February 6, 2012
From creating and revising proposals to completing a request for proposal (RFP), wooing a business prospect can be costly and time-consuming. How can you streamline the process while increasing your chances of success? I asked SBDC Business Advisors Monica Rayes and Trevor Shickman for insights.
When a prospect asks you to complete an RFP or create a proposal, what factors should you consider in deciding whether to pursue the job?
Sometimes, these requests are purely formalities, because the prospect already has a vendor in mind. Before you respond to such a request, Shickman says, “understand your relationship with the prospect, their current working partners and the prospect’s history.” Does the company currently have a vendor filling this need? If so, how can you compete? If you don’t have a current relationship with this company, have they ever purchased from a business like yours in the past? Answering these questions can help determine whether your proposal has a fair chance of being considered.
If you think you stand a chance, how can you craft a winning proposal?
Reviewing an RFP will require you to examine not only the project’s feasibility, but also your business’s overall health, Rayes notes. Be sure you understand the project’s run time and the elements essential to meeting its objectives. If you uncover limits to your resources, showcase your company’s proactive management capabilities. “Hiring out specific skills and evaluating costs will demonstrate that your company is capable of taking on the project,” Rayes says. And remember, your written proposal isn’t the only factor in the decision. “Find those internal personal connections,” advises Shickman, “and leverage relationships to further offer a competitive advantage.”
It’s easy to spend a lot of time creating proposals that never lead anywhere. How can you decide how much time should be spent on a particular proposal?
Once you decide your proposal has a fair chance of being evaluated, the time spent should be based on its overall potential, says Shickman. However, “potential” means more than just money. For example, Shickman’s company recently completed a project that didn’t produce enough revenue to justify the time invested, but was necessary to break into a new business category.
Landing a big client can take a year or more. What steps should business owners take to stay top of mind with these prospects without becoming a pest?
Persistence and visibility are the keys, says Rayes, and providing value-added resources keeps you top of mind. “During the decision-making process, it works to your benefit to demonstrate availability, offer your expertise and become a reliable adjunct member of your potential working team,” she explains.
What common mistakes do business owners make in pursuing long-term accounts?
The biggest error is not doing enough. “You never want to be seen as having even the remote potential of neglecting the project at hand,” warns Shickman. “Coordinate ways to be consistent and stay in the loop with your [prospect].”
If you have been pursuing a prospect for a long time with no results, is there a point at which you should move on?
Most government agencies or large corporations make major purchases on a schedule. Often, this business cycle is well underway by the time you learn about a possible client. Once you have been through the full cycle twice without success, Shickman says, move that prospect to the back burner—but don’t give up altogether: “Keeping relationships alive often results in opportunities with different projects, or as individuals move to different organizations.”
If the contact you’ve been nurturing at a prospective client company leaves, what should you do?
“Try to have the outgoing contact facilitate the introduction with the new client,” Rayes advises. If this isn’t an option, “approach the new contact with as much information as possible and attempt to be a resource for their new position.”
You’ve finally landed that elusive client, but servicing them is requiring more time, money and effort than you expected. What should you do?
Use diplomacy to find the best solution for all parties, advises Rayes, whose company recently encountered this situation. “We presented it as a cost-saving measure, and spent the additional resources necessary to teach the client how to handle this part of their business through their own website,” she explains. “While this created more short-term work for us, it allowed us to maintain the relationship for more profitable projects in the future.”
Rieva Lesonsky is founder and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Before launching her business, she was Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva, read her blog at SmallBizDaily.com, and visit her website SmallBizTrendCast.com to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for free TrendCast reports.