The Journey from Small Business to Corporate Partner (Part 2)

Part II: Navigating the RFP Process

Imagine a process so complex that it needs a flow chart to tie all the parts together… and I present to you the Request for Proposal otherwise known as the “RFP”. The Request for Proposal is a way for companies to solicit proposal from potential suppliers, typically through a bidding process, to procure desired goods or services, or in layman’s terms, a way for companies to get the best possible commodity or service offering at a reasonable price. Sounds straight forward, right? The reality is not exactly. To learn more about the RFP process and to provide you some tips on how to make your next experience a little less daunting, we spoke with a few sources who know a thing or two about the RFP process and provide perspective from both the corporate and supplier side of the table.

Supplier Selection

The RFP can be summarized as inviting suppliers to bid on a specific scope of work. Getting to that point first requires a bit of leg work to research and determine which relevant suppliers exist in the market and which of them can most likely can comply with the request. Remember that our last post explored the importance of building relationships? Here is a perfect example of why it’s so important! While timing is key, so is positioning yourself. Be authentic and make sure that potential clients know your capabilities and understand the value you can bring to their business.

After nearly two years in the making, our Diversity Alliance for Science member, Elisabete Miranda, Owner of CQ fluency, recently won a large bid with a pharmaceutical corporation. She attributes much of her success to the time she invested strengthening her relationships with key contacts inside the company. This is also reiterated by Julia Casillas, Sourcing Excellence Manager with Amgen: “The relationship is so important. It’s crucial to develop relationships so that when an opportunity presents itself, you are front of mind to include in the bid.”

Responding to the RFP

You receive a notification that your company has been selected to participate in an upcoming RFP: Congrats—you have passed the initial stage! What follows is a long list of questions that you must complete, sometimes in a short window of time. “The response changes the black and white document into color,” explained Michael Baldini, Director, Atrium Managed Services. Answering an RFP is more than just completing answering the questions – it’s an opportunity for you to create a reputation for quality, integrity, and ability. Also keep in mind that the RFP is not all about the lowest cost provider because price is always negotiable. Use the RFP to showcase your firms’ service excellence, responsiveness, collaboration and innovation.

Julia, Elisabete, and Michael share the following pointers to consider when responding.

Tips for Success

  • Do your homework: uncover the client’s pain points, and structure your RFP response to address them
  • Ask questions to gain clarification and to demonstrate your interest through both the premeeting supplier conference call or the opportunity to email questions to the RFP manager
  • Carefully review the requirements and assess your ability to comply with the request
  • If you’re not confident that your company can deliver the full breadth of service required, consider forming a strategic partnership with another supplier; this can provide an opportunity to expand your reach and come up with a collaborative solution to fill the gap
  • Be thorough in your response, do not deviate from the question, stay on point, and always consider your audience
  • Be honest and transparent: do not overextend yourself
  • Remember that where one door closes, another one opens; losing an RFP can often provide a segue to future opportunities

Post Submission

After the submission, continue to maintain contact as the RFP decision process can be lengthy, and maintaining contact keeps you top-of mind as a viable candidate. Continue to nurture your relationship even if you do not win the specific RFP. Sometimes a runner-up is invited back to provide supplementary services. A strong relationship may lead to future business. Look at the RFP as the beginning of a long and rewarding relationship. Companies are made of people who want to do the right thing; they are looking for strong partners they can rely on, and the RFP process opens the door and sets the groundwork for future conversations.

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