How to Shape an RFP in 8 Steps

Hands on the pottery wheel

This blog post explains how to shape RFPs to maximize your win probability. Every government contractor can do this using 8 steps. But first, a story.
I was once the capture manager for a bid where we had no relationship with the customer and desperately needed to get traction. The customer was planning a radical new approach to enterprise level systems development. Reading between the lines of the RFI and draft RFP, I could tell that the customer was scared about what could go wrong with their innovative approach. I brainstormed with my company’s technical team, identified a past project where we had similar challenges, and developed lessons learned that we could share with the customer. I then flew to New Orleans for a conference where the Government Program Manager was slated to speak. I buttonholed him after he spoke and told him:

  • That I understood the challenges the new program would create
  • That my company had experienced similar challenges, and
  • That we would be happy to brief him on our lessons learned.

He readily accepted the offer and I arranged for my team to meet with him.

The above strategy of connecting with the customer by tuning into his or her issues and finding relevant lessons learned in your company’s past experience, is at the heart of the GovCon Rainmaker RFP Shaping Strategy. Here are the steps:

  1. Select opportunity. Find an upcoming RFP whose arrival is still far away, (so you can shape it before it is written). This requires budget research. For details, read my earlier blog post How To Find Hidden Federal Contracting Opportunities You Can Shape.
  2. Research opportunity. Develop insights about the opportunity that will help you conceive RFP-shaping ideas. Who are its stakeholders and what results do they need? Why is this project important to them? What challenges await the customer?
  3. List features. List your solution’s features. What are its facets? Articulating these will later help you determine how to shape the RFP.
  4. Identify problems. Identify the problems your features could solve in the upcoming project. To do this, figure out what might go wrong with the project without each feature.
  5. Prioritize problems. Of all the problems you just identified, which are likely to be most important to the customer?
  6. Write story. You’re going to need a story to get the customer’s attention. Make it an engaging narrative about the successful role your features have played in solving similar challenges.
  7. Write paper. Draft RFP requirements and evaluation criteria that would favor your solution. Include them in a white paper such that they could be pasted directly into the RFP. Include your story in the paper.
  8. Socialize story. Reach out to people concerned with project success and educate them about the risks you have identified. Share your story and your paper. Make it easy for them to share your information with decision makers to maximize the impact on the RFP.

Conclusion: You can systematically shape RFPs by researching customer needs, thinking creatively about how your capabilities solve potential customer problems, and communicating those capabilities to government program personnel.

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