Getting Ahead of the RFP

During an interview I recently gave for a Win Writing Masterclass, I was reminded of the frustration that led me to where I am today. I was working at an architecture firm, and I saw how the RFP process absolutely destroyed all the work our firm put into winning work.

I learned the hard way that selection processes aren’t fair.

They’re driven by emotions.

You have to get ahead of that RFP to win the work you want.

The way to do this is to get an understanding of the “why” behind the project. The Owner will write the RFP scope around what he thinks will solve the problem at hand – but likely there are deeper emotional elements that he’s not even aware of that will influence him.

Digging Deeper into the Target Client’s Business

All projects are rooted in Business & Political issues, and smart firms can dig deeper into those issues to uncover the emotional elements of the project. Those emotional elements are where we can really connect our firm’s value to the client’s deeper needs.

There are five areas of your client’s business that will influence the project:

  1. Customers
  2. Stakeholders
  3. Staff
  4. Competitors
  5. Operating model

Don’t just Google these things. Call and talk to people at the company, and people who are connected to the company. Meet with people on the ground. This will give you insight that you can use to make the right first impression – authentically – when you talk to the client.

Take a university, for example. After talking with stakeholders, you might discover that the desire to create a legacy is really what’s motivating the project. Appealing to this desire will not only help you emotionally connect with these influencers, but it will also speed up the entire process of funding.

Why Writing the RFP Is NOT a Magic Bullet

Even if you’re tapped to write the RFP for the client, this won’t give you any more traction. Writing the RFP doesn’t, surprisingly enough, guarantee you’ll get the work.

What will give you traction is encouraging the client to stay true to their passion. Then demonstrate how your firm can bring their desire to fruition with intelligence and authenticity. Keep your client pointed to their “true north,” and you’ll always have the best relationship, and the best chance at winning the work.

Throw Out Those Old Sales Rules

You’ve probably heard that the first firm to reach the client is the most likely to win the work. That’s not entirely true. Sure, reaching the client first gives you an advantage – but there are other more powerful ways to gain advantage.

The most effective way to gain the advantage and build an account relationship for the long-term is to tap into what the client really wants. Not what they say they want – but what they want on an instinctual level. The client might not even know exactly how to ask for what they want. Once you’ve done your due diligence exploring the Business & Political issues of the target client, you’ll know what they mean to ask for – and you’ll be in the prime position to tell them how your firm can deliver.

Growth Is About Human Interaction

Emotional intelligence is the key to all connection. Growth isn’t about numbers, volume or pricing. It’s about connecting, human to human.

Clients aren’t robots. They aren’t making decisions in a linear fashion. Decisions evolve in a mind-map fashion. Human connection is non-rational. It’s intuitive. Embrace this and you’ll tap into the success that brands like Apple, Southwest Airlines and Zappos have had.

The Bottom Line

There is only one perspective that matters when winning the work: the client’s. You have to be ready to answer the question of “Why did you call on me?” with “My firm sees a perspective on your situation that your leadership team might not see, and we have a solution that you might not have thought of.”

Want to learn more? I go into much more detail about getting ahead of the RFP in my interview for the Win Writing masterclass. Download your copy here.



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