11 ways to get ahead of the RFP

If you don't, your competitors will

Once a request for proposals (RFP) is out, it may be too late to bid win a competitive advantage. Getting ahead of the RFP does not have to be hard, but it does take effort in advance and relationship marketing. Those that put the time and effort into getting ahead of the RFP are able to achieve an information advantage as well as a competitive advantage.

  1. Recompetes. Targeting recompetes is the easiest way to get ahead of the RFP. But it can take years to pay off. The day a contract is issued, you know the date of its recompete and roughly when the new RFP will be out. 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 before the new RFP is released, but requires some investment and a lot of patience. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Mostly they give you the illusion of starting ahead of the RFP. 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. If you are interested in a pursuit, you should definitely respond to any pre-RFP announcements. But if you are just finding out about a pursuit because of an announcement, it doesn’t really count as being ahead and you should try even harder next time. If you are trying to get ahead of the RFP by looking for announcements, you should consider any of the other approaches listed here.
  4. Draft RFPs. Sometimes the customer will release a draft RFP. The good news is you get to see it and possibly even suggest changes. But the bad news is they're already invested in the approach described in the draft and there's a good chance someone else 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.
  5. 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. Enlist any project staff who have contact with the customer.
  6. 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 the insight you need to win more.
  7. 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. They won’t do this to help a future competitor. Subcontracting may not help you get to know the customer, unless you play a customer-facing role.
  8. Network with 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 can help them in other areas.
  9. Social networking. 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. At a minimum, it's a great way to discover potential customer contacts and the roles they plan.
  10. Databases. There are 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. If you are dependent on databases for all your leads, it's a sign that you're not doing enough of the other things on this list.
  11. 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.
Premium Content: PropLIBRARY Subscribers can click here to download this article as a PDF handout, with a bonus cheat sheet suitable for hanging on your wall as a constant reminder.

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.