Should I Respond To An Unsolicited RFP?
Posted: July 3, 2017
It’s late Friday afternoon, and the weekend is in front of you.
Outlook pings you with new email message. You think to yourself, “let’s take a peek.” Then you read the Subject Line:
We would like to include your firm in our RFP Process
With caution, you open up the RFP attachment and begin to scan the contents.
How do you spend the first 5 seconds thinking to yourself?
Is it, “What a great opportunity! Didn’t expect this get this, but do I ever need it. It boosts my sales pipeline, and helps me reach my numbers.”
Or do you instead think, “Didn’t see this coming. I wonder who helped them write it? Let me see if I can determine that, so I can think about if and how we respond.”
In either case, it’s time to ask yourself several key questions. (For the purposes of this post, government bids are not considered, as price is almost always the deciding factor in the selection process.)
Question #1 – Is the company submitting the RFP to us a right fit for our product/services?
This fundamental question often gets overlooked. Not every company is a good client for your organization. Size matters, so consider if your firm is too large or small to respond. Are there reputation risks to our organization if we win? Would this preclude us from doing additional work within the industry? I’ve seen instances in my career in which choosing to work with company X precluded us from working with their competition. When the RFP is unsolicited and they fit in your ideal client profile, you must consider why weren’t you already calling on them and helping shape that RFP.
Question #2 – How did the unsolicited RFP land in my Inbox?
Your research reveals that the company submitting the RFP to you would be a great addition to your client portfolio. But how did that RFP document make its way into your Inbox? Answering this question is key to determining if – and how – you should respond. First, determine if anyone within your organization has had any meaningful interaction with the RFP submitter. You may get “crickets” – no response. You may, however, find that your CEO replies with “Oh, yes, their CEO and I are on the same board.” If no response, then it’s time to call the person responsible for submitting the RFP. Acceptable answers to this question include – I was referred to you by someone on our management team; or Members of our team subscribe to your digital content or attend webinars; etc. Unacceptable answers include – I found you via a Google search; or I saw/heard one of your commercials; etc.
Question #3 – How can I turn the process into my favor?
Typical RFP’s follow a tight and scripted process. Response dates are formal, and unyielding: are Intend to participate in RFP by date; submit questions by date; schedule on-site meeting and tour of facility; RFP due on date, please submit one electronic version and X-number of hard copies. During this process, you should be able to assess their level of commitment to making a change, or are they merely trying to achieve a price concession from their current provider. Before scheduling the time and cost of an on-site visit, how clearly can you answer these questions:
- On a scale of 1-to-10, with 10 being the highest, how satisfied are you with your current provider?
- Could you please provide me with the names of the organizations that have been included in this process? Are you including your current provider?
- Could you please describe to me the type of exposure the competition has had with the company prior to the RFP submittal?
- What does your current provider do for you that you like? What would you change?
- Who are the individuals that are going to be involved in the decision process?
- During the on-site meeting please describe the access that we would have to ALL of the decision makers in the process?
- What other changes in the past 12 months have you made with your other current providers?
- What are some of the initiatives that are occurring in your organization at this time?
- Based on your research or knowledge of our organization, what appeals to you the most about working with us?
- Rather than “hitting send” on our RFP response, and since we haven’t developed a deep relationship with you or your team, would it be possible for us to present our proposal to you prior to the due date?
Clarity and reality from these answers will improve your understanding of if – and how – to proceed. Remember, it’s OK for you to decline participation, especially if there answer to question #1 is a 9 or 10, and the answer to question #2 is that the incumbent will be included in the process.
While your pipeline might look great in the short term by adding this particular opportunity to the top of your funnel, your chances of winning the work based on the limited exposure you had leading up to the RFP submission, are slim. It’s important to understand the motivation of the company going out for and making a decision based on hard evidence rather than going with a gut feel.