13 August 2009

I've Looked at RFPs from Both Sides Now - Part 2

Part 2 of a pair of posts that was originally featured on the Beaconfire Blog about a year ago. Be sure to check the original Beaconfire Blog post, as it contains a list of great RFP resources!

Clients aren’t the only ones who could use some advice to make the Request for Proposal (RFP) process go more smoothly. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of good, bad, and ugly in vendor responses, too. To that end…

RFP Dos & Don’ts – For the (Potential) Vendor:

DO proofread! The client is probably not going to discount your proposal because of one or two typos. Probably. But one or two typos per page or serious grammatical problems leads people to question your attention to detail, your competence, and frankly, your intelligence. Even small shops usually have at least one person who’s a good editor. Have her give all your proposals a once over before they go out the door. If you’re the one in a hundred shop that doesn’t have anyone on staff who can copy edit, hire somebody.
DO call the client. The RFP process is kind of like dating. Signing the contract is kind of like getting married. You should get to know each other better before making that commitment.
DO be accessible. Let the client know whether you like email, land line, or cell contact, and then when she does contact you, take her call. Answer her email. Call her back. Yeah, you’re busy – she's busy too. But don’t make her call out the FBI to find you if she has a question. However…
DON’T hound clients. If he tells you he’ll be letting all the vendors know one way or the other on Friday, don’t call him Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and twice on Thursday “just to check in and see if you have any questions.” Just don’t.
DO respect the process. Assuming the client read part one of this two part series, she probably wrote a pretty good RFP that includes information about the timeline and decision criteria. Subverting the process by going around her to her boss or her staff is a BIG no-no. If she says the proposal deadline is Friday at 5 pm EDT, have it to her by Friday at 5 pm EDT. And if that’s going to be a problem, don’t wait until Friday at 4:53 pm EDT to ask for an extension.
DON’T talk about what your competitors do or don’t do. Nine times out of ten, you’re wrong. Even that one time that you’re right, it’s petty and doesn’t reflect well on you or your firm. When a client is reading your proposal or talking to you, he cares about what you can and can’t do. He’ll worry about your competitors if and when he talks to them.
DON’T send the LONGEST possible proposal. DO send the SHORTEST possible proposal that answers the client's questions and addresses her needs. She's probably reading 4-6 (or more) of these things. If they’re each 50 pages, that’s 200-300 pages. She's not even going to remember who’s who by the end! Edit, edit, edit!
DO skip the boilerplate marketing fluff. He's seen it. Everybody says they’ve got the greatest widget since sliced widgets were invented. It just pads up your presentation and wastes trees and time.
DO have good references in the market. Sure, the client's going to call your reference list (aka, Your Carefully Chosen Group of Only Your Most Blissfully Happy Clients), but if he knows what he's doing, he's also going to ask around. Three glowing references don’t help you if the 10 other clients he finds through his own network all hate you. Remember: as long as your price is in the ballpark and the client confident you can do the work, he's buying based on relationship, personality, and reputation. Make sure yours is sterling.
DO make sure the client can open your files. Lots of people have switched to Word 2007. But not everyone. And, as usual, Microsoft changed the file structure so that Word 2003 chokes on Word 2007. You know what doesn’t cause problems? PDF. And if you send over your proposal and don’t receive an acknowledgment that the client got it, drop her an email without attachments or give her a quick call to make sure it arrived. She asked for your proposal. She wants to get it. If it’s stuck in her spam filter, she wants to know. It’s OK to check. Really.

What’s the common theme? Relationship. We’re about to enter into a relationship. You don’t start a dating relationship by refusing to talk to the other party, withholding information, and putting them through a lot of silly, unnecessary tests (and if you do, odds are you’re single), and you don’t want to start a vendor relationship that way, either.


Ellen said...

Great advice! These are absolutely on target -- if I'd made a list after reviewing lots of RFP responses for our online learning project, I would have included each of these, with one exception: the call.

Imagine if the client has issued a dozen RFPs, and all 12 vendors call. Just to say hi and introduce themselves.

Ikes!! Doesn't sound like much, but mixed into a very busy day, yours could be the call that just sends the client over the edge.

If the RFP specifies no calls, don't. There's a reason for that. I asked that vendors send clarification questions via e-mail rather than by phone for a few reasons:

== time. I could decide when I read and responded to the e-mail, which is important in a small, busy office.

== skill check. If you can't write out your question to me in a way that I'll comprehend and can respond to, I want to know that now, especially if much of my communication with you as a vendor will be via e-mail.

== Though I've asked that you not call me, that doesn't mean I might not call you if I have questions.

You're right about the RFP and its response being the start of a relationship - but there will be time for that soon, anyway.



Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

@Ellen - one point I made in the part 1 post (advice for potential clients - http://thx4playing.blogspot.com/2009/08/ive-looked-at-rfps-from-both-sides-now.html) is not to send RFPs to a zillion vendors. Gotta pre-qualify!