Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Owning the RFP

 August 1, 2017
by Paul Heron

To develop a competitive proposal, you first need to master the RFP (or RFQ). This seems self-evident—but we repeatedly run into situations where clients still haven’t fully grasped one or more requirements, just weeks before the due date.

One of our team talks about “owning the RFP.” He means getting your head around—and then managing—three kinds of requirements: compliance, structure and strategy.

Most teams responding to very large opportunities have structured their processes to do this. But others—often pursuing contracts in the tens of millions of dollars— jeopardize their chances by letting important pieces fall through the cracks.

We’ll briefly describe these items in this post, and then dive deeper into each one in the coming weeks.

Ensuring compliance

Every RFP contains compliance items. These are things bidders must do—or risk being thrown out of the competition. The most obvious example is the submission deadline, deliverables and packaging—but RFPs typically include font size and formatting requirements, page limits, and various forms and certifications for completion and/or submission.

Someone on the team needs to identify all compliance items and follow up to ensure they are met. We’ll recommend a process for doing this next week.

Creating a proposal structure

RFPs vary widely in how closely they specify the contents of your response. Some are vague—one recent example repeated the statement of work twice in slightly different formats, making it frustratingly difficult to decide which order to follow. Other bid issuers provide a specific set of questions and sub-questions, essentially building the table of contents for your response.

We’ll post on documenting the structure of your proposal in two weeks.

Managing content

Once they've mastered the requirements and assigned content to writers, some team leaders make the mistake of managing too loosely. Loose management runs the risk of writers heading off in the wrong direction or—as more often happens—waiting until just before the deadline to begin, resulting in poor or incomplete content.  

We'll post on how to manage content in three weeks.

Managing win themes

Every successful proposal—even those on short deadlines—starts with strategy. This rule has two parts:  1. Developing a winning strategy and; 2. Ensuring every proposal section supports that strategy. Many bidders spend time upfront on strategy, but fail to see it carry through into the proposal.

We’ll post on ensuring strategy gets deployed throughout your proposal in four weeks.

How strong is your ownership?

Based on our research, most bidders (about three quarters) do a good job of identifying and managing compliance requirements—but less than half consistently master structure and strategy. Where does your team rank?


Need hands-on support for a current opportunity?

Please contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





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