Five years ago in this space I wrote about The Illusion of Inclusion - the already-dysfunctional agency RFP process that gave digital sellers a false sense of progress and scuttled their sales activity before it could do any good. Five years later the contours of the problem have shifted, but its impact is even worse.
In the scores of sales workshops and interviews I conduct, I still hear about well-intentioned sales teams pitching clients and conceiving ideas only to then get told We'll be sending out RFPs in a few weeks. More unfortunate still are the reps and organizations whose sole intent is to get a spot on that ill-fated RFP list. In the intervening five years - as programmatic buying and consolidation have taken root -- the number of winners has gotten shorter and the environment has gotten far less hospitable to non-platform publishers and sales orgs. And participation in the process has gotten far more costly: today's RFP submission may include outside talent, events, technology, design, yield and more. And all in service of a process in which you may never have had a chance.
Those whose offerings lean more into programmatic inventory, data and ad tech services may think none of this applies to you. But it does. We're going to be looking at new vendors in Q1 and we'll including you in that bake-off is just one example of you being effectively told to take a number. The truth is we are all working harder to get the consideration of buying organizations that are operating short-handed and who don't necessarily have the full confidence and commitment of their clients. Being deferred or shuttled into an RFP process with dozens of competitors is professional quicksand.
What to do?
- Have a clear business or marketing objective at the center of your proactive proposals and ideas.
- Understand the client's calendar and use important dates and time periods as leverage.
- Qualify the decision makers you call on before you call on them, and then again at the close of each sales call.
- Make it abundantly clear to your salespeople that getting on the RFP is not a victory; define the goals for every client or agency meeting very specifically.
- Look hard at the time and resources you're committing to answering RFPs; the creative talent and resources you're expending would be better used in smart, proactive approaches to customers.
- Be ambitious and unreasonable. If you're only trying displace the weakest vendor on the list or just get a chance to show your stuff, there's no room for you anymore. Go big or don't go at all.
We've been talking about the demise of the RFP for over a decade. Yet it survives. And it's become the holding pen for sellers, technologies and ideas that should instead be getting active, urgent consideration. Accepting its failed promise is the worst strategic decision any of us can make.