Answering requests for proposals (RFP) or requests for quotations (RFQ) is a recurring activity for many professional services providers. Many clients seem to think that buying professional services is no different than buying office supplies. Public sector organizations have to put projects out to tender, and large companies have procurement departments that try to get a good bargain through tendering. If this is the reality, how can you succeed in tendering?
1. Stay top of mind with clients
The bidding process starts well before you get an RFP or an RFQ for professional services. As a rule of thumb, you cannot expect to be successful if you have not heard of the client or the specific project before the client sends out the request.
Clients do not buy professional services blindfolded. They try to manage their risks by using companies or professionals that they already know. They have probably used or at least met with the preferred professionals earlier. They may also have asked for recommendations from their peers. That is why you should make sure that you have already positioned yourself as a trusted professional in the client’s mind.
A marketing professor told a story that enlightens the concept of preparedness. The professor and his wife were looking for a new house after a five-year tenure in their present home. The real estate agent who sold them their first home started sending them brochures right after the purchase. At first that seemed a bit odd since they had just moved in. The agent continued that practice year after year. Guess who was top of mind when the couple started looking for a new house?
2. Select projects that are strategically right
You can place projects into three categories from the business strategy point of view: aligned, neutral, and detrimental. Projects that are aligned with your strategy take your company in the right direction. They are motivating and valuable for both your client and your company.
Neutral projects don’t advance your company, but don’t compromise your strategy either. The detrimental projects, however, may jeopardize your strategy by engaging your people in counterproductive work. These projects can bring in some money, but at a questionable price. If a project is not strategically aligned it can have a negative impact on people’s morals and on the service that the customer gets. If the project falls into this category don’t go for it even if you feel tempted.
3. Identify and analyze risks
There are two main types of risks to look for when reading the RFP or RFQ. The first type relates to the documentation. Has the client articulated the requirements clearly? Is there enough information for making a binding bid? Are there any discrepancies or omissions in the document?
The second category of risks is related to the actual project and its results. Is the timetable realistic? How will the client or third parties be involved in the project? Who will approve the results and how that is done? When will the payments take place?
Once you know the risks you can decide whether or not give a bid and how much the risk level will affect your pricing.
4. Meet with client expectations
Clients normally want to get unambiguous responses to their requirements. However, a service professional may posses a better solution that has a different approach to the client’s problem. Should you in that case respond to the client that the solution they expect is not optimal and that you can provide a superior alternative?
In most cases it is advisable to play ball with the client during the first round, if possible. Once you have been selected to negotiations you can present your alternative and hopefully win the client’s trust. If you bring forward your radical alternative too early you may be excluded from the competition altogether.
5. Enter to win
A professional should always give a bid that has realistic chances of winning. Otherwise the whole process would be a waste of your client’s and your time. Understand what it takes to win and plan your proposal accordingly.
If you feel that you should make a bid “just in case” don’t do it even if you know that the client would expect it.
6. Plan realistically
It is important that you plan your proposal realistically. Don’t expect to magically come up with new resources, if you get the gig. Confirm that you can get the people you need to do the job. Prepare the decisions that have to be taken if the project starts. Make sure that the key people are committed and aware of what is expected from them.
7. Make your proposal a sales document
Your proposal should communicate professionalism in every aspect. The contents and the way the proposal looks should be top-notch. The proposal should create a positive, trust inducing, and hopefully a memorable experience. A proposal is a sales document that speaks for you even if you are not personally present.
In conclusion: think of the bidding process as the first phase of a project. Show that you manage the process as professionally as you will manage the rest of the commission. Don’t bid for projects that have nothing more than money to offer.
Photo: © Aarni Heiskanen