The number of enterprise sales opportunities including an RFP or 'tender' process in their buying process is becoming more frequent. Certainly, if you frequently sell to the public sector you would be no stranger to this. 

My own experience handling new business RFPs has often been a pretty painful process, with the time and resources poured in being  disproportionate to the win rates. The main challenge I found was that I had very little influence power compared to a traditional sale - there is usually a very strict and set process to follow, with two or three defined touch points with the judging panel (i.e. technical and procurement). There is very little chance to develop any form of thought leadership outside of these touch points, and the conversation inevitably ends up in a pricing battle. 

I had the pleasure last week of meeting Mike Reader (Head of Strategic Pursuits @Mace Group) and hearing his strategies behind winning bid proposal. Rather than shooting in the dark, Mike's approach is in the early positioning, by developing and influencing the sales opportunity so that he is in the best position to win when the bid lands - i.e. win the RFP before it's written. While the sales processes might run differently in the construction industry, I think the initial steps to planning for an RFP can be applied to any high-value tenders in software sales:

Scope out the business and opportunity plan:

  • Find out renewal date for the existing vendor/contract to work backwards
  • Account planning and Influence mapping - identify who the likely decision makers, key partners, key stakeholders, end users, possible champions etc.

Capture the opportunity (the 3 Cs Analysis): 

  • Client - identify their key and underlying business requirements, procurement processes, possible budget, 
  • Capability - identify your company's / solution offering's core USPs.
  • Competition - most important - identify your competitors' core USPs, your competitive advantage (and disadvantage) over them

Tender influencing:

The critical part to achieving the above is by establishing good relationships as early as possible with the client, especially with the identified influencers - so you can be in the position of a trusted advisor to influence the RFP writing process. Having a good relationship with potential partners is also vital as they often assume an important champion role in the client's decision making.

While the salesperson owns the face time with a client, Marketing and Subject Matter Experts play a key part to shape the tender influence processes digitally - by creating relevant, current and digestible thought leadership content, with industry insights. A recent Edelman and Linkedin research shows 41% C-levels have awarded RFP invitations to a previously unconsidered company due to the thought leadership content they produced.

Pre-Bid Strategy:

Having strong governance is essential - not only to identify and allocate the best resources to each bid but also to evaluate the opportunity with the authority to say bid or not bid at each stage of the opportunity analysis.