Reposting this (slightly edited) Thanks for Playing classic, because this topic has come up recently on ASAE’s Collaborate online community.
Clients aren’t the only ones who could use some advice to make the Request for Proposal (RFP) process go more smoothly. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of good, bad, and ugly in vendor responses, too. To that end…
RFP Dos & Don’ts – For the (Potential) Vendor:
- DO proofread! The client is probably not going to discount your proposal because of one or two typos. Probably. But one or two typos per page or serious grammatical problems lead people to question your attention to detail, your competence, and frankly, your intelligence. Even small shops usually have at least one person who’s a good editor. Have her give all your proposals a once over before they go out the door. If you’re the one in a hundred shop that doesn’t have anyone on staff who can copy edit, hire somebody.
- DO call the client. The RFP process is kind of like dating. Signing the contract is kind of like getting married. You should get to know each other better before making that commitment.
- DO be accessible. When the client contacts you, take her call. Answer her email. Call her back. And do it quickly – not two weeks from now. Yeah, you’re busy – she’s busy too. But don’t make her call out the FBI to find you if she has a question. However…
- DON’T hound clients. If she tells you she’ll be letting all the vendors know one way or the other on Friday, don’t call her Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and twice on Thursday “just to check in and see if you have any questions.” Just don’t.
- DO respect the process. Assuming the client read part one of this two part series, she probably wrote a pretty good RFP that includes information about the timeline and decision criteria. Subverting the process by going around her to her boss or her staff is a BIG no-no. If she says the proposal deadline is Friday at 5 pm ET, have it to her by Friday at 5 pm ET. And if that’s going to be a problem, don’t wait until Friday at 4:53 pm ET to ask for an extension.
- DON’T talk about what your competitors do or don’t do. Nine times out of ten, you’re wrong. Even that one time that you’re right, it’s petty and doesn’t reflect well on you or your firm. When a client is reading your proposal or talking to you, she cares about what you can and can’t do. She’ll worry about your competitors if and when he talks to them.
- DON’T send the LONGEST possible proposal. DO send the SHORTEST possible proposal that answers the client’s questions and addresses her needs. She’s probably reading four to six (or more) of these things. If they’re each 50 pages, that’s 200-300 pages. She’s not even going to remember who’s who by the end! Edit, edit, edit!
- DO skip the boilerplate marketing fluff. She’s seen it. Everybody says they’ve got the greatest widget since sliced widgets were invented. It just pads up your presentation and wastes trees and time.
- DO have good references in the market. Sure, the client’s going to call your reference list (aka, Your Carefully Chosen Group of Only Your Most Blissfully Happy Clients EVER), but if she knows what she’s doing, she’s also going to ask around. Three glowing references don’t help you if the ten other clients she finds through her own network all hate you. Remember: as long as your price is in the ballpark and the client is confident you can do the work, she’s buying based on relationship, personality, and reputation. Make sure yours is sterling.
- DO make sure the client can open your files. You know what doesn’t cause problems? PDF. And if you send over your proposal and don’t receive an acknowledgment that the client got it, drop her an email without attachments or give her a quick call to make sure it arrived. She asked for your proposal. She wants to get it. If it’s stuck in her spam filter, she wants to know. It’s OK to check. Really.
What’s the common theme? Relationship. We’re about to enter into a relationship. You don’t start a dating relationship by refusing to talk to the other party, withholding information, and putting them through a lot of silly, unnecessary tests (and if you do, odds are you’re single), and you don’t want to start a vendor relationship that way, either.