Dear SaaStr: We Lost an Enormous RFP Because We are Too Small. Any Advice?

Q: We lost an enormous RFP because we are too small. Any advice?

This is indeed a big bummer.  But it truly does make you stronger — if you commit to winning the next one.

Six thoughts on how to do better next time:

  • First, move them into your Lost Now (But Not Forever) Marketing Program 🙂. I know you don’t have one yet, but maybe it’s time to add this new marketing program as part of your demand gen efforts. You likely will get another shot, albeit in 1–3 years. If you got into an RFP as a tiny start-up, that probably means it is a new initiative. That also probably means they’ll take a fresh look at the landscape again a few years down the road. Market to them like a medium warm, but long-sales-cycle prospect. That already knows you and the space cold.  The odds you can truly steal the deal later are often relatively low, but they’re often not zero, and unpredictable.  Keep the relationships warm.  Invite them to your customer conferences and webinars — this helps keep the relationship warm as well.  Go long here.  You’ll likely talk to them again.
  • Second, keep your contacts at the lost RFPs updated. Not constantly. But at least with all your new releases. And do it personally.  Ask if they want to do a demo or catch up on new features you’ve launched.
  • Third, use the RFP as a checklist for what to build over time to win these deals.  You can’t check every single box in every RFP.  You don’t have every feature, everything enterprise-grade yet.  But you can see patterns, and what big prospects ask for again and again.  Do more of that.  Get ahead of the ask.
  • Fourth, do more of the security stuff.  And make it a strength, not a weakness.  You’ll lose RFPs for a lot of reasons, but not being secure and trusted is often reason #1.  Do SOC-2.  Have a true DR policy.  Be compliant with everything that matters.  In fact, get good at all this.  The most secure, trusted and enterprise vendor often wins a lot of deals just for that reason.
  • Fifth, evolve your team culture to be more enterprise.  This is related to the prior point.  Start-up teams often really don’t want to do what it takes to go more enterprise.  It can seem like every more work for deals that might never close.  You have to teach them and lead them to embrace it.
  • Sixth, you won’t lose all Big Co deals due to being a tiny start-up. So stay in the game. Big Cos know how to evaluate “New Vendor Risk.” In this case, perhaps they weren’t willing to drop you into a mission-critical part of the company. But others may be willing to start smaller. CIOs and Innovation Officers know how to take measured, incremental risk for “emerging vendors”. And they have different standards there. It’s just generally, they can’t use these standards if the risk is perceived to be too high / too mission-critical.

The more RFPs you do, the better you get at the game.  Especially if you embrace the game. And you’re gonna have to lose a bunch of ’em to get good at it.

More here: “Vendor Viability”: It’s a Risk Big Customers Know How to Take. Just Be Honest. | SaaStr

“I remember we would get RFPs. There’d be 14 DMP providers. I didn’t even know half the names of the other folks who were showing and competing for these deals.”

Published on May 26, 2021

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