Reputation driven RFPs – The Rules of Attraction

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The importance of observing RFP rules to demonstrate your desirability

When responding to an RFP from a company where you have no connections, you’re starting with an obvious disadvantage. In-house counsel tend to be strongly averse to risk so they may give more weight to a firm they know and trust rather than taking a chance on you, even if your RFP response is better.

Reputation matters, so use your RFP to send the message that you’re easy to work with. Anyone can say that, but an RFP that is delivered in the proper format, on time, and in a readable format proves that you mean it. These may seem like obvious actions, but ask anyone who reads many RFPs and they’ll tell you that the ability to follow instructions and write clearly is less common than you might think.

Follow the requested format of the RFP. Fulfilling the requested structure isn’t just good manners; it tells that prospect that you closely read the RFP and respect their way of doing business. Set up the structure of the document first so that it matches the requested format. Then you can fill in each section in the order most convenient for you while still meeting the requirement. When the proposal is ready for proofreading, make sure the reader checks the structure against the RFP in addition to the usual proofreading of content.

Beat the deadline. Obviously, missing a deadline makes a bad impression and can get a firm eliminated from the pool of potential candidates, but it happens often enough that RFP committees specifically mention the importance of timeliness. An even better practice is to submit as early as possible. Submitting early not only demonstrates your efficiency and client service mindset from the start, it also delivers the practical benefit of giving the client more time to review the RFP. If they’re undecided between your firm and an incumbent, you may benefit from giving them extra time to investigate you.

Write readable content. An RFP is not a legal document. It’s a sales document, and sales documents are written by marketers. Legal documents are characterized by long sentences, wordiness, double negatives, and overly formal constructions. Marketing language is concise and precise, using short sentences, plain language, and evocative images. If your RFP is a pleasure to read, the RFP committee will view you more favorably. 

Plan for efficiency

In order to get a well-structured, well-written RFP out the door before the deadline, your development processes have to be efficient. Start with a set of rules for researching the prospect. Check the prospect’s website for their mission statement, use LinkedIn to learn about their leaders, explore their social media for their current wins, and run a LexisNexis search to find analyst research and annual reports. Try to get a feel for the company culture and values and then reflect those in the content you customize for your RFP response. You may consider developing a template that can be filled out, so that some of the research can be passed off to a junior marketer. For instance, checking the prospect’s social media for the last ten topics they discussed is work that anyone can do.

Although customized content is essential to a winning RFP response, that doesn’t mean every RFP should be written from scratch. In-house counsel are issuing RFPs at unprecedented rates, which means firms like yours are responding to more RFPs than ever. Firms simply do not have the cycles to start from scratch for every RFP. Even if they could, it wouldn’t be wise unless there was one person doing the writing for all of them because an RFP should represent a firm consistently and accurately, and that means employing one style, one set of approved statements on experience, one set of partner bios, etc.

For that reason, a knowledge library should be in use, containing pre-approved content that can be deployed in a modular fashion. After the structure of the RFP has been set up, any authorized person in the firm can grab the content necessary to populate each section, making small tweaks as needed to add customization.

There is also a people element to producing RFPs efficiently. Everyone involved in the RFP process needs to understand that efficiency and speed are key drivers. Once your firm has done the work to plan and set up strong processes, everyone has to be onboard. Otherwise, you won’t see optimal results from the investment you’ve made in developing processes and building a knowledge library.


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