How do you go about influencing the customer’s RFP to give your company an advantage? When you start thinking about it and peeling back all the layers, it can seem quite complex. There's a lot to consider. And where should you start? Here is a simple formula that’s easy to memorize and can help you cover all the important aspects of the problem.
- Who. Who is the customer? Who is the decision maker? Who needs help? Who can make changes to the RFP? Who is playing the contracts role? Who is in charge of the technical requirements? Who are the other stakeholders? Who has what concerns that can be addressed by inserting language into the RFP? Whose need is the reason behind the procurement?
- What. What would you like to see in the RFP? What would you like changed? What will give you an advantage? What will make things difficult for your competitors? Instead of trying to make responding to the RFP easier, consider how to make it incredibly difficult for everyone except your company.
- Where. Where in the RFP would you like to have some influence? There is more to think about than just the technical requirements. What about terms and conditions? Contract type? Pricing model? Instructions? Evaluation criteria? Go for all of the above.
- How. How will you suggest the language? Writing an RFP that gets what you need is even harder than writing a proposal. You can’t write the RFP for the customer. But you can write a whitepaper using language that they can simply copy and paste, if they are so inclined. But what will motivate them? Do they need some help because they don’t know the subject matter? Or maybe they’re just not sure how to articulate their needs. If writing the RFP is a lot of work, maybe they could use some help with it. If they are risk averse, they might be concerned and willing to listen to some advice. Maybe they just want to make sure that when the complicated procurement is complete, they actually get what they wanted at the beginning.
- When. When should you make your suggestions? When are their decision points, approvals, and other milestones? When should you make your suggestions to a contract specialist and when to a technical program specialist? Suggesting a contract vehicle after the acquisition strategy has been approved won’t do you any good. It’s easier to suggest language for the RFP before it has been written. It’s even easier before the decision has been made to issue an RFP. In order to be in synch with their procurement process, you have to know it in detail. Timing matters.
- Why. “Why” is by far the most important question. Why should the customer accept your suggestions? Why should the customer trust your suggestions? Why will they get better results if they do?
If you leave out any of the “who, what, where, how, when, and why” topics, you will be far less effective at influencing the RFP. And while the model starts off as questions, you can turn it around and convert it into a strategic plan. But instead of conducting a strategic influence campaign, you might be better off just helping the customer get what they need. Being seen as a helpful asset is usually a good position to be in. Trust matters.