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SEM RFPs – How to Make Them Work for You

Published: October 24, 2012

Author: Sean Marshall

ppc rfp
Well, if there’s just one of you, it’s daunting. Get the team involved.

I have very little experience with RFPs, but if they always end up like the one I’m working on now, bring ’em on! While we haven’t heard results of the RFP yet, the experience has been a blast; it’s helped reaffirm everything that makes teamwork great.
RFPs (request for proposal) have a bad rap as being tedious and labor-intensive. Some of the questions will make you scratch your head and wonder what kind of people you’re dealing with on the other end.
“What is your process for dealing with the Mayan apocalypse?”
“How aggressively can we target MySpace?”
The beauty of what I’ve gone through doesn’t lie in the brilliance of the request but more in the “all hands on deck” response our team has put together. The RFP in question contained dozens of questions and required over a dozen team members to pull from respective expertise and help contribute to a nearly 100-page presentation.  That’s teamwork.
The ensuing face-to-face presentation was equally rewarding. PPC Associates fosters a culture of debate, and it was on full display on-site at our prospective client’s offices (between our staffers, thankfully not confrontational vs. the prospect). The whole situation got me thinking about some pointers sales teams should incorporate into their RFP process.
1)      Get everyone involved – You’d be amazed just how much knowledge is stored within your team. I’ve always told our clients that we have an amazing collective of experience, and it’s amazing to see it in action.
2)      Stay true to yourself – Most will do anything to land a customer, but don’t fall prey to this. Go with the style that’s made you successful to date. PPC Associates places a premium on partnership, which means we shouldn’t hide our culture. Openness might cost you a deal here or there, but it’ll make the deal you do land all the greater – and with better expectations for how the partnership will go.
3)      Show up en masse – You never know what questions will pop up during the face-to-face presentation, so if location allows it, bring the whole crew. If you engage in a lively debate and discussion, there’s bound to be some scope creep relative to the questions in the RFP. Bring additional subject matter experts to the party and show your prospect what you can REALLY do.
4)      Balance the pitch – Having 5 salespeople in the room won’t work. Having a proper mix of talent will go a long way to ensure everything and anything can be answered concretely instead of a) deferring or b) giving a weak answer.
5)      Do due diligence – It’s hard to imagine turning the tables on a prospect during the RFP process, but the worst thing you could do would be to present a plan of action that can’t be enacted because of some constraint you learned of too late. We actually ran into this during this particular RFP but were lucky enough (thanks to points 3 and 4) to have real solutions to the challenges facing the prospect.
All in all, requests for proposals ARE time-consuming, but if it’s the right type of client, it’s well worth it.  Enabling different team members to broaden their horizons and participate in the sales process, practicing your own pitch, and expanding your network are worth the effort. Even if you impress just one person in the room, it might be enough to win business down the road – or, in the perfect scenario, the company you’re pitching!
Sean Marshall, Sr. Director, Client Services

25 E Washington Street
Suite 420

Chicago, IL 60602(650) 539-4124


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