Understanding RFP Responses

 

Isabel Gibson taught me how to be a winning proposal manager.

Retired Colonel

Using the information from the client’s RFP, proposal teams get busy:

  • Making a plan to give the client the product or service they specified
  • Writing a fully costed  proposal that describes this plan
  • Submitting the RFP response to meet the hard deadline

It sounds simple, and the basics are simple.

Six Questions to Ask Before Bidding
Five-step RFP Response Process
Four Kinds of RFP Response Content
Five Rules of Proposal Teamwork

Six Questions to Ask Before Bidding

You can’t win every opportunity you chase; you can’t even chase every opportunity that comes along.  Why not?  Because no one has the resources — time, people, money — to do that.  Being selective is key to success in RFP responses.  Before responding to an RFP, you first have to decide whether to bid.  This is called the go/no-go decision, and there are six questions every bidder should ask about every opportunity before committing time and money to it.

Question #1:  Does the need as defined align with the organization’s capabilities/strengths?

Another way to ask this question is in the negative: Is something not right?  In making this assessment, consider the client’s procurement strategy, the scope of work, the Work standards, and the draft contract.

Question #2:  Can the need be redefined for better alignment?

Is there time to influence the requirement?  Is the client willing to listen?

Question #3:  Do you have a bright idea for how to meet the need as defined/redefined?

How will you do the Work cheaper or better (or both!) than your competitors?

Question #4:  Do you need one or more teaming partners to improve your chances of winning?

Organizations team up for financial, technical/operational, and political reasons.  Can another organization give you the winning edge?

Question #5:  What are your competitors doing, and how will that affect your chances?

Does another organization have a strong existing relationship with the client, or resources in place that will cut their costs dramatically, or any other kind of advantage?

Question #6:  What’s the opportunity cost?  Is this bid worth it?

Major proposals can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars; even small ones can displace other sales effort.  Choose wisely.

If you get acceptable answers to all six questions, then you’re ready to look at submitting a bid.  Where do you start?

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Five-step RFP Response Process

Whether you have one week or one year to respond to the RFP, the basic steps are the same:

  • Understand what the client wants
  • Make a plan to give them what they want
  • Write up that plan in a compelling way and cost it accurately
  • Get executive approval of the proposal and the pricing
  • Produce and submit the document, on time

Of course, there’s lots more to it than that: compliance, responsiveness, mandatory and rated requirements, version control . . . But if you focus on doing these five things well, you’ll be well on your way.

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Four Kinds of RFP-Response Content

There is no standard proposal – no “one size fits all” template that you can use for every RFP response. Why not?  Because the requirements defined by RFPs are so different:

  • Is the RFP for products (physical or data?), services, infrastructure, or a combination of these?
  • How big is the opportunity, for the client?  The bigger it is, the stricter and more complex their RFP will be.
  • What risks does the client see with this RFP: Labour/labor issues?  Environmental protection? Coordination of several contractors?
  • Is it a first-time procurement with lots of unknowns on both sides, or is it a mature, stable contracting environment?

But even if there’s no cookie-cutter approach that will work, it’s still good to know that every RFP response — whether it’s 10 pages or 10 binders — has just four kinds of content:

  • Contractual
  • Technical/operational
  • Management
  • Pricing

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Five Rules of Proposal Teamwork

Finally, no RFP response goes out the door without lots of work by lots of people.  To turn all that effort into true teamwork, follow the five rules of proposal teamwork:

Rule #1 Know the RFP.  Everything starts there.

Rule #2Know the rules of engagement.  Understand what’s expected and required of you.

Rule #3Manage your mouth.  Don’t speak out of turn, but speak up when you should.

Rule #4Manage your self.  Set personal limits and maintain your perspective.

Rule #5Meet schedule.  Submit all your deliverables on time.

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