The kind of RFPs you bid impacts your:
- Win strategies
- Business development and proposal processes
- Staffing requirements
- Resource allocation
- Definition of quality
Good advice for one type of RFP may be exactly the wrong approach for another type of RFP. Consider:
- Does the RFP provide written instructions, evaluation criteria, and a statement of work? If it does, then producing a proposal is a process of following the instructions, optimizing your response against the evaluation criteria, and fulfilling the requirements. If it doesn’t you are working blind. Does your process deliver the information you need to make up for it? Does the nature of your pursuits require you to move forward without it? Your pre-RFP and post-RFP processes will both be impacted, as well as your bid strategies and the story you tell.
- Is compliance mandatory? If it is, then producing your proposal becomes an exercise in accounting for everything you must comply with and showing compliance in your proposal. Winning becomes an exercise in going beyond compliance. If compliance is not strict, then you should think through the trade-offs, develop a strategy regarding compliance, and make it part of the story that you tell.
- Are alternatives permitted? When compliance is strictly required, alternatives are not usually allowed. If compliance is not strict, then you may be able to offer options and alternatives that change the rules. This gives you more options for differentiating yourself from the competition and for influencing the evaluation.
- Is communication with the customer regulated? Can you talk directly to the end user(s) at the company? Can you establish a relationship? Can you gain an information advantage? Or do you have to go through a procurement specialist? Does producing a proposal become about the relationship you establish before the proposal or about gaming the procurement system?
- Is the evaluation process formal? While the formality of the evaluation process tends to correlate with the sector/market (federal, state/local, private, NGO/NPO, academic, etc.), some are more consistent than others. Whether it’s formal or not, the more you understand about how a selection will be made, the better your ability will be to write a proposal that influences the evaluation in your favor. The less formal the evaluation, the more likely it will be to take into consideration factors other than the proposal itself.
- Is there an RFP? What if the customer asks for a proposal, but doesn’t issue an RFP? How does your company go about collecting requirements and documenting customer understanding to ensure your proposals are persuasive? How do you figure out the customer’s approach to evaluation and decision making so you can influence it? How do you know what story to tell?
- How consistent are the RFPs you bid? When every RFP you pursue is for the same thing, specified the same way, and evaluated following the same criteria, it makes it easy to recycle proposal content. When every proposal is not only for something different (or is for essentially the same thing but with different specifications) but is also evaluated with different criteria, you have to rewrite everything in order to improve your chances of winning. Broad statements about how reusing proposal content is good or bad miss the point that it depends on the consistency of the RFPs that a given company pursues.
Now look at these considerations and ask yourself questions like:
- Who should write the proposal?
- What should the pre-RFP and post-RFP processes look like?
- How do you define proposal quality?
- What do you have to do to win?
- How should you organize your pre-RFP and post-RFP efforts?
- Should you use specialists or consultants? How many of each?
As you go down the list, you will find that the answers depend on the circumstances. What makes sense for one company will be bad advice for another. The so-called best practices are not one-size-fits-all solutions that apply equally to everyone. If you want to know what the best approach is for your company, you need to understand your circumstances.