Putting together a winning request for proposal response does not happen overnight.
As the founder and CEO of a bid consulting firm, I know that writing an RFP is not simple, easy or quick and is likely why more businesses do not compete in the procurement process. Larger companies often have dedicated project management teams to divvy up RFP responsibilities. Smaller companies, however, typically cannot afford that same luxury.
The Reason For RFPs
So, if the RFP process is so cumbersome, why do we do it? Well, RFPs are constructed to ensure a process doesn’t favor one company over another. When businesses, nonprofits, or government agencies (the stakeholders) build an RFP, they are defining the scope of a project and setting their priorities. Essentially, they just created an open invitation to receive bids from competing vendors. Those vendors will submit offers that will be subsequently judged on their merits as they relate to the RFP.
While RFPs provide a compelling business opportunity, for many, the thought of submitting an RFP response can seem daunting. An RFP often includes specification lists, notarization requirements, legal clauses and technical jargon, which can overwhelm even the most seasoned of bidders.
But, despite the hassles described above, the RFP is set up to compare vendors and suss out potential candidates in a standardized format. Just like applying to a new job, it requires candidates to present their organization in an organized format, tests their attention to detail and evaluates their understanding of the task at hand.
The Bidding Process
The bidding process can either happen quickly or slowly, depending on the needs and desires of the procuring entity. RFPs are typically open for one to three months from the initial announcement through the final submission date, though they can be open for as little as a few days and as long as a few years.
Regardless of how short or long the timeline is, what’s important is how closely you adhere to it. In some instances, the procuring entity may allow a period for questions, or there could be mandatory requirements such as site visits or preproposal conferences. All will be clearly identified in the RFP, but it is essential that vendors note those dates and plan accordingly.
Additionally, the submission date is a hard deadline, meaning there’s no opportunity to ask for delays. So it’s essential that vendors leave themselves enough time to actually submit the RFP response. If it must be mailed, ensuring that it will arrive on time regardless of a weather event or another shipping delay is of paramount importance.
Time management is imperative when creating a winning bid, and vendors shouldn’t rush the process. Cutting corners and not fully dedicating resources to the process can lead to costly mistakes. Some examples follow:
• Incomplete forms can lead to a rejected bid. Be aware that procuring entities have dedicated their time and resources to creating the RFP. They require specific information to make an informed decision on their project; don’t be the vendor that cannot follow instructions. Incomplete forms will lead to a rejected bid.
• Incorrect packaging can immediately disqualify a bidder. Packaging and shipping instructions are usually very detailed for RFPs and list exactly how the issuer wants to see essential information from the vendor. Not adhering to their guidelines regarding formatting, font styles, amendment policies or proposal delivery instructions can mean your proposal is thrown out before they’ve even turned a page.
• Not asking questions can be a mistake. If applicable (as noted within the RFP), vendors have an opportunity to clarify any unclear line item(s) during a question period with the issuing entity. Vendors can additionally use this period to their advantage by asking strategic questions that help inform their response. There is no such thing as a dumb question, and clearly understanding the requirements can provide better expectations of the relationship and ensure that you are not misunderstanding the vendor’s specifications.
• Forgetting extra costs can hurt your bottom line. It’s common for RFPs to involve contracts that span years. Neglecting to account for things like inflation, taxes and price increases will undoubtedly affect the bottom line. There is no “I forgot” clause in an RFP, so it’s important to consider your profitability both now and in the future when you are pricing out your offering.
Don’t let the bidding process intimidate you from competing in the RFP market. Consider each bid a learning opportunity that will go well beyond the RFP timeline.
A final reminder worth repeating: Don’t rush the process. Dedicating the time now to create a thoughtful, detailed proposal can lead to a long-term contract and increased profits for years to come.