by J. Barry Vanek
 
Corporate Managers are the drivers of the RFP process and, for the most part, know what they need and want. Service providers, on the other hand, are perpetually dogged with the challenge of figuring out what the corporate managers want and how to position themselves as the best option for delivering a project. Definitely not the upper hand in this equation.
 
The service provider discussion will be followed by flipping the coin and taking a look at the other side: how corporate managers do, don’t, can and should administer the RFP process to obtain the best results in selecting resources and delivering a project. With the ever-increasing size and complexity of investment recovery project challenges in business and industry, the RFP process is a valuable tool that can assist with effective management of surplus assets.

 
Investment Recovery Tool Box #1 RFPs: The good the bad and the ugly OK, your boss hands you this packet that has those dreaded words on the front cover “Request For Proposal” and you know from past experience that your life will be totally consumed with these 8.5 X 11 inch sheets of paper for the foreseeable future. And you also know that your boss will be looking at the final grade when it comes back from the customer. And this test is ‘pass/fail’. No pressure, right?!?
 
In this article, I hope to put some tools in Associate Members’ tool boxes that will make your life a little easier when it comes to answering the RFP and working better with corporate Investment recovery managers. Tools that will hopefully open more doors for you to earn more business… So lets get to it. . .
 

The Good: Your company has been chosen and invited to submit a written proposal on your capabilities to handle an important project contract – and you are excited about the opportunity and really confident you can handle the project in an excellent manner. The Bad: Possibly 10+ other firms who provide the same or similar services have also been invited to compete for this plum contract.

 

The Ugly: Time is short, the RFP is written in a somewhat confusing manner, they are asking for details and answers about your operation and your approach which you may not have compiled before, you do not know a lot about the client (organization, history, etc.), you are not really clear about the main things that will drive the client’s selection decision (cost, credentials and experience, working style and relationship factors, references, etc), you wonder if you are up against competitors who have an inside contact track …

 
RFP Tool #1: Definition of an RFP and BID and the difference between the two:
 
RFP: An invitation for providers of a product or service to bid on the right to supply that product or service to the individual or entity that issued the RFP.
 
Bid: An offer of a price, especially at auctions; a statement of a sum which one will give for something to be received, or will take for something to be done or furnished; that which is offered. In the business world, a BID specification will list detailed statements of work to be performed and/or materials to be sold. These can be very detailed or very simple. In the case of excess equipment, it may only list the items to be sold to the highest bidder. Or it may include very detailed conditions as to how the equipment is to be removed. An RFP on the other hand is generally looking for you, the vendor, to suggest ways to meet the objectives of the project, in this sale and/or removal of the equipment.
 

In principle, the BID specifies how it is to be done where the RFP invites you to present how YOU would do the project. Having said that, RFP can include elements of a BID and a BID can include elements of an RFP. It all depends on who wrote the document.

 
RFP Tool #2: Read, Read. . .Read.
The first thing to do with the RFP/BID is to read it three times, undistracted. And read it with a highlighter. Why three times? Because I said so. . .There is evidence that a third reading will clarify issues that are not obvious on a first or second reading. And remember this fact of life “Whenever you are reading a document, you are getting inside the head of the author”. This is especially true with an RFP. Your focus should be ‘What is the customer really looking for?’ It could be that the deciding factor is not price, but safety history of the vendor. Or it could be the deciding factor could be reporting of project milestones. A third reading will generally reveal these subtle issues. Also, a third reading will often reveal if the RFP was generated to favor a particular vendor. You need to know this before you begin responding.
 

RFP Tool #3 Companies don’t buy from companies. . .People buy from people.
Behind each and every transaction are people. Do not ever forget this. Business is always about relationships. So start developing relationships with everyone of your customers. An RFP is an excellent way to do this. How? By calling the person who wrote it and ask questions. A personal meeting is always best, but phone conversations are acceptable. You will want a list of ‘intelligent’ questions when you call. You will call for ‘clarification’ of the RFP.

 


Find the person who wrote it.

Here are a list of questions you will want to ask when the timing is right:

  • Do you have a vendor of choice for this project?
  • Who was the last vendor to be awarded the business?
  • What is your biggest concern about this project?
  • Who will be making the decision on who gets the business
  • Have any previous vendors failed to perform? If so how?
  • What do I have to do to get this business?
  • If we are not awarded the business, may I see the winning proposal?
When you call, consider asking the ‘feeling’ questions. Such as “How do you feel about moving the shipping times to after normal work hours so as to not interfere with your normal operations?” Questions such as this will locate his ‘hot’ button on the project. Also understand that all decisions are made on emotions and backed with facts. So the more comfortable they are with you, the better your RFP response will look in their eyes.
 
RFP Tool #4: RFP are EXCLUSION devices, not INCLUSION devices.

Customers love to throw RFP responses in the trash. Don’t give them a reason to do so. This is to say that you MUST respond to each and every proviso in the RFP. Answer totally and completely each and every question. Not answering one is a good reason to trash it.
 

RFP Tool #5: Microsoft Word.
Use MS Word for all your RFPs. Because there are tools for professional writers than can help you. For instance, spelling, grammar and format. But most of all is what is called the ‘readability’. This will grade your paper for how easy it is to understand. The easier it is to understand, the better the customer will ‘feel’ about your response. In MS Word, go to Help and type in ‘readability’ and follow the instructions. Attempt to write at an index of 5. This means that a person with a 5th grade education could understand what you have written. This is accomplished by writing in short declarative sentences. Not compound sentences. Remember, the easier you are to understand, the better they will like you.

 

RFP Tool #6: Post RFP activity

If you win or loose, ask the customer why? What was the winning combination or what was the losing combination. You need to know in both cases. And smart managers do a ‘lessons learned’ on each and every RFP.
 

RFP Tool #7: Never burn a bridge

Win, lose or draw, you are still in the game. And you will still be in the game as long as you can get to the game. So don’t stop communicating with the customer. There will be other opportunities and everything you do leaves footprints.
 

RFP Tool #8: Presenting before the customer.
Good news, the customer has asked you to be one of the finalists in the RFP. You will be presenting your proposal before the decision makers. NOW WHAT!!! Well first of all, congratulations. You have obviously passed all the requirements, just like the other finalists. So how do you distinguish your proposal above your competition? First understand that the winner in the competition is the one who makes the customer feel at ease. Those that make the customer ill at ease are shown the door. At this point, you want to present those qualities that will make the customer want to do business with you. Qualities like, integrity, trustworthy, sincere, empathy, and honesty. This is because of the basic nature of man to make decisions on emotions and then back them with facts. If this is the case (and it is) you want them to ‘feel’ better about you than your competition.

 

How do you do that? First, look your best. A dark suit with a red tie. Shine your shoes. If you look more professional than your competition, you will be received as such. Next, make it a point to shake everyone’s hand and look them in the eye and smile. Allowing them to look you in the eye enables them to determine if they can trust you as a first impression. Then make your presentation that has been prepared and practiced before a live audience.

 
Don’t try to wing a proposal. The customer knows which vendors went the extra mile to make a quality presentation. This too speaks volumes. PowerPoint is a great tool if you know how to use it. Avoid just reading the slides. Use the rule of 5 X 5 for PowerPoint slides: No more than 5 bullets per slide and no more than 5 words per bullet. And when you speak, don’t speak to the screen, speak to the audience. When finish ask questions such as ‘How do you feel about our ability to deliver?’ ‘Do you feel we have any shortcomings we can address?’ ‘Have we displayed just how important you are as our customer?’ 
Reprinted from ASSET 2.0, the Investment Recovery Business Journal, Vol. 4, 2006

© The Investment Recovery Association