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Best Practices for Handling an RFP

February 26, 2018

I asked my colleague Lisa Rehurek, a leading authority in RFP success to add her comments to this blog.

Has this happened to you?

Some large potential client calls you up and asks for your company to make a company presentation. You spend hours putting together a presentation, then you fly to the prospect taking some top executives with you.

After the presentation you are asked to participate in an RFP (Request for Proposal), which would bring in $2,000,000 in revenue.

Because this was an unusually large request from a reputable company, your whole team spends the better part of two weeks trying to put together the proposal.

The result: Thank you very much for your time, but we decided to go with the competitor.


Part of our jobs as Sales Managers and Sales Coaches is to make sure that the company does not waste time and resources on long shot opportunities. In some cases, even with large potentials it is not worth the time and effort of our people if there is no true basis for doing business.

The first mistake was giving a presentation without being very specific as far as what attracted your prospect’s interest and understanding their overall objective. Never give a presentation if you do not know what is important to the prospect. Once you know that, then focus your whole presentation around it. The prospect is only mildly interested in all the other things your company does, and the first presentation is not the time to inundate them with your entire series of offerings.

Some questions you should ask of your prospect include:

1. Other than price, what criteria is important to the prospect?
2. Has there been an issue with the previous supplier? Is there a previous supplier?
3. Why are you going out to bid?
4. What is your biggest challenge when it comes to…. {whatever you are providing a solution for}
5. What additional information do you need from the prospect to make sure that they are comparing apples to apples?
6. Is your timeline the same as theirs? Do they want the project finished within a specific time?
7. Are they willing to take suggestions to their RFP, which may reduce costs, or improve the project overall?
8. Will you be allowed to present the RFP face to face, and ask some of these questions?

The second mistake was responding to the RFP without first asking some of the following questions internally:

• Why is this prospect important to us?
• Do we have the resources to bid on this and to do the contract work?
• How does this client fit into our overall business development strategy?

Creating assessment criteria for opportunities like this is important when you start looking at RFP opportunities, because the time and expense associated with bidding can be intense. You want to make sure you’re bidding for the right reasons, aligned with your internal strategy.

If you feel that you must bid and that this is a door opener, do it intelligently. If a prospect is not willing to let you ask these questions, could that be a sign that they truly aren’t interested in choosing the best vendor? You must also agree on a basis for doing business. The buyers’ job is to make you a commodity. Yours is to show them your competitive edge. Sell the value of doing business with the company and yourself beyond just the product or service that you offer.

In some cases, they are only sending out these RFP’s to compare to their present vendor. With such a large bid, trust and competence is more important than price to the buyers. They may say price is most important, but without the trust and competence would you put your job on the line for a better price?

Give us your situation and thoughts and let’s see if we can help you do a better job of winning the bid. You can contact Lisa directly at 


November 30, 2017


It is amazing to me how poorly sales people follow-up after their first touch or their first appointment. I have seen great presentations go to waste, because of lousy follow-up. The two biggest reasons for NOT following up are sales people do not want to be a pest, and some false assumptions about a customer. The idea in following up is to show that you can add value to their business, and to build a further level of trust and credibility. It is best to first ask the prospect for permission to follow-up. Do not follow-up by saying just checking in with an e-mail or phone call. Have a purpose. I have read that the average sale takes 7 touches. Today it probably takes more, because people are more reluctant to trust someone. Remember to deliver value on every call, and every correspondence. So here is my list of ways to follow-up. If you have more, please add to them.

1. General Follow-Up – Make sure before leaving the appointment, that there is an agreement on what details need are followed up and when. After sending follow-up phone call to make sure the information was enough.
2. Send Articles Related to Their Business – these sets the tone that you are a resource of information. You can find many articles in trade magazines, or the internet. Make sure to send a handwritten note tying it back to what you previously discussed.
3. Share Your New Company’s New Product or Service – This is a no brainer, and so important. Even if it does not pertain directly to them, it may show that your company is an innovator.
4. Customer Testimonials – Don’t be shy. If you got them, flaunt them. Testimonials are powerful, especially if they are from someone who your prospect knows.
5. Look for Referrals for the Prospect – Ask first what good referrals for them are? The idea is that we are all in this together. Again be a resource not just a salesperson.
6. Send News Articles about Their Company – Set up Google Alerts about announcements about their own company. Send Congratulations. This shows that you are knowledgeable about the goals and opportunities of the prospect.
7. Add them to Company E-Newsletters – If they read them or click on a link, it gives you more opportunity for engagement and discussion.
8. Send Competitive Information – Your buyer always wants to know what competition is doing. Just make sure that it is public information, and that you are NOT sharing any trade secrets.


