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How to Handle RFPs and RFIs

Yesterday, we conducted a webinar about best practices for submitting B2B Proposals. It's part of a series of webinars celebrating this, our 35th year in the Sales Training Business. We had more questions than we could answer in the time we had so we decided to respond here on the blog. Over the next couple of days, we'll post the questions and our responses. Here's the first set. It's about RFPs and RFIs... Q: While your process [for submitting proposals] makes sense in theory many RFP's state you can't speak to anyone at the company that sends the RFP [because] they won't allow that to give an unfair advantage to any potential supplier?  How do you handle that other than declining to respond? First, the best practice process for getting responses to B2B proposals involved a lot of communication between the decision makers and the salesperson. But, we've all run into those RFPs where the opportunity to connect with a prospect is limited (if not impossible). If that's the case, here's our recommendation: Despite the limitation, try to connect. Often, if there's the Procurement Department is involved, they might allow a group call with all of the other suppliers. If not, press for the opportunity to submit some written questions. The bottom line is this: From a sales organization's perspective, it's impossible to respond accurately to an RFP if you are not given any context. And, from their perspective, if they're being difficult, it's likely that... (1) They will be really, really difficult to work with if you eventually win the business; (2) They already have a vendor in mind (and it might not be worth your time to respond); or (3) They're just on a "fishing expedition" and there's a pretty good chance the RFP is really an RFI that the potential client is using to gather information about whether it makes sense for them to move forward. That leads to the next question posed... Q: Also, how do you ensure a RFP isnt just a RFI in disguise and that the company doesn't steal your ideas and simply develop it themselves? If you don't get any opportunity to speak with a representative from the prospective client, there's a pretty good chance that this really is a fishing expedition on the part of the company. They're just using an RFP (disguised as an RFI) to gather information. They simply don't know what they want at this point and are looking for ideas from smart companies to help them shape their thinking. The best practice is not to respond in this situation unless you can get a high level, strategic conversation with the budget holder(s). You're right, there might be some questionable motives (like, "let's steal some good ideas"), but our reason for not responding is a little bit different: Your time is too valuable to spend on such a long shot. Instead find qualified prospects to work with. Conclusion So, when it comes to RFPs and RFIs, we suggest that you not respond unless you get the opportunity to interact with someone within the organization making the request. That's not to say that you can't win a totally blind RFP (we have many clients that regularly do!), but we are saying that your time might well be spent in other ways. - @JebBrooks