An RFP (Request for Proposal) is issued as part of the procurement process to allow multiple suppliers to competitively bid on providing a product or service. If you are responding to RFPs as a business channel, employ these best practices to win more contracts more often.
Once an RFP is issued, the response is typically due within a 2-3 week timeline. That deadline can spin the RFP response team into high gear and sometimes panic. Who will do what? How will we get it done in such a short time? Responding to an RFP well requires a team effort and strong management of that team. Both are critical to keeping people motivated and effective with their time, their contribution, and their energy. Great project management skills require the team leader to take the following steps:
- Identify all of the questions to answer. Responding to their specific questions is the bulk of the work. It can involve describing your corporation, the skills of your staff, spreadsheets of cost structure, flow charts of process, pricing grids, case studies, reference letters, and more.
- Review all sections for additional required information. RFPs often have questions or requests for information buried in the rest of the text. Finding all of the questions allows you to answer their request fully.
- Assign a due date to a specific person to answer each question. Clarity is key – set your expectations specifically. Who will answer each question and when must they have their work complete? Leave no room for assumptions.
- Assign a specific person to collate the responses into a template. Great content is insufficient to win a bid. Charge a person with organizing the raw answers in as visually impactful and easy to read manner possible. See the point on layout below.
- Assign a person to edit and wordsmith the content. For some reviewers, nothing is more distracting than a single spelling error or misuse of a word. The details matter. This could be a professional copywriter or someone with talent from inside your organization.
- Assign a final reviewer to pre-score the submission. This person, ideally someone outside of your company, reviews your entire response as if they were the client. An unbiased view of your response and can identify the areas for improvement without fear of reprisal from those who worked so hard to complete the draft.
- Be a Motivator. Manage not just the process, but the emotions of the team. Stamp out any defeatist attitudes and ensure the team is playing to win.
The question period promotes transparency of process and information access to all respondents. It allows respondents to gain further clarification on any of the information contained in the RFP that may contribute to their effectiveness in offering a detailed bid response.
There are two types of questions worth submitting as the respondent.
- Clarification questions are used to obtain further details on the project itself. RFPs are tough documents to write and critical details can often become confused or overlooked. If the question is a clarification question, be very specific. Reference the point number and quote their text to highlight the confusion.
- Strategic questions are used to establish your company’s brand and telegraph to the prospect and the other respondents that your company has an advantage. Typically, these questions are submitted by companies that have no prior experience with the prospect as a way to begin the sales process. They set the stage for your company being a clear competitor, not just another “also ran.”
Every point counts so fight for every last one. Make it easy for those reviewing the response to find what they are looking for. Communicate your message clearly using pictures, graphs, and bullets where possible. Structure your response exactly as the RFP was structured. This is their preferred method of receiving the information and allows them to assign you points for including all of the information.
Those assigned to read the countless RFP submissions will at some point become bleary-eyed so submit your response knowing that standing out from the pile will work to your favour. Consider what may be visually appealing to the reader. Use photographs, text boxes, flow charts and graphs to represent the information.
Reading so many responses to the same RFP doesn’t just blur the eyes – it blurs the mind. How do you keep the reader interested?
- By telling the story of your company in compelling, professional language,
- By supporting the content with visual aids as noted above,
- By keeping the content concise, well written and avoiding unnecessary extra language, which will only weigh down the eyelids of your reader until finally, you’ve lost them.
The more authentic and gripping your response, the more likely you are to hold their attention.
Estimating Best Practices
Price is always a consideration when reviewing an RFP response, however, price is industry specific and its relative importance varies. This means your company’s estimating process must be efficient and effective to ensure you can maintain a decent profit. If you are going to compete at this level, you must have an accurate understanding of your cost structure. Without this knowledge, you could end up winning work that will lose you money. Sharpen your pencil – the margin for error here is razor thin.
Responding as the Incumbent
Once you win it, never lose it. If you have the customer, keep them happy. Unfortunately, for the suppliers, RFPs are the status quo for some industries. If it has to go to RFP for transparency sake, help to write the RFP and provide something unique so your solution is specified or “spec’ed in”. Make sure that your value proposition is sound with that particular client before the RFP opens so you know the exact criteria they will value in the response. One of the best ways to gather this information is with a routine Account Review – the topic of our next article.