had been in there, sold the surgeon, the surgeon would ask for 1080i. If I'd gone in there and sussed it out, the document would ask for 1080P and ask essentially why you can't provide that if you can't. So, we're stacking the decks in one favour or you've already lost the business potentially.

 

How to Get In the Good Books of the Procurement Officer · [13:18] 

 

Will Barron:

But with all that said, and we'll come onto that perhaps at the end of the show, of how we can start the deck in our favour, coming back to the procurement officer here, what can we do to get in their good books. Other than the super obvious of being prompt and being accurate with the data, is there anything else we can do to start even building a relationship with them? To start helping them so that we … even if it's just subconscious, we've got a bit of favour, we've got a bit rapport with them and perhaps we can tilt them towards our direction just a little bit.

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah and it also speaks to just how controlled this response is. Sometimes we're only given one person and they say, “You can only talk to this person. You can't speak with anyone else.” It's very controlled. And other times it's a little bit looser. So, I think understanding who that person is, ideally trying to get a call and we actually just went through a case where it was a blind RFP. We weren't expecting it. We went through our checklist and said, “Well, if we can get a conversation with the hiring manager, essentially the procurement person, and vet out our questions in terms of had they been working with any of our competitors, how was the RFP written? How were those requirements developed? What are they looking for in a successful vendor?”

 

Ray Makela:

And frankly, we asked the question, “Well, how can we help be successful here? What are you really looking for in a partner? What's most important?” And it really changed the nature of the conversation because in this case she was able to open up and she shared, “Well actually, we don't have anybody in mind.” You always have to wonder, but they were really looking for somebody that could partner with them on this very specific, multi-language type sales training solution. So I think, actually we're in a very good position having had that conversation.

 

“If you're in an organisation and you've already done some work, but you realise they're putting an RFP out, get in ahead of it. Go in, have those conversations with procurement, again don’t treat them like the enemy.” – Ray Makela · [15:17] 

 

Ray Makela:

So, I'll give one other example on this, because I think it's very important. If you're in an organisation and you've already done some work, but you realise they're putting an RFP out, get in ahead of it. So, if you can have those conversations with procurement, again not treating them like the enemy, but as you're making your rounds. I did this with a client, we were doing a considerable amount of work with a couple years ago, I was down calling on one of our stakeholders and I asked if I could meet with the procurement specialist while I was there. I asked her that very question. I said, “Hey, we really appreciate the work that we're doing with your organisation. What can we do to be a more successful partner? What are you really looking for?” She said that was the first time in 20 years anybody had actually asked her that question and she really opened up and she talked about acting ethically and delivering on commitments and keeping them apprised if something was going off the rails. They don't want to get surprised. That's the worst thing for somebody in a legal or procurement organisation.

 

Ray Makela:

So, we just went down that list and we tried to incorporate that into future proposals and future discussions and it really resonated. So, I share those examples because I think we really can try to build a stronger relationship, even though they may be reluctant. But I think it's on us as a salesperson to treat them as another stakeholder.

 

Will Barron:

Of course. So, there might be a few more to add to this, but I'm scribbling these down as we go through them, Ray. Perhaps I'll do this in the show notes or as a separate download for the audience, but we're building a checklist here of what we should be doing when we get a blind RFP. So, we should be asking how many people did it go out to, if they give us that information. Even better, if they explain who it went out to. I don't know whether they'd explain that, depending on the circumstances. We need to ask, can we go into the account and speak to people in there? Or could we only deal with the procurement team itself? We need to ask, are they currently working with a competitor of ours? And perhaps we need to then go to management, senior people within our organisation and see if we've worked with them in the past and lost business, why we've lost business with them.

 

How to Perform a Comprehensive RFP Assessment · [17:40] 

 

Will Barron:

And then we need to ask what you align then, of how can we … I like the phrase as well, as opposed to, how can I help you? Because it's almost putting the pressure on them to try and suss it out. How can we partner with you as, it strikes me as a more professional, more business, a more procurement way of communicating with them. So, how can we partner with you to make all of this more seamless? Is there anything else that we can add to that list? Is there anything else we should be asking? Is there anything else we can bring to the table? So I guess, yeah, there's the end scenario that we're trying to engineer is that we are the most helpful, so they want to deal with us moving forward as well. Is there anything else we should be asking or doing at this stage?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, well, I think it's one of the other things that we really like to do in that initial assessment of the RFP. One is to actually do the assessment. So sit down and say, “You know what? We're going to, before we jump in and send it off to our specialists to start completing, look at this and say, ‘Is this business that we think we're well suited for? That we think we have a good opportunity to win? And that we want?' “

 

“Salespeople never met a deal they didn't like, or didn't want to chase.” – Ray Makela · [18:18] 

 

Ray Makela:

I use the phrase that salespeople never met a deal they didn't like, didn't want to chase, but maybe it's not the best business, or maybe it's not the type of business we're going to get, the margins that we're looking for, versus maybe it's a strategic account. And even though sure, maybe we only have a 20% chance going in to win it, but we want to get our foot in the door. We want to establish ourselves because this account has strategic value. So, I think we want to look at that and have that discussion.

