Market Your Benefits, Not Your Features

In a recent Duct Tape Marketing blog entry , John Jantsh shares that since creating an active and popular blog, he has stopped being asked to submit proposals and now is simply asked if he is available. That is the power of having an educated audience.

He goes on to say ”So, what if you stopped responding to RFPs (Request for Proposals) and starting using your marketing to feed a steady diet of RFEs (Request for Education).” I think that’s a good idea, and here’s why.

RFPs vs RFEs

I’ve always been bothered that many large RFPs are written in terms of what features the vendor could provide.

What we should be doing when looking for vendors, and what you should be doing as a vendor, is talking about what business problem needs to be solved.

Instead of page after page of functional requirements, I would rather see page after page – or even better in person conversation – that help the vendor understand the business’ operation and requirements and help customers understand the vendors capabilities.

There are at least three reasons I ahve disdain for Functional Feature lists that RFPs seem to produce:

  • An RFP of functional features presumes the the “right” answer is found in that listed feature. The longer the feature list, it is assumed, the better the product must be. We all know where that leads and it’s not pretty. It leads to vendors scrambling to meet functional demands instead of becoming effective partners in figuring out creative and effective steps to take.
  • A functional feature RFP turns the business stakeholders into software designers.
  • A functional feature RFP tends to be a one way conversation in which the vendor is pressured to say “YES” to each and every question or requirement. Even in cases in which it simply does not makes sense for either the customer or the vendor to do so.

Why Companies Love Functional Feature RFPs

So why do people keep producing them?

  • They are easy to score and quantify. Especially in a corporate environment, companies and often vendors, want to know exactly how a product will be selected before RFP discussions even begin. A functional feature list makes for an easy scoreboard.
  • They are easy to defend. Let’s face it, any decision maker wants to be able to back up their decision later if everything falls apart. A high score from a feature checklist makes for aconvenient shield.
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