New Data: Top Salespeople are 7562% Better at Winning RFPs

Lately, when I talk with people, the most popular topics for discussion are Politics, March Madness, and the movies and TV shows they are streaming.  Personally, I substitute Baseball for the middle topic because college baseball is in full swing and we’ve been traveling to watch our son, a college senior, play college baseball.

But lately, when I talk with the Kurlan & Associates team, the topic is consistently about salespeople who push back when our sales training and coaching is specific to RFPs.  Watch this short video to get my feelings and then continue reading for more.

RFPs aren’t going away, and there are two ways for salespeople to approach them:

  1. Passively – in this capacity, salespeople are nothing more than facilitators, waiting for an RFP to drop in their inbox, so they can get it off to the folks who write the proposals.  When complete, they email the proposal back to procurement and hope to win.  They give first responders a bad name!
  2. Proactively – in this capacity, they regularly meet and develop relationships with the appropriate CxO’s and Sr VP’s of manufacturing, engineering, design, IT, IS, Finance, Marketing, HR, R&D, Operations, Facilities, Fulfillment, Distribution, Sales, Learning and Development, Enablement, and any other organizational head they might possibly sell to.  They become a resource, an asset, a partner and not only help write the specifications of the next RFP, but write the specs in such a way that they are the only company that can win the business.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Option 1 is stupid and Option 2 is brilliant.  But if option 2 is so brilliant and obvious, then why do so many salespeople become so defensive and remain dug in to option 1?

Their most common response is, “That doesn’t work in our business.”  Or, “This is how it’s always been done.” Or, “If you want to do business with XYZ then you have to play by their rules.”

Procurement is focused on price and while there are certainly a small percentage of exceptions, lowest price is their priority. Think Boeing. That a company would prioritize price over mission critical components or kits is disgraceful, but what if it wasn’t company policy?  What if it was simply heavy-handed procurement not understanding that it costs more to support “mission critical?”  And what about the salespeople that knew and fell into procurement’s trap, afraid of risking the business (that they didn’t have) for attempting to meet with decision makers from engineering and manufacturing and quality control.  When you partner with those decision makers, they write you into the spec and/or dictate to procurement to whom the business must be awarded.

When training and coaching salespeople, the theory of how to sell to companies that buy via the RFP process is not enough.  At Kurlan, we role-play each scenario in order to demonstrate what good conversations sounds like.  But salespeople who have never attempted option 2, and whose experience is limited to option 1, are unable to play the part of the prospect in an option 2 role play because they can’t wrap their heads around the possibility that option 2 is possible.  Not only that, their responses are limited to what they have heard from controlling, territorial, price-sensitive, procedure-dedicated, power-hungry procurement people who don’t play nice with salespeople. Unfortunately, those responses never fit the new dialog we share with them.

So who are the salespeople that defend the status quo of option 1?

Most frequently, they are weak salespeople who have low scores in the following Sales Core Competencies (click here to see all 21 Sales Core Competencies):

  • Commitment to Sales Success
  • Reaches Decision Makers
  • Consultative Seller
  • Value Seller
  • Qualifier
  • Supportive Beliefs
  • Sales Process

Using data from Objective Management Group, who has assessed more than 2.5 million salespeople, I created the table below to show the difference between the top 5% of salespeople, who choose option 2, and the bottom 50% of salespeople who choose option 1.

comparison of top and bottom salespeople when it comes to winning RFPs
I took the average of the differences between the top 5% and the weakest 50% and determined that the top 5% are 7562% more effective than the bottom 50% in the competencies that impact winning RFPs.  But which came first, the chicken or the egg?  In other words, are the bottom 50% where they are because of how they score in those competencies, or do they score in the bottom 50% in those competencies because of the what they believe and how they approach selling?  If you change their beliefs, you change their approach, their skills and their results.  But there’s a problem.

The first column shows that only 42% of the bottom half of all salespeople are committed to their own personal sales success.  That means 58% of the bottom half lack the commitment necessary to change their beliefs, change their approach, and develop their skills.  What should a company do with those salespeople?

Many companies struggle to answer that question but it’s easy for me to answer.  Replace them!

Chances are, the company will do no worse without the RFP facilitators than with them so hiring stronger salespeople, who have the capabilities to reach decision makers instead of procurement folks, will be a huge and welcome upgrade.  Use OMG’s Sales Candidate Assessments to assure that you are interviewing candidates with those capabilities.

RFPs may not be going away but the salespeople who fearfully and lazily facilitate RFPs should go away.

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