Most enterprise applications are purchased after a process of investigation, piloting and comparison. In this short article, we will take a look at the part of this process that produces that purchasing company’s RFI (Request For Information) and use it to gauge aspects of the effectiveness of a company’s positioning, marketing materials, sales tools and even the sales rep.
The RFI, when taken at face value, expresses the selection criteria of the prospect. The document details what they see as important and sometimes weighs those factors. The RFI is sent to vendors after the prospect has a general idea of what they want. The RFI can be a good source of information on what the prospect wants, what other vendors are in the game and you company’s ability to influence the decision making process.
Here are some things you should look for when reading the RFI.
What is the terminology used in the RFI?
Every company uses slightly different nomenclature. Whose terminology are they using? Is it yours? Is it your competitor’s? In answering these questions, you will be able to see into who is influencing the prospect. These can be industry pundits or in adverse cases, your competitors. When it is your competitors? terminology, you will see who else is involved in the process and how effective they were.
What are the features that the prospect thinks are important?
Many times prospects base their RFI on product demos they’ve seen. Your competitors will stress their advantages and if they were able to influence the process, you will find their differentiating features in the prospect’s RFI. This is an important criteria to judge how effective your product marketing efforts are as well as the ability of your sales reps to communicate your features? benefits.
How thorough is the RFI?
Did the prospect do his homework? If we assume you have the better product, the more educated the prospect, the better off you are. An educated prospect will be able to ‘see? the value of your offering and judge it against that of your competitor. If you are perceived as the market leader, regardless of the quality of your solution, a less educated prospect might be easier to sell to. This prospect will not be able to judge who is better and being the market leader will weigh in more prominently in their decision process.
How are the features prioritized?
If the features are not prioritized, their order of appearance can hint at their importance in the eyes of the prospect. >From this, a sales rep can get a feeling as to where she should focus her efforts.
How open ended is the RFI?
Is it limited to Yes/No answers or can you add comments? An RFI that limits your input to simple Yes/No answers limits your ability to highlight the things that are not explicitly asked for but are important to the prospect. If you were not able to influence the RFI process, such an RFI will make it more difficult to get your products? messaging across.
Are all the questions relevant?
Don’t be surprised to see RFIs that include items that were added by the IT department and that are archaic or simply not applicable to your technology. In many large companies, any software vendor must answer standard questions even if these are totally irrelevant to the solution they are offering. If this is the case, you have learned that the IT department will probably be involved in the selection process. This can be a boon or a bust depending on your solution. If the person or committee that created the RFI are open to vendor input, many times, it is enough to explain that these questions are not applicable to your solution.
So where is the sales rep in all this?
This is probably the most overlooked point in sales organizations. If the RFI does not reflect your product’s strong points it means that the sales rep was not able to influence the prospect. This could happen for various reasons:
- The prospect did not know you were offering a solution in this market space. This is the worst case from a marketing perspective as your company was unable to create enough presence to guarantee that whoever was looking for a solution in your space, would come up with your company’s name.
- A selection process that started without any contact with your company. The prospect might even have seen a demo of your product at a show but decided not to contact you before sending out the RFI. This of course does not mean that they did not contact your competitors?
- The sales rep engaged the prospect but was unable to influence the prospect’s decision making process. This is a sales issue and has to do with the sales rep’s skill set.
No matter what the reason, if you were unable to influence the prospect, it would be beneficial if your company’s management looked into it.
This article and its contents copyright (c) 2002 by Daniel Shefer