There is no debating the fact that proposals, RFIs (requests for information) or RFPs (requests for proposals), can be challenging at best and a nightmare at worst.
No matter how they are labelled, the fundamental structure is the same. Usually consisting of a range of questions and requests stemming from detailed technical ones to company figures, they are time-consuming and relentless in their quest for information.
For eFront, we receive many requests to submit proposals and some are very extensive. These often require charts and diagrams to demonstrate the workings of our company and employees, as well as the actual Learning and Talent Development platform itself. Questions are posed about security, hosting, and gamification features, with support inquiries making regular appearances as well.
Often, the questions are subjective and without a prior discussion, they can even be sort of irrelevant. We try to compensate for this and qualify all of the enquiries that we receive. If we feel we are suitable to the client, we will work towards submitting an RFP. However, if we do not think that we can fulfil the requirements laid out by the client in question, we may decline the offer.
Working out which customers are a good fit for you is the first hurdle to overcome, in order to minimize time and resources wasted by completing all of the proposal requests you receive.
The intrinsic nature of the RFP varies with each client. First, we must review and understand the objective in order to articulate our answer. We evaluate if this client is a suitable fit for our system, and whether their needs fall within our scope.
Of primary importance is fulfilling the requirements and complying with the RFP. This means following the structure and layout, and being sure to answer all the questions to the level of detail that is requested. Using the customer’s terminology and phrase words is also of the utmost importance.
It is equally vital to demonstrate an understanding of the company’s ethos in order to relate to them. Interpretation is a skill which is required for successful completion of such documents. You want to ensure that you are answering the questions in a way which will be appealing, in order to convert a potential client to an active one. With eFront, we follow the layout provided by the customer and input our own data and responses as we see fit.
Working out what to write about and how to articulate this in a professional and succinct way also provides some challenges. You must overcome the obstacle course that is the RFP document in order to reveal what exactly the customer is asking for. Content must be original and not duplicated from a proposal that has already been submitted, it needs to be totally unique to the customer in question. It is important to reflect the customer’s desires and point of view as well as fulfilling their specific needs.
This is a kind of art and requires in-depth analysis, which can take a lot of time. What the customer receives should be an accurate demonstration of the services you will provide with set stages and realistic goals that you are able to achieve. For us, the implantation process is vital for potential customers and pushing back a deadline that was set at this stage is unprofessional and leaves the customer with doubt about our capabilities.
In saying that, you also want to show that you are in the running and therefore set appealing deadlines. This is a fine balance and requires practice. Thinking about the customers’ needs and making them fit in with your abilities will serve you well in this.
Only start to write once you have discovered what it is exactly that you will be writing about. Otherwise, your response will be confusing and inarticulate. Figuring out what your final offer is, is difficult because you are, in essence, laying everything out on the table. However, this also offers you an opportunity to showcase what you have on offer. In regards to eFront, we will decide which license suits them and if any customizations are required to ensure a detailed proposal.
When it comes to the strategy we use when making a bid, if there is any indication as to price and budget in any communication we received prior to receiving the RFP, we will use this to make a decision. Otherwise, we will gather the information provided to us and create a bid which is suitable to all parties involved. This is obviously a sensitive yet vital component of the RFP, and therefore must be thought out carefully. You do not want to bid so high that it drives the client away, or low enough to make your standards slip. Again, a happy medium should be agreed upon.
Lastly, you must meet deadlines. There is no point in finishing the document perfectly only to submit it once the company has already made their decision. Keep a record of the deadlines and work towards them. If you have questions while completing the RFP, there is usually a chance to submit these prior to the final deadline. You must also pay close attention to this deadline. Not only does it ensure you are still in the running, but also demonstrates the professionalism of the company, which does not get overlooked.
If you follow the above advice and use your own flair, the result should be a powerful and engaging response.
Understanding what the objectives are and being able to fulfil them is one thing; being able to articulate this on paper is another thing entirely. It requires different skills to portray your solution as the best choice and this is the purpose of this article, to address and overcome the difficulties of writing RFPs!
About the author: As part of the sales team, Lauren handles incoming leads for eFront, providing assistance and solutions to meet customers’ needs successfully.