Three Tips on How to Read an RFP

If you are responding to a request for proposal (RFP) you have just seen advertised, you have probably already lost the game. By the time an RFP is announced, your “Go/No Go” process should be in full swing and you should already know something about the project, your client, and your chances of winning the job.

But in reality, we sometimes evaluate RFPs without much information or time to respond. So what should you do in that scenario? During a recent presentation to the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), I shared three tips to reading an RFP that might help with your “Go/No Go” decision. These suggestions provide that extra chance of winning or your opportunity to walk away from the job before submitting a proposal.

Tip #1: Learn to read between the lines. Understand what the words really mean. Every RFP will include requirements such as “Describe your project approach.” To the client, this really means “Will you listen to what we want so we can both agree on the scope?” Or when you see the requirement, “Tell us your project manager’s qualifications,” the client is really saying, “How will we know if your project manager is the right person for our job?” Don’t just respond to these questions literally, but read between the lines to find out what the client really wants to see and respond accordingly.

Tip #2: Find the client’s pain: Buyers’ decisions are largely based on need and emotion, so try to find what I call the client’s “pain.” For example, pay attention when you see the phrase, “The project has a tight schedule,” That is the client’s pain point and probably means that if they do not get sign off by a certain date, they may not get their project funded or their permits issued. So in a case like this, put project scheduling (the pain point) at the center of your response.

Tip #3: Is the RFP for you? Recognize when the RFP has been written for someone else. Sometimes by law, RFPs have to be advertised publically but are really written for a specific purpose, which you might not be aware of if you did not do your Go/No Go homework. So watch for terms or conditions that are very project-specific, such as exact requirements, tight timelines, or detailed specs. Look for statements that require the project manager to have very specific experience or to work from a specific location. And definitely do not go after a job that has your competitor’s logo on a drawing!

Learn to read an RFP to prevent yourself and your firm from going after a project you simply will not be able to win—you will save both time and money!

GAI will continue to report on marketing tips and trends in the engineering industry. Look for more updates in future blog posts by Diane Landers and other corporate leaders throughout GAI.

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