If, as I have asserted in earlier posts, a client knows who he wants to hire before the RFP is released, and he hires that agency 85% of the time (this is based on research across all industries, not just the ad industry), does that mean you shouldn’t respond to RFPs at all? Is it best to avoid them altogether? Based on solution selling best practices, there are times when it makes sense to pursue an RFP, but it’s not for the reasons you might think. It’s not because the agency has experience in the category or a bullet proof case study. Nor is it because the capabilities needed by the client perfectly align to what the agency does. Nor is it because the prospect is cool or interesting or a favorite brand of one of the agency executives. Certainly, you can make the case for pursuit based on these things, but none of them matter if you got there too late (meaning the RFP in your InBox is your first meaningful communication with the company). At that point, the only thing that matters is the agency’s ability to influence the process after it has begun. If you can do that, you may have a chance to tip the scales in your favor, at which point, pursuit might make business sense. So, what does that look like? As everyone knows, once the RFP is released, there are strict rules around engaging with the key decision-makers. In fact, you may not even be told who those decision-makers are. You may only have direct contact with a search consultant, a lower level coordinator or (God forbid) a procurement person. If that’s the case, tell that person that the agency doesn’t typically pursue RFPs unless you can speak with the three people most impacted by the decision on the client side (one-on-one, not as a part of a ‘cattle call’ with all the other agencies). You require a personal, thirty minute discussion with the decision-makers. My next post will talk about what should happen on that call should you get it (which is a long shot to be sure!), but if you can’t get that call, your ability to influence the outcome of the review is quite small, and as referenced earlier, your chances of winning are around 15%. I understand that some agencies will take those odds, and often an RFP/pitch exercise is good for the agency for other reasons. But if you’re trying to increase your win rate as an agency, just like in Poker, you need to fold more hands than you play – by a wide margin.

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