A salesperson’s view on RFPs

Whilst I am not strictly part of the sales team, my position as Chief ELN Geek means most RFPs that come in to Amphora end up on my desk – often with a salesperson’s first attempt at answering the many detailed but conflicting questions. Of course the salesperson generally gave up after the first couple of pages!

I’ve written about my frustration with the RFP process before – I have a more detailed post provisionally titled “Why starting with an RFP dooms your project to failure” but wiser heads than I tell me it needs a little more work before it can be published 🙂

Anyway, I bumped into this article which talks about the RFP process from the salesperson’s perspective. Here’s some of the things they’ve observed about RFPs:

  • First is that there is a disconnect between Procurement and their customers (called users). Often times, Procurement authors the RFP and establishes the measurement criteria for evaluating the submissions. However, when you speak to the actual user, they say that the criteria developed by Procurement is inconsistent with their needs. Thus, a supplier is selected for a user based on flawed criteria.
  • Another thing you should know is that an RFP is not necessarily a commitment to make a change in provider. Some companies require that they source the business every x amount of time. Ever wonder how that RFP got in your inbox? Procurement will surf the web and pick a handful of providers to whom they will send the RFP and off it goes. It helps to know that Procurement folks are measured on their ability to reduce cost to the company. Just like a sales person’s scorecard is based on achievement of their sales quota, Procurement’s quota is based on cost reduction. The RFP that arrived in your inbox could very well be their attempt to put the squeeze on the current provider so they can show a 10% savings. Don’t kid yourself. This happens a lot!
  • One final thing you should know about RFPs is that they are sometimes used as a manager tactic. For example, some people are too nice to tell you ‘no,’ so they hide behind the statement that their company only buys through the RFP process. Don’t buy that for a second. No company exclusively buys this way. Even the Federal Government, who is the most formal buyer, does not limit their purchasing to this means. Sales people, present company included, sell products and services to the Feds without an RFP being issued. It can be done!
  • Which resonates with our experience – very few RFPs actually produce a purchasing decision, and it’s often more an exercise in internal politics for the prospective customer.

    The article goes onto suggest an approach to dealing with RFPs which is consistent with our approach, with the one proviso that generally if we didn’t hear either through our sales contacts or the industry grapevine that the RFP was coming then we generally politely refuse at the outset – if the customer has issued the RFP without any prior investigation into the market then the chances of a successful project are near zero, so we may as well sit out the first round of ELN purchasing attempts.

    The sad thing is I suspect people inside the issuing company are as frustrated with the RFP process as the vendors who receive them. With a few exceptions, it seems to be such a futile exercise in negativity – “Let’s not actually talk because you might screw us, or we might make a decision in a way that can be criticised later”.

    Oh well.

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