RFP – Request For Proposal. I know a lot of companies that won’t bother with them, and many more who spend a ridiculous amount of time responding to RFPs they seldom win.

In the past couple months, I’ve both helped prepare and respond to several RFPs, and back in the corporate world, these came up weekly. It’s time to share a few thoughts on how best to proceed from both sides.

Most respondents to RFPs treat them as one-off activities, and replicate work over and over. While it’s true that the work executed will differ from one job to the next, you should have a template response which replicates all the boilerplate materials – who the company is, what your strengths are, quality/privacy/hiring policies, etc. More importantly, the template should give you a common structure, and some consistency on approaching these. Fill in the blanks pieces may account for 70%, but having those blanks outlined for you simplifies the thinking greatly.

If your response is going to a very large organization or government agency, you should assume that the first people to review it will not be subject matter experts, but a screening panel. Frequently purchasing takes on this role. You need to get past this stage, and the best way is to make their job easier. Provide a compliance checklist in the same numbering format/order it appears in the RFP, and clearly mark comply/do not comply/comply with intent. Get enough marks here and, the price isn’t as critical.

If you are on the flip-side, preparing an RFP, spend your time focusing on what you want done, not how you want it. Ask how respondents plan to meet the objectives. This ensures that they explain their methodology, and don’t just say that they comply. Sure, list any formats and pre-requisites you need met, but don’t get more specific than you need to – and don’t suppose you know the best way to accomplish the work. After all, this is why you are looking for experts, so ensure that you have a chance to listen when they say there is a better way to accomplish your goals.

If you are a respondent with a better way, but are up against a very granular RFP, your main goal is to win the job, then show the value in morphing it. Just don’t assume that your “better” solution will be implemented. The larger the organization you are dealing with, the harder it is to get them to adjust how they work.


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