For many salespeople, the road to new business starts with receiving an RFP (request for proposal), an
RFQ (request for quote), or an RFI (request for information). At first glance, an RFP is positive proof that
a company or organization is interested in your product or service. They want to see what you can or are
willing to do for them. It can even be an ego booster. A willingness, even enthusiasm, to respond to an
RFP is to be commended, but then comes the big question of whether or not it is worth the time, effort
Not all RFPs are a harbinger of an impending sale, where a prospect is standing by at the other end with
pen in hand, ready to sign the deal once you send a proposal to them. More often than not, a diabolical
strategy is at work, especially if that RFP is coming at you from a (supposed) potential buyer you’ve
never made contact with in the past.
We have found that there are four red flags that let you know that you are not the vendor of choice:
1. When you get an unsolicited request to respond to a proposal. When someone calls you out of the
blue, sends you an email, or happens to hit your website and is now saying, “We’d like you to respond to
our proposal.” Don’t you see something fishy about that?
2. The RFP has a list of requirements a mile long. They say, “We need a product (or service) that does
this, this and this.” The source of such an RFP didn’t just dream up all those “requirements.” Somebody
else helped them create their requirements, and now you’re working off of their vision.
3. You are given an artificially short timeframe to respond. You get the call on Friday, they want a
response on Monday, and they don’t mean by 5 p.m. on Monday. The temptation is to work through the
weekend because this huge opportunity dropped on your lap. But in reality, the prospect is probably
using you to negotiate with their vendor of choice. I suggest you think long and hard about responding
to their request if you’re not more than 50% sure you can win.
4. Access to decision makers is limited, if there is any at all. This is your clue from them, in this
particular case, that they’ve already chosen somebody else with whom they want to do business. But
they are required by executive management to solicit bids from two or three other companies in order
to justify their decision. Whether they picked you to be column filler on their spreadsheet or picked your
company randomly off the web, they are just using you to justify who they have already selected as their
vendor, or worse, to “beat up” their existing vendor.
The most successful salespeople do two things to sort the good RFPs from the bad before spending
another dime or minute on any of them. First, they weigh each incoming RFP against the red-flag list
referred to earlier. Second, they establish an RFP response strategy by asking themselves the following
• In terms of time, resources and other materials, what does it cost my company to respond to an RFP?
• How many RFPs do we respond to a month?
• How many of those RFPs do we win?
• How many of those RFPs do we win at full contract value?
Answers to each and all of these questions will allow you to establish your RFP response strategy so you
can choose to respond only to those that you know you have a reasonable chance to win. A proper
response to an RFP should be aggressive and intense, sometimes even costly, and no company can
afford to waste all those resources too many times on RFPs that are dead in the water even before you
stick a toe in.
It is critical for you to determine as early as possible in the process if your prospect is going to take a
serious look at your proposal. Or, are they going to use it only for the purpose of price-shopping their
preferred supplier? Remember, if you end up in a situation where you are only getting to deal on price
without getting to establish your value, you face a losing proposition. Companies soliciting bids through
multiple RFPs will routinely send your RFP to their supplier of choice simply to get that supplier to cave
to terms more generous to the company. That means that your response is being used as a negotiating
ploy that is of absolutely no benefit to you.
Here are some best practices you can employ when responding to an RFP to increase your chances of
winning the business:
1. Get there first.
2. Help create the requirements.
3. Understand the decision making process and the rules of engagement, and know who the account’s
key individuals are.
4. Meet with the decision makers and ask them:
• What are the strategic initiatives the company has?
• What are the business goals they are hoping to achieve with this RFP?
• Who are the primary beneficiaries going to be?
5. Know who you are competing against and what they are offering.
6. Understand the “show stoppers” from your prospect’s perspective.
They might have a lot of needs and wants but find out beforehand the one or two show stoppers,
meaning those things that if you can’t address, you will be knocked out of the bidding.
When executing winning RFP strategies, you need to identify and contact companies that use RFPs as a
way of doing business (i.e., utility companies, government, etc.). By proactively contacting them, you
might be able to help craft the RFP in such a way that increases your chance of winning.
Remember, if you plan to invest your time and your company’s resources to respond to an RFP, make
absolutely sure that it is a legitimate request and that you have at least a 50% chance of winning the