When responding to a request for proposals (RFP) for security services, there are a few points to bear in mind to make sure you’re bidding on the right contracts, and that you’ll win the ones you do go for.
In this blog, learn how to write RFP response best practices for more successful bidding.
While it may sound obvious, the first step to creating a winning a proposal is reading the RFP in detail. Your relationships and insight into a prospect’s organization may give you useful detail, but the RFP is ultimately the source of truth.
The RFP will detail the exact expectations in terms of service delivery; it may also spell out the metrics against which you’ll be measured and serve as the basis for the service level agreement. So, it’s also a first look at what you’re committing to!
Depending on the size of the organization, the RFP may be driven by the procurement team, who may have a different set of criteria for assessing bids to, say, the in-house security manager and there will be different aspects of your response – technical vs financial.
If anything remains unclear in the RFP, take note of any periods for questions, and be mindful that questions and responses will often be shared across all bidders. You’ll also need to follow the exact protocols when asking for clarifications, or you may risk disqualification.
Go / No-go
Once you’ve read the RFP in detail and got clarity on the ask, the next step is to make a ‘bid/no-bid’ decision. Responding to RFPs take a lot of time and resources and there are a number of factors that might influence your decision to bid, including:
- Does the bid align to your vision of security, i.e. are the RFP asks aligned to what you want to focus on as an organization?
- Can you respond to the RFP within the deadline and do you have the resources to respond?
- Who will be responsible for creating the proposal and getting it in on time?
- Do you have the capacity to deliver with your present staff and expertise levels?
- Can you profitably deliver the services requested i.e. does the contract make business sense?
- Does the RFP play to your core strengths?
After your decision-makers have analyzed the points above, you’ll be in a position to make a call on whether the RFP is actually worth responding to (though for the sake of relationship building, you should always let a prospect know, even if you decide not to respond).
For many of the points above, especially for questions around profitability, it’s important to have the business intelligence at hand to make an informed choice. You need to be able to look back over your previous contract data and analyze the costs associated with similar mandates, and the fee you’d need to earn to make a reasonable profit. This latter point will help determine your pricing strategy.
The kick off – Competition
After you’ve made a strategic call to bid for the contract on offer, it’s time to assemble your proposal team and start to sketch out the details of your response. A core part of this ‘kick off’ phase is understanding the market and analyzing your likely competitors. When thinking about the competition, consider the following:
- Who else is likely to bid?
- Who have you won/lost against in the past?
- What RFP feedback have you received on won/lost bids?
- What are your strengths/weaknesses vis à vis the competition?
- What is the history of the bid? Is it periodically put out to tender and awarded to the same bidder?
This competitor analysis can inform your proposal approach and help you land on a message that highlights your strengths, and mitigates any weaknesses. Your strengths should subtly highlight your competitor’s weaknesses.
The kick off – Win themes
Knowing what you know about the customer’s needs, the services required, your own strengths and weaknesses, and those of your competitors, it’s now time to land on your win themes. When it boils down to it, why should the target pick you over the competition? Here are some points to consider:
- Are you competitive on price?
- Are you able to offer efficiencies through tech innovation?
- Are you adding value through your services?
- What experience do you bring to the table?
- What testimonials are you able to share?
- What makes your service stand out from the competition?
Writing the proposal document
It’s now time to bring your great ideas to life in your proposal! Once again, it’s fundamental to refer back to the RFP document. You should structure your response in accordance with the RFP to make sure you answer every question thoroughly. Remember that you’ll be marked against a grid of criteria and the decision-maker will have a stack of other responses to review – create your response in a way that makes it easy for the reviewer to award your points.
Here are some top tips for proposals writing:
- Follow the rules! Don’t lose points (or risk disqualification) by ignoring instructions on font size, line spacing, layout, word count etc.
- Answer the question. RFPs are often constructed around a series of specific questions that seek to assess your ability to deliver the services needed. Make sure you answer the question in full – and answer the question as it’s asked, not as you wish it had been asked.
- Get to the point. Cut all unnecessary verbiage – less is more. The RFP marker will have many other proposals to review, so getting your point across in a succinct, clear way will make their life easier.
- Speak the customer’s language. RFPs are a cue to your prospect’s style, and approach. Make sure you stay true to your own voice, but also talk in terms your prospect will understand – carry over terminology and keywords into your proposal.
By taking these points into consideration, you’ll make it easier for the RFP marker to identify how you meet the conditions of the RFP. The result will be a well-thought-through security services proposal that makes commercial sense to you, and stands a stronger chance of being successful.
Whatever the outcome of your bid, always ask for feedback – this will provide precious insight that can help guide your RFP responses in the future.