If you’ve just downloaded an RFP document or received a notification alerting you of an active procurement in your service category, the main question, after checking for viability and suitability, should be the following:
‘What do I already know about the purchaser to drive an award scenario?’
Remember, writing and the actual development portion(s) are simply vehicles for the edge that your solution/company brings into the mix. If technical writers and English Majors were all that was needed, consultants like us wouldn’t exist, and the competitive arena would be boiled down to who has the nicest sounding prose.
Something else to consider… RFPs take time to come into fruition. Meetings, pre-RFP maulings over not having X or Y, budget allotments in advance, and so forth. Once it's time to publish the document publicly - the solicitation .ZIP file has been shaped and crafted after several review rounds, with files dropped in, MS Docx formats abandoned for spreadsheets in some cases.
The language, especially in ‘Background’ and ‘Scope’ sections, was chosen carefully. How many times something is mentioned, highlighted, bolded, or obscured shows you priorities. How reasonable or unreasonable the timeline is for the supplier shows you the expected urgency (or lack thereof) surrounding the procurement. And how many mandatory requirements are listed indicate the purchaser’s expected level of saturation/competition.
These details can be used advantageously when determining a ‘Go!’, but are they useful for building an edge?
In short, yes!
With repetition, stakeholders are directly telling you their pains, where the anxious areas are, and/or where past contracts may have gone awry. They need reassurance that you’ve done your research, so to say, and can mitigate future pains.
With urgent procurements, purchasing teams are looking for:
- Staff that already exist, are already on project teams, and can be quickly assigned/deployed. Spinning up subcontractors that you once worked with in another state or part of the country might seem daunting.
- Some degree of stability; having an anchor in the area or presence, and partnerships if their urgent need was ever to migrate into a larger spend.
- Past examples of spinning up quickly and successfully (the key part) within the past performance and reference narratives.
Their expected levels of saturation/competition shows you a few things:
- The service, landscape, and budget are all understood factors here. If they expect very high interest from prospectives, you might be able to capture the estimated contract amount in the Q&A if it’s not already known or disclosed.
- Someone within the purchasing team has either hired a similar solutions provider in the past, or they understand the intricacies of the production/workflow/operation involved due to a variety of factors. We see this within the security arena often, mostly because of how public-facing and consistent the need for security is nowadays.
Being aware of the environment and context of the procurement matters too.
This includes taking a pulse on how quickly the departments move, if environmental concerns/matters are touched on or confined to the forgotten corners of 400 page PDFs, and if the current climate of staffing shortages affects the purchaser in ways that mean they’ve cut things like frequent community updates. You can tell this from a quick glance at their YouTube channel.
Shortages will ultimately mean you have burnout and directors who simply need the contracted work done without marginal extras to manage/review. Knowing this, the added value should be narrativized as saving time, not adding additional milestones, meetings, or touch points.
Environmental factors could also include whether or not they have adjacent assets or plans ready for contract use, whether they have an updated log of these assets/plans, and whether the custodian of these specifics was around for the formation, or was simply given the task of handling the storage and/or maintenance of this repository. This is especially salient for web developers, film restorationists, events firms celebrating a centennial, MSPs, etc.
Sometimes the environment is pushed aside for a more profound edge found in the human dimension. Putting eggs in one basket like this and only targeting the people on the other side of the fence is an acceptable strategy! It might even be the recommendation of our firm given that evaluators only have so much time to do their jobs; having an edge that hits home and pierces through the noise of more abstract value adds can bring shortlisting certainty.
How seasoned or plugged-in the most direct stakeholders are to the procurement can drive the edge formation for service providers. You would want to address how reporting works, highlight the specific best practices at play with your offering, and spotlight the liaison assigned.
Additionally, if the tenure of the immediate recipients is known, this can play in your favor. Slower and delayed procurements with political infighting (trust me, this has been told to us before) are the consequence of green administrators and people still finding their bearings. If you position your firm as experienced with stretched-out transitions and more commonly in charge of kicking off the deliverable, the narrative will then operate (as it should) to build trust and steer the recommendation. Evidence of strong past performance with a plurality of tenured stakeholders and community members is ultimately the most favored.
Many times, a purchaser will not fully comprehend the ROI for video production or outreach, for example, and rely on past successes in printed fliers or tabling at an event. Comparisons and comparable data do not always overlap with the reality of the industry today, nor do they carry much significance when attentions, trends, and behaviors change semi-annually. If you are able to show the impact of investment (spend) for your specific provisioning (not just the niche at large) across several environments with new and seasoned stakeholders, this compounds your evidence and proves success beyond mere contract terms.
Bonus points if you can connect the value to previously forgotten or sleeping revenue sources for the municipality that issued the RFP.
A case study for the above involves a city in metro Seattle with a large youth population but neglected and poorly-designed materials for their summer camp programs. A graphic design contract for this entity opened and we suggested a separate milestone for the procurement featuring some sample mockups for the summer programs, which got many people excited. Some productive talks soon followed.