We won 2 of the 6 RFPs we pitched this season. Both were good wins for us and opened the door to new partnerships and new markets. The ones we lost, which I got into in an ill-humoured post a few weeks ago, gave us some insight into the whole damn process.
With our learnings in place and some great advice (particular thanks to David Kutcher at Confluent Forms), I offer the following suggestions to determine if the RFP is worth going for. No doubt you have your own criteria and it would be invaluable if you could share those with us and our readers in the comments section below.
Be clear on the client’s reason for going to tender. It may tell you everything you need to know.
- Is the tender process mandatory? If so, find out if the current agency is being invited to submit. A yes answer suggests they have the inside track in a better-the-devil-you-know scenario. We won’t submit to this one.
- If the process is voluntary, consider what the reasons might be. Dissatisfaction with the current agency’s service favours you; dissatisfaction with the current agencies pricing does not. Once a client makes price their motivator, we all lose.
Evaluate your real strengths as a company against the RFP proposal.
- We have erred in pitching for work that we thought we could do, rather than deciding that we were custom-made for the job. If the decision to submit seems like a roll of the dice, you’re not going to win it.
Consider your relationships with the client, if any.
- Few businesses, especially in smaller markets, stray outside their contact zone when looking for vendors, unless what you offer is light-years ahead of everyone else. If you don’t have strong existing ties, you are at a handicap already. Because someone else invited to the RFP process will have them.
- That said, a really useful relationship usually means you are already the beneficiary of some insider info. Operating in the dark is for bats.
Consider your own motivation for going after the business.
- “A lean autumn” is not a good one. Nor is “we’ve always longed to work on an interpretive road signage campaign”. Better motivations are: “We’re a perfect fit”, “Our experience in this area makes us the front-runner” or even “We may be a long shot, but this is the client we want above all others.” To the last point, it can take years to win a business over. A great RFP submission- while maybe not getting you the business – can put you on the radar. Sometimes that’s worth the effort.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, more a conversation starter. One thing we can all agree on is that RFPs are a gamble. They can make or break your year, and your agency’s morale. At Copeland, we need to play with better odds.