October 9, 2017

So, you think because of your great sales ability you know people?  You think because of your experience in the industry you know who you should hire as a top performing sales person?

I have news for you.  It isn’t that easy.

Hiring effective sales people and training them not only to sell your product but also to adhere to your company’s sales culture is perhaps the most difficult job you have.  However, if done right it will make your job easy.  If I have one regret it is not spending the time to hire the right people for sales territories which affected my job.

Realize that the average turnover rate of salespeople is between 53-68% in the first year. Just think what a tremendous cost that is to any organization and the time spent by sales management bringing someone on board.  The axiom of hire slow and fire quick is most important for salespeople because they are the face of your company.  There is nothing more important to you personally than making a great hire.  It will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.  Spend the time and the money to do it right!


A Carnegie Foundation study once found that only 15% of a business person’s success could be attributed to job knowledge and technical skills.  A whopping 85% to one’s success could be determined by the “ability to deal with people” and “attitude.”  Hiring because of experience frequently leads to mediocrity.  Smart motivated salespeople will quickly learn your business and the needed technical skills to be successful.  Attributes like customer focus, competitiveness, solving problems and the desire for self-development are hard things to teach and are much more valuable than experience.  They may also be difficult to establish during the interview.

Do yourself a favor.  Make a list of the top 10-20 characteristics that you feel are important to be a successful sales person in your company.  Sadly, many candidates are knocked out of contention by Job Descriptions that demand years of experience and education.  Here are my top attributes that I think are often more valuable:

  1. Belief in the products and services that you are selling.
  2. Self-accountability and a continuous improvement mindset.
  3. How well they prepare.
  4. Maintaining a high activity level.  A need to hit a high percentage of targets.
  5. An enjoyment of the monitoring and measuring for tracking progress.
  6. Customer focused question asking at least 80% of the time.
  7. Relentless Follow up.
  8. Courageous.  Not afraid to challenge, negotiate and do the right thing for your company and the client.


Behavioral assessments like TRIMETRIX, OMG, and MySalesTest can help you determine some of the characteristics listed above.  Make sure that these assessments are customized for your business.  Although, I strongly suggest that you use these tools, only 30% of your decision should be based on what those reports uncover.

Before even starting the hiring process here are some critical points to consider.

  1. Can you weigh the importance of the following parts of the process and their effect on the selling of your products: Cold calling, networking, qualifying, closing, maintaining.
  2. Can you measure the key behaviors necessary to be a successful sales person in your business? (E.g. cold calls/day, quotes/day, talk time on phone, $ sales, face to face meetings)
  3. Do you have a written sales process and expectations of how fast deals close?
  4. Is your sales compensation plan reflecting the corporate objectives and culture, or is it just reflecting revenue?
  5. Can you accurately describe the culture of your company and why you do business? Do you really know what your company’s most critical values are and how it fits with the potential hire?
  6. How are you supporting your salesperson internally?
  7. How much supervision can you give to a new sales hire?


The first step is to write an excellent job description.  If you have an HR department solicit their knowledge.  Make them your business partners.  Do not abdicate the function totally to them.  If you do not have an HR department go on-line, and get some ideas.  The Job Description must reflect the company’s culture, ideals and mission, key responsibilities, and expectations.

Whether you post on the different job sites, LinkedIn or go through a recruiter reviewing the resumes will be an arduous task.  The average HR person spends only 11 seconds looking at a resume.  The only thing you are really looking for is ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

Since the phone is one of the most important points of contact for the majority of sales people, qualifying with a Phone Interview can save a lot of valuable time.  One of the tricks I like to do is when setting up a phone interview make them leave a voicemail.  Do they have energy? Do they sound positive and enthusiastic when leaving the voice message?  Are they sort of rambling and dull?  What does it tell you about this person? Here is a list of 12 questions I like to ask in the phone interview:

  1. What can you tell me about our company?
  2. What made you apply for this position?
  3. Describe the type sales position you are presently in?
  4. How are you getting leads and prospecting?
  5. What is the most important thing you are looking for in a company/position?
  6. What is the most significant accomplishment or sales you have made in your career?
  7. Describe the best sale you ever made?
  8. Describe a situation where you had a conflict with either bosses, peers or clients and how did you resolve it?
  9. How do you see yourself in the next 5 years?  What do you want to be when you grow up?
  10. When would you be available?
  11. What is your salary/compensation expectation?
  12. Do you have any questions for me?

