RFPs = Written Interviews

RFP InterviewImagine you’re in a job interview. You want the job. The interviewer needs to hire someone to fill an open position. Simple enough.

In the beginning, the interviewer tells you lots of things. Making statements about what the job entails. Stating the needed qualifications and credentials.

And then, after 45 minutes or so, the interviewer shuts up. Stops talking. Sits there. Waiting for you to reply.

The Problem: RFPs without Questions

This is what happens to a surprisingly large number of Request for Proposals (RFP). In these RFPs, customers make lots of statements, but forget to ask questions.

Don’t laugh. In the last three weeks I’ve come across several RFPs, each for multi-million dollar contracts for airports, universities, etc. No questions in these RFPs. Just statement after statement after statement.

Why So Many Statements in RFPs?

Simply put (yes, it’s an over simplification), RFPs try to accomplish three things:

1) Provide legal Kevlar to protect customers from lawsuits
2) Provide legal ammunition against contractors’ non-performance
3) Provide enough information (specifications) for contractors to price their bids: see Apples Playing on a Field

What’s missing in that list is “Helping customers make the best contractor choice”.

Why are RFP Questions Important?

The RFP is the opportunity for a mutually beneficial match between customer and contractor. One that meets both their needs.

However, that requires specific information from the contractor for the customer to chose. Not generic brochure, ad copy stuff. But specifics.

RFP questions give that specificity. They focus contractors’ responses. Giving customers the essential info they need to chose wisely.

An RFP is really an Interview in Writing

The process behind an RFP looks like this:

1) A customer asks (via RFP) a number of contractors to submit a proposal so one can be contracted for work.

2) Contractors want the work. They submit their RFP responses to the customer.

3) The customer decides.

OK, sometimes customers use an RFP to boil down a list of contractors to a few for a presentation.

But in all respects, the RFP is a written interview.

Contractors are being interviewed, even when RFPs only have statements.

How to Respond to Questionless RFPs?

Write the customers’ questions for them. Here’s one way:

1) Imagine the customer is interviewing you.

2) When reading the RFP’s statements, think what the customer is asking specifically

3) What is the customer trying to find out? What are they afraid about? What could go wrong?

3) Write down those questions – from the customer’s perspective

4) Now, answer those questions – from your (contractor’s) perspective

5) Answer specifically – who will be doing what, when and how

If you’re feeling brave, you might consider starting each of your sections with that imagined question. It’ll certainly give your responses more bite and focus.

What questionless RFPs have you come across?

Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Technorati: proposal writing, RFP

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