Many companies avoid the RFP response process because they believe that a chosen vendor is waiting in the wings, and the process is a mere formality to give the appearance of transparency.
Why do companies come to this conclusion? In reading the RFP, the scope of work and requirements may seem tailored to a certain organization. As a result, the perception is that the RFP was “written” for a vendor. In some respects it may be true that a vendor has assisted in the writing of the RFP by providing information about the industry where the goods or services may be purchased. However, I believe that a solid response offering similar or alternative solutions to the request may open up the purchaser’s eyes to opportunities they have not conceived of.
Keep in mind that in government RFPs for example, there may be a disconnect between the procurement department writing the RFP, and the client department requiring the service. The RFP may not be broad enough in scope, the client department may not have a specialist who can articulate their specific needs, the research on what is in the marketplace may not be extensive, or the RFP may simply be a cut and paste from prior years without heed for new technologies and methodologies. All these factors may not translate into a well-written RFP. People can only speak to what they know. If you can tell them something they don’t know, and give them a new solution, then your deliverable becomes much more attractive!
The best opportunity to highlight the discrepancies (or “fixes”) in the scope of work or requirements is in the time allotted for questions or at vendor meetings before the RFP is due. Recently I have seen a number of RFPs pulled and re-published due to questions asked by potential respondents. The 2.0 version of the RFP often had a broader scope with less specificity around the particular unique skills of certain competitors. This led to solutions that overall were more cost effective and took advantage of current technologies.
Keep in mind that the folks in procurement are not necessarily the final evaluators of the RFP. While procurement is responsible for ensuring that all of the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted, they may not have the final say in the award. An evaluation committee will usually include someone from Procurement, the Stakehoulder/Government industry who is going to be a user of the Service, and possibly a Consultant who happened to help write the RFP.
Look at an RFP as you would when you buy a house. You express to your expert agent that your ideal house is a 4 bedroom 2 bathroom home in a nice suburban neighborhood. However, the expert agent found an ‘elegant solution’ with 3 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms on 2 beautiful acres – because they know you have dogs, kids and a keen eye for bird watching. This solution was closer to the Client lifestyle, but different from what they originally specified.
You are the expert in your industry. So, it is up to you to articulate solutions that outline your deeper and more specific understanding of the deliverable. When companies come back with elegant solutions that are beyond the initial vision; the Government Client who is evaluating can then assess the response from Corporate Canada – and make the appropriate adjustments in terms of ‘WHO’ and ‘WHAT’ they want as a result of this.
Participating in the RFP process continues to provide deep value in advertising and marketing for your firm. Keep in mind that Government employees often move between departments – and you never know when someone might move to another division, saying, ‘hey, I saw an earlier RFP response that might suit the requirements in this department!’ Next time, you may be the expert called upon for additional market research.
Nothing serves you as well as good business intelligence. Remember that anything can happen. A vendor could go out of business or end up in breach of contract, the legacy technology may not speak to the current technology, or you could build an elegant partnership that will help you win the RFP. Contracts are limited in time, diarize when the contract ends and follow up with the client several months before. Find out what is working, what is not, and where the needs might be expanded.
The only part of the RFP process that is “fixed” is your mindset as to how you will respond. Be ready!
Sharon Giraud brings over 20 years of success writing and winning RFPs.
As a Boardroom Metrics Consultant, she advises organizations on ways to effectively communicate your company’s value and unique capabilities through written proposals.