34 reasons why the RFP requirements were worded that way

Writing an RFP is harder than writing a proposal. If you are a proposal writer and have never written an RFP, especially for something you need created or developed, you should try it some time. It is a great way to improve your ability to see things from the customer’s perspective.

Even if you can clearly express what you want, doing so in a way that someone else won’t misinterpret is challenging. And most RFP writers are not experts, either in articulating what they want or in writing RFPs. They tend to word things poorly and get lost in the complexity of their own needs. If you’ve tried writing a complex RFP, you’d understand.

Unfortunately, the result is that even though proposal writers have to follow the RFP precisely, the RFP is fallible. If it says something that’s clearly wrong, it can be fixed. But most of the problems people have responding to RFPs are when it’s hard to tell, like when the RFP requirements are ambiguous, open to interpretation, convoluted, or just a little… strange.

Issues like that make you scratch your head and wonder why someone put it in the RFP that way. It’s easy to psych yourself out and develop conspiracy theories related to what they are really trying to do based on the assumption that they said it that way on purpose. The odds are more likely that it was just poorly worded. But the problem with conspiracy theories is that no matter how far-fetched, they could be true…

If you are a proposal writer, you can’t just leave it alone. Understanding why the customer wrote the requirements the way they did helps you understand their motives. Understanding their motives is critical to winning in writing, because that is how you not only respond to the requirements, but fulfill their unwritten needs.

So take a look at this list of possible reasons why the customer wrote something the way they did:

  1. They had to
  2. They want to keep things the same
  3. They want something different
  4. They didn’t know what else to say
  5. They are afraid
  6. They are ambitious
  7. They were lazy
  8. They are cheap
  9. They want what they want
  10. They don’t want to be tied down
  11. They aren’t an expert in what they need to buy but have to write the RFP anyway
  12. Someone else suggested it
  13. They misinterpreted what you suggested
  14. They forgot
  15. They didn’t know how to quantify it
  16. They didn’t want it to limit them in the future
  17. The Powers That Be don’t trust their own people
  18. They don’t agree
  19. They have a deadline
  20. They've been burned
  21. They already know who they want to win
  22. They don’t want to keep the incumbent
  23. They want new ideas
  24. They are resistant to change
  25. It was in the RFP they recycled
  26. Bad copy and paste
  27. They changed their mind
  28. Their needs changed but they forgot to update the document
  29. They didn't realize they contradicted themselves
  30. They're short sighted
  31. They haven't figured it out yet
  32. Their priorities aren't what you think they should be
  33. They can’t predict the future
  34. They know more than you think they do

 

How many of these could explain what you are seeing in the RFP?

How many of these represent issues that you could have helped the customer with? Too bad once it's in the RFP it's probably too late. You need more information than just what's in the RFP. But if you know why they did what they did, you can strategize a way to work around it. Or better yet, you can address the requirements in a way that fulfills what their real motivation is.

If you don't know the customer well enough to understand their motivations before the RFP is released, all you can do is guess. But as you can see from the list above, it will be easy to guess wrong. And you should assume that at least one of your competitors won't have to guess.

Wouldn't you like to be the one making RFP suggestions and confuse your competitors instead?


Access to premium content items is limited to PropLIBRARY Subscribers

A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWiin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.


Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

Proposal Help Desk
Contact us for assistance
In addition to PropLIBRARY's online resources, we also provide full-service consulting for when you're ready to engage one of our experts.

It all starts with a conversation. You can contact us by clicking the button to send us a message, or by calling 1-800-848-1563.