My Experience with Requests For Proposals

The e-mail pops into your inbox. It’s three weeks after you sweated through that Request for Proposal (RFP) response and you can see it’s from the requesting organization. You worked so hard on it, agonized over the fees to make sure you were very competitive, spent long hours making sure it was perfect. You really need this work. Your heart is thumping. With a trembling index finger and a silent prayer to whatever deity controls the fate of requests for proposals applicants, you click open the e mail….

We regret to inform you that on this occasion….

No need to read any more. Time to go for a walk, take deep breaths, try to banish all those negative thoughts swirling through your mind.

Ring any bells? Probably anyone who has ever responded to an RFP has been in this situation at one time or another. And your reaction to the “we regret to inform you…” e mail probably depends on what the state of your business is at the time. If you are short of business and RFPs are your main source of work, then a run of failures can be very serious. As we all know, no work equals no money which equals pain all round – to you, your confidence levels, your state of mind, your family. I could go on.

I know some consulting organizations who seem to do quite well out of requests for proposals. I also know more, like mine, who have a love / hate relationship with them. I’m not suggesting anyone’s right or wrong here, but if your track record with RFP responses is less than stellar, a reframe as to where you get your business from is probably in order. Here are a few reasons why I believe that RFPs represent a difficult way to keep your bank account healthy:

The Trouble with Requests for Proposals

Understanding the Playing Field

You never know if the playing field is even or not. Particularly for the smaller jobs, the issuer may already have a preferred company in mind, and the RFP is just an exercise to comply with the rules. Numerous other factors can make the field uneven, and it’s very hard to know if you have any chance at all.

Understanding the Odds

The odds aren’t good. Typically, you may be competing with ten other companies, often more. Okay, they may not all have your skill sets, but they may have some angle you don’t have. Again, you just never know.

Underhand Tactics

Sometimes a company is desperate for work and will “buy” the project—that is, they’ll lowball their offer just so they have some cash coming in and something on the company résumé.

Deadline Troubles

An RFP appears when it appears, coupled with a deadline. It forces you to find the time you need to complete it in a specific period, which often necessitates delaying fee-paying work or marketing actions.

We all have to make up our own minds regarding each RFP that comes out. But here’s a thought before you rush ahead with responding to the next one. If your success rate is less than one in three, could you instead use those hours to come up with a better, more time effective, strategy for getting work in the door?