Chaz Ross-Munro made some important observations in her article on things to avoid when responding to an RFP.
Ms. Ross-Munro starts out by placing the RFP in the context of the review process. “Imagine reviewing 20 technical Request for Proposal (RFP) responses that are more than 50 pages each. You’ve now stepped into the shoes of the average selection committee member reviewing more than 1,000 pages of material from various firms.” The implication of this context is to make it easier for reviewers to easily review your offering and quickly assess why your response makes your case.
To help others shape their RFP response to the realities of the receiving end of the process, Ms. Ross-Munro offers up the following suggestions:
1. Avoid Unnecessarily long responses
Don’t: give a wordy response or narrative that drags on. Be as succinct as possible. Keep in mind that you should try to meet the needs of the reviewers and not just your needs.
Do: use graphics, tables, and bulletsthat summarize the most critical points you’re trying to make. If you must use a lot of narratives, make sure you use headings and subheadings to break up your response and make it easier for the reviewer to skim and get the highlights.
2. Try not to go over the page limits
According to Ross-Munro, going over the suggested limit demonstrates a lack of organization and insensitivity to the needs of the selection committee. Providing too much “fluff” may demonstrate certain laziness rather than demonstrate the rigor of critical thinking.
Do take the time and effort in creating a compelling and concise “pitch.” creating a dynamic and eloquent executive summary can help immediately provide a “hook” that catches the committee’s interest. It’s also suggested that the committee may use the executive summary as a guide for asking follow-up questions.
3. Don’t Assume that the reviewers have the same technical expertise as you.
If a company is putting out an RFP, it most likely implies that the company does not have the needed expertise or assets and are seeking support from experts outside of the company. While some members of the committee may have certain levels of expertise, it should not be taken for granted that all reviewers have the same level of expertise as you. Try to write for an audience that may not have the level of expertise yet try not to become too technical or wordy in an explanation of something the committee may or may not have knowledge. This requires “reading between the lines” of the RFP. Look for a level of expertise in the RFP by the use of jargon or how the technical sections are written. Most importantly, always try to address the concerns and needs expressed in the RFP. Try to make it simple enough so that reviewers from legal or marketing can understand the gist of what you are proposing.
4. Know your capabilities.
After reading the RFP section by section, take a moment to analyze if this is a project, you have the capability of fulfilling. Perhaps you may need some partners, but first, you should make sure those partners are also properly positioned to provide the required solution or services. Make sure any potential partners have an opportunity to review the RFP before accepting their word they can take on the project.
Don’t bid on Jobs you cannot confidently take on. Also, if taking on partners, make sure they are qualified
5. Focus on “Hot-Button” issues
When reviewing the RFP, try to clearly identify the issues that seem to have priority. It could be a timeline, budget constraints, or some specific expertise, but try to clearly focus on how you will address those concerns.
In Summary, study the RFP closely before deciding to respond. If bringing on partners, make sure they are qualified. Make sure there is a good match of respondent skills and the stated goals of the project. Indeed, digging oneself out of a project gone astray can do more damage than its worth.