Sales Strategies in a RFP World

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Over the past few years, print buyers, agencies, and procurement offices have turned RFQs and RFPs into art forms. For them, the intent of well documented RFQs and RFPs is to bring structure to an often confusing and complicated process. For print providers, it can be a frustrating process.

What Are RFQs and RFPs? A Request for Quotation (RFQ) is a common process where print providers are asked to provide pricing and terms on specific print products or services. Quite often, the lowest price wins. As an example, an RFQ could ask for a price on a job with generic specifications such as 10,000 8.5x11-inch, 24-page, self-cover, saddle stitched, 60-pound uncoated offset, four-color throughout, no bleeds with less than 15 percent screens/halftones, with a furnished PDF file.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) is often more than a quote for a price. It is provided early in the buying process where organizations try to identify potential vendors who have capabilities which can meet their requirements. The more complex the program, the more likely there will be an RFP issued. Printers providing extended services, such as large scale Web-to-print solutions or sophisticated fulfillment, often see RFPs. Quite often, the lowest price does not win.

The reason for issuing RFQs is to enable the buyer to compare each vendor’s solution “apples to apples” based on specific requirements, and to minimize the salesperson’s influence. Ideally, the result is a better price and better aligned solutions.

Recently, we looked at publicly disclosed quotes from more than 15 commercial printers in response to a large state university RFQ. The wide range of prices was startling, and it seemed to us that the majority of the responses had no relationship or knowledge of the account.

Key Strategies to Win RFPs and RFQs

There are two schools of thought on how to handle RFQs and RFPs. One side feels that responding is time consuming and a waste of resources unless there is significant sales involvement in shaping the request, which is not always possible. Even if it results in a rare win, the cost in price margin will not be worth it.

The other side feels why not go after every opportunity that comes their way. Both sides need to reevaluate their opinions. Here are the essentials to win and gain business when responding to RFQs and RFPs:

It starts with a sales call and a relationship.

Salespeople must have knowledge and have built relationships in the account. Ideally, the salesperson has influenced some of the requirements to sync well with the printing company capabilities. The salesperson should always contact the customer to gain clarification and ask questions prior to considering a response.

If this is a blind and random RFQ or RFP and no one has been to the account, the chance of a profitable sale is minimal.

Is it a good fit?

Determine if this is a good opportunity and if it is worth the effort to respond. Assess and qualify the opportunity by answering questions such as: Does the project match our capabilities?, Will this project be profitable?, Do we have a competitive advantage?, Do we fully understand the requirements?, and Can we win?

There are no awards for second place.

If you decide to respond, go full speed. Put in a maximum effort. The extra 10 percent effort often makes the difference. Also pay special attention to the requested format of the response. There have been instances of a vendor being disqualified because of not adhering to specific formatting requirements.

Be prepared.

Every printer should have content prepared to professionally respond to customer inquiries. That includes case studies, capabilities, history, production methodologies, testimonials, and any content that would differentiate the company. This will allow for fast and less stressful responses.

Who is responsible?

Some opportunities will be large. Assign a point person to assemble the selling proposal. Then ask a few employees to review the contents to avoid mistakes and typos. If you make it to a final cut, decide who will participate in the process.

Follow up.

Don’t just send the response. Follow up with the requester to make sure the response satisfies the customer’s expectation. A face-to-face meeting to present the proposal is always the best approach.

If You Lose, Don’t Snooze

If the outcome is not positive, take what has been learned and start selling again. Keep everything positive and leave the door open for another sales effort. This information gained and the new relationships within the account can help win the next one.

It is true that in some cases the winners are predetermined and the procurement office is just going through an exercise. This is why it is critical for the salesperson to make calls, build relationships, and have a deep knowledge of their accounts. Those printers who upgrade their sales efforts by knowing and influencing customer requirements within RFQs or RFPs can reap large rewards.

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant who works with printing and technology companies in the graphic arts to improve their sales and operational effectiveness. He is the founder of Intellective Solutions, a provider of customized sales, operational, and sales management training material and services. Contact him at 845-753-6156, or visit