 

Ray Makela:

And the one thing I'd add to your list is, I think we really want to look at the decision criteria and if they haven't published those in terms of how they're going to evaluate, we should ask that question. Can you tell us what at the end of the day you're going to use to make this decision? I think we should do as, to the extent we can, a very objective analysis of our own capabilities based on if we know who the competition or who the likely competition is, how do we stack up realistically? Have we beaten them before? As you mentioned.

 

Ray Makela:

I just wanted to get back to your one point, because I think it's really important, is do we see any red flags in that RFP that would indicate the competition has already been in there? As you said, that may be language or terms they're using. It may be things that are coming up as requirements that we can't meet, but we know that our competition is very strong. I've used the quote from Sun Tzu, The Art Of War, one of those classic references. But, “If you know your enemy as well as yourself, you won't fear the results of a thousand battles,” or something like that.

 

Ray Makela:

So, we need to know where our competition typically would beat us or where they would try to maybe cast some doubt on our capabilities, look at that and then assess is there a way of either reevaluating or redefining that requirement, or if it's in there, it likely is they already want that solution. And so that's going to be a showstopper or that's going to be a difficult one to get past.

 

Assessing the Potential Changes to an RFP · [20:10] 

 

Will Barron:

How would you frame up a conversation of changing … or having at least a conversation about changing a specification that would put you out of out the running? Because clearly this is going to crop up. Do we just give up if that is the case, that we know the competition's been in? Or is there room to, and I'm generalising here, but to get RFPs changed, updated and made more competitive? Because surely that's for the benefit of the procurement officer as well, if that's the case?

 

Ray Makela:

Sure. Yeah, and I think it also depends on how structured and formal that RFP is. As you said, if it's a government agency, may be very structured. Once that's written, once that's published, there's no opportunity to change the spec at all. In other cases, with private organisations, they may be calling it an RFP, but they're really just using that as a framework to get proposals in and asking those questions like, can you help me understand the basis for this requirement? And especially ask a question [inaudible 00:21:20] probably can't answer, help me understand the business need behind this requirement. Why are the sponsors asking for this? Or what's the business intent?

 

Ray Makela:

And then I would be very transparent and ask the question, would you be open to alternative solutions that might provide more value or might be more cost effective? And if they're not open to solutions, then I think we really have to question that it's pre-wired or they put that in there to limit the number of responses.

 

Will Barron:

This is amazing. I love these turns of phrases that using here, Ray, of are you open to other solutions? Because if they say, no, they've already got the mindset up or they're a complete idiot. You probably are speaking to the wrong person, right? There's probably a way described. There's probably a type of question and there's probably a name to describe that type of question, but it's very value forward of, I want to help you as opposed to, I'm trying to trick you and get around this crack and get beyond the process.

 

The Proper Way to Fill Out an RFP · [22:20] 

 

Will Barron:

Okay, so the actual form filling, are there any secrets to this or is it relatively straightforward? Are we just using facts? Are we trying to colour them slightly and make it a bit more exciting, the language? And I guess this depends on products and services as well, but is there a process to filling this out that's best bang for buck? And I'm thinking of the scenario of perhaps we've got four of them to do, do we waste … not waste. Do we spend a lot of time on one and less time on the others if we think that we're going to win more of this? Or are they all much the same essentially, when you're just filling them out?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah. Well, I think it goes back to that other question, first let's assess our possibilities of winning. And in that case of your example, if we have four that we're looking at, really assessing that and saying, “Well, this one, we have the highest likelihood and it's also the most desirable account. Let's go after that one and let's disqualify the other three. We don't have time to just throw them out there or just respond blindly.” I think that's one of the things that we often get caught up and we even have the discussion internally. It's like, “Oh well, we have a little bit of bandwidth, we can do that. What else do we have to do?” Or what else does that specialist have to do? I would say, “Well, they should go prospect then. They should go build relationships. They should go get ahead of the next RFP in that next organisation.”

