A request for proposal (RFP) represents both an opportunity and a challenge for your company. It’s a great chance to get in on a project to work with a company, government entity or nonprofit. The challenge comes in preparing the RFP — they take a lot of research and effort to be successful.
Preparation is key to making it work. “When it comes to doing an RFP, the more organized you are, the better,” says Bob Sanders of Sanders Consulting Group, which provides consulting services on RFPs.
Here’s how to up your odds of winning work through an RFP process.
Before you even start writing or planning the RFP, you’ve got work to do. “The first rule is know who you’re pitching to,” Sanders says. Read the RFP to whether you’re pitching to the entity itself or a department within it, such as procurement or finance. If you have a contact at the organization, talk to them about the process. Research the organization’s culture, goals and personnel. “Look at their social media, what they recommend and like,” Sanders says. “Each detail can give you a clue and bring your RFP to life.”
Being a “category expert” will help you get to the next round, Sanders says, so focus on how you’ve delivered on projects similar to the one you’re bidding on. If you don’t have one of the categories of expertise that will be considered, consider partnering with someone who can deliver that experience, Sanders says. “If you’re the best at doing what they’re looking for, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll make it to the next round as long as you follow the rest of the rules in the RFP.”
People reading RFPs will narrow down the field based on expertise and relationships, Sanders says, so if you don’t have either of those, you’ll need to stand out in a different way. Even if you don’t win the bid, you will have succeeded in building brand awareness. Sanders shared an example of a company that didn’t have the experience that the RFP was looking for but put together a proposal anyway in the form of a glossy magazine, complete with bylines, articles, ads for the organization that put out the RFP, and plastic wraps. They didn’t win the bid, but the company ended up with multiple projects down the road. “We built a great relationship,” he says.
Sanders says he’s seen lots of proposals that are simply sloppy, which is a sure-fire way to get eliminated in the first round of cuts. Examples include being cut-and-pasted from old proposals and accidentally including information for other companies. “Proof and double-proof it, then get someone else to look at it to make sure there’s nothing wrong in there.”
Because the RFP process is all about standing out, you need to use every opportunity to go above and beyond. Finish early, Sanders says. Bidders tend to get their proposals in with hours to spare. Set a fake deadline for your team of 24 hours before the actual deadline and get your proposal in a day early.
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