David: “What the latest on that bid process for ABC Company?”
Sales Professional: “We are still awaiting a decision“
How many times have you had this conversation as a sales leader? Here’s the deal. There is no such thing as a quiet period.
Most of the time during the process of responding to a Request for Proposal, a client’s bid response timeframe or “RFP calendar” will include a so called “quiet period”. It’s not always explicitly named a quiet period, although I have seen those words in an RFP a few times (along with “decision period” or “internal decision making”). In fact, rather than a specifically named timeframe, this quiet period can just be a gap in the process before the decision notification to the bidders. It can occur during a down-selection in the mid to latter stages of a process and it can occur in a final round of a process prior to the selection of a vendor/partner. I think we should get this straight at this point: There is absolutely no such thing as a quiet period. The fact is, if you are not communicating in some way with your clients in all phases of the bid process, then somebody else is. Terrifyingly, this competitor communication may not be easy to quantify. In fact, it might not be a meeting or even a phone call. Some more formal bid processes explicitly preclude contact during this period and, in this circumstance, it’s true that your team reaching out could negatively affect a chance of success in the overall bid. This is especially true if the client is using a quantified system of proposal judgement where points can be deducted for not following the formal outline or when there is an external consultant running the bid process.
So your competitors may or may not be actively reaching out directly during this timeframe (I actually like to think they are as a start point for my thinking). But, hey, they might not need to! Maybe they were fully aware of the dreaded quiet period when they submitted their proposal and when they made their presentation and they set some time bound opportunities to “communicate” during the quiet period. What!? Put simply, maybe they completely out-thought your team. What if, as your team were copy/pasting boilerplate in to the RFP response template, your competitors were storyboarding a custom bid response, looking at the calendar and setting opportunities to remind the client of their value proposition based on events and opportunities during the quiet period? As negative as this paragraph might sound (and as a generally positive guy it’s difficult to operate in these terms) this critical thinking is vital to the success of a bid process. Somebody has to play the critical thinking role within the bid team.
Over the years that have been a sales leader and critical bid thinker I have seen (and used) the following quiet period tactics:
- The timing of client reference calls to coincide with the quiet period. Do you have an existing client that is acting as a reference for your product/service/offering? This is a very powerful tactic in it’s own right. However, timed appropriately in a quiet period it can be a knock out tactic. There is risk here that a decision may have already been made prior to the quiet period so this is especially powerful in a mid-cycle down selection where you can benefit from a change in messenger or venue.
- Look at the calendar and try to establish a theme, a storyboard or repeated messaging that coincides with an event during the quiet period. Examples could be sporting occasions or large event (stay away from politics!). “Remember, when you are watching that Cowboys game next week and you see…….”
- Something as simple as the delivery of a handwritten thank you note from a senior leader in your organization can serve as a reminder. If you want an alternative and create way to differentiate yourself during a quiet period try my friends at www.pinatagrams.com. Of course, you will need the appropriate relationship for a move like this to be taken appropriately, especially in the more formal processes.
The use of these tactics is situational. Don’t wade in with these or any others without analysis. Your team must have a good relationship and understanding of the client (and awareness of any retained procurement consultant or scoring system). The risk/reward of quiet period tactics should be discussed and agreed within the bid team. I can tell you, just the fact you are having these risk/reward conversations and these thought processes as a team and the fact that you are helping making these decisions as a sales leader means you are operating a high level of sales situational awareness. This will inspire and motivate your team to think differently about a sales process. See how you can elevate your sales team’s critical thinking. Tell them there is no such thing as a quiet period.
What are your favorite quiet period tactics? Have you even thought about this before?
What is the best balance of critical thinking have you seen with a bid team?
David Aspinall is the President and Chief Sales Officer of Sales Enablement Partners LLC. Sales Enablement Partners a full-service sales effectiveness consultancy that will assess, design and build the organizational disciplines needed to start your growth engine. David engages with both Private Equity and Company CEOs and is veteran of the complex sales environment having enjoyed 20 years as sales leader, proposal manager, product manager and marketing guy. David does not like quiet periods in the bid process.