May 10, 2021 • Podcast

How can I differentiate in an RFP (Request for Proposal)?

On this episode, Paul tackles the challenge of differentiating your solution…even on the RFP!

Show Notes:

“Get there early”—before the customer submits an RFP.

Request a meeting prior to submitting your proposal.

Don’t limit your proposal to the …. 

What makes you different from your competitors? Include that in your proposal.


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How can I differentiate in an RFP (Request for Proposal)?

(Transcribed from podcast)

Today, we have a question that came from the website, so make sure you’re visiting While you’re there, you can ask a question, I will turn it into a future show. Also, you can check out our new search function on the website. Search for your question. If you’ve asked questions in the past, or if you have a question, hey, check out the website. You can use the search function and you can then take a listen.

So let’s get to that question. This question came through the website, as I mentioned, from someone in the banking industry. But really, this is a question I hear in several different industries that we work in. That question is, “How can I differentiate our solution in an RFP?” So when you’re in a request for proposal or request for price (as I like to call it), how can you differentiate your solution? Common question, big challenge. We’re going to tackle it on today’s show.

Before we get into that, though, a quick shout-out to Andrea over at The Creative Impostor Studios. Andrea does such a great job. Her team, whether it comes to producing, editing, launching a podcast, just general tech advice, or even keeping the podcasts going, Andrea is your go-to resource. So make sure you reach out to her. Again, we’re going to have a link over to her website on this episode’s webpage. So check it out.

Also, we’ve got big news. New book coming out this Fall: Selling Through Tough Times. I’m partnering with my publisher, McGraw-Hill. This book is exciting. I’ve got to tell you, we sent it to the editors about a month and a half ago and I just, I can’t wait for this book to come out. It’s going to be incredible. Until that book is launched, pick up your latest copy of Value-Added Selling. It’s available on Amazon or wherever you get your books. You know, Value-Added Selling, it’s going to remain your timeless go-to guide for how to sell profitably. So check it out—available on Amazon.

Let’s get back to that question: How can I differentiate in an RFP? Before we get into that, we’ve got to talk about some of the challenges that we face when we’re selling in an RFP scenario. I’ve said it before in this show, RFP really means request for price because that’s what the customer’s looking for. That’s what the buyer’s looking for. They want your absolute cheapest price. And that’s part of their process. That’s what they’re trying to do is they’re going to send out an RFP to maybe six or seven of your competitors, and everyone’s trying to beat each other up, slitting each other’s throats to give the cheapest price so that they can win the business. It’s really a challenging environment to try to sell value. Although it is challenging, you still can do it. And then that’s what we’re going to focus on on today’s show.

So here’s how you can differentiate in this RFP scenario. First tip, get there early in the process before the RFP goes out. If you’re getting an RFP out of the clear blue from a prospect or someone that you’ve never talked to before, and this is the first contact you have with them, you’re getting there too late. You’re there too late. One of your competitors probably already has a relationship; they’ve already helped tweak the process so that it works in their favor. You have to get there early before the RFP takes place. And when you get there early in the process, it gives you a couple of advantages.

Number one, you can build a relationship with the customer/with the prospect who you’re trying to interact with. You can begin building that relationship, but most importantly, you can shape the criteria of how they make their decision, and you can shape that criteria positively around your solution. I used to do this in the construction industry. And when I would sell tools and fasteners, the company I worked for, we would meet before the engineers would drop the specifications—before they would begin planning the project. And we would influence the specifications to favor our company. And you can do the same thing in an RFP scenario. You have to meet with them early, before they draft the RFP, and help them create the criteria. And that criteria should highlight your strengths.

For example, this was a banking example. And one thing you could do, I’m trying to think of some, maybe value-added extras a bank might have. Let’s say your bank has a higher lending limit than some of your competitors. So maybe when you’re building a rapport, you should talk about the benefits of that and say, “Hey, you know, when you’re choosing a bank, having a high lending limit is really important for these reasons.” And then you can highlight that and say, “You know what? Here’s a good number. The minimum lending limit has to be at this amount.” So you’re influencing the proposal to favor you. But you can only do this, again, if you get there currently. So you’ve got to get there early.

Next tip. Before you even consider putting together a proposal, request a face-to-face meeting with the customer—face to face or voice to voice. I know we’re in COVID still, but people are meeting face-to-face again. Meet with the customer face-to-face and if they deny your request, if they say, “No, you don’t need to meet with us,” I would think twice about putting any time, energy, or effort into that proposal. Because it’s clear all they want is price. So have that meeting before you put together your proposal.

And while you’re in that meeting, now you can begin asking questions. You can ask questions that will uncover their true needs. You can ask questions that will maybe cause them to rethink their process. You can ask questions that maybe they don’t know the answer to, which is even better because now you’ve highlighted a gap in their process and you’re viewed more as a partner; you’re delivering insights. So make sure that you request that meeting. And I say request and I’m teetering on the edge of saying demand that meeting. Because you need to meet with them before you can actually present a solution. And again, if they refuse, I would think twice about putting together a proposal. Or if you do, I wouldn’t put much time, energy, and effort into it. That’s just how it is.

Number three. Don’t limit your proposal to what they request. Since when does the customer know everything? They don’t. And in fact, oftentimes when customers put together an RFP or a proposal, they’re leaving things out, things they can’t think of, things that, that they’re just unaware of and it’s because they’re not the expert in what they’re buying. You’re the expert; you’re the knowledgeable expert. And so when a customer puts together an RFP, I would encourage you to give them more than they request. Give them examples of what makes you different. Highlight gaps in their RFP. If you read through their RFP and you know what they’re trying to do, and they’re missing a few things and they don’t have a complete RFP, make them aware of that. And what’s going to happen, you’re demonstrating your expertise. And then I would propose a solution that satisfies that gap, what they’re missing. Offer them a more complete solution. And what you’re going to do here when you offer them a more complete solution, it’s going to differentiate your offering. And that’s the whole idea here again. That’s what we’re trying to do is differentiate ourselves in this RFP process. We do that by getting there early, we do that also by requesting a meeting before we put together a proposal. And thirdly, we do that by not limiting ourselves to just what they request on that proposal. So give them more than what they expected.

And then the final thing, I would do an apples-to-apples comparison with whoever you’re competing with. There’s a good chance you’re going to know who your competitors are. I would go through the three dimensions of value, again, which is the company, the product that you’re selling, and then you as the salesperson. Highlight how you are different in those three areas. Do a side-by-side comparison. Figure out what makes you different, what makes you unique, and then you put that together in what we call a Ten-things-to-consider list. And I would even make that one of your first pages in the proposal. The first page in the RFP should always be what the customer’s needs are, the pain that they’re experiencing and all that. But then I would put, “As you make your decision, here are ten things to consider,” and highlight ten differences between you and the other alternatives that the customer is considering.

All right folks. That’s the show for today. Again, just a quick recap how we differentiate in an RFP process. Number one, we get there early in the process. Number two, before we even consider quoting a solution, we request a meeting and meet with them face-to-face. Number three, we don’t limit ourselves just to what they request on that RFP. And then finally, we create a Ten-things-to-consider list which highlights our key differences.

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