While I have a vested interest in Requests for Proposals in that I run the RFP Database, the consulting side of my company does respond to a few RFPs every month. I find them to be one of the most democratic, meritorious, and pragmatic approaches to procurement and purchasing. They're not a foolproof solution, and often times they are run poorly, but that's exactly why we recommend that you be selective in the RFPs you respond to.
We've all received a poorly written RFP at one point in time, often from an organization that we would love to have as a client. By poorly written what I mean is that:
- the project is very poorly defined
- has no stated budget or timeline
- is looking for the vendor to define the project (strategic spec work)
This can be an opportunity squandered.
I've read quite a few articles in recent days about huge projects that were awarded to companies after the organization received no more than 3 proposals. In almost all cases that I've read there was a common refrain: why didn't more companies bid on the project? Why didn't OUR company bid on the project? In the Austin project the RFP was sent to over 200 companies with only 3 proposals received, a response rate of less than 2%... if you had simply responded to the RFP you would have been "a finalist" so long as you were able to fulfill the requirements of the project!
Think about it: conventional wisdom would tell you to walk away from the RFP, to spend your time on better defined projects that you can write proposals tailored to the needs written in the RFP. RFPs that you can easily cut and paste from past proposals to create a response without spending too many hours of unbillable work. This "wisdom" is something that all good sales teams learn because it's seen as the most efficient use of your time and doing the extra work necessary to respond to a bad RFP hardly seems worthwhile. So they pass.
When everyone zigs, maybe you should zag.
My advice to you is this:
- Try to get more information about the project
- Explain how you'd first work with them to define the project better
- Formulate what you envision the project to be and fill in the blanks
- Propose alternative solutions that fulfill the requirements if some stated assumptions can be done better
- Educate the prospect, illustrate how you're a subject expert
- Press your best case