Selling starts long before the RFP
In government selling, you really only have two choices: 1) sit around and wait until an RFP is issued, then hope you put together a killer proposal, or 2) get in front of the RFP and influence the specifications—essentially owning the RFP.
It’s no stretch to say the latter is much preferred. Influencing specifications—even creating sole source opportunities—is the holy grail of government selling. But how do you achieve it?
We offer entire training seminars and have written a book to help sales teams do this, so covering it in a blog post is impossible. However, here are a few things to keep in mind (and consider learning more about):
“Relationship” as a Key to Owning the RFP
It is nearly impossible to own the RFP unless the sales person/team has some sort of relationship with the buyer prior to an RFP release (by “buyer’ we mean the project owner not necessarily the procurement officer). Typical schmoozing tactics will not work in government, and attempts to wine and dine are ill advised. Instead, relentlessly pursue your network contacts to see if someone can make an introduction for you. Find relevant content that will interest the buyer and send along on a regular basis as an “FYI.” Deploy the Five Strategies for Building Commitment and Trust outlined in our book Seven Myths of Selling to Government available here on Amazon.com (I know—a shameless plug).
“Reputation” as a Key to Owning the RFP
Few things help “open doors” and ignite relationships better than a positive reputation. And not just a company’s reputation either (though this is important). Salespeople can create a reputation for themselves as someone who is “more than just a salesperson.” Creating intentional, regular content designed to position oneself as a subject matter expert can soften otherwise hard-shelled prospects, and may even make the phone ring (a welcome relief from banging your head against the wall cold calling). We cover this in our book, too (shameless plug number two).
“Right Fit” as a Key to Owning the RFP
Of course, even solid relationships and great reputations cannot overcome product or service offerings that are poorly aligned with prospect needs. Getting ahead of an RFP can help you do one of two things: 1) create value propositions uniquely offered by your company (and maybe even unknown to the prospect), or 2) identify early your inability to win a deal (and move on so precious time and money isn’t wasted). Obviously, option 1 is preferred. “Right fit” covers a lot of ground and goes way deeper than simply meeting a set of published specifications.
By the way, in our book we show you how to construct a prospect Value Portfolio for your offering relative to your competitors, giving you insights on how to best position yourself early on (you knew it was coming).
Many salespeople we encounter have given up on trying to “own the RFP.” For them, the passive strategy of waiting for the RFP is more comfortable, even though the results are mediocre at best. Clearly, the methods we teach require a greater degree of effort and a long-term perspective of success building. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Yet for those star salespeople who are up for the challenge, the payoff can be huge. We know because we’ve lived it.
By the way, did I mention we wrote a book about it?
Rick Wimberly and Lorin Bristow are principals in Government Selling Solutions (GSS) a division of Galain Solutions, Inc. They are successful speakers, trainers and authors on government selling and securing government contracts. The team offers a newly released book Seven Myths of Selling to Government, available on Amazon.com and other retailers.