Crafting a winning request for proposal (RFP) response is critical in the highly competitive service provider market, as traditional services are common, offered by multiple carriers and are most often commodity purchases that were historically compared on price. This is especially true in the service provider space as it relates to data and voice transport, hosted services and product resell.
The secret to winning a customer's business usually comes down to the "extras" that your organization can bring to the table as a trusted partner and one-stop shop. These extras are the differentiators between your commodity-priced services and those of your competitors, in that there is a value proposition that can be made even if the customer has requested commodity type services.
This Telecom Essentials tip highlights three key areas I have personally seen differentiate the decision process outside of the cost factors. If you are consistently getting beat on a cost basis for the RFPs you are responding to, and your organization has driven the cost as low as possible, you really only have two choices. You can reduce costs to a level that can severely impact your business model, or offer additional value propositions that will encourage the customer to look at your services as more than a commodity-based service compared on cost alone.
Winning business beyond commodity pricing
I have worked as a consultant in the service provider and enterprise space for 15 years and below are three areas that definitely make a difference:
- Highlight the infrastructure backbone availability/survivability and scalability used to transport the services you offer.
- Highlight service level agreement (SLA) offerings (even if not asked) and emphasize your ability to provide uninterrupted service.
- Bundle in architecture/design and integration expertise.
Each of these provides the customer with insight into how you as a provider are much more than just a commodity-based store that competes on price. Each of these is discussed below in further detail.
- Highlight survivability. This is key in that you want the customer to know that you have engineered the best backbone infrastructure and that you can guarantee your network can scale to meet both current and future bandwidth needs. This approach highlights the fact that you have invested the time and capital into building a world-class network that can handle all of your customers needs. This can soften the blow of percentage points higher in transport costs because it provides the customer peace of mind. If you don't highlight and emphasize this in the response, the customer will lean toward the lowest-cost provider, regardless of whether or not they can actually deliver around failure and growth.
- Highlight SLAs. If you don't have them, you need them. If potential customers don't ask for them in the RFP, tell them anyway. Most RFPs are tactical in nature and don't necessarily consider a three-to-five year window of requirements. Expanding the response in anticipation of the customer requiring SLAs in the future shows that you are a strategic partner, not just a supplier competing on cost.
- Bundle in expertise. Whether this expertise is on front-end planning and design work or on back-end integration, most customers do not have the in-house expertise or resource pool to handle migrations to technologies requested in RFPs. The ability to provide this expertise and the ability for a customer to get these resources from one place is a strategic value proposition. It also means the customer will have fewer vendor contracts to manage. Touting your expertise as a mechanism for reducing deployment costs and minimizing migration risks can be a very powerful incentive for the customer.
These three areas represent value propositions that can differentiate one provider from another in the commodity service space. If you don't have the ability to respond in this fashion, you could still win on cost. But more and more, enterprises are looking for their carriers to bring more to the table and aligning your responses to these facts can help you win more than your fair share.
About the author:
Robbie Harrell (CCIE#3873) is the National Practice Lead for Advanced Infrastructure Solutions for AT&T. He has more than 10 years of experience providing strategic, business and technical consulting services. Robbie lives in Atlanta and is a graduate of Clemson University. His background includes positions as a principal architect at International Network Services, Lucent, Frontway and Callisma.