The worst 3 letters you can hear as part of the B2B sales cycle are ‘RFP’. Large sales organizations often have RFP response teams while start-ups do not have that luxury. RFPs also get the company excited as it usually means that there is a big opportunity, which could mean a significant amount of revenue. I have spent 10 years working for a Fortune 500 organization dealing with RFPs as a rep, product manager, sales manager, and sales operation manager. This means that, in conjunction with the last 6 years of working with start-ups, we have been exposed to our fair share of RFPs. They are very time consuming and can take away the company and sales reps focus from other opportunities and activities that will have better odds at leading to revenue.

These are my tips on RFPs for start-ups:

Have you met with the customer before the RFP came out: When I worked at Lexmark Canada, we would receive multiple RFPs every week. We made a rule that we would not answer an RFP unless the sales rep had been in to meet with the account before the RFP came out. Finding an RFP on a bid site and then answering has a very low probability of success. If you get in front of an RFP you can potentially influence it by helping the prospect understand why your solution is the best.

Winning conditions: Besides meeting with the account beforehand, there are additional factors that could lead to winning conditions for your organization. Maybe the RFP puts a big emphasis on industry experience or on features that your solution does not have; it may be a waste of time to answer the RFP.

Reinforce what makes you the best choice: Understanding your potential competitors and how your solution is different and benefits the client is one of the keys to winning. Define your top 3 relative differentiators and look to work them into multiple sections of the bid.

Even if you do not answer RFPs, there are times when you need to be flexible: Some clients have to go to RFP, especially government organizations. Having the opinion that you never answer RFPs will not work if that is how your prospects buy, especially if it is mandated. Get in before the RFP comes out and try to influence it.

Create a response strategy: There could be many different responses to an RFP, ranging from technical, financial, value-add, and information about your company. Organizations may be able to split up sections to get it completed. One person should own the response and set up times of when the responses are due. It is also a good idea to save and re-use content in future RFPs to save time with responses.

Plan to get the RFP done well before the deadline: When creating your project plan for the response, build in a buffer. In the event that your responses get delayed, this buffer can help ensure you make the due date without too many all-nighters.

While answering an RFP can be a major pain, winning an RFP is a great feeling for the company and especially the people involved in the bid. The tips above should help improve your success percentage with RFPs. If you would like to get more tips from the VA Partners team sign-up for our newsletter; it is full of great content for start-ups on Sales, Marketing, and Social Media.

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