RFPs, or requests for proposals, are a big quandary for small businesses, especially consulting firms. It can take dozens of staffing hours to respond to RFPs.

In essence, RFPs are too time-consuming and costly.

Additionally, RFPs lead to a black hole. Often, when small firms answer RFPs, in effect, they’re asked to include their ideas in their proposals.

This means they’re only hurting themselves because they’re working for free. Why? The ideas are later used by the prospects without compensation for the ideas. The only recourse is to take legal action.

The problem is particularly acute in the advertising business. Such behavior is symptomatic of the times, and sales-opportunity costs are too high.

Realize many ideas are worth millions.

Therefore, it’s important for small firms to step up their game. That means doing what’s necessary to earn a place at the senior executive decision-making table in the conference meeting rooms.

“It’s easier to work your way down than to work your way up the ladder.”

-Dr. Len Brode

If you’re a consultant, have you encountered such disrespective behavior? Yes, you probably have.

Unless you have the staffing to absorb such too-high sales opportunity costs, stop reacting to RFPs.

What can you do about it?

A much better approach with additional tips:

  1. Pre-sell your firm. Avoid cattle calls — the “screening out process” — by getting close to the prospect in advance of a formal meeting. For instance, join the largest business organization in your locale, volunteer for appropriate committees and get opportunities as a guest speaker.
  2. Only deal with CEOs, as the chief decision-makers, who won’t be threatened by you as a consultant — because subordinates often are nervous by your presence. CEOs are less likely to be apprehensive and they have the ultimate authority to hire you and write your checks. As a world-class consultant to the Pentagon and ABC Television who long ago mentored me, Dr. Len Brode said: “It’s easier to work your way down than to work your way up the ladder.” If you have persuasive selling skills and even if the prospects must issue RFPs, you’ll usually be in the catbird seat for success. It’s often not what you know, it’s whom you know.
  3. Manage your prospects in your pitches. Stop giving ideas before getting an agreement and compensation. Instead, share your approaches to prospects’ dilemmas.  Otherwise, a cost-benefit analysis will show you’re wasting your time.
  4. In explaining billing practices, sell results, not your time. Why hourly billing isn’t best but working off retainers is.
  5. Make it clear what your services include and don’t include, and that you’re not an employee. Clients who aren’t experienced in hiring consultants often assume they can treat you like an employee. They make too many demands, such as assuming you’ll be on site 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week.
  6. In refraining from giving proposals, try letters of agreement after using the appropriate steps to sell your brand to prospects. Even better, here’s a valuable secret: Present the prospect a deal memo.
  7. Provide benchmarks for your performance and show empathy for your clients’ headaches and marketplace conditions.
  8. Prescreen your client. After you have an agreement, continue to regularly monitor the client. Make sure you’ve got a great client who operates the business and adheres to your recommendations successfully.
  9. Make sure you conduct effective meetings. Effective meetings enhance your chances for long-term client relationships. Ask lots of questions.
  10. Continually evaluate your client relationship for red flags. Look for signs you have a good client relationship: A good client will thank you regularly, pay your invoices promptly, and will respond well to your recommendations. If you don’t have all three of these, it will not be a healthy and long relationship.
  11. Develop ground rules for client service (my firm has 61). If you’ve encountered friction with a client, review your service policies. You’ll probably discover you failed to adhere to your own rules and weren’t empathetically listening (the client should be encouraged to do 90 percent of the talking in client meetings). If you make a mistake – don’t be defensive – flaunt your mistake. If you do it well, your clients will love you even more.
  12. Strive to be a visionary and anticipate problems. There will be times when you have to deliver bad news. So, be prepared to deliver bad news well.
  13. After you demonstrate success, solicit compliments from your client. When you get them, ask for two referrals to their peers at other companies who might need your great services.
  14. Use best practices to keep your sales pipeline full. Make it a priority to market your firm on a daily basis. Continue your SSP, shameless self-promotion in attracting the attention of prospective clients.
  15. Discontinue relationships with undesirable clients — try new approaches including face time for strong sales with cold calls — and upgrade to better clients when feasible.

Good luck in romancing new business!

From the Coach’s Corner, here are additional relevant and valuable tips:

7 Tips for Strong Results in Setting B2B Appointments with CEOs — As every salesperson knows, face time with B2B prospects gives you a foundation for sales success.  Execution in the appointment-setting process is, of course, is key to being successful.

Consulting: Effective Management of Difficult Clients – Start with this premise: You should be focused on the continuous, improvement and performance of your firm. If you have difficult clients, here’s what you can do about it.

Consultants – How to Help Clients Deal with an Emotional Crisis – No matter what kind of a consulting practice you have, it’s sometimes necessary to help clients deal emotionally with a business crisis. If you’re a management consultant and you’ve branded yourself well, the clients see you as a trusted confidante and visionary.

You Can Get Bigger Corporate Accounts in 5 Steps — So your company needs to grow and you’ve decided to go after bigger fish. Getting bigger corporate accounts is easier, if you develop the right system. But not only must you have reason to be confident, you must position yourself and your company to instill confidence in your prospects.

Consultants – 5 Strategies to Build Trust with Clients — When a businessperson hires a consultant it’s usually because of brand trust. That’s an emotional decision no different than when a consumer buys a new refrigerator or car. But there’s one major difference – the consultant is dealing with a wealthy client or someone who wants to be affluent. Wealthy people have a different mindset, which is why they have money in the first place.

Shy in Networking? Here Are 4 Tips that Will Work for You – Good news if crowds make you nervous: The advantage in networking goes to introverts instead of extroverts. That’s right. As an introvert, you have advantages in networking and also advantages in becoming a leader. Here’s why and how.

The 7 Steps to Higher Sales — Secrets for sales success – seven steps to higher sales, five value perceptions that motivate customers to buy, and the three-step process for overcoming sales objections.


“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

-Peter Drucker


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.