After two late nights polishing up responses to RFPs for technology projects, it felt like writing a de-brief of the process and key takeaways would be a cathartic thing to do. Let’s find out.
There are skeptics (like me at times) who believe that the RFP process is really just an administrative checks and balances activity and that procurement has its mind made up on the vendor of choice long before the RFPs are received and reviewed. We’ve all thought that one of the “big-guys” had it in the bag before the RFP was issued once or twice, and sometimes, that may be the case, but I don’t believe always, and for one key reason: most projects are highly specialized and sometimes the big guys can’t build as compelling a case or team as a smaller, more nimble and highly specialized firm.
One thing I know for sure after the last two proposals is that responding to RFPs is a full-time job, if done correctly. Procurement departments pay attention to detail, and can usually tell the difference between valuable details and fluff. It’s important not to gloss over any part of the response; as each piece proves critical in building your case for the project, and as such, any company serious about responding to RFPs should ensure that if they don’t have a full-time proposal writer, they appoint an employee to own the process and best practices.
In our mind, there are 5 key moving parts to any RFP response:
1. Response format
This may seem like a no-brainer, but we found it very useful for the two recent proposals we put together to take each piece of the RFP line-by-line and ensure we addressed each one logically. We started by using a table format, with the RFP data on one side, and our response to each piece of data on the other. This insured that we were mapping our responses to the specific detail the prospective clients were looking for. Hopefully we did a good job of that – we will find out.
2. Project Approach
Whether its an assessment or an actual technology project, it probably makes sense to approach each project using project management methodologies and best practices. In each case, we created a detailed project schedule using Microsoft Project (exported in Excel) and I made sure to have one of my stronger and more seasoned PMs help prepare the schedule.
Demonstrated command of PMP methodologies should add value in your client’s eyes no matter what size the project.
If you can’t effectively convey, as a consulting firm or services provider, relevant experience with the kinds of projects you are bidding on, make sure you leverage partners, or don’t waste you time responding. While your firm may not be able to demonstrate recent success upgrading Sharepoint 2007 to Sharepoint 2010 for an enterprise client, do you know of a consultant you can partner with you can? Make sure they bring references of course.
I think most savvy procurement professionals know that they get what they pay for. Someone will always come in with a low bid, and someone else an inflated and unrealistic price. Try to stay moderate, trim the fat where you can but be realistic and conservative every step of the way.
Without a doubt, the most important piece in our opinion. Its one thing to be Brand X or Y, but who do you have behind the brand, and what is their expertise around the specific subject matter? Technology projects are a big deal for companies of any size, the data is highly sensitive and cannot be corrupted in any way. Without demonstrated expertise on the technologies and methodologies required for the project, how safe will decision makers feel placing a bet on a brand alone? Show diversity in your team, too. Balance out your technical players with process people, and make sure you have someone to cover the administrative gaps that are bound to creep up.
All in all, we’ve found that bidding on projects, while time consuming and a resource constraint, can be a very powerful way to grow your firm. We’re reminding ourselves not to bite off more then we can chew, try to stay focused and selective about the projects we do bid on, and not be discouraged when we loose out to a competitor.
The law of averages is usually on your side.