How To Make Your Product Stand Out In An RFP Response

by drjim on June 1, 2015

No matter how large an RFP is, a product manager can always make their product stand out

No matter how large an RFP is, a product manager can always make their product stand out
Image Credit: Don Nunn

Please buy my product. No, I really mean it – go out now and buy my product! Sadly, this technique of simply asking your customers to buy your product generally doesn’t work for most product managers. Instead, we have to be waiting in the wings until our customers decide that they need a product like ours. When they do, they more often than not release what is called a “Request For Proposal” (RFP). We are expected to create a response to this document that talks about our product development definition and if the customers likes our response the best, then they’ll buy our product. What can we do to make the customer fall in love with our RFP response?

Time For Some Role Playing

If you are going to want to get your proposal selected by your customer as being the best out of all of the proposals that they have reviewed, then you are going to have to get ready to do some role playing. All too often when I talk with product managers about how they think that the customer will view their RFP response, they tell me “I don’t know” or “How should I know?”. If you don’t know how your customer is going to be reviewing the responses, then how can you hope to create a response that will grab their attention? Screw this up and it’s not going to look good on your product manager resume.

The first thing that you need to do when you are engaging in some role playing is to realize that nobody on the customer side ever volunteers for this vendor proposal evaluation duty. This is going to take a lot of time and effort and they have other jobs that they still have to be doing. However, somehow they get drafted into doing this and so they want to get it over as quickly as possible.

Next you need to realize that nobody will ever read your RFP response from cover to cover. Rather, what will probably happen is that all of the responses will be lined up together and the team will go through each one section by section. Your response will be read at the same time that all of the other responses are being read. The customer’s goal is to be able to determine which response best meets their needs.

Finally, you need to realize that the customer does not know anything about your product. As they evaluate multiple vendor’s responses at the same time, everything is going to start to blur together. It becomes very hard for the evaluation team to keep things straight – which vendor does what, which feature did they all decide was the most important? Most evaluation committees will look to their natural leader on the team for guidance as to how to proceed in the evaluation process.

How To Stand Out In A Crowd

As a product manager, it is going to be your responsibility to take all of this information into account when you are creating your RFP response. Your goal has to be to create the one response that will stand out from all of the other responses. No, this is not going to be easy to do, but the good news is that with just a bit of planning you can make it happen.

The first thing that you are going to want to do is to make sure that you correctly respond to the RFP. What this means is that you need to understand that the review committee is going to be trying to conduct an apples-to-apples comparison between the different vendors. If you don’t answer the questions that they have asked you or if you do in a way that makes it hard for them to compare your responses to the other vendors, then they are going to start to think negatively about you and your response.

Finally, you probably know which products and companies your product is going to be competing against. Use this information to your advantage. What you want to do is to include in your proposal response suggestions for how the review committee can evaluate the different proposal responses. Tell them what features are really important (the ones that your product does well) and tell then which features don’t matter as much (the things that your product does not do as well as the competition).

What All Of This Means For You

When a customer decides to purchase a product like yours, it would be most helpful if they would pick up the phone and call you in order to place an order. However, this rarely happens. Instead, what happens is that the customer creates what is called a request for proposal (RFP) and sends it out to all of the vendors that they believe can provide them with the type of solution that they are looking for.

As a product manager you need to understand what the committee that will be evaluating the proposals will be going through. This should almost be on every product manager job description. They will want to accomplish this task as quickly as possible. They won’t read your response cover to cover like you did – instead they’ll read each section at the same time that they read the response from the other vendors. Finally, they’ll struggle to keep each vendor’s response straight in their minds. You need to help them out by including in your proposal response suggestions on what is important and what is not.

You just might be surprised at how grateful a RFP evaluation committee can be if they feel as though they are getting helpful advice from a vendor. Don’t try to sell them when you are giving them advice –they’ll see right through that. Instead, be sympathetic to the situation that the evaluation committee finds itself in and offer suggestion to make their job just a little bit easier – and help them to select your product!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should put your helpful suggestions up at the front of your response or sprinkle them throughout the response?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m pretty sure that you are like me – you think that based on your product development definition your product is the best one out there. If only your potential customers would buy it, they would be amazed at how well it solves their problems. It’s just finding a way to get them to make that initial purchase that can be such a challenge for product managers. The idea of offering our customers some sort of reward for buying our product has probably crossed your mind more than once. Is this a good idea or a big mistake?

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