If they do not have any questions for you at the end of the interview I seriously suggest that you do not consider them as a candidate.  Purposeful questions and listening intently are key characteristics of top sales people.


Make sure that you have several team members involved.  Even your receptionist can be a vital qualifier.  After all, the candidate may give a great interview, but their true colors may be shown when they are talking to an Administrative Assistant or a receptionist.  How a sales person treats them may give you an indication of how they will be received by other companies.

You should not be the only interviewer.  The other team members will be people that will have continuous contact with a new sales hire.  Give each team member specific questions to ask that they can rate on a scale of 1-5.  In this way, every candidate will be asked the same questions.  Hold a follow up meeting with team members to discuss each candidate.  Your team members will help you narrow down your choices.


Now that you narrowed down your choices, have a second interview.  By this time, it is strongly suggested that you have given them a behavioral assessment.  Give it to them before they come into the meeting and share the results.  This will alert you and them to differences between what they are saying in an interview and what the assessment says.  Be direct and be honest.  These assessments are there for a purpose and are accurate upwards of 90%.  They will show behaviors, drivers and what their true skills are.

By this time, you will have a good overall picture of your potential sales person.  Now you have to make sure that you have a great on-boarding process to assure their success and yours.



Getting Your Sales People to Prospect More and Better

September 29, 2017

So, for many sales people, they avoid prospecting like the plague.  Prospecting is something that every salesperson must do daily.  I was listening to one speaker from Sandler Sales that said the average salesperson spends only 35 minutes/day prospecting.  One would think it should be at least 50% of the time.

Salespeople are lucky today.  There are a myriad number of ways to prospect.  Social Media, Inbound marketing, trade shows, email marketing, networking, direct marketing, or referrals.  And yes, cold calling is NOT dead and must be part of the repertoire.  I suggest never rely on just one way of prospecting, but make sure that there is a daily time for your people to prospect.  Consistency is incredibly important.  No excuses.  No distractions, which means e-mails, internet notices, or employee interruption.  Have your people make appointments with themselves to prospect.

Develop a basic “Prospect Process”, and get each sales person to commit to developing their own process which is based on “The Prospect Process”.  Besides committing to daily prospecting, salespeople must give a forecast of the desired result to see if management and the salespeople are on the same page.  Make sure no matter which way you decide that is best to prospect that it is measurable.  This is easy to track on your CRM.

In today’s world, I feel strongly that the term “Cold Call” should be changed to “Tepid Call”.  All the above-mentioned methods of prospecting are putting your people in an easy position to “Pick up the Phone”.  Even if there has been extensive e-mailing and texting between prospect and company, a trusting relationship can only be built through direct contact.

As professionals, you must put yourself on the other side of the table, and think about the best way for someone to contact you or develop a relationship.  What I find disturbing is when someone calls me and immediately tries to sell.  Your desired outcome of a phone call is not to sell immediately.  It is first exploratory, and qualification.  The main objective may be an appointment.  Or, it may be to just see if there is pain, fear, or desire that possibly your company can resolve.    Or, it may be just permission to contact them again referring to what they said was important to them.  No matter what happens, make sure your people stay focused on the desired result.

Make sure that your people have some key questions to ask when they are on the phone.  And not those banal questions like “What keeps you up at night?” or “What is your biggest challenge?”  Prospects should get the feeling that you know the industry or service well enough to ask them if they have challenges in the following areas?  And maybe a follow-up question how are your presently resolving?  These are not selling questions, they are discovery questions.  This is the only script I would have every salesperson have.

The average salesperson gives up after 1.5 interactions.  The average sale is made after 8 contacts.  A great statistic to remember.  Trusting relationships are built over time.  Don’t let them forget it.  I strongly suggest developing a Touch List as part of the “Prospect Process”.  Keep trying to add value and/or education with each touch.  Some touches can be

  • Per our conversation, this is an interesting article that may be of interest to you.
  • Noticed from articles that your company is doing blah blah.
  • Send whitepapers from your company
  • Have them participate in a survey and go over the results from the industry
  • Perhaps an interesting study, that may be helpful to them.
  • Follow up phone calls relating to the past discussion, not checking-in.

In any case, there must be a consistent follow-up, and a plan to succeed.

So how to start!  This depends on your organization and your own beliefs.  Make sure that you are measuring the results.

