These Six Questions Can Help You Start the Conversation

Do They Deserve To Work With You?

It happens every day. Firms across the country are chasing clients who don’t deserve to work with them. It’s not the fault of the firm, but a lack of an intentional growth strategy. The following six questions can help you start – or improve – the conversation around RFP qualification to make efficient use of your resources. Choose clients who really deserve to work with you.

1. “Is this our best client?”

Consider the relationships you have with clients who make you happy to do great work. (Those would be your target client personas.) Compare these relationships with what is promised by this new opportunity. Requesting a face-to-face meeting to discuss the RFP will show that you care about client relationships and are serious about their project.

Some prospective clients won’t provide information beyond the RFP, while others will share your questions and their answers with all the competing firms. Research the RFP by asking the prospective client about their pains and how the project will solve them. It helps to have sales questions designed around your firm’s key competitive differentiators in order to highlight why your firm is the best choice. It also helps to have a clear idea of who your best clients really are in terms of industry, decision-making power, expectations, budget and opportunity for additional business.

2. “What is the project?”

The details of the project may or may not be well-covered in the RFP. This is another reason to call the prospective client. The project may or may not fit naturally with your existing portfolio. If it’s outside of your sweet spot, find out how important “relevant experience” is to the client. In the case of something new or unique to your firm, ask yourself if a project is in a market you’ve been trying to crack. Don’t waste time pursuing the project if your business potential in this new market is low.

3. “Do we have the right qualifications?”

Make sure your firm fits the criteria of the client. If these preferences are hinted at, but not completely stated, create a strong argument for why you are the firm for the project by highlighting what you bring to the table. If there is a way to find out who else is responding, this can also help you differentiate your strengths from the competition. The best way to find out is to ask.

4. “… and how can we up the ante?”

Showcase your key differentiators in addition to the qualifications requested in the proposal— particularly in the cover letter. Think about what you’re going to include and make sure it’s not something everyone else will say (i.e. under budget, professional, on time); you are explaining what makes you the firm of their dreams. These points need to be as unique as your firm.

Don’t underestimate the value of a well-crafted, professionally formatted proposal. Photos, stories, examples, numbers and case studies make your value real to them. Visual representations of your information (when allowed) such as org charts, workflow diagrams and formatted budgets also can set you apart professionally. Attention to detail should shine through in a well-branded RFP response.

5. “What is their budget?”

You know your value. If the budget of the client doesn’t fit your pricing, don’t cheat yourself unless you truly believe there is some promise of more work. Talk to prospects about where they see the project taking your relationship.

6. “When do they want the proposal?”

Be realistic when considering deadlines. Look at your existing projects and ask if you have time to develop a thoughtful response. Don’t provide the client with a proposal that is full of canned answers. It will just put your response in the “no” pile. Ideally, you need enough time to deliver the first proposal they see. Never show up last to the proposal party.

You should also consider the cost of losing. If cost of a proposal is unknown, calculate the staff labor, material costs and travel costs after you’ve completed the RFP response. Once you’ve completed the RFP response, calculate the costs of all of the above. Do this for each proposal your firm submits. We’re guessing it’s more than you thought it would be. You could invest that time and money into a project you don’t have a chance of winning, or you could invest it in productive business development meetings, cross-selling and lead generation.

Use these six questions to decide if you want the client.