An RFP? What’s an RFP?

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For those of you who are in the business of providing competitive services to organizations, you probably know what RFP stands for. But I find that most humans don’t have a clue.

RFP is the acronym for “Request for Proposal.”

A Request for Proposal is just that: an organization is requesting that various firms write up what they propose to do to solve an organization’s stated business need or solve a problem.

The good news about replying to an RFP is that it carries with it the real possibility that you might win new business in a competitive process. We at The Creative respond to about one RFP a quarter, and sometimes more. It is as much a part of doing business as having a website or being a member of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce.

The bad news is that writing a proposal in response to an RFP is very time consuming and can result in nothing to show for all your hard work except for language that, hopefully, you can use in your next proposal!

When I ran the RFP business for Official Payments, a Fairfield County, Connecticut, firm that enables individuals and businesses to pay their taxes online with a debit or credit card, I responded to one RFP each week: writing and preparing 50-page proposals each time. These responses had to address the terms of the RFP precisely: responders who did not were immediately disqualified. No negotiation, no second chance. Responding to a governmental RFP is probably the most grueling, as you are bidding for tax dollars, and the regulations are draconian.

In the world of marketing communications here in the Happy Valley of Western Mass, I have found the RFP process to be far more rational. You can actually speak to the RFP author before you submit your proposal and get a sense of what the underlying needs are, and how you might want to tailor your own reply. You can ask questions if something isn’t clear, so you don’t lose sleep over being disqualified if you guess wrong. Some organizations even welcome feedback or a suggestion on how to better respond to their questions! It’s a far more collaborative, less do-or-die process.

I actually don’t mind responding to RFPs. Sometimes Janice and Maureen seem a little shocked by this, especially if we don’t win the business in the end. But I see it as a day-in-the-life of a marketing business that is eager to grow.

If you’d like some advice on responding to an RFP, drop me a line.

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