3 Lies that Cripple Incumbent RFP Responses

We lie to ourselves if we think we look good in plaid, pasta has no calories & by only working harder we'll win. Click To Tweet

We lie to ourselves because it’s easier to keep old ideas than change our behavior.

We lie to ourselves as incumbent suppliers because we know the exact date our contract is up and can reasonably predict when the RFP will be released.

Yet we anxiously wait until that RFP is out before starting to work on it – and as a result, increase our late work nights, stomach acid, and potential errors and omissions. We wait, we work ridiculously hard, we sneak our response in under the RFP deadline – and we feel like we’ve succeeded.

We haven’t succeeded. We’ve been compliant; we pasted text into every question and completed the pricing.

We didn’t bring our subject matter expertise to craft a unique solution to a customer’s specific business challenges.

We checked the boxes and called it complete. We weren’t creative, we weren’t innovative, we weren’t insightful; we were merely compliant.

And yet, afterwards we know we could have done better if only we had more time.

Why do we wait for the RFP to be released before we start working on the rebid preparation, when we know we won’t be able to do it justice?

As incumbent suppliers, we wait because we believe in these three lies:

  • Lie #1) RFPs tell us how to win
  • Lie #2) 11th-hour Superhero
  • Lie #3) Price matters most

Lie #1) RFPs tell us how to win

We think the RFP will hold clues to why our customer is buying. But it doesn’t.

RFPs tell us what customers are buying – they give us numbers and text descriptions for scale and scope. And that’s needed for our pricing development.

But I’d bet you’ve never seen an RFP that says:

“Our incumbent supplier wedged the rear warehouse doors open so they could get in and out easily, as a result we lost $750,000 in product out the back door. That’s why we’re looking for a security-minded janitorial service with rigorous background checks and a high supervisor-to-worker ratio.”


“Our new CEO is shaking up our product offering to become an innovative leader in our market. We are now looking for suppliers who can be creative and innovative in their services and products to align with her initiatives.”

Yet this is the insight needed to strategize, design, and produce a persuasive, winning proposal. This is some of what you need to win – you just won’t find it in the RFP.

So if that winning oxygen isn’t in the RFP, don’t wait for the RFP – start working on the rebid preparation before the RFP is released.

Lie #2) 11th-hour Superhero

After 16-hour days at the office, including weekends, you finally press send, or submit, or the overnight package is finally picked up, and you feel euphoric.

Immediately following completion comes the exhilaration, the high, the physical sensation of success for accomplishing a ridiculous amount of work in a short time.  And doing it while  juggling your daily tasks.

This physical sensation is so strong that it is addictive. We like it; we long for it; we tell ourselves this is how it should be.


…a  couple of days later and we re-read our proposal.

And we find that while we were fully compliant (all answers and pricing in place), we really could have done much better.

During that self-pressurized dash to complete, we  told ourselves our answers were creative and inspired, though reading them now we see that really they were only “good enough.”

If we’re honest, we notice an overabundance of platitudes, cliches and self-aggrandizing statements that don’t tell customers what we’ll do for them, or why, or how they’ll exactly benefit by them.

We notice we lack a unified solution that runs throughout our responses.  A solution that is designed as a single offering and speaks to the customer’s specific needs and wants.

Heck, what were those needs and wants? We clearly didn’t include our understanding of them in our response.

Obviously, we tell ourselves, if we’d had more time we could have done better. Who doesn’t say this?

So, if the creativity of the 11th-hour Superhero is a myth, don’t force all that work into the unrealistically short RFP windows customers provide – start working on the rebid preparation before the RFP is released.

Lie #3) Price matters most

Inexperienced suppliers believe this lie to be true, that’s why they’re inexperienced.

They’ll eventually learn that price is important, typically ranked 3rd or lower among selection criteria, but it’s not the most important.

They’ll eventually learn that “price without value is meaningless” (quote from Chris Arlen – one of my favorites actually.) If customers don’t know what they’re getting for the price, that price is irrelevant in their firm’s exchange of money for goods or services.

On the other hand, sophisticated suppliers will publicly deny that “price matters most.”

They’re experienced so they’ve lived through many bid processes. They may have been lucky enough to see how decision makers subjectively evaluate text responses by weighting and rating them.

So they know that price is evaluated against the value communicated in their RFP responses.

Yet those same sophisticated suppliers will expose their true belief that “price matters most” when they’re facing an upcoming RFP as the incumbent.

When that large worrying contract goes out to bid, most sophisticated suppliers will direct almost every one of their proposal team to the time-demanding tasks of job-costing and pricing development.

And that’s to be expected, pricing is typically the third most important selection criteria.

However, price is meaningless without value, and that’s what decision makers are there to evaluate – the relationship between your price and what they’re going to get for it.

Yet when most of the proposal resources are running around like flies to complete pricing – the value side of the proposal is demoted, or forgotten at the moment.

The needed team members aren’t available to do the heavy lifting of value development in the proposal, such as:

  • Analyzing the customer’s decision makers, business situations, & your competitors
  • Creating a unified, custom solution that addresses the customer’s specific business challenges
  • Project managing internal subject matter experts to provide source content for RFP responses
  • Crafting a brand (memory aid) for the custom solution that is meaningful, relevant & memorable to that customer

This is the stuff that will help win rebids more often. This is the stuff that tells customers what they will actually receive for the price they pay.

Why don’t sophisticated suppliers give the value proposal its fair share of the resources?

Ah yes, limited resources in a truncated RFP turnaround time. From release to due date, are you looking at one, or two, or four weeks?

So, if price is not most important in the selection criteria, don’t hamstring your value-to-price story with unrealistic demands from your limited proposal resources – start working on the rebid preparation before the RFP is released.


This is a passionate topic for me. I have seen, and participated in the successes that are possible when starting on rebid opportunities before RFPs comes out.

I’ve heard the refrain from executives that they never have enough time to complete these large RFPs in such short turnarounds demanded by customers.

And they’re right. Most RFP deadlines are absurd based on the contract dollar size and service scope.

Yet that’s what we as suppliers must work with.

So what can we do?

Stop believing the lies. Match your behavior to the truth. Start working on the rebid preparation before the RFP is released.

Image by Qrodo Photos

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