There’s one menace that looms over the head of nearly every salesperson, and can strike at any time: the dreaded request for proposal (RFP).

Sometimes, they arrive out of the blue as a mass request to your company sales email. Other times, an RFP can come after an otherwise fruitful conversation with a client, who shatters all hope of an easy deal by saying, “Sounds great. Will you just fill out this RFP?”

However they arrive, RFPs rarely seem like good news. Most begin with a gargantuan, exhaustive lists of granular questions on everything from your data security procedures to your CFO’s favorite ice cream flavor. They’re written to apply to everybody, and because they’re so general, they strip you as a salesperson of much of your storytelling craft. Without the ability to interview your prospect, discover pain, and apply a solution, you’re left to complete this dauntingly large document with little hope of standing out.

And, as a salesperson, no matter how bad you think you have it, your client might have it even worse.

RFPs aren’t fun for anybody

Many salespeople wonder “who actually reads this stuff?” and indeed, that’s someone’s job. In the early stages of an RFP, a project manager is assigned and asked to collect responses from a variety of vendors. Some businesses such as nonprofits or government agencies actually require that these procurement processes be competitive, which means project managers nearly always deal with more companies than they prefer to.

While RFPs do serve a purpose and are designed to make buyers’ jobs easier by standardizing questions, they sometimes fail because every sales team’s responses vary. Anything that’s open to interpretation can, and will be, interpreted. Some salespeople rewrite questions, others don’t get back in time, and some just keep calling and trying to have a talk. The result is often that project managers spend hundreds of hours trying to shoehorn responses back into the template. It’s exhausting work.

Even when responses are clear, they’re usually long. That’s because it’s difficult to say things simply in text, especially when you don’t know who you’re writing to. If a salesperson is asked to answer ‘How do you and your competitors differ? Explain.’ you had better expect a short novel in response. As David Wadler, CEO of the procurement software company Vendorful  put its, “RFPs for complex products or services, by their very nature, are usually full of verbiage and jargon.”

One great way to help provide clarity, of course, video. Wadler’s company focuses on making RFPs less arduous, and when asked about the impact of video in a proposal, he replied, “Being able to see a product in action provides incredibly helpful context for the buyer.”

Plus, it’s a huge favor to the project manager.

How about a request for personality?

Video makes your prospects’ job easier because people love video, your prospects are people, and you’re probably the only vendor that thought to use that medium. Your competitors will be busy churning out stacks of rote, boring, jargon-laden text while you’re presenting in a format that’s actually enjoyable to ingest. Plus, it allows you to inject some personality, build a relationship, and turn the evaluation in your favor.  

3 ways to use video to win more RFPs:

  1. Tell your company’s story: In sales, relationships matter. Even though it’s rarely mentioned in RFPs, your prospects are trying to figure out if you’re a likable business. They need to know that you specialize in what they need, that you’re reliable, and that you’ll be around for a long time, but they also want to know that you’ll be enjoyable to work with. Use a short video as a way to convey as much and explain why you’re a great match.
  2. Send walk-throughs: It usually isn’t until the final stages of the RFP process that you get to present your solution to the customer. That means that up until then, you’re relying on your writing skills to convey some pretty nuanced differences between you and your competitors. If you do it wrong, you’ll be ruled out. With video tutorials, however, you can give customers an up-front taste of what your product looks like (a pretty big plus for those who have well-designed and attractive products) and get them familiar with it. Even if they aren’t conscious of it, you’ll become the standard against which they measure all others and by the time you finally present your product, you’ll already seem familiar.
  3. Articulate a vision: Most RFPs limit you to describing how you’ll solve their problem. Send your prospect a video on how it’ll make them feel. If it’s practical, even create several, one for each different department. Articulate a vision of how they and their company will benefit with this problem solved, citing case studies and real life scenarios. In doing so, you’ll give your prospect a more concrete sense of what you can do for them personally, and this gives you a big leg up on the competition.

Now, just imagine yourself sitting in the project manager’s seat. Seven vendors have collectively sent hundreds of pages of documents with barely a page-break in sight and you happen upon one that includes video links. It’s much shorter, with concise, punchy answers, and video thumbnails of the salesperson smiling and waving. You click, and you’re lifted out of the drudgery of key-punching into a world of video entertainment.

As that salesperson, you’re already top of their list. Supplement your RFPs with videos and you’ll win the hearts and minds of busy procurement managers along with the deal.

Chris Gillespie