The Customer Released a Draft RFP. Now What?

Ali Paskun, a small business consultant and advisor, Government contracting trainer, Freelance Writer, Author & Speaker shares insight into Proposal Development in this week’s blog post...

You have been tracking an opportunity in your pipeline for a while now. Your Business Development representative has been meeting regularly with the customer, gathering intelligence and helping to shape the soon-to-be-released RFP. The customer has made it clear that a draft RFP will hit the streets first. What is your proposal development game plan?

There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to a draft RFP. There are those who believe the proposal team should take advantage of the opportunity to get ahead of the game and develop some, or most, of the proposal content in advance of receiving the final RFP. On the other hand, there are those who believe there will be changes in the requirements between the draft and the final, so why spend the time and money? They choose to wait and start working on the proposal once they have the final RFP.

Which is the correct approach? I think the answer is, “It depends.” There are many variables that can go into this decision. Some things to consider include:

  1. How mature is the draft RFP? If there are too many conflicting or unclear requirements, then you know the customer is going to receive many questions from potential bidders. In that instance, there probably will be some major changes in the final RFP, and it may be better to not devote too much effort to crafting the proposal response. However, if you are confident that the draft RFP is already close to being final, there is minimal risk to starting to develop the proposal.
  2. Do you have questions about requirements in the draft RFP that, depending on the answer, could affect your Pwin and bid/no bid decision? If that is the case, it makes no sense to spend your staff’s time and the company’s precious B&P dollars working on the proposal.
  3. Speaking of that bid/no bid decision, have you made a preliminary one? Are you conflicted and not ready to commit to bid the effort? Then wait until you have the information you need to move forward, such as an analysis of the competitive landscape or a determination of whether or not you need to team with other companies, before developing a response based on the draft RFP.

Whether or not to develop a proposal response based on a draft RFP is a decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis. It is possible, however, after weighing all the factors, to walk that fine line between committing too many or not enough resources at this stage. While each bid has its own characteristics, some requirements are consistent. If nothing else, spending some time addressing these common necessities will always help you identify that areas where you can make significant progress during the time between receipt of the draft RFP and release of the final. For example, you can:

  • Use this time to accomplish some of the earlier tasks in the proposal phase. For example, you can determine who the proposal team members are and make preliminary writing assignments. Is there a specific technical SME you know will bring value to that solution? Now is the time to have her or him assigned to your team.
  • Write a first draft of the Executive Summary or revise the draft you already created.
  • Identify the bid PM if you haven’t already done so. If that person is a current employee of your company, tailor his or her resume to highlight experience relevant to this effort. When you need to hire someone to assume the role of bid PM, it pays to begin that search now when you can take the extra time to ensure you fully vet each candidate, and make the best decision. In either case, have your proposed bid PM meet with your customer as often as it is prudent to do so before the final RFP drops and all customer discussions must end.
  • Work with BD and Capture to re-evaluate the programs identified during the early bid/no bid process as potentially being the best candidates to use in the proposal to demonstrate your past performance. When compared to the requirements in the draft RFP, are these programs still the most relevant or should you broaden the list to include others?
  • Gather customer kudos and other types of recognition you received on work you’ve performed. Having this information at your fingertips makes it easier to incorporate them as proof points in win themes, call-out boxes, ghosting statements, or action captions.
  • Examine previously submitted proposals for any text or graphics that could be tailored for this proposal. Use pre-written content, or boilerplate, judiciously.
  • Get a head start on sketching the graphics you know are required. Every proposal includes discussions on topics including the program management organization and an explanation of certain processes and procedures, such as recruiting and retention. Develop a draft of the org charts, process diagrams, cover art, and other graphics for the proposal.
  • Create draft storyboards outlining how you plan to approach each proposal section. If the draft RFP is fairly mature, you may be able to move beyond developing the storyboards and craft an annotated outline or an early draft of each proposal section.
  • Send data calls to any teammates for generic information you know you will need, such as their company logos, corporate experience write-ups, and success stories from work on other programs.

None of these activities are time-intensive and should not be a major withdraw at the B&P bank.

How do you prefer to handle responding to a draft RFP? What other activities do you think are germane enough to the process that completing them at this early stage is advantageous?

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-Ali Paskun
m: 410-456-5623