Winning a new contract can be transformational for a business. Being awarded a significant contract can, in many instances, alter both the financial outlook and strategic direction of an organisation for years to come. High-value, long-term contracts are hard won and require a concerted effort to develop a compelling response document. This document should leave the prospect in no doubt as to which vendor to award the contract.
Over the years we have developed countless RFP (Request For Proposal) responses for IMS Marketing and on behalf of our B2B clients. Through our experience we have compiled the below guidance which aims to maximise your likelihood of success while minimising the stress associated in the development of an impressive RFP response:
Be selective about which RFPs you respond to
Formulating a winning response document presents a significant resource cost to your business, not to mention the opportunity cost related to other projects or prospects which are deprioritised while all eyes are on the RFP. In our experience, responses take anything from days to months to prepare, often with no guarantee of success. Ask yourself the following questions before deciding to respond.
- Is it genuine?
Unfortunately, some RFPs are simply “tick box” exercises on behalf of the prospect organisation. The prospect is required by purchasing and/or compliance regulations to ascertain several proposals before a contract can be awarded. In some cases, a vendor has already been earmarked for the job and has possibly even had a hand in influencing the RFP. While difficult to spot an already allocated contract, we encourage vendors to be wary of RFPs which stipulate extremely stringent requirements or those that use very specific language and specify suspiciously short deadlines.
- What exactly is being required of you?
RFPs demand an in-depth review to fully comprehend the requirements. It is vital you gain a clear understanding of the prospect’s needs in order to assess if there is an alignment with your organisation’s current capabilities. It’s also important to understand what compliance requirements you will need to meet. It can be extremely frustrating to deliver a competitive response only to be disqualified based on a technicality e.g. not having the specified level of liability insurance cover in place.
- Have we a track record of success in this space?
Generally, most RFPs request that you demonstrate your experience in providing a comparable solution in the same or a similar industry. If you cannot easily showcase how your experience to date places you in a strong position to meet the requirements, it is better to pass and wait for a more suitable one to come along.
- Have we the resources to deliver a winning response before the deadline?
Compiling a persuasive RFP response demands input from many senior people within your organisation. It is important to consider if you have enough resources in-house to deliver the response on time or if you need to solicit external assistance e.g. technical copywriting, graphic design, proof-reading, and so on.
- Can we deliver if we ARE successful?
A nice-to-have problem, but one worth considering none the less… can you adequately resource the contract in time, in the event of success?
Once a commitment has been made to respond to an RFP, commence the work as soon as possible to allow maximum time to deliver a response which best reflects how your organisation can deliver the prospect’s requirements.
Form a response team and seek external help if required
While each RFP requires a leader to own and drive the project internally, it is essential to form a response team who will collaborate to deliver on the final document. Depending on the nature of your business, the team will typically include a member of the sales, marketing, engineering, compliance and finance functions. It is essential all members of the response team read and understand the RFP in full. When collating content from several different individuals, we suggest allocating time to engage the services of a professional copywriter to ensure consistent use of language and tone.
It is also worthwhile arranging graphic design resources to transform your standard Microsoft Word document into something which will stand out in comparison to competitor responses. The attractiveness of the finished document, complete with cleverly designed visual aids such as infographics, tables and diagrams should not be underestimated. To avoid spelling and grammatical errors, we strongly recommend the document is proofread thoroughly by at least two nominated individuals outside of the core response team.
Adhere to the format and note the evaluation criteria
Most RFPs will stipulate a specific structure or format down to minute details such as typeface, font size, line spacing etc. Others will ask that you respond within pre-designed tables. Deviating from a specified format is a punishable by disqualification! If a format is not specified, we recommend finding one and sticking to it to ensure a logical flow to your response. A tried and tested response structure is outlined below;
- Cover Page
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Company Overview
- Response to Vendor Questions
- Execution Schedule
- Case Studies/Previous Experience
- Schedule of Costs
Most vendors will use a pre-defined score card to rate and compare your response to others they receive. The evaluation criteria may or may not be included in the RFP. In our experience, vendors need to achieve a minimum score in all areas, so it is important not to neglect any of the criteria even if they do not carry a significant weighting.
Respect the reader and talk to their pain points
Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. They have multiple responses to review and compare. A well-structured document which answers each question and succinctly captures how your organisation can assist the prospect in achieving their objectives while alleviating their known pain points is likely to score highly. The prospect will want to see the language they used in the RFP reflected in the response. Responses which focus on the vendor company’s strengths rather that the prospect’s specific needs are unlikely to win favour.
Most RFPs request vendors to outline a specific number of previous experience case studies or customer stories. The weighting for this section is generally quite significant so selecting the correct case studies can often tip the balance from a scoring perspective. Be mindful to select case studies which reflect the prospect’s requirements rather than ones you have an emotional attachment to. As mentioned earlier, prospects generally want to see what your organisation has done for similar companies within the industry. Structure your case studies by providing an overview of the client’s problem, detail on the solution you provided and the results your engagement achieved. The more tangible your results are the better. For example, “Acme Software increased employee productivity by 64%” is a much more powerful statement than “the client noted an increase in employee productivity post implementation of the new software.”
You may be required to include names and details of referees. Seek the referee’s permission before the tender is submitted and brief them fully in advance of a potential call by providing them with a copy of the case study referenced in the response.
In Summary…there is no guarantee of success when responding to an RFP. However; careful planning, the correct team and a prospect centric approach can place you at an advantage to other organisations. When it comes to choosing which RFPs to respond to – be selective! Your likelihood of success is far greater if you choose to deliver a high-quality response to a small number of RFPs versus delivering an average response to a large number.
If you would like IMS Marketing to assist you in your RFP response projects, please contact us today on 091 739 450 or email us at [email protected]