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Your Next RFP: How to Be In It to Win It

Last month I really enjoyed meeting with hundreds of Ariba Network suppliers at our AribaLIVE 2013 conference in Washington, DC. One of my favorite breakout sessions for Ariba’s sellers was chaired by David Morel, Sr. Product Manager for Ariba Sourcing, who presented “Strategies for Online Bidding: How to Increase Your Chances of Winning RFPs.”

Specifically, David explored the questions every seller asks: “How can I win this RFP? Or should I even bother responding?”

RFP myths

David’s session reinforced the value of participating in the RFP process, squarely addressing some common myths:

  • Responding to an RFP is a waste of time
  • RFP winners are chosen on price alone
  • The RFP process makes it hard to differentiate my company
  • I’ll never win an RFP.

To all of those I say, like the famous Apple campaign 15 years ago, ”think different.”

How to “be in it”

Sports fans often say, “You’ve gotta be in it to win it.” meaning that players have to be engaged in the game, play hard, and really want to win. The same can be said about RFPs. Here are some tips on how you can win, or even influence the game before it starts:

  • Focus on value: Believe it or not, the lowest price is not the automatic winner; many RFPs explicitly state this. Look at total cost of ownership (TCO), quality of product and post-sale service as ways to demonstrate your full value to prospective customers.

For example, in a bid for new carpeting, include your supporting services for installation, maintenance, and recycling the old carpeting and padding.

  • Expand your offering: Mention additional capabilities that complement the proposal. In the carpet example above, note your full line of business flooring products (tiles, wood, industrial).
  • Engage the buyer: Make yourself available for follow-up questions from the buyer. Some may be in real-time, like using the Q&A function on an online business network, or via email. Many times, that added engagement will give the buyer a good sense of the type of seller s/he wants to work with: you.
  • Influence the questions: Suggest different questions to ask in the RFP—they may not get accepted this time, but may be in future RFPs from that customer. Better yet, post a sample RFP on your website or business network profile page; when buyers are doing casual research, they may pick yours when constructing their RFP.
  • Show commitment to eCommerce: If you are responding to an RFP online, demonstrate your commitment to eCommerce by listing the business network you belong to and your proficiencies there. If the buyer is requesting bids online, they will likely use other electronic collaborative business tools (like a business network) to manage associated business processes (like orders and invoices).

The point is that all of these actions enhance your appeal as a smart business partner, and differentiate your company as one that’s easy to work with, By putting on your A-game the next time you respond to an RFP, you’re not only on your way to winning the game—you’re also changing it.

Has your organization had a rewarding RFP experience? Tell me by commenting below.

Next week: At the other end of the spectrum, some buyers are using business networks to manage new classes of spend that were previously not managed by their procurement organization: one-time buys, emergency buys or categories not strategic enough to have a formal spend management program. In my next post I’ll be talking about the emerging needs for buying organizations to use tools to manage spot buys, and how it can benefit sellers using business networks.

About the author
Rob Mihalko
Rob Mihalko

Rob oversees Ariba’s overall seller marketing initiatives as well as the Ariba Discovery service. Before joining Ariba, Rob held a variety of marketing, business development, and finance roles at Microsoft, Disney, and Intel. He was also a manag... Read More >>>

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