I'm a fervent reader of business books and blogs. Seth Godin is one of my favorites, and in a recent post entitled "A Sad Truth About Most Traditional B2B Marketing", his wisdom shines through. Seth highlights how many organizations, in an effort to save money and gain efficiency, become dispassionate about the relationships they build along the way. RFPs are his main target.
RFPs dehumanize the sales process. From the buyer's perspective, they can get a great deal of information from a number of vendors quickly. However, I think that those efficiencies come at the cost of understanding who you will be working with once a product is selected. How does the sales organization treat you? Are they responsive to your needs? Do you feel valued as a prospective customer, and do you think that feeling will continue once you become a customer?
These questions are, arguably, more important than price (Liferay always wins on price, by the way). When you buy anything of value (a cell phone, a car, an enterprise portal), you're making an investment in a relationship.
My car is great, but how does the dealer treat me when it needs service? My cell phone is amazing, but what is the reliability of the network that I'll be using for the next 2 years. My portal rocks, but will the company that makes it support me when things go bad while continuing to innovate in ways that I can't imagine?
RFPs tend to be about the short-term "here are my requirements -- can you fulfill them and what will it cost?" They don't speak to the longer term relationships that are built.
From my perspective, the best relationships are built early in the sales cycle. When I demonstrate Liferay, I do my best to understand what people need to accomplish and answer questions to the best of my ability. Sometimes my style takes people aback because they are used to being "sold to." I don't do that. I try to help them envision how Liferay can help them reach their goals. I tell them what works out-of-the-box, what doesn't and potential gotchas that they might encounter.
Once people become our customers, they have a comfort level with the product and company in which they have invested. They know who to call or email when they need something. They know that we will do our best to keep them happy and to realize their goals. They know that relationships are just as important as bottom line for Liferay. They know that we value integrity in our interactions above all else. They know that we're human.
To me, those factors are some of the most important considerations when buying a product. And one of these days, I would like to see this question on an RFP:
"Please detail your company's core values as they pertain to integrity, vision, personnel development and community involvement."