Request for Proposals – know when to say ‘NO’?

Request For Proposals (RFPs) are the lifeblood of marketing agencies and yet last week I declined one of the most exciting RFPs that I have come across in the past 12 months….and I still feel sick to my stomach. It was for an industry-leading brand, working on a highly visible global B2B campaign with a big budget and a fantastic team. But sometimes you need to know when to say ‘no’.

It is easy to get carried away with the excitement of receiving an RFP, particularly when it comes from a new potential customer, and even more so when it reads like the one we turned down. But getting carried away on formulating an adequate reply can cost the agency a lot of wasted time and money; winning an unsuitable RFP can end disastrously.

Here are the six criteria I use to determine how we reply to an RFP:

1. Client Fit

The most important question is whether the potential client is a good fit. Do they add value to your portfolio? Do you feel you have something unique and valuable to offer them? Do you have a positive experience in their sector? Although it is tempting to go for every attractive RFP, if the answer to any of the previous questions is ‘no’ you have to consider whether your time and effort isn’t better spent attracting or working on a ‘sweet spot’ client.

2. Project fit

Does the particular project match your highest best? Does it play to the strengths of your agency? Are you able to fulfil the requirements of the project? Any answers apart from a solid ‘yes’ means you need to politely decline. If only part of the RFP is a perfect match, you might consider partnering with another entity – it might mean sacrificing part of the profit but it will be worth the peace of mind. Alternatively, you should ask whether you could respond to only part of the request, providing convincing reasoning why you are still worth considering.

3. Resource availability

The client might be the perfect fit and the project playing to your absolute highest best, but if you don’t have the available resources (or the ability to resource up), the chances are that the perfect project will end up a massive disappointment. Lack of resources to deliver will generally end up in rushed jobs with mediocre results and/or late delivery. Worse, it might prevent you from servicing your other clients, creating a negative knock-on effect.

Last minute resourcing typically sees your profit margins being eaten away by expensive freelancers and contractors. Make sure you consider the resource requirements carefully and factor these costs into your proposal with a good margin of error to avoid disappointing yourself and ultimately the client.

4. Budgets

3_types_of_serviceSome say ‘the best things in life are free’…but unfortunately that doesn’t apply in business. Delivering quality costs money but, in turn, should always provide the client with a good return on investment. That is the essential win-win criteria for an effective client-supplier relationship. When you have reached this point in your considerations, you need to know what the budgets are and if you don’t know, you need to ask.

If you don’t at least get a budget range, I would seriously question the sanity of investing time in the RFP. Having a budget isn’t an opportunity to fleece the client by pricing it right to the limit, but should instead mean that you design the best possible solution within the boundaries set by the client.

5. Win potential

The most subjective factor in your decision is the probability of winning. Your chance of winning is unfortunately not just based on a good fit in terms if client or project, or even the quality of your response. Very often other factors come into play, including whether other agencies responding are better positioned than you to deliver the goods, or whether the incumbent agency has an unbreakable bond with the client.

My advice is to always ask how many agencies are included in the RFP (the more agencies, the less inclined I am to reply). Research the RFP owners and see whom they are connected to on LinkedIn or who they are communicating with on social media (this can often uncover a strong bond with other agencies). Search the Internet for potential agencies the company may have worked with (often awards are a good indicator). None of these factors necessarily imply you decline, but at least you go in with your eyes wide open. As I said, this is very subjective so go with your gut. If you don’t feel confident you have a good chance of winning, maybe now is the time to back away.

6. Future potential

Lastly, although the longevity of the relationship and the guarantee of further work are not necessarily essential, I always consider the future potential of the account. If you are going to invest money in an RFP you should do so under the assumption that you are going to win and therefore willing to commit your valuable resources. If you are willing to commit your resources and, assuming your resources like everything else on earth are limited, you do so at an opportunity cost – the value of the other projects you will have to forego to deliver this one. Therefore it is always worth considering clients that offer a high lifetime value, over those that represent a one-off gain as the acquisition costs are often the same.

Back to my RFP…Sadly, the one I turned down was a perfect fit in terms of client and project. It would no doubt have had a decent budget and certainly had a huge potential for the future. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the resources available to deliver our highest best and submitting a proposal would have put at risk all the potential benefits. In the interest of the potential client and for the chance to work with them in the future, we had to withdraw.

Don’t get me wrong, all the above doesn’t make that decision any less painful…but it does make it easier.

B2B Demand Gen 2.0: five buyer fundamentals

Demand generation and marketing automation is nothing new. Yet, many B2B marketers can safely argue that established practice doesn’t imply proficiency, let alone a higher degree of marketing performance. In fact, according to Forrester half of B2B marketers surveyed don’t have well-defined processes in place to govern their marketing automation efforts. The result? A demand generation approach that behaves more like an automated drip system delivering generic emails and a high volume of barely qualified leads. To turn this around, I believe the path to performance and proficiency starts with a refresh around buyer fundamentals.

Top Five Buyer Fundamentals

©2015 Nick Beesley
©2015 Nick Beesley

#1: Buyers move around a lot
Most demand generation strategies major on adding leads to the top of the funnel, with less attention given to nurturing buyers midstream, or dare I say, mid-funnel. This assumes that your buyer travels a highly linear path from one buyer journey phase to the next. In reality buyers move around and oscillate a lot. Often they plateau along their journey as their priorities or budgets change. Marketers need to be mindful of this fluidity and develop strategies that acknowledge and support their movement and moments of pause along their journey.

#2: Buyers are different
According to Marketo, 31% of B2B marketers don’t have personas in place and out of those who do only 27% said their personas were aligned to their messaging (2015 Demand Gen Report Benchmark Study). A deep understanding of your buyer is essential for an effective demand generation strategy. It determines who needs to be engaged (identifying the real decision-makers and influencers), when they need to be engaged (at what stage of the purchase journey), how they can be reached (the most effective channel to reach them,) and what type of content they need (the right message and format).

#3: Buyers prefer messages that matter to them
Most companies in the UK think of marketing automation as the distribution of 3rd party content by email. This might deliver the quantity, but the whole purpose of demand generation and marketing automation is to take the effort out of early-stage selling, with high quality leads. This can most effectively be achieved through bespoke content, tailored to and addressing the specific concerns of each key stakeholder at the relevant point in their buyer journey. Depending on the buyer personas, this more often than not will include a combination of formats and channels, with online advertising, email newsletters, blog posts and articles influencing the early stages of the sales funnel, and testimonials, analysts’ reports and demos reserved for the latter stages.

#4: Buyers leave bread crumbs. Our job is to track and record them
According to Trip Kucera it takes up to 8 to 10 marketing touches to close a deal (2014 B2B Content2Conversion Conference), which means that last touch attribution may tell a misleading story. Using platforms like Marketo, will provide transparency on the value of each piece of content and the efficacy of the channel in which it is distributed.

#5: Not all buyers will buy. Score and segment your most valuable leads
Underpinning marketing automation is lead qualification or scoring. This tells us how close someone is to becoming a sales qualified lead. All the above investment in developing buyer profiles and content strategies will be to no avail if the scoring isn’t effective. Two fundamental pieces of this part of the puzzle are the initial data, which should be clean, and the scoring, which needs to be constantly monitored and refined. More specific details about this here.

If you aren’t following some or all of the above, 2015 could be your chance to turn things around. Get in touch if you need help!