While it is always true that starting a business pursuit before the RFP is released is better than starting after RFP release, it is only possible some of the time. Unfortunately, the “best practices” fail to recognize that, and as a result, if you are doing one of the types of proposals that legitimately start at RFP release the “best practices” offer you little of value (other than an admonition that you should have started earlier). What people really need is an approach that provides incentives to coax those who can into starting early, while still supporting those who must start at RFP release.
There are a number of valid reasons why some companies start their pursuits at RFP release:
- There are many buyers, located all over the country (or even the world). Each is either too small to merit a relationship-based marketing approach, or the procurements are too infrequent (out of any one office).
- The customer doesn’t provide any forecasts or announcements prior to RFP release.
- What is being procured is very broadly applicable, such that anyone is a potential customer and you have no way of knowing when a customer is getting ready to buy.
- The subject matter is such that the customer is able to write the RFP without having to consult anyone else and they do it in isolation so that you only find out about it when the RFP is released.
- The customer anticipates that there are many companies capable of providing what they need, so they don’t have to specifically contact anyone to conduct the procurement.
- The procurement is a one-time event, and not an ongoing need that will be periodically recompeted.
If you are doing business in an area where one or more of these apply to most or all of your customers, you might not ever be able to pursue your leads before the RFP is released. You need a proposal process that can still help you identify your competitive advantages and get them into the document even though you don’t start until after the RFP is released.
So how do you start at RFP release and still be successful?
To start at RFP release, you need to be able to immediately assess what you know and what you don’t know. You then need to be able to quickly turn them into bid strategies.
We recommend taking the Readiness Reviews that are part of the CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process and consolidating them down into a single review. Take the questions, goals, and action items from each of the four reviews, and make one long list. Because the four reviews were designed to build on each other over time, you will need to remove any redundancies that result, keeping only the most detailed items.
When you start at RFP release, you will be able to answer fewer of the questions than when you start before RFP release and have time to do more research. However, the ones that you can answer will lead you to your bid strategies.
For example, if you don't know the names of your competitors, whether they will be large or small, what their bid strategies will be, and can’t even identify them by categories, you’re not going to be able to do much in terms of competitive positioning. While it is stronger to say why the customer should select you as opposed to them, you’ll just have to settle for saying why they should select you. You can still make the proposal about you or about the customer.
When you start at RFP release, you will be on your own for interpreting things like the RFP and the customer’s goals. You’ll have to make more assumptions and take more risks. You still need to make a strong offer, you just have less opportunity to confirm that the trade-offs reflect the preferences of the customer. You’ll need to look at the glass as half full instead of half empty, by leveraging what you do know and turning that into a competitive advantage.
After you consolidate the list of questions, goals, and action items down into a single list, you should still have a review to ensure that it reflects everything your company knows and the right strategies. You want to confirm not only that you have identified all the intelligence you have to work with, but that you have done the most to leverage it.
It is also still a good idea to quantify and track your review scores, so that you can accumulate metrics over time to refine your strategy selection and bid/no bid decisions.
How do you avoid the bad habit of simply waiting for the RFP?
There is a danger in having a methodology for responding at RFP release. The danger is that you enable people who could have prepared before the RFP release, but simply didn't, to still respond. The best way to avoid this is to implement a system that incentivizes starting early.
With the MustWin Process and Readiness Reviews you can achieve this by having a short deadline for responding to the questions. It should be difficult. It’s only one of the most important parts of preparing a winning response. If it’s compressed into 24-48 hours instead of being done over weeks or months, it should be hard. It should be hard enough to make the person bringing in the leads want to identify them before the RFP is released so that they can have more time to complete the list. Another reason for having a “Readiness Review” even if you are starting after RFP release is that it helps enforce the deadline, and gives the Executive Sponsor and other participants in the review a chance to reinforce that message.
The CapturePlanning.com MustWin Process provides a complete set of documentation and forms to implement Readiness Reviews