 

Ray Makela:

So, there's always alternatives. But yes, if we're focusing on that one, I think we should really assess our capabilities and then do the absolute best job we can responding. And typically, that means making it very easy for the procurement specialists to evaluate our response. That may seem pretty basic, but make their job easy. So, if they ask 10 questions, let's make sure we answer those 10 questions in that order, calling out that language, bolding whatever it is, don't make them find a treasure hunt to find our capabilities. If they give us a template, follow that template, even if it doesn't make sense. It's a pet peeve, but oftentimes the RFPs are just horribly organised and they don't buy your services every day, so they're not used to asking the kinds of questions that you're used to responding to.

 

Ray Makela:

So, I think despite we may have a better way of organising it, follow their format, make sure if they're going down a scorecard, it's very easy for them to score. Then if there's an executive overview or a cover letter, that's where you put your selling in. So, that's where we should really spend the time. My background at Accenture and previous consulting organisations, that was always the highest value, typically the partner would write that letter. That's where you're going to really add your capabilities to say, “Here's our understanding of your business need. Here's our unique solution and why it's different than the competition. Here's how we meet your criteria. Even beyond what may be in the evaluation, this is how we can uniquely partner with you. Here's the proof that we may have, or why we're really different.” So whether that's capabilities, or references, or whatever that is and the summary of why we're the best choice. That's I think, where they're selling. The rest, make sure that we're very compliant with responding to those capabilities.

 

Why You Need to Highlight Your Differentiators When Responding to an RFP · [25:46] 

 

Will Barron:

Let me just recap this letter because I don't want to … Seemingly, this is a huge part of the puzzle then. We need to demonstrate that we understand their business needs. We've got to sell our uniqueness, for want of a better phrase, USP. We need proof and then we need a summary of it all. Is there anything else that we can add in there to add a little bit of sparkle? Is there anything else that I've missed from that list?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, I mean, and this is straight out our sales training, but I think captured in that value proposition is our differentiation. So, especially if we know who the competition is, this is our chance to highlight our capabilities that maybe we know they're not as strong about and get that across. Again, without disparaging anyone, but that's really where we're going to differentiate our capabilities that are going to make them successful based on our understanding of their needs.

 

A Strategic Way to Follow Up After Responding to an RFP · [26:40] 

 

Will Barron:

Okay. So we've got this submitted and for the audience, they might have done one, they might have done a hundred, perhaps there's another layer that we can add to the conversation now, ready to wrap up or follow up. Should we be hounding the heck out the procurement officer because they're not perhaps the end decision maker, that their job in our mindset is to respond to us and to give us access? Should we be hounding them or is there a strategic way to follow up specifically with an RFP?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah. Let me backtrack a little bit, because I think it's another one we should add to our criteria when we're assessing is, is there going to be an opportunity to present our solution to the stakeholders? So, if it's just a fill out the RFP and we'll tell you if we select you, boy, I'm quite a bit less excited about that opportunity, because again, they're going to be looking at pricing, they're going to be looking at those columns on the spreadsheet. They're trying very hard in that case to commoditize the solution, versus, “Oh no, we're going to go to a short list. Everybody's going to have a chance to come in and present to the stakeholders. That's a clean slate and then we're going to evaluate based on that.”

 

Ray Makela:

Now I have a chance to sell my solution and I'm much more interested. So, I want to ask that question in advance and I think it's one of those things that, and this drives me crazy, crazy as well, that if we're sending that in and the salesperson tells me, “Yeah, we responded, we're waiting to hear,” that's not an acceptable answer. We should know, if we're going to invest the treasure, essentially the resources of our organisation in responding, we should know exactly what's going to happen after we press send on that email with that proposal or after we fill that out. If they haven't laid that out, we should be hounding and asking before. It's a little bit of a give and get. If we're going to go through this, we'd like to know the timeline, the process, the decision criteria and the next steps well in advance, because otherwise, as you mentioned, it seems like it goes into a black hole, or we lose control of it.

 

Ray Makela:

So, the best case is, oh, we know that orals are going to be two weeks from now. Based on the orals, they're looking at these six factors. So we have a chance to build our presentation and sell, and then we're going to make a decision by April 1st. Great, now I can help control and manage that process and be a little bit more proactive as opposed to just sending it in and waiting.

 

The Positive Things That Might Happen After Responding to an RFP · [29:14] 

 

Will Barron:

Makes total sense. I missed that step myself, probably because I've never done it and it shows how there's a gap in my knowledge as well, that can always be filled by experts like yourself, Ray. And you said a word there that was interesting to me, clean slate. Is an RFP most … and obviously scenario dependent, I know, but most of the time is it just your foot in the door? And do you have a true clean slate after that point to present, to separate yourself away from the competition? Is that how we should be thinking of this? That this is just how you get that meeting, like a job interview. This is your CV and what really matters is the interview. Is that how we should be framing this up?

