Creating RFP Responses that Win
In an old rerun of the sitcom “MASH” that I have seen over the years, there is a scene where Major Winchester is consoling a young concert pianist who has been injured. In recognizing his unique talent, Winchester tells him “anyone can play the notes; it takes a star to make music.”
I often think of that quote when I work with companies that respond to large RFP’s as a significant vehicle to securing new business. Like it or not, the RFP will continue to be a primary method by which buyers evaluate and compare potential service providers that are competing for their business. Often there will be many players submitting proposals.
So here is the question; how do we move from playing the notes (filling in all of the boxes on the RFP) to making music (developing a proposal that wins)?
In many ways, RFPs for significant opportunities make sense for the buyer. A well-designed RFP clearly outlines the opportunity specifications, performance requirements, schedule; service level requirements and more that are required in order to develop a proposal. It “levels the playing field “so the buyer has a standard method for comparing proposals.
For the service provider, the benefits are not quite as clear. Certainly, a detailed RFQ outlining all of the requirements facilitates development of a comprehensive proposal.
However, sellers often feel that a major RFP with its many pages to be filled in and boxes to check, not to mention very specific rules of engagement can commoditize their proposal.
Additionally, depending on what questions are asked (or not asked), sellers may not have the ability to emphasize their company’s unique value.
There are specific steps you can take to mitigate the above concerns and ensure that your RFP response delivers a solution that wins.
- Know more than the specs and schedule – Do the research and know as much as possible about your contact, their department and the prospect company’s goals, challenges and direction. Look for Information that may not appear on the RFP but if addressed by you can give you an advantage. For example, if you know that your contacts department is understaffed, you may propose to provide additional customer service support. If you discover that prospect is typically late in making deadlines you may propose a schedule that provides the client more time while maintaining delivery dates. These unique benefits can be proposed within the confines of the RFP.
- Include your internal stakeholders in the proposal process – In order to deliver on the first bullet above; you may need your own company to think outside the box. I have often found that for a significant opportunity, engaging critical internal departments in developing the proposal is your best way to uncover unique solutions that win. Make them stakeholders in the effort!
- Provide thoughtful alternatives and opportunities – Yes, typically you do have to complete the RFP exactly as presented according to the specs and schedules that are provided and your focus is to win under those terms. However, if you feel you have an alternative solution that the prospect should consider you should feel comfortable in submitting that under separate cover after you submit the RFP.
Even if the prospect is not interested in your alternate proposal, you have presented yourself and your company as industry experts and thought leaders, which are great differentiators when new providers are being considered!
Remember, your thoughtful, insightful and creative response can be the winning element even within the confines of an RFP.
About the Author
Jack Egan is a consultant specializing in general management and sales leadership, growth initiatives, business process outsourcing and C-Suite solutions. You can contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org 914-552-4305.