Seven Signs an RFP is Wired

When you face a bid-no-bid decision and look at the Request for Proposal (RFP), you need to watch out for signs that scream: “I know what I want and who I want to buy it from, but my Contracting Officer is forcing me to get competitive bids!” Although technically it’s against the procurement rules, a government buyer may make it intentionally difficult to buy from anyone else other than the company they already know and trust. When you are evaluating an RFP, it is important for you to assess whether you should spend your precious time and money on writing a proposal.

Here are seven dead-giveaway signs of a “wired” RFP:

  1. Deadlines are unreasonably restrictive:
    • The time to write a proposal is too short
    • Quick turnaround response times are outside of standard norms for this customer
    • The questions deadline is too soon
    • Time to study the documents in the “document library” is too short
    • A site visit or a walk through too short or scheduled too late in the game.
  1. Only a token extension gets offered when requested, while the government has no real need for urgency.
  2. There are unusual requirements having little to do with project success but seeming to favor a specific vendor (or the incumbent):
    • “Must have design-built 40 municipal buildings”
    • “Must have been in business for over 10 years.”
  1. Key personnel requirements get extremely specific:
    • “Must have completed some ridiculous certification course that no one has ever heard of”
    • “Must have more than 10 years of experience in the non-corrosive metals manufacturing industry” (and it is a project management services proposal).
  1. Past performance validity timeframe is too narrowly defined:
    • “Include up to five references for relevant projects that have been completed in the past two years, or started no later than June 2010, and that are no less than $1 million in size.”
  1. A performance specification that can only be offered by a specific product:
    • “Vehicle must have sealed, 4×4 transmission with self-adjusting belt drive” and only one manufacturer makes a patented “self-adjusting belt drive”
    • A manufacturer’s model number is provided in lieu of a specification.
  1. The contracting officer is unresponsive when you challenge the requirements as too restrictive or unreasonable, and ask for extensions.

While there may be some openness to a new vendor while the buyer is mostly biased (especially if you are significantly better priced), if you see two or more of these characteristics, decide to no-bid.

Once in a while you may encounter another problem altogether: an atrociously written RFP. Proceed with caution, because poorly written RFPs can be a signal that the contract will be protested, or may be difficult to manage because the contracting officer or their entire shop is chaotic. There are plenty of opportunities out there to get a contract – so you may want to be selective. And, better yet, go ahead and “wire” the RFP to your own company through well-run capture.

Best regards,
OST Global Solutions, Inc.
…Because There is No Second Place in Proposals! TM

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