BY ANDI GRAY AND ROBYN GOLDENBERG COHEN
Dilemma: RFPs are rough—they are not our forte but we’re seeing them more and more often. How do we get better at winning our fair share?
Thoughts of the Day: Not all RFPs are equal. Building a team and a template will help things go more smoothly. Make a schedule to manage the time you have. Once you’ve mastered RFPs, you can figure out where to get more of them.
Some RFPs are going to be exactly right for your business but many will be a waste of time and energy. Before taking action, ask yourself these questions:
• Why is the RFP issuer going out for bid? How much will a low bid be a factor?
• Does anyone at the issuing company know about my company, or have reason to do business with us? If not, can we get introduced to key players before the bid is awarded?
• Is there anything unique about us that increases our chances of winning?
• Who has the business now? Are they bidding? Are there any likely “inside bidders” who are well-known to the issuer, have the ideal solution, and have a fast track to the finalist list? Can we partner with them?
• What is our goal: To get introduced for future consideration? To raise our visibility in the industry? To win the bid?
• How much will it cost in time, money, and effort to respond? Can we afford to make that expenditure and not win? What would we do with our time if we didn’t respond?
• What will bidding and not winning do for our future prospects?
Oftentimes, small to midsize businesses don’t have a dedicated RFP department, so it is crucial to an organization’s success to figure out how to either manage them or allocate resources for the request.
In addition to the reward that comes with winning, bids can be a great opportunity to get exposure, introduce your company to others, and find out what other bidders are offering. Do keep in mind that your chances of winning, before considering any other factors, are minimal. If there’s an inside track and you’re not on it, your company’s chance of winning drops through the floor. Carefully consider all you’ll have to go through to raise those odds.
On the other hand, some industries—including logistics, destination/event management, and corporate transportation—live on bids. Getting into the bidding game can be a way to add clients and increase revenue. Bids may get your company in the door and qualified for future opportunities.
Prepare to respond. Pull together a standard team that includes your sales, marketing, operations, research and development, finance, and human resources departments. Be sure to assign someone as the point of contact, as having an assigned leader will help move the process along more smoothly. The employees you include on your RFP team should meet some key qualifications to ensure efficiency:
• Detail-oriented and organized
• Ability to break down a large project into actionable steps and delegate those tasks
• A finance person with a clear picture of break-even and profitability ratios
• Complete company buy-in: Employees who love their job and the company they work for are the best marketers
• An understanding of available company resources, which includes personnel and operational capacity
Keep in mind that you may form an initial team and decide that people need to move around. Trial and error in the beginning is OK, but forming an established team and protocol on handling RFPs will result in higher profitability and efficiency.
Gather bids that have recently been awarded to your industry. Find out who won—and why. Look for common questions. Save time by building persuasive boilerplate answers. Highlight your sizzle. All your branding efforts come into play when building your RFP responses. Pricing isn’t the only deciding factor when companies put out RFPs, as there are other evaluation criteria they look for:
• Is the company good at communicating with us?
• Do we need someone to come and meet with us face to face, or is over the phone OK?
• Can they ramp up without problems and can they handle the ongoing work?
• Do they understand what we do?
• Is their pricing and timeline reasonable?
• Did they educate us on how they will complete our project, the team that will be in charge of handling it, and what the deliverables are?
• Does the company have a good history of completing similar projects, and can they provide references?
Ready to try? When you first open a new bid, make note of all deadlines. Bids usually have a due date for questions, specific bid conference date, and final submission time. Put these dates on a calendar and make sure everyone on the team knows them.
Assign people to read every page of the bid. Consider if your company has something unique that will increase its chances of winning. Ask if you can handle the work if you win. Would an award take your company forward or would winning be a diversion? List things your company knows about that would be valuable. Hold a meeting to debate the bid. Hold periodic meetings to bring the bid team together for updates.
Resolve whether the company should respond. Then lay out a plan of action for attacking the bid, including who, what, and by when. Identify any specialists needed. Figure out if you should partner with another company, and make sure they are the right fit for the job. You may need to use affiliates in other markets if the customer is traveling nationwide. Be certain that those affiliates will represent your company to the standards you have set. The job scope may also require making additions to your fleet. Spend time analyzing numbers, making sure that you can provide what’s required and still be profitable. Instead of buying or leasing new vehicles for this one customer, consider farming out some of the work—even locally—this might be a better option for the bottom line. Profitability is key when working with RFPs. Don’t take a customer if you know out of the gate that there will be money lost.
Looking for more bids? There are RFPs circulating all the time in most industries. Check your industry for bid lists. Ask customers and their peers if they ever use bids. Try government bid lists at the state, county, local, and federal levels. There are RFP monitoring services, and their subscription prices vary. Do an internet search for how to find RFPs, and you’ll also find a wealth of information. [CD0716] Looking for a good book? Request for Proposal: A Guide to Effective RFP Development by Bud Porterl-Roth.
Andi Gray is the Founder of the business consulting firm Strategy Leaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Robyn Goldenberg-Cohen is Director of Operations and Marketing for Strategy Leaders. She can be reached at email@example.com.