THE BLOG
11/08/2011 01:48 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012

Is It Fair to Write Proposals (RFPs) for Your Customers?

Early on in my sales career at Intel, a customer asked me to "help" him write a request for proposal (RFP). I say, "help," because he really meant for me to write the entire thing. And this wasn't just any RFP, it was for the very products I was selling.

Junior sales guy that I was, I debated my customer's motivation. I had three questions:

  1. Was this guy just trying to pawn off work on me? I mean, wasn't he getting paid to do this?
  2. If I did help him out, wouldn't the RFP be (unfairly) weighted in my favor?
  3. Am I the only one he's asking for help, or has he extended the offer to my competitors?

If you know anything about me, you know my immediate reaction was to offer help. But before I could, I had to get my questions answered. [Spoiler alert...answers are: Yes, Yes, No]

To the first question, I found out that, yes, he was trying to pawn it off on me. For good reason, though. The products he needed were not commodities or something his firm would be buying any more often than every three to five years.

As an example, telephone systems fall into this category. You need to get smart about a particular product, make sure you're buying the right product at a good price, but once the deal is done, you can file it away for years. No need to revisit that purchase for a very long time.

Okay, check one. He needs help getting it done and has no interest in becoming an expert in my product line. Don't fault him for that at all.

Question 2: Was it fair? No. Writing an RFP for my customer would not be fair...to my competitors. Would the resulting RFP be weighted in my favor...Yes! Moral dilemma? No.

If you don't mind, allow me to take a side road for just a moment and comment on something many B2B marketers don't get about sales. Not to paint all B2B marketers with the same brush, I do have to say the great majority don't understand this one, very important point:

People Buy from People They Trust

When it comes to non-commodity purchases, buyers don't buy stuff from people they don't know. Why? Because Murphy's Law is still law. Something's bound to go wrong and when it does, you better have a relationship with the guy who sold it to you so he can make it right.

That's kinda hard to do when your relationship is with a website and the only customer service contact is an e-mail address.

What was true in my dad's day of selling petroleum products for Sinclair (yeah I had all sorts of little green dinosaur toys) to my days at Intel to today -- People buy from people they trust.

And that's why I agreed to help my customer write his RFP. I'd be the one who had to fix it if anything went wrong. I wasn't introducing bias into the RFP, I was writing it so he'd get the best product for his particular situation...Mine.

Lastly, was I the only one helping him? To answer that I have to remind you that trust is a two-way street. I didn't even have to ask.

I wrote the proposal (I actually typed it on an IBM Selectric) and won the business.