In this post I hope to accurately portray the perspectives of both the buy-side and the supply-side on the sales training RFP. Leave a comment and let me know how I did.
A bit of background
As a seller, coming out of sales, sales consulting, and sales training, I have a love-hate relationship with RFPs. I love them when I’ve written or influenced their content and, as a result, have exerted some control over the customer’s buying/decision criteria, and won the deal. I hate them (or rather disregard them, in most cases) when one surprisingly pops into my inbox and I quickly determine that my competitor has had a degree of influence in its content.
When ESR first started sending RFPs to sales performance improvement companies on behalf of our sales training buyer clients, the responses were as you would expect. Resistance, frustration, and even anger. After all, many sales trainers work with their clients guiding them through getting around the RFP process. Why should they do what they teach their clients not to do? they ask me. After all, they say, RFPs have been written or influenced by one supplier, putting anyone else who chooses to bid the business in a disadvantageous place. As a seller, I couldn’t agree more.
On the buy-side of the equation
When ESR is running a client evaluation, we perform the requirements analysis and definition. We do that independently of any provider or any influence they might have among stakeholders. Why does ESR insist on doing the requirements definition? ESR knows that whenever a sales trainer or consultant does a requirements analysis (their discovery process) it is most likely going to result in the highest priority customer needs matching the unique capabilities of the provider. It’s only natural. If I’m a trainer and have proven abilities in A, B, C, and D, I will gravitate toward challenges and opportunities for which A, B, C, and D are solutions for the customer. If the customer’s real issues are with E, F, G, and H, for competitive reasons I may not acknowledge that or, in some cases, I might not even recognize that those conditions exist. (I know I’m going to get some angry comments and emails about this from sales trainers who will tell me they are open and honest with their clients about their strengths and challenges. I’m sure that’s true in YOUR case, but after nearly eight years of studying failed sales training initiatives, we know what really goes on a lot of the time.)
Once the client signs off on the requirements definition, we propose a long list of providers based on a high-level match among those requirements and individual providers’ capabilities as we know them.
Sell to the customer in the way they want to buy
From the buy side, we expect anyone bidding for the business to understand how the customer wants to buy (by employing this process) and demonstrates willingness to work under those parameters. It is also very important for our clients to understand how each potential supplier matches up against the prioritized criteria as stated in the RFP—criteria derived directly from that comprehensive and objective assessment we perform.
When ESR publishes the RFI or RFP, we assure each long-listed sales performance improvement provider that:
- It’s a real opportunity.
- It has senior executive sponsorship.
- It is budgeted.
- The timing of the events, including launch and roll-out are short term.
- ESR has performed the requirements definition and wrote the RFP without any influence at all from any supplier.
- No supplier has been in the account since ESR was involved—therefore no one has the inside track.
- Every provider that receives an RFP has an equal opportunity to win. ESR will never solicit proposals from any company we don’t feel is qualified to win the business.
In other words, we validate that this is a qualified opportunity where everyone participating has an equal chance to win. Many sales trainers have learned to trust ESR in this regard. They’d rather not go through this process, but they know it’s fair.
The short list
After the responses are read, analyzed, and ranked, a short list is determined. At that point ESR strongly recommends that the client meet with representatives from each short-listed company to answer any and all questions. That’s also the time when the client and the short-listed firms get to know each other.
ESR organizes and manages a finalist presentation day where each short-listed provider offers insight into how they will contribute to the customer achieving their sales performance goals and objectives. We also recommend that each provider to share with the client their differentiated and unique value and why they believe they are the best partner for the client. Each presentation runs about three-and-a-half hours.
At that point the client evaluates each presentation among other factors and makes a selection.
The bottom line
As a result of this process, whichever provider is selected is almost guaranteed to have a successful implementation because all the risks and rewards and strengths and challenges of both provider and client will have been identified and discussed openly by both parties before a contract is signed.
Read a case study about how this process was employed from Selling Power magazine.
Note: If you’d like to learn more about sales training requirements, you can purchase the ESR/Report How to Understand, Define, and Meet Your Sales Training Requirements.