Sales Answer Man: How Do You Eliminate Working on the RFP You Won’t Win?


My company is regularly asked to participate in RFP (request for proposals) by companies
soliciting our type of consulting services. While we spend a lot of time into these proposals, we
rarely win these opportunities. Do you have any suggestions?


Most people reading this article will expect me to focus on how to close more of the RFP
(request for proposals) you described. The better question is: how do we eliminate working on
the RFP you are not going to get anyway? Not only will this save you time, but this new mindset
will allow you to get more of the ones you choose to work on.

Some things to consider. What about the RFP qualifies for you and/or your people to spend
even five minutes (let alone what it typically takes you to respond) on this RFP? One way to find
out is to pick up the phone and ask.

It might sound like this. “We received your request for proposal today and we have a few
questions. What exactly were you hoping we could do?”

I’m sure you are wondering, why so vague? It’s because I want to know the truth rather than
leading the witness. Examples of answers could range from:

– I don’t really know – give us a quote?
– We are looking for the cheapest quote.
– You are on our bid list and we sent it to everyone.
– We need three bids.
– Bill in our office had worked with you previously and said some good things.
– You are the only one we think can do it and need to send out an RFP for due diligence.

Based the answers above, we can continue to qualify whether we might want to spend our time
on this particular proposal. What about you/your company “shines” on this proposal versus what
you can or are able to do? Are you known for being the cheapest or are you rarely the
cheapest? What are the timelines for implementation? What happens if it’s not implemented on
time or on budget?

Once we know what is important to them, then we can marry our “sweet spots” to what is
important to them. For example: specialization in certain industries, locations, size, simplicity,
complication, specialty verticals, types of personalities, etc. We can also continue to ask
clarifying questions to qualify whether we are a good resource on this proposal – or not.

These questions need to be open ended which are more likely to elicit true answers (or lack of
answers) from your prospect. You want to be a “devil’s advocate” regarding your company
getting the business, rather than assuming you will. Is there substance, clarity and transparency
to their answers? Are they attempting to sell you on why you should waste your time – so they
can “check the box” for the quote process?

A few things to consider:

1. Most formal bid processes focus strictly on price. This rarely benefits anyone – including
the prospect.
2. If you did not create or have input in the request for proposal, your chances of success
are less than 5%
3. If they do not allow you to ask questions and allow you to clarify their goals for the
product or service outlined in the proposal, your chance of success is less than 1%.

My last question to you is: let’s pretend doing a better job qualifying formal RFP saved you 40
hours over the next year. What would you do with that time? If your answer doesn’t motivate
you to qualify each opportunity more, then I suggest you keep doing things the way you are…


Dan Stalp is president of Sandler Training, a sales and professional development firm. He works with CEOs, presidents, business owners who sell, and peak performers who are tired of walking by their salespeople’s offices to see them on their computers instead of on their phones — and sick of having a superior product and losing out on price. • (913) 451-1760 •


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