Thursday, September 19, 2013

11 Reasons Requests for Proposal Responses Fail

Requests for proposals (RFPs) and tenders (RFTs) are issued by government departments and private sector businesses every day. They are a critical component that keeps the wheels of industry turning.

An RFP/T (hereafter RFP) is a document seeking provision of goods or services. It details:
  1. Information about the organisation seeking the goods or services
  2. Specifications about what is required, when, how and where
  3. How to respond ie, what you need to submit to qualify for consideration
Most requests lead to a contract to provide goods or services eg, I have managed RFPs to hire people to do a financial management review of organisations receiving government funding. I have also obtained government funding to provide training services.
Over a 30 year period in the public sector I issued hundreds of RFPs, assessed responses and also responded to RFPs advertised by others, so I have sat on both sides of the table. My success rate responding to Australian Government proposals to provide education and training was very high, close to 100%. So successful in fact, the Chief Executive Officer of the educational institution for which I worked asked me to write a guide and provide training to other employees in an effort to lift their success rates. I did write a guide and do some in-house training, but I can't recall whether it made a significant difference. I hope so. (see * below regarding the advert RFQ)

Between the two functions of requesting proposals and responding to RFPs, I identified reasons, including the following, why people failed to win contracts:
  1. Insufficient effort. There is a lot of work involved in responding to RPFs, sometimes a week or more. Many people simply don't put in the effort
  2. Not doing enough research. Researching the organisation for whom you are writing the response can be very helpful eg, what previous RFPs have they issued? What is their Corporate Plan? Do you know anyone who has dealt with them? 
  3. Poor or incomplete answers. Not answering all the questions or providing all the information sought in the RFP
  4. Using a poorly matched vanilla or previously created RFP. It's acceptable to use previously created materials, but not without checking how well they meet current requirements. Just changing the name and address and dates might not do the job
  5. Choosing the wrong employee. Giving the job to someone who isn't capable of doing the job well, usually inexperienced, junior staff. While everyone has to learn, if you want to win large contracts, the job should be done by the best possible person with no expense spared
  6. Applying just to get your firm's name known. When I gave feedback to people whose RFPs were unsuccessful, occasionally they would tell me they didn't expect to win, but wanted to highlight their firm's capabilities
  7. Sub-standard presentation and expression. Poorly written, grammatically incorrect proposals that aren't presented well cause assessors to wonder how well you will do their work if you can't even do your own well
  8. Not responding in the correct manner. When responding to RFPs they advise to whom, when and how responses are to be made. If you don't meet those requirements, your proposal is doomed
  9. Exaggerating your capability. If you make grandiose claims about how good you are or how wonderful your products are, you must be able to prove it. Exaggerating or lying won't cut it
  10. Not being available to answer follow-up questions. If the RFP assessors need to ask questions to clarify issues, someone needs to be readily contactable 
  11. Not seeking or heeding feedback. Even if your RFP is successful, you should seek feedback about how well it was received and ask for ways in which you could improve it. This is critical if your proposal failed because you have invested with no return and need to close the gap in future RFPs


If you are in a business or organisation that relies on responding to RFPs for some or all of your business, you need to invest the physical and human resources necessary to do the job properly. It is an expensive, demanding and time-consuming activity and if you wish to be successful, there are no shorcuts.


* A Request for Qualifications is a request for people who are qualified to do something on behalf of the contracting organisation, in this case, to find investment managers. In some cases an RFQ is used as a pre-qualification activity to identify if, who, and how many people might be available to respond to an RFT.

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