One of the things you should try to do before the RFP is released is to influence it in ways that work to your advantage and to your competitors' disadvantage. This requires that you have a relationship with your customer, so you can discuss their needs and make recommendations regarding how to get those needs fulfilled.
Researching an opportunity and influencing it go hand-in-hand. If you do not seek information about the items below, you could be in for a nasty surprise if they go in the opposite direction from what you prefer. As you seek to learn more about the opportunity, it's only natural to make recommendations at the same time. If it helps, instead of "influencing" the RFP, all you really need to do is make recommendations, provide guidance, or give feedback to the customer regarding how to conduct a procurement that will result in getting their needs met.
How you seek to influence the RFP depends somewhat on your circumstances. Are you an incumbent? Do you have a high-priced offering or a low-priced offering? Can you exceed the requirement? We have identified factors to consider in influencing the RFP. But which way to seek to influence them depends on your bid strategies.
Here are some things to consider influencing before an RFP is released:
- Should there even be an RFP? Depending on regulatory requirements and the customer's own rules, there might be other ways to conduct the procurement than through a written RFP. What approach to the acquisition will be the most advantageous to you while enabling the customer to remain in compliance with their own rules?
- Number of awards. Some types of procurements lend themselves well to splitting the work up among more than one vendor. Sometimes, but not always, this is done through task order contracts. Sometimes having more than one award will help ensure you get a piece, while other times you want the door closed to potential competitors. For the customer, the decision rests on a combination of risk, competitiveness, and procurement complexity.
- Budget. What guidance can you provide to the customer regarding how to set their budget? The correct answer is not always "More!" Sometimes an approach (such as one your competitor favors — or far worse, your own) can be ruled out because the budget is too high or too low.
- Evaluation criteria. What guidance can you provide the customer regarding what are the most important considerations in selecting a vendor? Can you recommend criteria that match your strengths while simultaneously creating a disadvantage for your competitors? Some customers are open to discussions about what is important in making a selection, while others may not be.
- Award process. Can you advise the customer regarding the steps they should go through in issuing the RFP and making a selection? How can this process work to your advantage and your competitors' disadvantage?
- Pricing structure. If you have a creative approach to pricing, you'd better make sure the RFP allows it. For example, it's hard to bid a fixed rate for a project when the RFP requires an hourly rate. And vice-versa. Depending on your circumstances, you may prefer one approach over another. You should make sure the customer shares your preference.
- Minimum qualifications to bid. Can you define any minimum qualifications that would eliminate competitors while enabling you to bid? If you can't eliminate them, maybe you can recommend changes to the evaluation criteria that would enable your qualifications to score better.
- Resumes. If you can name the staff you plan to bid, you should suggest that the RFP requires the resumes of the staff who will perform the work. If you cannot name the staff, then you may want to recommend that the RFP focus on qualifications and not specific individuals.
- Project references. Do you have excellent references? Make sure the RFP requires them and emphasizes them in the evaluation criteria. You can also make recommendations regarding how to define what experience is considered "relevant" that can work to your advantage.
- Scope/Specifications. Do you want the scope open-ended or tightly defined? Is there anything that you want specifically included, excluded, or not mentioned?
- Quantities. Do you prefer quantities to be high or low? Do you want them specified precisely or left ambiguous?
- Locations. Would it be to your advantage to specify that the work be performed at particular locations? Are there any locations that would cause you difficulty that you would like to not be required?
- Trade-offs and Preferences. All projects involve trade-offs. The adage goes: "Good, cheap, or fast --- pick any two." What trade-offs work to your advantage? Can you influence either the scope/specifications or evaluation criteria to reflect the trade-offs the way you would like to make them?
- Risks. Are there any risks that you would like defined, not defined, or mitigated by the RFP?
- Platforms/Formats/Standards. Would specifying a particular platform, format, or standard work to your advantage?
- Resources. Could a requirement that the contractor have certain resources available work to your advantage?
- Site visits. Would having or not having a pre-submission site visit work to your advantage? Would making attendance a requirement to bid work to your advantage?
- Demonstrations. Would a requirement to conduct a pre-submission demonstration work to your advantage?
- Performance Bond/Insurance. Some RFPs require that the contractor have a performance bond or insurance. Would adding this requirement or raising the amounts eliminate competitors?
- Schedule. Do you prefer an aggressive schedule for RFP release, project start, project completion, or major milestones? Could the schedule limit the competitive field?
- Transition. Are their any project start-up, phase-in, or transition requirements that would work to your advantage? An incumbent will typically want little or no transition time while a non-incumbent may require it.
- Intellectual property. How the RFP addresses intellectual property can have a major impact on the competitive field. For example, if software developed is owned by the customer, it can cause difficulty for off-the-shelf providers.
- Conflict of Interest. Should a company that participated in the design of the requirements be allowed to bid on the work that fulfills those requirements or is that a conflict of interest? Adding a carefully worded conflict of interest requirement can cause difficulty for companies who have an existing relationship with the customer or who do business in multiple areas.
- Proposal requirements. Are there any recommendations you can make regarding the requirements for preparing and submitting the proposal? Are there any formats, page limits, or specific things to include/exclude that could work to your advantage?