 

Ray Makela:

Well, I think that's ideal for us if we have that capability, I don't think it's always the case. I think sometimes they may score you and then the presentation is worth another 15% of the final, or if it's a very controlled procurement process, there may be some points allocated to that. In other cases, yeah, they're really just trying to get to a shortlist. And then based on that shortlist, you have a chance to really maybe redefine the opportunity or provide additional capabilities.

 

Ray Makela:

That's why we want to ask those questions up front, in terms of how that ultimate decision and who is on that decision committee that's again, probably one question that maybe we missed, is can you tell us about that steering committee, or that decision-making committee? Who are they made up of? What are their titles? And can you tell us a little bit about their background or what they care about? They may not answer those questions, but I think they're absolutely fair. Especially again, and this is where I think we really need to think about elevating the sales profession a little bit and I think that's the whole sales enablement charter, but elevate our profession to where we're not just the gophers, or we're not just the ones doing all the work and the client beats us around and then tells us to jump through a hoop, or jump and we say, “How high?” I think we need to say, “We're willing to do this if we can answer these questions.”

 

Ray Makela:

And it's a really important point to consider that they want us in that pursuit because again, the more options, the better. Likely they have a [inaudible 00:31:20] of vendors in order for it to be a successful tender or a successful procurement. So I had a mentor who told me once, “They'll even lie to you to keep you in the game because it's in their best interest to have multiple players.” So they may tell you, “Oh no, you're a great fit. You're perfect. It's a level playing field. None of the people have been involved before.” That may or may not be true, but I think we need to have a little bit of confidence and swagger on our side to say, “We're willing to put this time in, but here are the things that we need to feel that we're making a reasonable investment and that we improve our opportunity or our chances of levelling the playing field.”

 

How to Subtly Ask Questions About the Buyer’s RFP Scoring System · [32:00]

 

Will Barron:

And one last thing to double down on this, because this is perhaps a question that we should be asking, but I don't know how we would phrase it. And this is news to me as well, which is exciting, of clearly if they've got a structured scoring mechanism of 20% for all the details in the RFP, 25% … I'm going to screw myself over with the maths here and look ridiculous, not be able to do basic addition. 27, and I'll make it difficult, someone else can do it either, 27.4% is based on your presentation. And then there's 47%, which is based on something else, and 0.2% based on this. How do we go about asking how the scoring system is structured before we start the process? Is there a way to ask that question more seamlessly than what is the scoring system?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, it really does go to, if we're able to have a dialogue, I think we can ask that question and be pretty transparent. Can you let us know what your decision criteria are and have you applied any weighting to those criteria? What I love about those kind of questions is if it's a less mature procurement organisation, they may scratch their head and go, “Well, no, that's a really good question. I hadn't considered that.” Well, guess what? Now we're in that position of helping educate them on, oh, maybe you should consider that because at the end of the day, you don't just want six people sitting around a table going thumbs up, thumbs down.

 

Ray Makela:

So, it's a bit like in our recruiting curriculum, when we talk about hiring a salesperson, we should have some criteria that we're going to apply after the resume screen, after the interview, after we've looked at their capabilities, because it makes for a more informed and a more strategic decision. So anyway, I think we can help educate the customer and I think we should ask. I think you'll find in the most sophisticated ones, they'll say, “Yes, it's going to be 50% on price. It's going to be 35% on references. We're going to give 10% to the company's reputation. And then the last 5% is going to be based on your presentation,” or whatever that may be. So again, don't know if that math worked either, but yeah, I think sometimes it's very clear. Other times they haven't even considered it, but they may appreciate us asking the question.

 

Questions Are the Most Useful Tools in Your Sales Arsenal · [34:10] 

 

Will Barron:

Well, tell you what Ray, what I've learned from this show is that questions in every sales scenario, are seemingly the most important thing here, because it gives us the information to find that competitive advantage. I'm going to ask a question that is a super simple one. I don't think I've ever asked it on the show before, but it's something I'm going to scribble down on this piece of paper in a second, I'm going to probably ask more. Is there anything I've missed in my questions to you that would be useful for the audience regarding RFPs? Is there anything that we haven't covered that you think has big bang for buck for us to wrap up on and talk about?

