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How to Make an RFP Shaping Document

How to Influence Requirements on an RFP

We’ve all been there. A coveted prospect is headed to an RFP. The team has been meeting with the prospect for months and looking forward to receiving the proposal. But when the proposal is released, it’s filled with competitor’s features that have been listed as “mandatory requirements.” Somehow, you’ve been boxed out before you can even write the executive summary.

Not all RFPs are fought on fair grounds. Sometimes, the issuer has a solution in mind and simply needs to fulfill the requirement of going out to bid. Rather than creating a list of requirements based on need, they might reach out to the favored company to ask for help shaping the RFP document. While this can be incredibly frustrating on the receiving end, it also means there is an opportunity to prepare your company to similarly box out competitors when given the chance.

If a prospect asks for your company’s help defining the requirements of an RFP, you should be prepared with a sample RFP document that is as favorable to your company as possible. Below, we discuss nine steps to preparing an RFP shaping document that will help you influence favorable RFP outcomes.

Step 1: Perform Win/Loss Analyses on Past RFPs

The first step to putting together your RFP shaping document is to gather all the RFPs you’ve won and lost in the last few months, then analyze them for what they have in common. Do you do better on RFPs that weight references more heavily or worse? Do you perform better on RFPs that ask for in-depth narratives and commentary or those that are cleaner, technical evaluations? Get a sense for what RFPs best suit your company’s strength and make a list of all the commonalities.

As you analyze past RFPs, identify the RFP that you think your company performed best on and set this one aside. You will use this as the template on which your RFP shaping document will be based.

Step 2: Gather Technical Blockers

Meet with your product team, engineers, or subject matter experts, and ask them to list as many unique capabilities as possible. You should aim to gather at least ten things that your company does that no other company can do. It’s okay if these things are minor, they just need to be unique.

If the team is struggling to come up with unique capabilities, set up 1:1 comparisons against your top competitors and ask the team to come up with three unique capabilities against each competitor. Maybe you won’t be able to box out everyone at once, but by compiling the things you can uniquely do against each specific competitor, you should end up with a compelling list.

Step 3: Gather Positioning Blockers

Review your company’s positioning against its competitors. At a high-level, what are the differences between your company and your competitors? If your company doesn’t have prepared positioning documents, meet with someone from the marketing team to learn more about how you position against competitors. If you still need more material, meet with an experienced salesperson to ask about how they discuss the competition. By the end of the exercise, you should be able to describe an ideal solution that, at a high-level, describes your solution and your solution only.

Step 4: Gather Pricing Blockers

Is your pricing model different than your competitors? If so, you have an excellent opportunity to build out required pricing models that match your company’s format and make your competitors uncomfortable. Ask to meet with a knowledgeable salesperson or the team member in charge of pricing to get a sense of how your company might price differently than others in the market.

Employees discuss potential RFP specifications

Step 5: Put it All Together

Using your best-performing RFP as a template, you’re now going to rewrite the RFP to be more favorable to your company.

Edit the overview to include your positioning blockers and high-level references to technical blockers (you don’t want to get too in the weeds with the overview.)

Then, edit the technical requirements to include all of your technical blockers. Include other reasonable requirements here, so it doesn’t all look like the things that only your company can do. Importantly, you’ll want to make the criteria for each requirement you list mandatory.

Finally, in the pricing section, mandate a pricing model that matches your own and would make competitors uncomfortable. Include a table that respondents must use to submit their pricing.

Throughout, make sure you never explicitly mention or reference your company. The document should still hold up as a fairly reasonable survey of the market, so you don’t want to go over-the-top.

Step 6: Create a Favorable Scoring Matrix

Finally, at the end of the document, you’ll want to create specific scoring criteria that bid reviewers must follow. Make sure these criteria play up your specific strengths. As you list the scoring criteria, make sure you state that complying with all technical requirements is mandatory. Include guiding questions for each category that frame how the reviewers should approach a subject based on how your company will best satisfy the requirement. Weigh each criterion according to how strongly you think you outmaneuver competitors. For instance, if you are the cheapest solution on the market consider making pricing worth 50% of the total score. But if you are the most expensive solution on the market, consider making pricing worth closer to 5% of the total score.

Step 7: Create Instructions for Editing the Shaping Document

Of course, not all your strengths will play equally to different segments of the market. As you put together your sample RFP, you’ll want to highlight the areas that should be edited, based on the opportunity. For instance, you might have strong references among one segment of the market and almost no references in another. In the stronger segment, you’ll want to increase the score of the references in the scoring matrix. In the weaker segment, you might consider deleting the required references section altogether.

Make a thorough list of all the components that will need to be adjusted based on the specific opportunity and create a document that instructs future users of the shaping document how to think about potential edits.

Early on, you’ll probably want to be involved in editing and sending out the shaping document, until you get a firm sense of how the document should change based on the opportunity. Make sure you transfer all your learnings to the instructions document so eventually the document won’t need as much of your energy and attention.

Step 8: Keep that Template RFP Handy

Sometimes, governments or companies interested in issuing an RFP won’t want to see your shaped document. Instead, they’ll ask to see something that has actually been issued by another entity. So, keep the RFP that you designated as your strongest-performing proposal handy so you can forward it to interested parties. Remember: the RFP shaping document should only be sent to strong prospects who are explicitly asking for your help in shaping requirements.

Step 9: Check Local Purchasing Laws & Regulations

Some jurisdictions prohibit all contact after a procurement process has begun. Others have regulations around attempts to influence purchasing processes. Before you send an RFP shaping document to a prospect, make sure you are in compliance with all local laws and regulations that govern purchasing.

Qualifying Out Competitor-Shaped RFPs

Above, we’ve listed the steps for you to create and share your own RFP shaping document. This document will help your company influence RFP requirements and give you the biggest advantage you can garner heading into the bidding process.

Unfortunately, your company isn’t the only one working backchannels for influence on the bid. And pursuing an RFP that is baked for a competitor can be a massive waste of time. To avoid this pitfall, companies need strong qualification processes that help identify competitor-influenced bids. Of course, it can be difficult to manually parse out which bids are set up for competitors and which are genuinely open for competition. That’s why Patri launched Patri Score.

Patri Score is an innovative software solution that helps you identify which opportunities to pursue and which to pass on by rating your company’s capabilities against the prospect’s requirements. Save time and money, qualify opportunities like a champ, request go/no-go decision input from colleagues, pursue only when it meets your approval, and document it all for higher success rates on future opportunities.

Interested in learning more about Patri Score? Schedule a demo below.