I was asked to participate in a deal review. It was one of those “mega” deals, the one you dream of, the one that will make your year–or at least give it a significant boost.

In preparation, I started to review the opportunity in the CRM system. I discovered my client was pretty late in the cycle. Apparently, the customer had been thinking about this problem for some time. They were one of the proverbial “70% through the buying cycle” customers.

They had gotten to the point of writing an RFP, providing it to all interested parties to respond.

I opened the RFP document, paged through the boiler plate around the bidding, response process, the usual verbiage about “fair, impartial,” down to the description of the solution requirements.

Shocked, I found, some sales person, unfortunately, not my client’s had done a brilliant job. The solution requirements, were a scanned copy of a competitor’s data sheets.

For all intents, the decision had been made!

Yes, there was verbiage that respondents could provide, “functional equivalents,” but the customer had already made their decision.

Every response would be evaluated against the solution the customer had already selected. Offering the customer “more capability,” additional functions, a different approach was meaningless at this point. In the RFP, the customer was saying, “This is what I want to buy, can you provide it, at what price?”

Needless to say, the deal review was short. I posed the question, “Why are you responding?”

The sales person responds, “We can match most of their requirements, we can do better in some areas.” He went on to say, they could write a compelling response that would cause the customer to shift their requirements and select my client.

I responded, “The customer has already determined what they wanted and has specified it in this RFP. They are using the RFP process just to justify their selection to management. Why do you want to waste your time and help your competitor get the business?”

The sales person was desperate. He still thought their was a way of winning the business–of course it was the big deal in his pipeline. Fortunately, cooler heads in management prevailed and they abandoned the deal.

The time to win an RFP is long before the RFP is issued. The competitor’s sales person was in this customer very early, understanding their needs and requirements, shaping their selection criteria until the RFP was the competitor’s data sheet. A brilliant job of working with the customer and helping them frame their selection criteria. A brilliant job of understanding the customer decision-making process and helping support them justifying their decision.

If you haven’t written the RFP, it’s probable a competitor has. If you haven’t contributed significantly in shaping the requirements the customer outlines in their RFP, how do you hope to compete and win the business.

RFP’s are part of a very structured buying process. Changing the rules, changing the requirements once a RFP has been issued is virtually impossible. As you look at the RFP, be honest with yourself. Too often, RFP’s are just used to justify a decision that’s already been made.

If you haven’t “written” the RFP, why waste your time and resources responding?