 

Ray Makela:

Wow, well we certainly have covered a lot of ground and no, I've really appreciated your questions. I think where we started, which is in my mind, the go, no go decision. Is this really worth responding to or not? I think a lot of these factors we've talked about come into play and help us determine, wow, does this really feel like it was written for the competition, or does it feel like it's so structured that we can't even get that conversation with the person in procurement? Sometimes it's submit all your questions in writing and we'll respond to everybody with our secret questions. Well, that's the worst situation in terms of being able to develop the relationship.

 

Ray Makela:

But the one that I'd add to that, or I might ask about is the timing around the RFP. I would consider that as also a key criteria because if it's a quick turnaround, we didn't know it was coming and the RFP is due 10 days from now, chances are they probably have a pretty good idea and they want to make a quick decision so that they can validate. Maybe they get a little bit of leverage on pricing, but they have already got somebody in mind. And here's a little trick I learned again, years ago from a mentor who said, “A great thing to do in that case is ask for an extension.” Say, “We would love to work with your organisation. We don't feel that we can do a great job based on our current understanding of responding in that time. We'd like to have a one week or two week extension.” If they're willing to have a dialogue and say, “Okay, yeah, we understand and we can do that.” Then they probably really do want us to provide a valid response.

 

Ray Makela:

If they say, “No, we can't do that.” Then they probably already have the decision. “Great, let's get that off our list. Let's go onto one that we can win.” So, I guess that's another question I might add.

 

Ray’s Go-To Resources For Getting Better at Understanding RFPs · [36:36] 

 

Will Barron:

Love it. That makes total sense. And with that, Ray, we're going to come on to your high impact on demand training in a second and everything that you offer as well. But is there any other resources, any books, any other training, anything that we should be looking at to anyone who's listened to the show, wants to learn more about RFPs, get that higher level of experience? How can they get it? What's the best way for them to move forward?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, I mean, people have different ideas on how to respond to RFPs, different concepts that are out there. I don't know any specific references that capture everything we have. I will mention that, as I said, we'll provide a couple of links to some blogs and white papers that we've written on this topic. I also think it's one that the organisation should just spend some time thinking about in terms of your own capabilities. A number of things that we've identified here and I have the 10 questions to qualify an RFP, we use internally.

 

Ray Makela:

So, we have our own checklist. We go through and rate them on a score of one to five and I think that's a great resource to, at the end of the day, say, “Hey, is this a 25 out 50? Boy, if we don't have anything better going on, maybe we'll fill it out. Or is this a 40 out of 50, because it's a really high value client. We think we can work with them? Great, let's then … ” in it to win it. Let's extend the resources we need to do the best job we can responding with the expectation that we're going win this RFP. Let's not do it just because they asked us to fill out the form.

 

Parting Thoughts · [38:08]

 

Will Barron:

Makes total sense. Well, with that Ray, tell us a little bit about your online training, the coaching videos and everything else that you're up to as well?

 

Ray Makela:

Yeah, no, I appreciate that opportunity. At Sales Readiness Group we're a sales and sales management training company. Our focus is on improving the performance of sales teams. And one of the things that we've evolved to and very excited to launch at the end of last year is a series of videos and on-demand training around becoming a better sales coach. So, the business case around sales coaching is very compelling, the idea that better coaching equals better results on your sales team. Yet a lot of managers don't know how to do it. There isn't a process in place, they don't have the tools. It's one of those black holes of, “I think I'm a good coach, but I don't really know how.”

 

Ray Makela:

So, we've published this programme. It's 18 videos, short videos, three to five minutes, but there are assignments and tools and exercises that go along. Then we do a weekly ask the expert session where they get to have actually a live, interactive virtual coaching session based on that material. And we have a session starting actually later in March, but that's something we'll provide some resources and love to have people check out because I think it's a great way that you can go through it at your own pace, but also get the resources and capabilities to become a better sales coach,

 

Will Barron:

Amazing stuff. Well, I'll link that in the show notes of this episode, over at salesman.org for everyone who's driving, running, motorbiking, whatever they're doing as they're listening to this podcast episode. And with that Ray, I want to thank you for your time. I appreciate this because I feel like we've covered a lot of ground. I feel like this is … Well, I don't feel, this is going to be a resource that will be on salesman.org as a standalone video, as anyone asking me a question about RFPs, go listen to that, come back and ask me questions after the fact, if there's anymore to go at. So I appreciate that mate and I want to thank you for joining us on The salesman Podcast.

 

Ray Makela:

Well, thank you very much for having me again. It's always a pleasure. I appreciated your questions, your passion and the insights that you bring. I'm a listener as well, so I really appreciate everything you do for the industry.

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