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Coaches Corner: How Would You Derail This RFP?

The WWP coaching team received an email this week from a webcast viewer about an opportunity they’re trying to close. We thought we could have some fun by answering publicly to see if you would respond the same way or differently.

I’ll begin by saying that Blair has written extensively on this topic and it’s worth a review of all the finer points on the best approach here.

Ok Mr. Loyal-Follower-Not-To-Be-Named, here are some thoughts and observations for you.

(Names and details not included for all the usual privacy reasons)

Hi [lovely people at Win Without Pitching]…

After swearing off RFPs for many months we’ve decided to give one a shot. The project is a branding and identity system for a past client in our own backyard. We’ve done tons of design work with them in the past, and feel we are very qualified for the project. Our nearest competitor is located more than 90 miles away, and we believe many large, big-city branding firms (some out of state) will be bidding on this work.

Hi Mr. Loyal-Follower-Not-To-Be-Named,

Let me stop you right there. Since you’ve done tons of work with this client in the past, that means you likely have the inside track and knew (Or should have known?) this RFP was on its way. But I’m sensing this wasn’t the case. Big red flag. It’s time to pick up the phone and have a conversation that goes something like this: “Hey Mr. Past Client, I received this RFP and while I love that you have included us, I wanted to touch base and see why you’re going out for bid versus just calling us directly based on our past great working relationship? As you may or may not know, we don’t typically respond to RFP’s.”

At this point, stop talking. You’ll learn very quickly what’s happening at this organization and if you’re still viewed as a valued partner. Furthermore, you’ll be able to gauge flexibility in the process that they might afford you–their willingness to let you derail the pitch or offer you the inside track. Again refer back to How to Respond to RFP’s for all the finer points around your response and next steps.

Back to the email…

The RFP asks for budgets to accompany our work samples — they want to know how much we were paid for similar work we’ve done for other clients. I feel this is none of their business. Also, I feel that revealing this information could potentially jeopardize our chances at winning the work because historically the branding systems we developed cost much less than we are bidding this job for.

Yes, you’re right here. It’s none of their business and the quickest way to shut that down is to state your policy around client confidentiality and move on to suggesting a next step that’s in line with what is almost always your stated objective: to determine if there is a fit between their needs and your expertise. Since they’re local, take the following approach, “Why don’t we come and see you and your team. In 45 minutes or so we can determine if there’s a suitable enough fit to pursue this.”

Our reader closes with four options as he sees them and asks us to weigh in. What would you do?

A) Ignore their request altogether (i.e. don’t include costs from past projects), and risk being disqualified for not providing exact information as stipulated in the RFP terms

B) Tell them “it’s not our policy” to reveal budgets of past client work. Maybe add something about client confidentially.

C) Instead of telling them exact budgets, give them a huge range instead. Something like “All work samples included in this proposal had budgets in the range of $0 to $100K.”

D) Tell them our actual numbers [really low numbers redacted here], and risk being seen as too inexperienced for such a high profile project.

I’m still working under the assumption this was a blind RFP and you need to re-establish the relationship and/or set pricing expectations if it’s been awhile since you worked together.

If you do get the meeting, see steps four, five and six of the previously mentioned article.

If there are no concessions given and you don’t have the inside track after these steps, it might be time to walk away….for now. Step seven provides guidance.

There are two things that struck me about this email. First, the decision to reverse solid business practice and go back to responding to RFPs. We see this a lot. What always changes though is the rationale for doing so: We know the client. We don’t know the client. We’ve worked with the client before. We’re working with the client now. We’ve never worked with the client before. We’d love to win this. We don’t really care if we win this. You have some power in this relationship so this is a great time to push back and try to derail the pitch or gain an inside track. I don’t see any rationale for just playing along on this one.

Second, if the RFP showed up blind, it’s very telling about how this agency is currently viewed by the prospect and it’s worth spending some time to get reacquainted and determine if there’s still a fit. You either have some power to push back or this was a polite courtesy for an opportunity you will never win. You will know once you push back a little and see if they’re willing to treat you a little bit differently.

So, our answer is B and/or C, on top of looking to replace the client’s selection process with your own next steps to gauge how much power you actually have in the relationship and therefore determine your likelihood of winning the deal.

Thanks for writing. Good luck!