When I started my sales career, I spent the first 5 years selling to Public Sector (I think it’s called Federal Sector in the US). While it probably took me 12 months to get used to the ebb and flow, you soon get used to the challenges and the opportunities. And there are opportunities.
For example, people having budget they have to spend as they approach the April new financial year, certain functional requirements which are a barrier to entry for competition and the predictability of certain decision making cycles. For example, if they have budget, they usually spend it. It’s not like the private sector where “do nothing” it one of your biggest competitors.
One of the challenges is the RFP (Request for Proposal) process.
What is an RFP?
For those that don’t know, an RFP is a document that a public sector organisation issues and suppliers have to answer to be part of the process. Usually it has a list of functional and technical requirements. The RFP is dreaded by suppliers as they “suck up” so much resource, with no guarantee of winning the business. In fact I’ve often suggested that buying a lottery ticket might be a better bet.
The RFP process is such, that when it is issued the “shutters come down” and as a supplier you are unable to ask questions, have meetings or try and “influence” the process in anyway. We will be coming back to this in a moment.
In many cases I’ve seen practices that if you ask a question of the customer, the questions and answers are circulated to all the other suppliers. Obviously this makes sure that suppliers don’t ask questions or risk declaring your hand to your competition.
Why do you have such a cumbersome process? As a taxpayer, I want to make sure the money I pay in tax is spent wisely. The RFP process is there to (try) and create transparency and an audit trail of why a solution was purchased.
For anybody out there that thinks, this is easy, we just answer yes to everything and win lots of business. The RFP response becomes part of the contract, so you end up contractually committed to delivering what you said yes to. I’m aware of at least two UK accountancy software houses that no longer exist as they said they could deliver functionality and they couldn’t. So onto how we can influence the process with social…
The RFP Holy Grail
Ever since the first RFP was issued, (probably on stone tablets), us suppliers have tried to find ways to get out of the effort. I’ve worked for small software houses where RFPs pretty much locked up all the resource of the company.
There are many analogue ways that have been used in the past to influence a tender. You worked with the organisation early on to help educate them, so when they defined their requirements, it would be of course for your USPs (Unique Selling Points). Locking out the competition. One way suppliers do this is to “seed” your own RFP on the basis you already have standard responses and this speeds up the process of responding.
This method is so widespread that if I received a non-solicited RFP in the post, the first thing you do is try and work out which supplier wrote it. Does not mean you won’t respond but does mean you know which competitive strategy to deploy.
So What Has This Got to Do with Social?
New Sales Guy started working for me in the Education sector. He came from a competitor that does not believe in social, which is always great news.
As with most salespeople he was proud of his track record and always took a pride in his work and always “did right by the customer”. The Public Sector as are many industries, the industries are actually very small and you can soon build a reputation and pipeline based on referrals / references.
I explained how with social, “all” we do is “lift” that analogue work and put it on-line and it will give you a personal brand. He was very trusting and went with this and over about 3 months, I mentored him to change his LinkedIn profile and we tried different wording out. Then one day he phone me.
“I’ve just had what they call “aha” moment with this social”
“What happened?” I answer?
He went on, “You know we did that personal brand stuff?”
“Yes” I replied.
“Then I connected to all my clients and prospects?”
“Yes” I said.
“Then I posted interesting content, so I can get FoM (Front of Mind) with all of my prospects and customers every day?”
“Yes” I said ….. Like me you are probably thinking “get on with it!”
“Well the Finance Director of such and such University, has just liked one of my articles.”
(Note: This was the decision maker of one of the accounts he had an ongoing tender with.)
He went on “Now, I’m not saying this will win me the deal, but that decision maker, has just had to think about me, our company and the solution …. and I’m confident all those feelings will be positive.”
(Note: He went on to win that business.)
Now I’m not saying that post on social won him that deal. But let’s not forget, in sales there are no silver medals, our job is to win gold. This sales guy went on to tell me that he was now a believer in social and could see the power of a great personal brand He also understood that social allows you to scale your territory, quicker and cheaper than any analogue method.
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