Q: How do you handle unexpected requests for price quotations?
A: This question caught my attention because it's dear to my heart, and the hearts of many entrepreneurs. To be honest, usually I either ignore requests for quotations (RFQs) or allot just a minimal amount of time, work and effort to them.
However, if you get an unexpected mailed-in request for a quotation or bid, the odds are that someone other than you has been helping the prospect write the specs. That someone is usually the incumbent supplier or even your competition. If you do anything with this RFQ, you should use the information that's contained within to make contact with the top officer directly, but my own experience has been that all you'll be doing is laying the groundwork for the possibility of a future sale. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that--but there is the question of keeping your expectations realistic. In other words, don't put this opportunity on this quarter's sales forecast!
RFQs are typically written and used by the lower-level person in an account. In my recent book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, I refer to these all-important influencers as "Seemores" because, you guessed it, they always want to see more! You may have had a different experience in your own industry, but my own instinct after a good many years is that these individuals are usually quite loyal to the current source of supply (because they most likely made the recommendation) or they're loyal to who they've used in similar past circumstances. So, the question really becomes: How do you respond to both the VITO and Seemore, while at the same time increasing your odds of getting your foot in the door?
Try this two-pronged approach: Arm yourself, or your sales manager, with the necessary information on precisely how you can help this organization. Contact the top officer in the account, but at the same time make your approach to our friend Seemore, who created the RFQ. Here are some likely scenarios to consider:
If your response is to VITO, deliver it in a short, handwritten note via e-mail, voice mail, in-person or over the phone. Say something like: "My team has received your request for quotation/bid. We're encouraged by our initial observations, and the good news is that we have helped X number of other organizations with similar requirements. The not-so-good news is that some of your requirements are specific to one of our major competitors, which will preclude my team from providing you with a competitive and complete response." Whoever delivers this message must be prepared to discuss all areas of the RFQ that cannot be met with all possible workarounds. This information must be global in nature, an overview of sorts. Avoid providing too much detail unless you are invited to do so.
If your response is to Seemore, say something like: "Thanks for the opportunity to present our best solutions for your consideration. Your RFQ is very complete and paints a clear picture of what your needs are. The good news is that we have provided similar widgets to X number of organizations in your industry. The not-so-good news is that there are X number of specifications that we cannot meet, but we can offer alternatives." Whoever delivers this message must be prepared to discuss all areas of the RFQ that cannot be met with all possible workarounds. This information must be extremely detailed in nature. Be prepared to provide data sheets and specifications to substantiate the workability of your alternative plan.
Does this type of communication cause instant qualification of the opportunity? It sure does. And you may find that taking what you're read here and putting it into your own business model and style will yield fewer pre-sales activities. But that's what qualifying is all about. It's doubtful that you need to have everyone in your target niche as a customer. All you really need are the right ones.
Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer . For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, Secrets of VITO , call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com .
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.