Wednesday, October 8, 2014

8 Rules for successful RFP responses

There is a long-held belief if a supplier is not early in the process and part of the writing of the RFP they will not succeed in an RFP process. This is not absolute; I have been involved in successful sales campaigns even when we have known the competition was involved in defining the content of an RFP.

The key to success is discovering the process the prospect is following. They will create an internal scoring process against which they will measure each supplier. In the event the response generates a sufficiently well scored response, the next step is to move to requiring further proof; that is when you it is possible to move to the supplier of choice.

There are certain rules to follow when responding to any RFI or RFP. When there is an RFI/RFP to reply, there are certain rules that will improve the probability of success and reduce the risk of failure. 

Rule 1 – Feature/Advantage/Benefit Every single question is answered in the following format; feature, advantage and benefits. Demonstrate an understanding of technical and business issues; always ensure there are detailed benefits.

Rule 2 – Earn the right to an opinion Answer all the questions asked. Only when this is complete, offer additional information. The RFI/RFP is a test and with scores, like any test it is essential to answer the questions asked. If there is additional information deemed pertinent to a response, add this only when the answers to the questions asked are complete. People have limited time, and they are scoring the response, clearly answer the question. Make it easy to gain a positive score on each topic. 

Rule 3 – Build a solution Do not mention product names unless specifically asked. Use the capability of the products to meet the prospect needs. Keep clear blue water between selling and implementation. Adding unnecessary product names will only confuse the prospect. They asked a question, answer it simply, and do not confuse the reader. 

Rule 4 - Express the Unique Selling Points Wrap the USP’s into every answer possible and sell them to the prospect.

Rule 5 – Express the Customer’s Customer benefits Focus on the ultimate benefit the customer gains from our solution. They are buying for a reason; ultimately, this will add value to the customer of the customer. Understand what ultimate value the product drives and articulate it clearly. 

Rule 6 – Deliver prospect specific messaging Determine key messages; consistently weave these messages in the response, e.g. if the determination is the requirements are ease-of-use, fast, intelligent, etc. then ensure this messaging is included consistently throughout the response.

Rule 7 – Quality shines through Produce a fully bound, color, response. Deliver the most professional proposal of those tendered.

Rule 8 – Deliver early Deliver the response on the prospect site at least one full day earlier than the deadline. Associate the response with efficiency and timeliness. Most vendors will leave delivery until the last minute, sometimes asking for extensions. There is no need, get ahead of the curve and let the prospect see you as being the most professional vendor and delivering ahead of expectations.

Friday, September 26, 2014

There is a significant change taking shape in business-to-business selling. As we see a fundamental shift to China becoming the World’s dominant economic power supplanting the USA, so we are seeing in business the rise of Marketing to supplant Sales’ dominance. It is a dramatic and rapid evolution changing the way suppliers and buyers initially contact, interact and then transact business.

B2B sales are becoming simpler, easier to conduct, cheaper to manage, and more agile. Customers are demanding more of suppliers including giving less of their time to evaluate products before the sale and expecting the supplier to prove the value of the investment before closing a sale. This results in leaving suppliers with less money and higher costs at the start of any relationship. The utopian sale one in which the customer fully self-serves and self-sells. Most organizations recognize this utopia is unattainable, but strive to achieve the vision of a zero friction sale with no impediments in order to reduce time and increase the value of sales.

 A business buys products with a belief those investments will propel its own business. As each business strives to differentiate itself in the market, it acquires materials to help make its own products, and make them unique. This requires when selling it is necessary to prove the product helps the unique requirements of the buyer’s business. Proving an understanding of customer needs, mapping these needs to the product, and explaining how the product performs better than the competition. This process requires some level of interaction, consultative needs matching, and the use of consultative sales processes.

 There is a lot of discussion in the B2B sales arena of a dream of frictionless selling. To reduce friction we must take the best of the low-friction techniques from the business-to-consumer market where the selling is a one-to-many relationship, and applying them in the business-to-business market of selling one-to-one. In business-to-consumer selling the one-to-many approach demands proactive articulation of a product’s benefits to as many people as possible. Actively reaching out to a buyer and providing information required to make a buying decision. Driving this proactive approach into business-to-business sales, delivers dramatic and positive results.

 The objective of a proactive sales process is to minimize the consultative elements of the sale, accelerating the sale and reducing costs. Minimizing friction through constant monitoring of the sales process, identifying prospect requirements, and at the appropriate time, proactively providing the information the prospect needs to understand if the product is the best product to meet their needs. All the time it is essential to gather data to understand exactly where the process can be proactive and identify wherever it is possible to automate a process.

The process of B2B sales is rapidly evolving. Gone are the days in which businesses simply sell to their customers. Selling business-to-business today requires supporting a prospect in their decision to become a customer. A proactive sales process requires an interactive dialogue and interaction between buyer and supplier across all channels of communication. Website, blogs, trade shows, sales team, support, customer counsels and touch points which have yet to be conceived, every touch point must be integrated, consistent and proactive. 

This is not the first dramatic shift in B2B sales and will not be the last. There are many similarities in today’s business environment with the shift in the Information Technology industry of the 1970’s. A few proprietary vendors providing all the computing products a customer required, from hardware to software to the services to make them work, had created a sales structure and sales process based on business conditions that were about to radically change. The disruption occurred with the entry of the open systems vendors. The sales techniques used to sell these new technologies also evolved, there were typified by high levels of contact, high costs, many face-to-face-meetings, lots of travel, and a consultative sales approach that was reactive. The proactive sales process benefits both parties in a sale by minimizing the interactions required to make a buying decision.

The lines between sales, marketing and product blur. The role of sales management shifts further toward process management and constant improvement. The role of marketing evolves to managing the messaging in a constant, iterative, consistent dialogue. Even the make-up of the sales team is changing with less focus on the road warrior and more on office-based teams. As with any change, some will feel threatened by these changes, others will embrace them. For those that do not embrace the change the result will be swift and unpleasant. For those businesses that fully embrace this change, the rewards are great and immediate.