Get sales enablement right with RFP response optimization

Getting sales enablement right in your organization is a bit of a puzzle. There are many definitions of sales enablement, variability in terms of who is responsible for it (sales vs. marketing), and how exactly to do it.

The purpose of this post is not to go through all that complexity—but to single out a piece that, if done correctly, can deliver real revenue results along with improved operational performance.

That piece is optimizing the Request for Proposal (RFP) response process.

RFPs are about how a customer buys

You will care more about RFPs, the larger the percentage of your opportunities include them. But even if infrequent, optimizing around the response process can deliver impressive results.

RFPs are more about how a customer buys than how a company sells. Most companies focus on how to sell and deploy staff and resources to support that effort, with seller defined deal stages, presentations, and skill sets to create and close opportunities.

High performance companies focus on how their customer buys and they align staff and resources around that process. If you have long sales cycles that take 6-12 meetings and require decision-making by committee, then design for that—not for blunt force lead generation and quick close tactics. That’s just not how your customer buys.

Make the most of every RFP opportunity

An RFP is about the purest definition of how a customer wants to buy from you. So make the most of it.

They have detailed their needs, timeline, and decision-making criteria. Your ability to influence this pre-defined process is around how successfully you follow the request and consistently respond to win.

How do you know if you are responding to win? Most companies don’t.

Often an RFP will be received and someone (sales operations, product management, etc.) will review, assign questions to various people, then work to coordinate all those pieces into a cohesive, polished response. Unfortunately, with that many variables, the process is more focused on completing sections rather than crafting a compelling response.

“RFPs are more about how a customer buys than how a company sells.” – Robert Pease

Optimize the RFP response process to win more

So, how do you optimize the RFP response process and respond to win? To put it simply, focus on how your customer buys and remove any friction in that process. Do everything you can to accelerate the purchase decision, while positioning yourself as the only answer.

Doing that can be distilled down to three focus areas of your RFP response process:

1. Content

The core of any RFP response is the content produced to address requirements, answer questions, and demonstrate how your product or service is uniquely qualified to address the need.

A critical piece here is to coordinate and confirm that the content used is the most recent and most relevant. This requires coordination among marketing, engineering, sales—and just about any other group that has a say in how a product or service is represented externally.

Rather than “recreate the wheel” each time, invest in a content repository that can be managed, updated, and accessed. This ensures the most recent and relevant content is always available. With RFP software, an Content Library works brilliantly for busy sales teams.

2. Consistency

An RFP response is designed to communicate why your product or service should be chosen by the customer. If your company depends on RFP response for even a small fraction of their revenue, consistency in approach—along with production and presentation—are essential.

Consistency will help you produce a quality response and gain the ability to compare wins and losses from the same baseline. If you use different people, copy, diagrams, or even response approach, you make it very difficult to compare the deals you win and lose on an equal basis.

Improving the RFP response process depends on a critical review of not only those deals that result in a win but also those that end in a loss.

3. Conversion

Often we are so focused on completing sections, meeting deadlines, and “shipping” the response that we lose sight of the main objective…to convert.

Is the goal to make a preliminary selection or a final selection? Is it a defined need with a defined timeline and allocated budget? Or is it more of a Request for Information (RFI)? An RFI is used much earlier in the information gathering phase of the sales process versus the actual buying phase.

Focus on the objective first and foremost. If an RFP has multiple response stages, then managing the process internally is even more critical.

Take a scorecard based approach and track conversion rates related to outcomes like: final consideration, invited to present, and actual purchase. Optimize around those responses that lead to conversions and critically evaluate those that don’t.

Knowing why you lost is more important than knowing why you won, so give yourself the highest probable successful outcome with each response.

Mastering the RFP response process is crucial to your sales enablement efforts. It’s also a defined need/process that can be optimized through both discipline and enabling technology.

Start with the process and know who is doing what. Then leverage enabling technology like RFP software to manage and create content, achieve consistency in response, and optimize around conversions.

Make the most of every RFP. It’s the most transparent way a customer will buy from you.

Robert Pease

Robert leads the Pipeline Performance Practice at Heinz Marketing, a B2B sales and marketing consulting firm. He has over 20 years of experience leading teams, taking products to market, and building customer and partner relationships. He is the father of two daughters, an avid runner, and is always on the hunt for good BBQ as a Southern transplant to the Pacific Northwest. Connect with Robert on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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