A method more and more organizations are using to select speakers is the ‘RFP’ (request for proposal) or ‘call for speaker.’ If you’ve ever taken time to submit one of these, you know what a black hole they can be.
After tracking the results of more than 5,000 sales calls to sell speaking engagements, we learned that RFPs don’t have to be the end of the sales conversation. To understand what to do about them, we need to understand why organizations use them – and then we’ll teach you how to leverage them to benefit your business.
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How Decision Makers Choose Speakers From RFPs
Understand RFPs are designed to save event staff time and money – not benefit your speaking business. In our industry, events provide solutions to challenges and/or prepare people for future success – meaning when RFP submissions are reviewed for events, speakers are vetted against specific unpublished criteria. These are always the top two priorities:
1. Topic. Decision makers know what solutions their event needs to deliver. Unfortunately, no one shares this with speakers who submit an RFP. When our topic wasn’t a perfect fit, we were cut.
2. Budget. Once speakers are chosen, price is next. When we listed a fee range, we were sorted against every other speaker by price, without knowing a budget in advance.
In either case, when we didn’t know about the event’s focus and budget, our chances of being selected were like throwing darts in the dark.
What We Learned To Do About It
Here are the things we learned we needed to know before submitting an RFP – and contact with a human being is necessary to get these answers. (You’re a speaker, so speak!) If you need incentive for picking up the dang phone, having these answers often allows us to subvert the RFP process entirely:
1. How/When/By whom is the decision being made?: Who is going to be selecting speakers from the list? Will it be a committee? When are speakers expected to be chosen?
2. What challenges need solving in the industry/at this event?
3. What is the budget?: Knowing this number means we ensure our fee fits the unpublished speaker budget of the RFP (if we choose to submit it – follow this guide and you will likely subvert it entirely), or if the budget is too low/nonexistent, it might not be worth our time. As the actual honorarium the event is paying (if any) is rarely listed in the RFP, you’ll need to ask the decision maker to discover this.
4. With solid intelligence, we have more chance than 99% of the speakers filling out the RFP. However, don’t stop there.
Contact ACTUAL Decision Maker(s)
The person managing RFP submissions is often NOT the decision maker. Because we take time to discover the actual decision maker, budget and audience challenges, our next task is to build a relationship with the person who can say YES.
We reach out to the actual decision maker via LinkedIn and with a handwritten card complimenting them on the professionalism of the staff person we spoke with and talk about the challenges/solutions they’re focused on delivering. We then get on the phone with them, often bypassing the RFP process entirely and going right to submitting a proposal.
How was I able to subvert so many RFPs? Because most speakers never take the time to research, reach out and talk to a human being! I used to feel bad that we were ‘cutting in line’ and getting the gig – and the fee – ahead of all the speakers who submitted via the RFP. But after the first check arrived from following this process, I decided I shouldn’t feel bad for taking the initiative in my business’ revenue.
What About Committees?
In cases where a committee will be reviewing RFP forms, we ask for the name of the head of the committee and create a custom video for their team, addressing the exact challenges they’ve been tasked to find a speaker to solve.
At this point, we have the choice of submitting an RFP, knowing it will be head and shoulders above generic submissions, while we continue to go around the RFP process and pursue a conversation with the decision maker(s).
Don’t Stop Before Doing This
If you’ve taken the time to identify the decision maker, qualify for budget and decision making timeline, you can choose to submit the RFP or not. Whether you pursue the gig outside the process, within it or hit both in tandem, ensure you tell the decision maker you’ll place a ‘soft hold’ on those dates and release them around the time they’ll be selecting speakers. That way, you have a call premise and a reason to get back in touch.
We learned that ‘Call for speakers’ can be a black hole or the light at the end of the tunnel. Speakers who do research, provide solutions and have conversations instead of just submitting for a ‘keynote’ tend to shine brightest.
Do This Now:
-When you encounter an RFP, treat it like any other potential lead and find the decision maker
-Once you’ve made contact, determine if the event meets your value proposition/budget criteria
-Get a soft hold in place to control the next point of outreach
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