I don’t have the exact quote, but last week at the 2009 Sales 2.0 Knowledge Share Conference, I heard Rich Blakeman, VP of sales at Miller Heiman, say something to the extent of, “We want to get to the prospect before he creates his RFP.” I wanted to get up and applaud — not only because I agree with him, but also because I had been meaning to write about this forever. I first got the inspiration when I was meeting with the VP of sales from one of our blue-chip (top 5 technology company) customers. He told me how he preferred not to get leads when they had their project already defined. He preferred to get them earlier so that his team could shape the content of the project or RFP. This was a big-time company with a big-time sales team. Another customer loved being in early and providing clients with questions to ask vendors, knowing those questions would position his company ahead of the competition.
So, the lesson is: Getting leads early will help you later on. Here are five tips to help you efficiently stay ahead of the RFP:
1. Lead nurturing: GROUNDHOG DAY! I keep saying this over and over, but it’s important. It’s one thing to have sales keep following up with someone before the sales cycle. It’s another thing to have marketing help in this process. You can’t stay in front of the RFP and succeed if sales owns the prospect from so early on. You need to continue to market to the prospect via email with a variety of different educational offers.
2. Sales nurturing: Following the above: If we want sales to get to prospects early, you have to have a process to allow sales to put these prospects back into the nurturing cycle. For most processes today, once sales get the lead, it is owned by sales. Success is dependent on sales dropping voice mails and “checking in” for months. Instead, let sales do their preso and if it’s early, score the lead appropriately and have marketing keep the prospect warm.
3. Relevant, “early-funnel” content: I love whitepaper offers like “Creating an RFP,” and “25 Questions to Ask Potential XXX Vendors.” This is pre-RFP content that helps sales shape the project in your company’s favor.
4. Looser BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time frame): I get why BANT is hot again, and I support it. Just don’t forget that it is worth pitching a client when all he or she has is the “A” (authority) and the “N” (need), even if it is latent need. And get sales involved early. As mentioned in the second tip, sales can recycle leads back into the buying cycle and your organization will not lose track of the potential opportunity.
5. Web conferencing, Webinars and the rise of telepresence: You don’t have to hop on a plane to meet potential customers. Use Web conferencing to get to the pre-RFP client without the time and expense of travel.