We're thrilled to have our partner Onspring Technologies share a guest post. Sales
Engineer Katie Wilcox gives insightful, firsthand advice on how you can improve your
RFP process, set Buyers at ease, and demonstrate that you are a great choice.
(Learn more about vendor risk management at our upcoming webinar.)
If you don’t get regular exposure to RFP documents, I can tell you there are common themes among the many types of documents I have seen. From the detailed Excel-based security questionnaire, to the lengthy catalog with legal attachments and contract language, to the brief bulleted list that gets sent over via email, those who author the RFP are all just trying to get to the bottom of the same kinds of questions:
- Do you meet our requirements?
- Are you the best choice for our needs?
- Are you going to provide a long-lasting solution to our challenge?
No matter the industry of your business or the type of RFP you receive, there are a few simple things you can do to help answer their questions and calm the fears they may have in making a selection.
#1. Understand the Need
The first thing a vendor can do to instill confidence on the buyer side, is demonstrating a clear understanding of the need, challenge, or problem the buyer is trying to solve. Even though their RFP documents may state “Request for Proposals for an Enterprise Risk Solution,” that can still mean different things to different organizations. Communicate back to the buyer that you understand the setup they are looking for, the specific attributes, service levels, features, deadlines, etc. That way they can be assured that you truly understand for what you are bidding.
There are a few key ways we do this at Onspring:
- Asking questions where we may be unclear: Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. Most RFPs have a Q&A period. Use that time to resolve anything that may be unclear. This is also critical to make sure your answer will fit the need they have. Our philosophy is that we would rather know we are a good fit in an RFP process before wasting our time and the buyer’s time in a long process that will eventually end up in no engagement.
- Read between the lines: Many RFP documents contain a trove of information that may not be implicitly stated. For example, are the majority of the questions focused on how exactly you will deliver the service or the product features they must have? If so, you may want to spend time explaining your successful delivery model or your product specifications to help alleviate the concern that delivery won’t meet expectations.
#2. Respond to All Specifications, Even If You Don’t Like Them
I’ve seen some pretty gnarly RFPs that I know are going to call for some late nights and hard work to assemble. I get that it’s easy sometimes to pick and choose what you want to respond to vs. what you don’t. But in my experience, an honest, accurate answer is better than no answer. If there is a specific question that does not align with how your business addresses a certain situation, it’s okay to answer “no.”
Not every answer is critical, so an answer you fear may be perceived as unfavorable may still pass an initial round of review, whereas a blank or missing component is much more likely to cause your response to be removed from the pile. Since a proposal is a hybrid document of persuasive/sales content and technical content, emphasize instilling trust over trying to “win someone over.” A precise response carries more weight in instilling trust than a sales spin.
#3. Show Documentation
Maybe it’s because I’m from Missouri or the “Show-Me State,” but I find that providing real, living documentation of procedures and policies (test data, certifications, etc.) carries much more weight in my proposal than a sentence describing such items. For example, we may briefly touch on our service methodology, but we have no issue with providing a sample services agreement or statement of work in our RFP.
This has a double advantage of socializing the buyer with the same language, information, policy detail you will continue to use if they select you.
#4. Focus on How You Solve the Problem
When we are asked about how we differentiate from our competitors, our truthful answer is that we don’t tend to focus on what our competitors do or don’t do. However, we can discuss at length what Onspring will do. We will commit to regular communication and meeting expectations. We will commit to continuing to improve our product while maintaining its ease of use and performance. We will always emphasize our customer relationships and dedicate ourselves to exceptional client service.
It can be tricky to talk about competitors. For one thing, there is a risk of your audience confusing information about your competitors and associating that information with you. For another, your information may not be accurate. Do you truly know how your competitors run the ins and outs of their business or is it hearsay or perception? And lastly, discussing competitors negatively does very little in instilling trust in your audience. You may scare them off from making a decision at all—certainly not your end goal.
#5. Remember, the Proof Is in the Pudding
To take RFP responses to the next level, back up what you say with evidence—particularly evidence outside of your own storyline. How can you get your customers, regulators, or certifying bodies to support your story? Do you have case studies, testimonials and quotes? Can you share evidence from third-party assessments or metrics backing up what you say you can and will do? This carries weight and provides the result of the buyer selecting your organization before they actually choose.
These are just a few ways you can establish trust in your proposals. What other strategies have you used in RFP responses? Let us know in the comments.
We’ll cover RFPs in more detail in our upcoming webinar: Vendor Risk – Find It Before It Finds You. Join us on Thursday, February 8th for an informative discussion with Dave Hulsen, co-founder of RFP365, and Chris Pantaenius, co-founder of Onspring.
Katie Wilcox is a Sales Engineer at Onspring Technologies. She is an Onspring MVP, specializing in solution design and configuration, troubleshooting and training. Katie is passionate about clean, clear communication that looks good on the page or screen.