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Sales Training RFPs: What You Need to Know

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Thu Feb 21 2013

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As a seller coming out of sales, sales consulting, and sales training, I have a love-hate relationship with RFPs. I love them when I’ve written or influenced their content and, as a result, have exerted some control over the customer’s buying/decision criteria, and won the deal. I hate them (or rather disregard them, in most cases) when one surprisingly pops into my inbox and I quickly determine that my competitor has had a degree of influence in its content.

The Buy-Side of the Equation

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When my organization, ESR, is running a client evaluation, we perform the requirements analysis and definition. We do that independently of any provider or any influence they might have among stakeholders.

Why do we insist on doing the requirements definition? We know that whenever a sales trainer or consultant does a requirements analysis (their discovery process) it is most likely going to result in the highest priority customer needs matching the unique capabilities of the provider. It’s only natural. If I’m a trainer and have proven abilities in A, B, C, and D, I will gravitate toward challenges and opportunities for which A, B, C, and D are solutions for the customer. If the customer’s real issues are with E, F, G, and H, for competitive reasons, I may not acknowledge that—or in some cases, I might not even recognize that those conditions exist.

(I know I’m going to get some angry comments and emails about this from sales trainers who will tell me they are open and honest with their clients about their strengths and challenges. I’m sure that’s true in YOUR case, but after nearly eight years of studying failed sales training initiatives, we know what really goes on a lot of the time.)

Once the client signs off on the requirements definition, we propose a long list of providers based on a high-level match among those requirements and individual providers’ capabilities as we know them.

Sell to the Customer in the Way They Want to Buy

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From the buy side, we expect anyone bidding for the business to understand how the customer wants to buy (by employing this process) and demonstrate willingness to work under those parameters.  It is also very important for our clients to understand how each potential supplier matches up against the prioritized criteria as stated in the RFP—criteria derived directly from that comprehensive and objective assessment we perform.

When we publish the RFI or RFP, we assure each long-listed sales performance improvement provider the following:

  1. It’s a real opportunity.

  2. It has senior executive sponsorship.

  3. It’s budgeted.

  4. The timing of the events, including launch and roll-out, are short term.

  5. ESR has performed the requirements definition and wrote the RFP without any influence at all from any supplier.

  6. No supplier has been in the account since ESR was involved—therefore no one has the inside track.

  7. Every provider that receives an RFP has an equal opportunity to win. ESR will never solicit proposals from any company we don’t feel is qualified to win the business.

In other words, we validate that this is a qualified opportunity where everyone participating has an equal chance to win. Many sales trainers have learned to trust ESR in this regard. They’d rather not go through this process, but they know it’s fair.

The Short List

After the responses are read, analyzed, and ranked, a short list is determined. At that point, we strongly recommend that the client meet with representatives from each short-listed company to answer any and all questions. That’s also the time when the client and the short-listed firms get to know each other.

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ESR organizes and manages a finalist presentation day when each short-listed provider offers insight into how they will contribute to the customer achieving their sales performance goals and objectives. We also recommend that each provider to share with the client their differentiated and unique value and why they believe they are the best partner for the client. Each presentation runs about three-and-a-half hours. At that point the client evaluates each presentation among other factors and makes a selection.

Bottom Line

As a result of this process, the selected provider is almost guaranteed to have a successful implementation because all the risks and rewards and strengths and challenges of both provider and client will have been identified and discussed openly by both parties before a contract is signed.

This post is reprinted from Dave Stein’s blog Commentary of Sales Effectiveness.

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