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While we all know it’s not best practice to respond to every RFP that comes across your desk, it is likely that during this new normal, you may respond to more than you have before. After all, with some people being less busy, it becomes harder to justify not responding. This is what many in B2B and professional services will be doing — chasing and responding to RFPs. However, depending on your clients and target markets, there are two more factors that may contribute to a likely increase in RFPs being released to the market.
- Governments will be trying to stimulate the economy. Most governments will be looking to stimulate growth through a plan of investment. In a lot of cases, this is being delivered by fast-tracking shovel-ready projects and investing in new infrastructure projects and other major projects that require large capital input. This is good news for the economy and for those who work in these sectors. However, this money won’t just be handed out — you’ll need to win it. Which means, yes, you’ve guessed it, government departments will be issuing some pretty significant RFPs in the coming months.
- Businesses will be reviewing their suppliers to reduce operational costs. The news is awash with stories of restructuring, employees being furloughed and redundancies occurring, and it’s likely that this will only continue. Owners, CEOs, CFOs and senior executive teams will be looking through their expenditure with a fine-tooth comb. This means that any incumbent suppliers may well be called in and asked how they can reduce their service and their costs. Alternatively, businesses may just view this as the perfect time to test the market properly. Which means, you’ve guessed it again, they will start issuing RFPs.
So, what do you need to do to get yourself prepared for the increase in RFPs that could be coming your way? Here are six steps you can implement right now to ensure you have the best chance of winning.
1. Don’t wait for the RFP — start tracking any potential opportunities now.
The key to success in winning work is through building strong business relationships, which is difficult to do during a competitive process. In fact, some RFPs forbid you from making contact with the key decision makers during the formal process. Not all of them, though, so carefully read the RFP to check if this is the case. This means you need to start meaningfully engaging with the potential decision makers for any upcoming projects now.
Remember, the aim is to build rapport and earn their confidence and trust. This means you will need to ask them open-ended questions and discover what’s important to them. If you can help them with other projects they are working on, either through sharing connections or providing them with third-party research, then do so. You will also need to try to find out what the important success factors are and the key risks or hurdles they see in the upcoming project for which you intend to bid.
2. Don’t neglect your current clients.
You may have served a client for the last few years, decade or even longer. Now is not the time to take that for granted. I remember during the last global financial crisis, hearing that a particularly large company brought all their suppliers in one by one and told them, no exceptions, they had to find a way to reduce their fees; otherwise, they would look at alternatives. Although this is not the best way of conducting business, at least they gave their suppliers the chance to keep the business.
In the new normal, you may not get that chance. You may just be faced with an email out of the blue, saying that they are reviewing their current suppliers, and you’ve been invited to bid for the work you currently have. Nobody wants to receive that email.
Therefore, talk to your existing clients now more than ever. Find out what impact the pandemic has had on them and listen. Don’t sell solutions when they confide in you. Take time to understand what lies ahead for them, and once again, see if your connections or even your colleagues can help them with the new challenges they face.
3. Review your bid response process.
If the volume of RFPs increases and the time to respond to them shortens, then it will be prudent to be ready for this. It is important to have a robust bid process. However, it needs to be adaptable. If you have two days or less to respond, then you won’t have time for that half-day workshop, exploring your key messages, analyzing your competitors and doing a full SWOT analysis. For big responses, these are essential, and quickly gathering this information will help you provide a better response. You’ll just need to agree to do it in, say, 30 minutes and most likely on a video call.
4. Don’t neglect the go/no-go process.
Linked to the above, it helps give you insights as to where the potential weaknesses in your response are. Most businesses have these in place. Even though many businesses may well have decided to pursue all RFPs, I’d urge everyone to still complete this stage. In addition to helping you with each response, it will help you see a trend in your unsuccessful bids. If you are continually losing and can see that you are lacking in the same areas going into the bid, it gives you a clear direction on what you need to work on.
5. Don’t fall into the template trap.
Having a bank of material that you can drop into your RFP responses and then adapt is handy. The key phrase in the previous sentence was adapt. Templated material is efficient but often reads like templated material. The potential client is unlikely to be impressed by a generic response, focused on your own business/firm and not tailored to them. In fact, your chances of success are slim. Have material, charts, facts and figures ready to use — just make sure they are all adapted for each stage.
6. Break it into sections and get it proofed by someone independent.
It takes time to proofread things properly. If you have two days to respond and 10 pages full of content, that can’t be proofed in 30 minutes. Aim for a realistic deadline for each section. Once content is signed off by the person ultimately responsible for submitting the bid, see if someone else in your organization can proofread it. Resist making last-minute changes to reduce the chance of typos in the final response.
With a landslide of RFPs ahead, it pays to prepare for it now. Start tracking what opportunities may be coming up. Review your client base and understand any clients that might put your services out to tender. Finally, review some of your basic bid processes so that you are ready to respond in a hurry.
Ben Paul is the director and founder of The BD Ladder and has over 20 years of experience providing sales and marketing advice. He has produced and led teams in winning several successful multi-million-dollar proposals and delivered a proposal response that was held as global best practice across an international firm’s internal global network.