Anyone who has done sales before will be able to relate to the mixed blessing of being invited to respond to an RFP (request for proposal). An RFP typically emerges after an organization has decided that it needs to buy something and wants the various vendors out there to make a pitch for the business. (Bear with me on this, the job seeking analogy is coming…) It’s technically good to be invited to submit a proposal for business, but there are many reasons why sales people hate RFPs.
Why Sales People Hate RFPs
1. The client preparation takes forever. The prospect usually spends months gathering data on needs from all internal stakeholders and then translating those needs into a formalized document so that their purchasing department can then send it out to vendors.
2. It’s an intensively competitive situation. The prospect wants to see how many offers they can come up with so they can compare and contrast.
3. There are rules. Organizations that respond to the RFP have to follow all the specific rules delineated in the RFP that are intended to make the process “fair”. Things like: “any submissions received after 3 pm on October 13th will be returned to the sender unopened,” or “your submission must contain the following appendices and be signed on pages 51, 83 and 186. Documents received without signature will not be considered,” or “all questions related to this RFP must be directed to John Doe in the purchasing department. Any contact with other employees will be a reason for terminate of consideration.” And the list goes on.
4. It takes the sales person forever to fill out the RFP documents addressing pages and pages of a prospect’s wishlist, and format everything in the required way.
5. Prospects now have so much information in front of them from the various submissions that they now take an eternity to make a decision. Because there are so many options, they take time to split hairs instead of thinking broadly. The salesperson has zero visibility into this process, what’s happening and how long it will take.
6. Losers of RFP’s rarely get any feedback on why they lost. (At least that’s been my experience!) Forget the fact that the sales person just spent the better part of a month responding to the prospect’s request. The prospect often can’t be bothered to let the salesperson know where his product fell short, so he walk away from the whole experience with absolutely nothing gained.
How a Job Posting is Like an RFP
Now for the job seeking part… A job posting is an RFP, and you should hate it. A job posting is a company telling the world what it needs after lengthy deliberation, creating as competitive a situation as possible, forcing applicants through a set of protocols and rules, over which the applicant has very little control, and many of which are trivial. And… how many applicants actually hear back if they aren’t accepted? How many applicants actually get feedback from the employer on where they fell short?
As a job seeker, you should adopt the preferred approach of the sales person: connect directly with prospects (hiring managers) first so that you can:
1. Build a relationship with the prospect
2. Help them uncover needs
3. Demonstrate the unique value of your solution such that the prospect’s needs match it (every product has unique value).
4. Reduce or eliminate competition
5. Either forgo the RFP process or have influence over what it calls for
Of course, your offering needs to be a match for what the client needs. There is no substitute for that. And as a job seeker, you won’t always be the best match for an open job. But if you’re connecting directly with hiring managers, you can skip many of the rules, and inspire the creation of a job posting (an RFP) that calls for someone just like you.
Never forget that a job search is a sales process. Happy selling!