Robert A. Potter
best way to win a request for proposal (RFP) is to understand
the motivation and process driving the selection decision.
Knowing as much as possible about why and how businesses
are chosen over others makes it easier to craft a successful
formal RFP selection process is like a funnel with three
phases: search, screening, and selection. Each phase is
based on decision criteria that become increasingly selective
and subjective. The number of candidates eventually narrows
down to a single winning service provider.
Decision criteria during this phase are inclusive and designed
to gather as many alternatives as necessary to assure a
good decision. Inclusion is based on the company’s
awareness of, and access to, candidates with relevant capabilities.
This phase frequently uncovers too many choices
to be individually evaluated. Standards for comparing similar
characteristics are set, and these criteria are used to
eliminate all but the few competitors that most closely
align to decision criteria.
can avoid being eliminated during the screening phase by
determining the decision criteria, building preferences
that fit its strengths, and positioning its capabilities
to those criteria. For each criterion, the vendor must be
able to clearly articulate how it is different and why that
is important to the buyer, making it difficult for competitors
to match up.
The short-listed candidates are invited to meet the decision
makers and present their cases. All vendors that make it
this far are well qualified, so decision criteria expand
beyond capabilities to the unique rational and emotional
fit of one provider over the rest.
winner in the selection phase will be chosen based on emotional
preference value: subjective and nonverbal decision criteria
that include comfort (charisma and familiarity), confidence
(in the vendor’s understanding of the buyer’s
needs and situation), and commitment (the vendor’s
demonstrated loyalty to, and enthusiasm for, the company
and the project).
a word, trust.
can build emotional preference by focusing on what is different
about a prospective buyer. Trust can be built by engaging
the buyer personally; for example, instead of telling the
buyer what the vendor will do, giving a preview of what
a working relationship with the vendor will be like and
showing how the vendor will make a good partner.
A. Potter is the author of Winning in the Invisible
Market: A Guide to Selling Professional Services in Turbulent
Times (R. A. Potter Advisors LLC, June 2003). He is also the
managing principal of R.A. Potter Advisors (www.rapotter.com),
a marketing and sales strategy consulting practice for professional