Increase Your Chances of Success by Going All-In for the ‘Request for Proposal’ Showdown

Small businesses that take the time to prepare a unique or unconventional response to an RFP (Request for Proposal) can achieve the first important goal of any successful RFP submission—getting noticed.

San Francisco, CA – July 28, 2017 – The request for proposal, or RFP submission process as it’s generally referred to, has driven many small business owners back to the comfortable selling channels they already know. Mostly, this happens because of one or two bad experiences where large amounts of time and effort are invested for no return, or the RFPs they’ve looked at are simply too confusing to consider.

However, small businesses who master the RFP submission game enjoy very different outcomes.

The RFP can be an extremely difficult document to come to grips with, according to seasoned business owners. “They are complicated, filled with legal-sounding language and often contain specifications that don’t even match what is being purchased,” said Cynthia Kay, of CK and Company in Grand Rapids Michigan.

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So, when faced with a potentially lucrative RFP in their industry, many small businesses don’t even bother to submit a proposal.

A lot of advice is published on small business blogs to make the process easier to navigate. One of the biggest mistakes is starting to prepare a response without first reading the RFP in its entirety. Often, the nature of the request isn’t clear without a full reading of the document, and this can make all the difference in picking the RFPs worthy of a response. Nothing can be more frustrating than investing precious time and energy into a submission, when the RFP was tailor-made for an incumbent supplier (i.e. there was no chance of a new supplier winning).

“If it’s an attractive opportunity, dive in and ask lots of good questions. It gets you exposure to the buyer” said Kay. “It’s also important to understand that buyers are not necessarily experts in everything they purchase, so you may need to educate them.”

Other advice readily circulating in the small business community is to work from templates and existing boilerplate text, to streamline the response process. According to Cynthia Kay, this is a mistake. She says to submit customized examples of similar work to show your company has experience, rather than submitting generic information.

Kay also suggests going a step further and doing something to set your company’s response apart from the crowd—a video, a sample of what they’re asking for or even testimonials from a similar project. Above all, Kay is a proponent of striving to be unique with RFP submissions.

“It’s vital to be creative. For example, we responded to an RFP for a Wiley Publishing ‘For Dummies’ project. It was a series of online videos based on the books, so we wrote it in the style of those well-known books. We even printed the RFP response in a beautifully bound book and it was a winning proposal. And now, almost 10 years later we’re still working with them.”

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