We represent many small businesses in both Portland and Seattle. One of the more important issues many businesses face -- especially start-ups and new ventures -- is finding and securing relationships with vendors. Often this is done by publishing a Request for Proposal (RFP), also known as a 'Call for Bid'.
We've seen so many poor responses to RFPs, however, that we have to wonder: why did the vendor even bother?
It takes plenty of time and not an insignificant amount of resources to adequately respond to an RFP. So if you're going to respond at all, you might as well do it right. Most companies that take the bidding process seriously employ best practices in their responses. Not coincidentally, they are usually the ones awarded the job.
Small companies know that finding valuable clients can be tough. A well-reasoned RFP response should always be vetted by a disinterested third party, such as a business advisor, board member, or lawyer. The third party can often see the forest through the trees better than ownership or its sales staff. They get too close to their "stuff" that they often miss what a potential customer is really after.
The most common mistake is not paying attention to the questions in the Request. Read the entire RFP through once, then go back and read it again, slowly. You should get a flavor of what the customer is looking for by paying close attention to what is asked, and also (and often, more importantly) what is not asked.
You shouldn't assume it's all about pricing, and neither should you be afraid to offer detailed answers.
For example, "State your experience" may seem an invitation to create a nifty bullet point list of fragmented buzz words. Rather, this is where several well-articulated paragraphs will help one get a leg up on the other bidders.
If your staff's writing skills are weak, it's often worth the expense to hire outside assistance for the review and editing process.
RFPs often lead to long-term and profitable projects and business relationships, yet many vendors fail to take an objective approach to their responses and fail to show that they're putting their best efforts into their responses.
Of course, this comes out loud and clear to the customer: If you're not going to put your best efforts into the RFP, what kind of effort will be put into the deliverables after the project is awarded?
Responding to an RFP is similar to most everything else in business, in that the outcome is directly proportional to the time and effort invested in its creation.