Winning an RFP driven solution sale

Zahra Jamshed

October 14, 2014

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Winning a complex solution sale requires an organized and disciplined approach to ensure the end client's business requirements can be met. Having worked extensively on complex sales and solutions deals in infrastructure, managed hosting and cloud solutions, in my experience it's important to put together a SWAT Team that focuses on conducting the necessary due diligence on the context, content and scope of the RFP & its response.

Some clients start with an RFI (Request for Information) or an RFQ (Request for Quote) and then finally issue an RFP (Request for Proposal). In other scenarios, depending on how prepared the client team is, an RFP is directly issued. The RFP serves as formal communication between a client and a vendor / service provider. This formal communication can be in the form of a word document, excel spreadsheet or a power-point presentation.

When responding to an RFP, I have won a few, been shortlisted for many, chose not to bid on some and lost some. Here I want to mainly focus on the key factors that contributed to the winning of an RFP regardless of the solution type, i.e. market data or managed hosting/data center or cloud solutions engagement.

Key Factors

FactorVendor/Service ProviderClient
RelationshipThe vendor sales rep had an excellent relationship with the client. That relationship fostered open communication on the client's key focus, pain points and business requirementsClient had the rapport with the vendor to connect, discuss and be open about their business goals, roadmap and pain points.
SponsorshipThe sales team had a designated sponsor on the engagement who provided executive level support and authorized necessary resources when and as needed.Client clearly defined a project sponsor who made the go/no-go decision and allocated budget for the engagement.
SolutionThe vendor response included an innovative solution that addressed the client's key focus of the RFP. For example, if the pain point was to consolidate data centers and leverage virtualization and converged infrastructure, then the vendor response provided a solution that focused on addressing the client's key concern and providing the cost benefit analysis, as applicable.The client clearly specified on what was expected as available vs. custom solution in response to their requirements. If the clarity was missing in the issued document, it was highlighted and discussed in the vendor Q&A session.
3rd Party Vendor AlliancesIf and when 3rd party vendor partners were engaged:
• The prime and sub were clearly identified
• All parties worked together to provide a "one-throat-to-choke" response through the prime vendor - program manager.
• All parties presented a unified and well integrated view throughout the pre-sales cycle strengthening the collaboration.
• Roles and responsibilities of each vendor function were clearly laid out in form of a RACI matrix
In some scenarios, depending on the RFP scope, the client recommended certain vendors to collaborate to provide a joint response based on their expertise.
PricingThe vendor followed the pricing guidelines by providing both high level as well as component details, i.e. hardware, software, and professional services. In some cases, term based pricing for 1-yr, 3-yr, and 5-yr was provided with the cost savings. In all winning scenarios, pricing transparency was a very key criteria.The client provided specific instructions on how the pricing breakdown should be provided, i.e. solution term (fully outsourced solution), hardware, software, services and support.
Project DeadlineVendor ensured to follow the response deadline. The adherence reflected organization and focus to address the solution response in time.The client provided a firm deadline that reflected a sense of urgency and definitive plan on vendor selection and momentum with the project at hand.
Reference Clients / Case StudiesThe vendor was able to provide reference clients where similar type of solution was implemented and case studies existed.The client clearly specified on the type of references needed.
Response FormatThe vendor responded in the prescribed response format with no exceptions unless discussed in advance with the client's team/vendor manager.The client clearly highlighted the response format and exceptions. To give an example, in one case study, the client wanted the response to be in power-point format and any additional documentation on product details or marketing material to be kept in an addendum.
Executive SummaryThe vendor concisely provided a tailored view of their understanding of the scope of the initiative, how their offering will provide value & what could they do to increase the client’s comfort level in the recommended solution proposition (i.e. demo/POC) or referred to a pertinent case study scenario. 
Project Delivery TeamThe vendor had a seasoned team in place who could deliver on the proposed solution and was well versed with the vendor's solution proposition and its nuances. In some win scenarios, the vendor included the bios of the key professional services delivery leaders, i.e. project manager and solutions architect.The client requested for the bios of the vendor delivery team leads and ensured alignment with the client's internal team.

About the Writer: Zahra Jamshed is a business and technology executive with extensive expertise in data center, converged infrastructure and managed hosting / cloud solutions. Zahra has held leadership roles with various global technology solutions providers and advisory firms in financial services, insurance, pharma, and public sectors. Zahra has an expertise in strategic solutions, alliances, program management & governance in both application and infrastructure space. Zahra holds an executive certificate program in Strategy and Innovation from MIT Sloan School of Management, a Masters in Computer Information Systems and a Bachelors in Chemical Engineering. Zahra is an avid non-fiction reader, loves to practice yin yoga and Pilates; and plays squash. Zahra can be reached on [email protected]

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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