Getting ahead of the RFP is critical for relationship marketing and obtaining an information advantage. Getting ahead of the RFP is either really difficult or really easy but takes a long time. Those that put the time and effort into it are able to achieve an information advantage as well as a competitive advantage.
- Recompetes. Targeting recompetes is the easiest way to get ahead of the RFP. But it can take forever to pay off. The day a contract is issued, you know the date of its recompete. You can look up all contracts that have been issued through government and private sector databases. This approach gives you time to build a relationship and collect intelligence. Most companies squander this opportunity. They “track” the opportunity for years and then somehow don’t have much to show for it when the RFP is released.
- Forecasts and budgets. Most agencies publish procurement forecasts. They don’t include everything and it can be a challenge to reconcile what’s in the forecast with what actually comes out. Budgets are similar. Not all procurements are large enough to be line items. And reconciling what’s in the budget with what comes out can be extremely difficult. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Because it’s difficult, those who do it can have a competitive advantage.
- Sources sought notices and Requests for Information (RFIs). These announcements come out ahead of the RFP. Barely. They usually come out about 30 days ahead, usually after all the key decisions have already been made and it’s too late to start relationship marketing or obtain an information advantage. But they can give you a chance to finalize teaming arrangements and get your proposal resources lined up — if you don’t mind bidding when you’re at a disadvantage to those who knew about it before the announcement.
- Draft RFPs. Sometimes the customer will release a draft RFP. The good news is that they usually do this a lot earlier than a sources sought or RFI notice. But the bad news is they're already invested in the approach described in the draft and there's a good chance someone else already helped them get it that far. You're coming in late, but still may be able to influence things. At the very least it will be interesting to see whether the customer accepts any suggestions you make about the draft.
- Actually talking to the customer every chance you get. Every chance you get to speak with the customer, whether it’s on site, in meetings, or at trade shows is a chance to be there at the moment they need information or mention something related to a procurement they are preparing for in the future.
- Any project can get your foot in the door. Winning a project, no matter how small, especially if it’s at the customer’s site or includes customer face-time, is a chance to build the kind of relationship that gives you some insight.
- Subcontracting. You can get added to an existing contract, if the prime sees enough value in it to persuade the customer to let them add you. Subcontracting won’t help you get to know the customer much, unless you play a customer-facing role.
- Non-competing vendors. If you can identify companies that work with the customer in areas you don’t compete in, they may be willing to share contacts and information, especially if you work or help them in other areas.
- Social networking and the web. Don’t expect the customer to openly discuss future procurements in a group on LinkedIn. But you might gain valuable insight just paying attention to what questions they ask and what positions they take. You might even be able to ask general questions about preferences and interests too. If you establish an online relationship in which you demonstrate that you add value, you might even be able to land a face-to-face meeting.
- Databases. There are a few companies that track contracts and recompetes, and do a lot of the difficult forecast and budget analysis for you. They will show you opportunities they anticipate will be coming out in the future. Of course, all their other customers know about them as well. But if you are sharp you can make better use of the information available than your competitors.
Content marketing. To prepare an RFP, the customer must do a lot of research to write the requirements. If you set up a resource that helps them define their requirements, understand the trade-offs involved, and facilitate what they need to do, you can proactively offer them access to it (even if you don’t know whether they are planning anything). If you make it easy for them to ask questions and follow up, who knows what you will discover.
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