The New Bar.

What's the point of being "included" in a process where "inclusion" has no price or meaning?

I've written in this space before about the hollowness of our industry's Request-for-Proposal (RFP) process (see "The Fiesta Nobody Loves") and how damaging it can be to sales teams and publisher organizations. Yet across thousands of sellers I meet during workshops and industry events, the human-powered agency RFP is still the cornerstone on which they build their sales strategies. "I just started here two months ago," one young seller told me. "So my goal is to get on as many RFPs as I can so that I can get a toehold with some of my accounts."

Unfortunately, this rep (and thousands of others) equates "inclusion" in the RFP process as a step-victory. Because unlike the TV marketplace (with its fixed number of sellers and limited inventory) or the historical print buying process (submit your RFP and we'll meet), digital RFPs carry no "cost of inclusion" for the buyer: to add another publisher or network to an RFP means nothing more than "Control V" - pasting another e-mail into the distribution field. As one buyer told me recently, "Sometimes you just put someone on an RFP to get them off your back." This behavior, along with the need to show the client how broadly the agency has searched for the best deal, has wrought a ten-to-one ratio of losers to winners in many RFPs. All that effort, all that time, all those resources and all those "special one of kind ideas" for what? A 90% fail rate.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so do salespeople. So it's not enough to simply say "stop chasing bad RFPs." We've got to help sellers "triage" their RFPs. Then we've got to set a new bar; give them something concrete to shoot for in its place. First, triage.

Go all out on an RFP if... (a) you knew it was coming in advance, (b) the deal size and CPM are both desirable and (c) if it speaks to the strengths of your property.

Send a cursory response and pricing (no big ideas, nothing custom) if... (a) you have limited visibility or timing, (b) the deal size and CPM are "acceptable but not great and (c) there are at least some parts of the RFP that play to your strengths.

Politely turn away the RFP if... (a) you had no idea it was coming, (b) it's for too little, (c) it doesn't relate to your strengths and (d) if the issuing agency has a bad history with you.

Now that you've saved half the time you'd have spent blindly flailing the RFP piñata, you can reinvest it in pursuit of a new principle: economic loyalty. Pick five accounts that will serve as the foundation of your business. Go deeper and wider with each: collect new names and titles, learn more about the business concerns of the brands, develop a point of view on what will make those brands successful. Now you are prepared to pursue share growth and economic loyalty with these accounts over time. I've seen this kind of segmentation strategy work well for many organizations and individuals, but in order to pursue it you've first got to free yourself from the false hope of chasing RFPs.

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