How To Avoid Deals Where No Vendor Wins

Last Updated Oct 8, 2009 8:33 PM EDT

A comment to the post "Top 10 Reasons Your Proposal Got Rejected" pointed out that I didn't address the situation where none of the vendor proposals get accepted. Veteran Sales Machine contributor Bob Wileman writes:
In the recent past a higher than normal proportion of our proposals are just not acted upon (i.e. not awarded to anybody).
When asked the usual questions at interview, the client will say that cost is important and that they will decide when they see the proposal. But what appeared to be a qualified commitment from the client before writing doesn't improve after.
However, what seemed like a burning reason for action at the interview cools down afterward. Faced with a proposal that meets all the above listed criteria, they still opt for extended inaction and decline to give any meaningful feedback.
This is more frustrating than hearing that "Your proposal was long winded, full of Biz Blab and was four times the price we expected." We can deal with those guys!

Is this a feature of our economic times or do we need to take a more radical approach to proposal writing, like telling the client we don't write proposals until they agree to work with us?

Perhaps we should ask question like this: "If we agree to write a proposal reflecting what we have discussed today and the solutions we have outlined, what if any reasons do you know of that could mean you would not go ahead with our company?"
Can anybody think of a better approach at this crucial point?
Thanks, Bob. This is a truly great topic. Here's what you do:


STEP 1: Confirm it's a real opportunity

Unfortunately, companies sometimes launch RFPs when they have no intention of buying. Sometimes, it's just somebody trying to look busy. Sometimes its somebody who wants some free research. It can even be an effort by somebody in the firm to find employment elsewhere -- like in your firm.

The way you confirm that an opportunity is real isn't by asking up front whether or not it's real. Here's why. If it isn't a real opportunity, you're just going to get another line of BS. (Which you have apparently gotten and swallowed in the past.)

No. The way you confirm an opportunity is real -- before you put a lot of resources into it -- is to demand some kind of quid pro quo from the prospect. You refuse to do ANYTHING -- even provide a brochure -- without insisting that the client do something in return (like getting a commitment for a face-to-face meeting.)

In short, you know it's a real opportunity when the customer starts spending some real time and money on the buying process -- and (specifically) shows an interest in doing so in order to get you and your firm involved in the bidding process.

Can't get a quid pro quo commitment? Then walk away. It's not a real opportunity. Even if you're wrong, and it is a real opportunity, if you can't get a quid pro quo, you're not really in the running to get the business anyway. You're just around for the ride.

Here's a post discussing this concept: ("Stop Consulting for Free.")

STEP 2: Raise the priority level.

When companies go through the effort of submitting and RFP and reviewing proposals -- and are willing to spend time and effort on quid pro quos -- a "no award" decision means one thing, and one thing alone: other spending was deemed more important.
As you know from your own experience in business, budgets are always changing and are a constant source of internal conflict. Spending is always political. The reason there was no award was the guys who wanted to buy your offering lost a political battle.

Guess what? That was YOUR fault.

You thought that you made a great case for your offering, and that you came up with a much better proposal than the other vendors who were bidding on it.

But in fact, your REAL competition wasn't the other vendors -- it was the vendors selling something else to some other group in the company, i.e. the people who captured the budget away from your contacts.

What to do? Simple.

You've got to give the guys who want to buy your stuff the ammunition they need to fight the internal budget battle. You do this by creating a compelling financial case that's far beyond whatever the customer originally thought was the case.

You've got to make it clear, in your proposal, that what you're selling is absolutely essential to future success and that failure to buy is an existential threat. BTW, if that's not the case, you're not going to get the business anyway. Not it this economy.

You should be able to truthfully tell the prospect something like: "It would be great if you bought this from us, but for God's sake buy from somebody because if you do, you'll make lots of money and but if you don't, you'll be toast, and here are the numbers to prove it."

Then have the numbers to prove it. Need help coming up with compelling numbers? Check out: "How Much is Your Solution Worth?"

READERS: Any more suggestions?
  • Geoffrey James

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