Are you a technology vendor in the association community? Do you want to be successful when participating in an RFP process? I offer the following tips for consideration:
Know the ground rules.
Different consultants (and associations) run their RFP processes differently, and a vendor’s success can be largely dependent on how well they follow instructions. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s no room to ask questions about how things will evolve, but by having at least a good understanding of the steps involved, a vendor will be off to a solid start.
Do your homework.
One of the most important things to an association client is the feeling that a prospective vendor understands them, their business, and the challenges they face (and hope to solve using technology). Therefore, it is imperative that prospective vendors get to know their would-be clients (and perhaps even their client’s clients) to the fullest extent possible. There is no substitute for hard work in this regard, and some degree of research and/or dialogue will be required to get a sound understanding of the prospect’s needs and how your product/service/methodology can meet them.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
There are several ways in which vendors might guard against making mistakes that can become show-stoppers – for example, drastically underbidding an engagement, being overly conservative in one’s pricing strategy, or providing a proposal that is clearly boilerplate text or that exhibits an utter lack of understanding of the client’s needs are just a few sure ways to get your proposal disqualified from the start.
Know when to say “no.”
Some vendors feel that they might win a client’s business by acceding to every possible request presented, whether it makes sense to do so or not. However, our experience has shown it’s far better to lose a sales opportunity than to win a piece of business that leads to an unsuccessful project, which could have potentially negative PR effects that extend well beyond the immediate situation.
Focus on your strengths (not your competitor’s weakness).
Nothing can turn off an association client faster than a vendor ‘talking smack’ about their competitors. Try to take the high road and focus on what you, your company, and your product can do to address the client’s needs. It will get you much further in the end.
Sales versus reality.
Associations, as the customers, understand that the sales team is there to do just that – sell! All too frequently, the sales team oversells the product a little, and this can usually be worked through. However, there can also be significant disconnect between the sales team and the reality provided by the product’s implementation and this can taint a relationship pretty quickly, almost guaranteeing that a client would not recommend the product to others regardless of the ultimate outcome of the project.
The bottom line for vendors looking to win association business? Keep your eyes/ears open, talk clear and straight, and put your best foot forward.
Flickr photo by mazpho.to