Over the years, we’ve run the SD-WAN RFP selection process for dozens of enterprises. And during the time, I can’t tell you how many times SD-WAN vendors have asked, “What makes for a good RFP response?” We’ve spoken about the challenges of writing a good RFP, but what are some of the gaffes vendors make when answering them? Here’s my list of SD-WAN RFP no, nos.
#6 Skipping Questions
At SD-WAN Experts, we dissuade customers from creating enormously long SD-WAN RFPs. Alas, we’re not always successful and some companies will insist on creating RFPs of biblical length. As a vendor, though, skipping questions is a sure way to lose the bid. If the question is being asked, it’s probably important to the customer. Skipping it simply makes them think you can’t answer the question. Better to indicate that it’s “not applicable” or that the feature is fulfilled “through a partner.” If you lack the feature because you approach things a different way, then spell it out. But the one thing you don’t want to do is ignore the question entirely.
#5 The Copy-Paste Slip Up
Let’s face it: answering 30-page RFPs can be dull and time-consuming. So, sure, it makes sense to keep a database of SD-WAN RFP responses that you can simply drop into an RFP. But be sure that when you do your copy-and-paste to at least try to personalize the response a little. All too often, vendors will submit responses and fail to change the customer name and data. Evaluating a response with another customer’s name or information isn’t, shall we say, the best way to close a deal.
#4 The Bible, SD-WAN RFP, and…More
And while we’re on the topic of length, the days of receiving RFP responses as 300-page binders of materials (I kid you not.) is long gone, but vendors have no compunction about delivering the electronic equivalent. Pages upon pages can be spilled explaining a solution in an SD-WAN RFP often without consideration for the actual deployment. Few enterprise buyers will have the grit to read through these monstrosities and appreciate all of their details. A better approach?
Take a page out of the publishing playbook. Write succinctly and to the point. Use pull quotes, headings, and bullets to highlight key points. Link to your appendices and rely on your written material to provide the deep dive; your answer text should highlight the key issues. But don’t link to the web or other files, include them in the document so the back-up can be found quickly and easily. Think of your RFP response as a resume, not a book.
#3 Don’t Get Lazy
It might seem simpler, but avoid referencing previously written material. Writing “See 5.2.1” might seem like the safe thing, but all too often enterprises won’t bother to jump back and read your pristine content from before. Better approach? Copying and pasting text are still the most used shortcuts around — take advantage of them. Just paste the referenced text as the answer in your SD-WAN RFP. It’ll ensure your Shakespearean words are enshrined in the hearts and minds of your hungry prospects.
#2 Know Your Technology
It’s obvious, I know, but be sure you know your own platform before answering an SD-WAN RFP. I can’t tell you how many times vendors submit responses with blatant errors about their own products. Usually, this is around the newest features that might not have had a chance to filter down to the field personnel often answering RFPs. If that’s who you are, be sure you’re solid on what your platform actually does — or doesn’t do. Having the consultant or, worst, customer correct you is a sure fire way to lose the bid.
#1 Don’t Lie
Is it obvious? Don’t speak falsehoods about your product. Your mother wouldn’t like it and your customers will hate it. Of course, few companies lie outright. Most will stretch the truth and discuss shipping features as if they’re currently available.
Your prospects often will feel the burden of reading your SD-WAN RFP response as much as you feel the burden of writing it. Be sensitive to their time. Some readers will want to see only the short answers while others will want the deep dive. If you can satisfy then both, you are in a better position to move forward with your prospect.