How to Find and Sell the REAL Buyer When You Get an RFP

by Geoff Alexander

Have you ever received a Request for Proposal (RFP) that came from a purchasing agent (or buyer) from a company with which you are not familiar?

If so, do you do all the hard work to complete the request, then follow up with the buyer, or do you call first?

And if you do call, do you start with the buyer?

If you use my sales techniques to address this issue, you either will stand a very good chance of getting the business, or won’t bother wasting your time responding to an RFP that you can’t win.

The RFP may be legitimate, or you may be in a situation in which your competition has already gotten the business, and the buyer is using your response to gain ammunition to lower the price he or she will pay to your competitor.  I used to be a Purchasing Agent myself, and spun  the wheels of endless numbers of salespeople before I became a salesperson.  I’m going to show you how NOT to get scammed, using the same techniques I teach in my negotiation training course.

First Steps

When you get an inbound RFP, immediately go to your sales database, and see if there has ever been previous contact with your company. If you have previous historical contacts, begin by calling the contact with the highest title on the list, and begin your calling by asking if he or she has generated an RFP. By asking this question, you’ll be opening the discussion to determine what solutions are being discussed, and if a final decision has been made.

If there are no same-company contacts in your database, begin by calling high, usually to the C-Level whose responsibility falls within the solution you offer.  Mention that you’ve gotten an RFP from the company, and you need to get a few answers before you can respond.  In most cases, you’ll be referred down to someone at the Director level who is generating the initiative.

So why not start with the purchasing agent?

Because, in most cases, unless you’re dealing in commodities like pork bellies or sorghum, the buyer can’t give you the business.  Only the corporate sponsor can.

Will you be offending the buyer?

Not if you do your job well, and stay consultative.

When I was a purchasing agent myself, I routinely sent out RFPs when I needed to grind down my prime vendor on pricing.  I used to drive those poor salespeople through hoops and none of them ever bothered calling my Program Manager (who made most of the real decisions).  If they had, there’s a very good chance they could have swayed the Program Manager to change the decision, provided they had  superior solutions.

Only start your sales process with the purchasing agent if you’ve exhausted the techniques I’ve described above.  And then begin your call by telling the buyer that you need to talk with one of the sponsors of the RFP in order to craft an adequate response.  I’ve told buyers that there are technical questions I need to have answered before I can craft  a response otherwise I might be proposing the wrong solution. I’ve had good success with this technique, but I guarantee that the purchasing agent will not refer you if the final vendor decision has already been made.  And that’s why it’s so important to call the other people in the company first.

And if you get a purchasing agent angry at you for what you’ve done, simply state your company always talks with sponsors before filling out RFPs, and you do this to prevent selling a solution to the company that will prove inadequate.  Believe me, this works, because I have been a purchasing agent.


Use these techniques to take control of each and every RFP situation, talk to the people that are really making the decision and be wary of taking your valuable time  in responding to spurious RFPs.  Add them to your Best Practises playbook.

(This article is by Geoff Alexander who specializes in B2B inside sales consulting and training, teaching high-level concepts, appropriate for both senior and junior telesales reps.  Phone him at 408 292 3593 or visit  Article taken from Art Sobczak’s,  The Telephone Prospecting and Selling, Report, February 2009. Visit  for more information)

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