Poorly written and structured RFPs make writing proposals more difficult than it already is. How do you respond to them? Take advantage of the situation as best you can.
As frustrating as a bad RFP may seem, it offers you the opportunity to provide relevant information and come across as the more qualified candidate.
Below are just a few of the forms bad RFPs may take. We'll show you how to turn RFP weaknesses into strengths for your business, so you can increase your chances of closing the deal.
There Are Only a Few Good Questions
Client questions in RFPs are often poorly drafted, making it difficult for the client to determine which bidder is the best. Make sure you answer the question, but take advantage of the opportunity to add any additional information you feel will give your proposal an edge.
You may want to add new sections or provide more detail about the questions you're asked to answer. Simply add this information where it makes sense. If you must adhere to the RFP in all sections, read thoroughly all the questions, and analyze the structure to add the information you need in sub-sections or sub-questions. Don't forget to address the original info requested by your client.
Whenever you do this, you should list the information under headings that are presented as questions. As opposed to adding additional information at the end of the original question, this is more effective.
Questions are Too Broad
It can be challenging to understand just what a client is interested in when they ask questions like "explain your approach”. If this is the case, analyze the evaluation criteria and structure your answer around that specific question.
The evaluation criteria items can even serve as headings within your answer to the broad question. You can use this method to ensure that the information you provide aligns well with the evaluation criteria.
Depending on your strategy, you may have other key points to convey to your client.
You can base these points on themes, hot buttons, and other factors that will have an impact on your score. Be sure to highlight these key points within your response.
While broad questions may seem difficult to answer at first, you are able to shape and influence them in order to better deliver your message.
Questions Are Repetitive
Often, especially if the RFP questions have been developed by multiple groups within the client organization or by committee, you will find almost identical questions scattered throughout the RFP.
It's not a good idea to simply repeat what you told them word for word. Keep your answer about your services consistent with your previous answer, acknowledging that the question is essentially the same.
In the next step, repeat the key elements of your answer, especially the ones critical to scoring high in the evaluation, and add new details that focus on the scope area. Consider summarizing the previous answer and adding a heading that allows you to discuss the scope of the question.
The different sections may be evaluated by different people. In such a case, repeat the entire answer, not just sum it up. You should clearly outline the parts of your answer that are unique to a particular question, section or scope, so that the same evaluator won't ignore them or miss the important part of the answer.
Keep in mind that if there are different evaluators for different sections, their issues and interests will differ. Therefore, you should speak to each evaluator individually.
Questions Have More Than One Part
There are times when a client asks a single question that actually contains multiple parts. Identify each part of the question as a heading, and reply to each one individually and directly. In this way, the evaluators will be able to clearly see what you provide, and figure out what part of the question you are covering.
Additionally, it ensures you don't miss any part of the question. As you prepare your response following the RFP response format, you should include the separate questions as subquestions under the main question.
Make sure to retain the original question text when rewording any of the questions or sub-questions. This will prevent you from missing any crucial aspects of the question.
Related: When to Say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to an RFP
You’re Not Asked About Your Experience
RFPs often will simply ask you how you plan to provide the service based upon the scope and the information provided. At the end of each section or question, use the opportunity to include a heading and demonstrate your experience if they haven't specifically asked for it.
A similar approach can be followed for any other information that you consider relevant, and it must be specifically identified for the client to be able to evaluate it. When you explain your capabilities with examples, even if it is not listed specifically in the evaluation criteria, you will get more favorable results.
Information Is Confusing, Contradictory, Or Cryptic
Often, there are multiple authors on large RFPs who add requirements that conflict with each other and are therefore impossible to meet. A contradictory requirement normally can only be resolved by submitting it as a question to the client.
You should clarify with the client any ambiguous or confusing instructions or information provided in the RFP. Consider bringing this to your client's attention informally, if you can, through a phone call or email, instead of going through the formal Q&A process, so that no embarrassment comes from them missing something.
You’re Asked for Something You Don't Want to Provide
There are times when clients request information that you cannot or do not wish to provide (for corporate or confidentiality reasons), regardless of whether it is a mandatory requirement. Whenever that is the case, you need to communicate directly with the client before submitting the proposal.
Detailed financial information is an example of this. The information may be requested by clients to verify your financial stability and ability to provide services. Due to confidentiality issues, some private companies will not be able to provide this information, while some public companies may not be able to provide the level of detail required.
Provide the client with a different method for building financial trust in your organization if confidentiality is an issue. Client information can be restricted to a select group of individuals within the organization of the client, or accessible through the client's bank, for instance. When level of detail becomes an issue, speak with the client about what would be acceptable. As a rule, it's best to resolve this issue directly with the client before submitting your bid.
The Client Doesn’t Sufficiently Describe What They Want
RFPs do not always have detailed scope requirements. Due to this, it’s difficult to respond with a technical solution and a price that will match client expectations. Clients sometimes do this intentionally when they aren't sure what's required and want something creative. Another possibility is that the client is not aware of what is required to develop and deliver an effective, well-priced proposal.
Sometimes it may be necessary to request more information from a client. There's however a chance that if they haven't provided the information as part of the RFP process, they won't have it.
In a situation like this, where there is not enough detail, you should do your research and create a bid you think will meet their requirements the most. If you're nervous about missing the mark and having another company offer a lesser service for a lower price, you can always make assumptions or provide alternatives. Providing options in your proposal lets the evaluators select how they want things to be interpreted.
Services with a wide range of service levels or approaches with very different cost structures benefit most from this.
From time to time, you receive an RFP that seems to have been put together as an afterthought. Responding to it in a way that sets your company apart from the competition is that much more difficult, but not impossible. The good news is that you can work around the RFP's weak points in a way that turns them into your competitive advantage.