If you're in the professional services or consulting business, you know that September brings more than just chilly nights: it's RFP and pitch season. While the initial review of an RFP can be daunting, smart planning and scrupulous execution will bring a clear understanding of your value to prospects -- and more wins for you!
Here are four tips to consider before you seek out or respond to your next RFP.
1. Ask yourself: Should we be in this fight? Are you and your team currently capable of doing what is needed according to the RFP? If, for example, you lack industry experience -- even if you're trying to build that industry experience -- and the RFP asks specific questions about your industry experience, don't B.S. yourself or the prospect.
Instead, spend the time you would have spent on losing this proposal at industry-related events and reconnect with referral sources in that industry to help open doors.
2. Customize, customize, customize. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and asked for a substitution to a side dish you despise (I'm talking to you, carrots) only to be told that the chef will accept no special orders on that $40 meal? Unacceptable, right? Well, put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker who needs to review your proposal in addition to the 20 additional proposals she received from your competitors. Present your responses in the order and format requested in the RFP, and use boilerplate language sparingly. If you still feel inclined to provide extra information, such as an article you recently published on a topic relevant to your prospect, include it as an appendix.
3. Keep it short and sweet. Provide only the information requested in the RFP to help the decision maker compare all the submissions "apples to apples." At the end of the day, after going immediately to the fee page of the proposal, the person or team reviewing your proposal care about your executive summary or letter where you've summarized the unique business impact or return on mission that your services will provide to the prospect. Don't let your most important information -- your value proposition and differentiators -- get lost in pages of superfluous text.
4. Engage in honest introspection. Implementing a formal post-mortem process to interview prospects after they've decided to go with a competitor is a valuable practice, but have a consultant or other third party not directly involved with the sales cycle do the interview. Also keep in mind that, depending on the organization and person you speak with, you may not get the most honest feedback out of his or her fear of hurting feelings -- or just not wanting to waste more of the company's time since you wasted theirs with a sub-par, generic proposal.
Consider these tips the next time you endeavor to respond to an RFP, and you will see how a little extra effort can help increase your proposal win rate.