Winning the Business

Dealing With Deadlines

Six reasons to get a deadline extension

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Deadlines are an unavoidable fact of life, especially for bid and proposal professionals. But we shouldn’t be afraid to request an extension. We just need to ask in the right way.

Time Is Not on Our Side

I’m sure I am not the only one who has observed RFP deadlines getting shorter. When I first started in proposal management 12 years ago, typical response times in the IT industry were around eight weeks. Today, four weeks is more usual, two weeks is fairly common, and I have even seen a few one-week RFPs. While it might sometimes feel as if customers are doing this to be mean, we must remember that they face their own internal demands and expectations to do more, faster.

English author Douglas Adams once said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” But, unlike Adams, we don’t have the luxury of missing deadlines and making quotable quips about doing so. Missing a deadline practically guarantees your proposal will be rejected, and it also reflects badly on your ability to deliver other projects on time.

Missing a deadline practically guarantees your bid will be rejected, and it also reflects badly on your ability to deliver other projects on time.

Make the Ask

Many bidders are afraid to ask for a deadline extension because they believe it shows weakness and could bias decision makers against them. This is true if the reasons given are internal. Unavailable resources, inflexible sign-off processes, and system delays are not your customers’ problem, and they have no reason to care about your internal challenges.

As with a proposal, focusing on the customers and their needs is key. If you explain to the customers why an extension is in their best interest, they are more likely to grant your request and think better of you for requesting it. Here are six reasons that will help customers understand the benefits of allowing you more time:

  1. Be innovative. Customers have invested their time, intellect, and resources in preparing the RFP. They deserve a response of equal or better investment, including your most innovative recommendations and solutions.
  2. Offer more options. Customers have asked for detailed, contextualized, and rigorous responses. Instead of simply answering the RFP questions, you prefer to present all the options, ideas, and information the customers will need to make an informed decision.
  3. Understand their needs. The best outcomes are realized when you create fully customized proposals to meet your customers’ specific needs. You want to take the time to fully understand the goals of the project and how you can most effectively meet them.
  4. Prioritize quality. Customers value quality, which you achieve in your proposals through rigorous methodology, reviews, and validation. It is not in your customers’ best interest for you to sacrifice the quality of your response due to short timelines.
  5. Reduce risk. To deliver successful projects, you aim to reduce proposal, contractual, and project risks for both you and your customers. You believe good risk assessment and planning requires careful consideration, and it will save time over the project life cycles.
  6. Get the best deal. Additional time provides you with the power and flexibility to negotiate more competitive pricing for your customers with internal departments and your third-party suppliers.

If a customer insists on sticking with an unreasonable deadline, consider carefully whether it’s wise to invest your time and resources on the opportunity.

Bid or No Bid

If a customer insists on sticking with an unreasonable deadline, consider carefully whether it’s wise to invest your time and resources on the opportunity. Extremely short deadlines may indicate the decision has already been made and the customer is just looking for some benchmarking proposals. It’s better to politely not bid than to compromise your reputation and integrity.


Darrell Woodward, CP APMP, is the director of Prosfora Solutions Ltd., an independent bid consultancy based in Thatcham in Berkshire, England. He can be reached at darrell_woodward@hotmail.com.

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