One of our clients was determined to put a winning effort into an upcoming RFP response. The issuer was a government agency, and the opportunity promised to be both large and profitable. Given the agency’s record, the RFP would include a tight response deadline and a complex scope of work.
Their question: What could their team do in advance of receiving the RFP?
You can do quite a bit in anticipation of any RFP. You can develop standardized proposal content for your company-specific information, and for plans, resumes and project sheets, and line up graphic assets. That leaves only the scope of work sections to be written from scratch.
But what if the RFP will be a repeat of the last one?
In this case, our client noticed the agency had issued virtually the same RFP every three years. It expected minor updates, but believed 95% would remain unchanged. The team was able to develop and polish a 90% complete response—before the RFP was issued.
This is not an unusual situation. Governments especially often issue largely unchanged RFPs for contract renewals.
How to leverage the expectation of repeat RFPs
Make a practice of keeping a file RFPs for all competitions you bid on, or considered but decided to no-bid.
If you don’t have RFPs for current and previous contract periods, request them from the issuing agencies. The issuers should comply, since these are public documents. MERX, the Canadian tendering site, makes expired RFP documents available to registered users.
Although it takes more effort, you can also use a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Both the United States and Canada have FOI legislation covering federal, state (or provincial) and municipal governments and most agencies. While you’re at it, request a copy of the current incumbent’s (winning) proposal.
If last two RFPs are highly similar, you’ll be in a good position to develop a complete and responsive proposal on your schedule, instead of within the RFP timeframe.
Be sure to start with a bid/no-bid decision, just as if the opportunity were live. As input, learn how well the incumbent is performing.
Risks and downsides
Pursuing this direction does pose some challenges:
- It can be hard to motivate your team to complete a proposal without a hard deadline
- Your hard work may be second-guessed when the actual RFP arrives—even if its requirements haven’t changed—just because there’s more time available
- Your draft will need major surgery if this is the year the client rethinks its RFP. This becomes more likely if the prospect’s leadership changes, or if one or more disruptive technologies became available during the current contract
BOTTOM LINE: Time is the number one constraint for all teams developing large bid proposals. If an upcoming RFP looks like a repeat, this approach can provide relief.
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