From my experience, this is how I would prioritize the different prospecting methods and why:

  1. Referrals from customers are the number 1 way of prospecting.  Many people wait for the referral without asking.  Get your salespeople oriented toward asking for referrals.  At least 50% of the work is done when a third party says how great your company is.  How to ask for referrals is the trick.
  2. Trade shows are great if they are planned properly. Appointments should be set up before the show, and a target list of people attending the show is critical.
  3. LinkedIn is great if you are not trying to sell straight off the bat. Easy to make connections through groups, other contacts, or just asking to be connected.  One can target prospects by company, and position.  This really creates the tepid contact.  Just make sure that your initial contact is not selling, but exploring.
  4. E-Mail newsletters and blogging. E-mail newsletters are great if you follow up on the reports.  One can see who read them and drip another e-mail.  Too few people use those Newsletters effectively to generate leads and prospects.
  5. Networking contacts. Connections are everything in prospecting.  However, networking can be an absolute waste of time, or be a tremendous source of potential customers.  It is all dependent upon the group, your ability to connect, and having similar target customers.  Many salespeople will gravitate toward this prospecting but watch the ROI carefully.  Networking is fun, but measure how much time in a day it takes, and you may not see an ROI for months.
  6. Cold Calling. There are very few effective cold callers.  Today there should never really be that traditional cold call, where you cannot refer to a connection, or having enough background information on the person or business to know how you can benefit them.  It does not matter how many benefits you can site if you do not have some basic information on the company or person.  Your first call is exploratory, NOT to sell.
  7. Inbound Marketing. I think this is a great tool.  I believe that it works, but takes a lot of work.  My concern is that it is missing the key element.  Picking up the phone and following up.  Inbound marketing will never replace face to face.

This is a very brief overview of Prospecting.  If you are interested in discussing more, please “Pick up the Phone” or e-mail.


The Value of Feeling Valued: How to Keep Sales People

July 31, 2017

So, you have gone to the trouble of hiring a salesperson and within 6 months to a year, either they have found another opportunity or you are ready to fire them.  A certain amount of turnover can be expected or needed.  However, the statistics range from 10% to 60% of sales people leaving a company within the first year of employment.  There is a big cost associated with turnover.  Think of the training time, and the possible loss in customer satisfaction when they see a new face every few months.  What can Sales Management and Sales Leadership do to stop this exodus?

IMPROVE YOUR HIRING PROCESS AND SELECTION FOR SALESPEOPLE – Stop hiring people because of experience and start hiring them because of skills and self-motivation.  If you are going through an HR person, have them benchmark your top performers.  Spend the time necessary to do it right.  Remember the cliché “Hire Slow and fire quickly”.

MAKE SURE YOUR SALESPEOPLE FEEL IMPORTANT – One of the hardest things to do is sit and listen to someone. However, it is the most effective way to let someone know that their ideas and opinions are important to you.  Salespeople have a difficult job.  Expectations are high, they are typically out there alone and day to day failure may be a given. Give them the time and listen intently.  Focus on what they are saying and don’t let distractions or interruptions interfere with that private time. It is also important to answer everything within a reasonable time.  There is nothing worse than NOT getting a response from your boss.  Make sure that the salesperson feels that you have their back if there are problems outside the sales department.  A feeling of importance is the number 1 thing people look for in a job.

RADICAL CANDOR – I am a big fan of Kim Scott’s book and Ted Talk Radical Candor.  You must tell your people that you appreciate their efforts and at the same time in a calm, straight-forward way tell them where they are failing.  Do not wait for that quarterly or yearly review.  Do it whenever necessary while the mistake is fresh in your mind and theirs.  If they know you have their best interest at heart it will be appreciated over time.  It is your moral obligation to tell it like it is.

ACCEPT MISTAKES AND DON’T BERATE – Once you have discussed their mistake with them, if it is a common issue in your business, bring it up as a group. Highlight any ideas the salesperson has for fixing the issue.  Mistakes are powerful learning opportunities.  Don’t miss out on one!

UNREASONABLE PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS –  Sales people naturally want to be challenged.  There is nothing worse than having a salesperson not be challenged.  However, there are reasonable expectations and unreasonable ones.  Instead of dictating the expectations, collaborate with the sales people on the expectations, and then hold them accountable.

LOW COMPENSATION – While this is a common excuse for turnover, the value of feeling valued is greatly underestimated.  If you follow many of the above leadership points they will outweigh low compensation.  Who wants to leave an environment where one is respected and has a feeling that they can control their own destiny?

FIRE THE NEGATIVE ENERGY PEOPLE –  This may sound contrary to everything that I just wrote.  However, let’s be realistic. No matter how hard you try, some people just cannot be coached or motivated.  Fire them.  If you tolerate their behavior than you are giving permission for others to have bad behavior.  Don’t let them drag you or your company down. Fire them quickly!

