What’s your response to request for proposals?
More importantly — what should your response be?
Before companies hire a consulting firm for a large-scale project, they’ll often put out a request for proposal (RFP) to receive several proposals and pricing options from different firms.
In this article, we’ll help you navigate the world of request for proposals and you’ll learn how to effectively respond to RFPs.
Let’s dive in.
The Problem with RFPs
In theory, RFPs provide you with an opportunity to win a big project and gain a new client.
However, there are many pitfalls you need to watch out for.
It’s not rare for the awarding company or organization to have chosen a consulting firm in their mind before they send out the RFP. But government entities and public organizations are usually required to send out RFPs so that they can ‘consider’ all options.
The firm they already have in mind might be a consultant who helped create the RFP. Or it’s a consultant they have worked with before and want to use again.
This scenario is more common than you think.
As a consultant responding to RFPs, you might find yourself spending many hours working on your proposal only to find that you are helping the client comply with internal procedures. And then, they award the project to your competitor. In reality, your competitor was selected before the awarding company even sent out the RFP.
You never stood a chance.
It’s for this reason that most consultants should not build their business around RFPs.
You don’t have control over the process. You’re competing against others.
And often, it’s a rigged game.
If you want to build a consulting business on your terms, then your response to RFPs should be a polite “no thank you.”
Actually, the best response to request for proposasl is: “Thank you for thinking of us and inviting us to work with you. We’d love to, but we don’t get involved with RFPs. However, if you find that you don’t find or aren’t happy with the RFPs you receive, let me know as we’d be very happy to have a conversation with you about how we can work together.”
Winning consulting business using effective marketing and sales strategies is almost always a much better approach.
You have control over the process. You don’t have to compete against others for the same piece of business.
That’s part of what we teach inside of our Clarity Coaching Program.
However, we have worked with clients who have built a process around responding to RFPs. And thus, for them, responding to RFPs has been quite lucrative.
I’ll show you what that looks like next…
The Opportunity With RFPs
Sometimes the RFP you receive is a genuine attempt by a company or organization to find and hire the best consultant for the project.
These organizations tend to have an approved vendor database. By responding to their RFP you might be included on their vendor list whether you win the project or not.
And if you respond to the RFP with a persuasive, compelling consulting proposal — and you stand out among the rest with your experience, expertise, and price — then you will win the project.
But writing a proposal that can win RFPs is difficult and time-consuming. You need a systematic approach to responding to them.
Inside of our Clarity Coaching Program, we worked with a client who won most of their projects via RFPs.
What were they doing differently?
Their entire consulting business is structured around RFPs. They had a dedicated person whose job was to write proposals in response to RFPs.
So, if you want to win business consistently via RFPs, at the very least you’ll need a strong process. And you’ll likely need a person or team dedicated to responding to RFPs.
This is not the dynamic we recommend. But it is possible — it just requires a different setup.
If you’re willing to dedicate the time and effort to respond to RFPs, first make sure that you’re willing to build the right processes and team around it.
We’ll talk about that next.
How to Differentiate Your Firm During The RFP Process
So you’ve decided to move forward and apply to win the project.
One thing you’ll want to do: develop relationships with the key decision-makers for that RFP. This can often help you to move ‘ahead of the line’ and be viewed as the favored option throughout the RFP process.
While you’re building those relationships, analyze the RFP.
If it’s an RFP worth responding to, it’s transparent about what the awarding company is looking for: The RFP provides specific details on the project, the scope, terms and conditions, process schedule, the budget, etc. In your consulting proposal, ensure that you’ve answered every question in the RFP in detail.
“A good RFP is transparent, rewards thoughtful and honest responses, and is a true means of discerning a vendor’s merit based on their ability to meet the customer’s requirements.”
-Tom Searcy, RFPs Suck: How To Master the RFP System Once and For All To Win Big Business
A well-written, detailed proposal contains thoughtful and honest answers — and these will help you win the project.
Don’t overload your proposal with additional documents even if they support your case. Remember the people on the other end: they have to read enough words as it is. Don’t make their job any harder.
The key to winning the bid is to meaningfully differentiate yourself from the competition — and show that your firm has the highest chance of creating the outcome the awarding company wants.
And it’s critical that you communicate your differentiation early on in the RFP so that everyone reading it will see it.
For example, if you know your RFP will be higher in price than others, state why your fees are at a premium, and what additional value and benefit the buyer will receive as a result.
- Does your firm have more experience than any other for creating the desired outcome or working with this specific industry?
- Do you have access to partnerships or vendors who would benefit from the project?
- Do you have access to materials or IP that can save the company money?
Create a list of all the benefits you can bring to the table. Highlight them in your submission.
Resist the urge to quote the lowest price. Just because the awarding company sometimes picks the lowest price doesn’t mean you should try and win on price.
Imperfect Action: Write Your Response To Requests For Proposals
Does all of this sound like too much work for too little benefit?
You can always just walk away.
At the very least, your firm will be on the radar of the company next time they have a bid.
And if you submit an RFP and you don’t win the project, you’ll have benefited from the experience of putting together an RFP submission. You can start a process around that, so next time it doesn’t take as long.
But now is the time to make a decision. Are you willing to build your consulting business around RFPs?
If not, your default response should be “no thanks.”
If you are, then you and your team should be ready to go through your RFP process.
As stated above, some consultants build their whole business through request for proposal projects. If you’re willing to play this game, contact your city and inquire with large organizations to see if they send out RFPs for consulting-related work. Governments usually have websites that list these opportunities. Check them out, and add interesting opportunities to your watch list.
No matter which path you choose, remember this: you can influence the RFP process if you play a long-term game.
It’s always better to develop relationships with the people or organizations who send out RFPs. Add value to their lives. Share your expertise. Become their trusted advisor. It will put you in a much stronger position when submitting RFPs.
And sometimes, instead of sending out RFPs, they’ll just hire you.
That’s what the consultants in our Clarity Coaching Program do, and that’s what we recommend for entrepreneurial consultants: consultants who know how to drum up business themselves — without third parties controlling the process.
Have you had any experience with RFPs? What has that experience been like?
If so, share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear from you.