If you've encountered these types of competitive bidding situations, here's some advice based on 20 years of experience dealing with formal bidding practices:
- If you haven't been involved with the opportunity BEFORE the RFP is released - forget it. It's difficult for any salesperson to walk away from any situation in which somebody is going to be a winner. After all, in most formal bids, the customer is going to buy something (most of the time). Unfortunately, the bid requirements are usually developed far in advance of the release date of the bid. Somebody (or some company) is usually "behind-the-scenes" influencing what those requirements are. If that person isn't you, your chance of winning are extremely low. Avoid bidding unsolicited RFP's.
- Create an "angle" which gives you an advantage. In responding to a competitive bid, don't try to add extra value. Don't put things into the RFP that they don't specifically ask for. If in doubt, leave it out. If there is a formal question and answer period, be careful on what you ask. Remember, most times, your competitors will see both the question and the answer. Did you just create a way to differentiate your response - or level the playing field even more, resulting in having to lower your price further.
- Details matter in your response. Remember, you many not have another opportunity to explain more about your solution/product/company. Assume that your response may be handed to somebody who has never heard about you or your solution. This is your opportunity to shine. Creativity, grammar, color, simplicity, style all count here.
Protesting a Bid
Lastly, let's talk about a sticky situation in which you've been notified that you were not awarded the deal. Most formal bidding processes have written guidelines on "protesting" the bid itself, or the bid results. Read these sections carefully. Many protest policies provide only a limited amount of time to submit a formal protest. Many require specific information in a specific format. Now the question is: Should you protest?
While there is no black and white answer to the question of protesting a bid, there are definitely times when you should NOT protest: never protest out of anger, fear or retribution against a competitor or customer. That probably takes care of 80% of all the reasons why you feel you should protest. What about the other 20%? In these cases, you must have extraordinary evidence of unfairness or compliance. After all, you're about to tell the customer they made the wrong decision. It better be a pretty compelling reason. Even if your reason is extremely compelling, ask yourself two important questions: 1) What is the expected outcome of your protest? 2) What are the negative consequences of protesting?
In most cases, you won't get what you think is the expected outcome. Organizations rarely just say, "OK, you're right. We'll pick you." Even if you got the customer to throw out the bid, perhaps the project dies right there. Perhaps the customer will release a new RFP that's even more difficult for you to win. Lastly, companies that commonly protest may be perceived by the customer community as "difficult to work with." You may be labeled as the "trouble-maker" and your business may suffer consequently. Is this one opportunity worth losing the customer for good? Think carefully. Protests are usually a lose/lose for both the customer and you.
One final suggestion regarding protests. There may be other ways to get your point across without protesting. Many times, I have simply called or emailed either purchasing or my contact, and explained the situation to them. I let them know that we have no intention of protesting, but wanted to make sure the organization had all of the information they needed to make the best decision. You'd be surprised how often this type of strategy works. Of course, you have to have a real reason to make this call in the first place.
Good Selling Everyone!