Comments positive or negative are graciously accepted.  If you would like to have a free personal discussion, please give me a call at: (480)656-3565.

Coaching on a Sales Call

June 30, 2017


One of the most difficult tasks for new and experienced Sales Managers is to Coach on a Sales call.  Since most Sales Managers were top performers as sales people it is a natural tendency to take over the sales call instead of observing or being in the background on the call.  Your chance to coach and improve your representative is by observation not by taking over.  Even though you may have done things instinctively, it is now time to be methodical and step by step in coaching.

Of utmost importance is having some type of Sales Process that you are helping your Sales Representative follow.  We will have more on that subject later.  Your objective is to make sure that the Representative is following the process as much as possible.  I like to say that a Sales Process is a roadmap not a railroad track.  There are many roads that can lead to the endpoint, but there is a clear direction and certain important steps that cannot be overlooked.

Before going into the Sales Call make sure there is a clear objective and purpose to the call.  Don’t waste your time visiting one of their buddy business friends.  I have found that these calls are meaningless, and unless you are there to help some specific project move forward forget about it.

Now you must start getting into the details.  Something I am sure most sales people abhor.  Whatever the objective is really ask the representative how he/she is planning to get to the desired result.  What is the best scenario and what is the worst?  What does the rep know, and what does the rep need to ask?  What is your role Mr/MS Sales Manager in the discussion?  Even if you have 10 sales calls together everyone of these calls must have some type of planning and purpose before the call.

Critiquing the Sales call right after the call or at worst the next day is very important.  This is important in establishing accountability and improvement.  If you can emphasize the positive first before the negative.  Stretch the sales rep in asking them how they think the presentation could have gone differently.  Make sure you are not trying to teach them to be you.  Utilize their strengths and help them put into their own words what they can change.

The Importance of Team Selling

June 1, 2017

The concept of Team Selling is not new.  However, there have been few times where I have seen it effectively done, especially in small businesses.  Many times, organizational structure and the way sales and people are compensated get in the way of Team Selling.  The more complex the sale the more important team selling becomes.  Yet many small businesses are reluctant to have team selling.  Maybe because they are too rigid on what they feel everyone’s role in the organization is.  Maybe because the owner does not like to be involved in the actual sales process, or feels that team selling is too expensive.    Whatever the excuse is get over it, and think about how Team Selling can improve Sales.  I assure you that if done effectively, it is by far the most effective way of selling.  Why?

  1. It gives credibility to the Company rather than just the Sales person.
  2. Buyers connect better to people of like mind and background frequently than to sales people.
  3. Prospects and Customers get better answers quicker from the team.
  4. It gets buy-in from different departments in your company.
  5. Better communication within the company on actual customer’s needs, and opportunities.
  6. Self-Accountability from all parties in the team, and better collaborative decisions gets everyone engaged.
  7. Your odds for a successful conclusion is dramatically increased.

The team can be just two people or more depending upon your organization.  The Sales person should be put in the role of the Coordinator and Conductor.  The mindset for the team must be that the major goal is to meet the Customer needs.  The Lone Wolf sales person frequently is incapable of working within a team, so be careful.    

Team selling should become a part of the Sales Process.  The teams will vary depending upon what the perceived prospect or client’s needs are.   

Following are some areas where I have seen great success. 

  1. New start-up Enzyme company, brings in the “Technical Expert and PhD”. Prospects see that there is a real company and not a garage operation.
  2. A litigation support company that brings in-house lawyers to speak with prospect lawyers.
  3. Software Development company brings their Software developer with the Sales person with great success.
  4. Spice and Seasoning company brings R&D, plus Production Manager, and Customer Service person in on presentation to assure a large food company that both supply chain and technical needs are met.
  5. Sales person brings in VP of Sales to help in delivering the company message.

Some critical points in developing the team:

  1. Make sure the players are right to the customer.  Every customer is a little different.
  2. Make sure that you do not overwhelm or intimidate the customer by introducing to many team members at once.
  3. Everyone on the team must understand the purpose and importance of them being part of the team.
  4. Hopefully, the sales person is the natural Manager of the team. If not, make sure you have a leader of the team that can bring in others and facilitating the conversation, and staying focused on the desired result.
  5. And finally, plan the Sales meeting. Make sure that people are not going to contradict one another or there are issues between team members which will stop them from getting a successful result. 

So, what actions are you going to take to make this happen? 

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