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Industry Insights Blog

Five Steps to Take Your RFP Process From Good to Great

Jenn Scalzi

The results of our latest RFP survey, conducted with our U.K. alliance partner Totum Partners, highlighted some meaningful trends in how firms in the U.S. and U.K. approach their RFP process. Much of what we saw this year mirrored patterns we saw in our 2014 survey responses (view that report here), but using this year’s highlights as our guide, we’ve assembled a list of 5 steps that will help you think differently about your RFP process. 

Highlights (based on data from 90 respondents):

  • U.S. firms = 21% didn’t know what their win rate was, whereas only 5% of U.K. firms didn’t know
  • Greater willingness of UK firms to consider alternative fee arrangements
  • Generally speaking, UK firms work on more RFPs each month, spend more time creating them and have a higher win rate
  • Price pressure is a major player in both U.S. and U.K. firms, although only a fraction of the time spent on the response is geared towards pricing discussions (U.S.= 5% U.K.= 9%)
  • All-around communication is a critical area of opportunity. Not enough time is spent listening to the client (0% of time to create RFPs was spent talking to the client in both surveys) and perhaps an excessive amount of time is spent internally on edits, formatting, etc.
  • Marketing departments have access to the basic tools they need to develop their proposals, but not much more. Consequently, innovation really does not play a role in proposal development

Going Beyond “Good Enough”

For firms that are hungry for a new way of doing things, but don't know what that looks like, the best practices below offer some methods to rethink your approach.

  1. Refine your external communication: Encourage lead and relationship partners to begin a conversation with the client before/during/after the RFP process. It shows we’ve read the RFP in its entirety, take the process seriously and want to provide as much relevant and tailored information as we can. It says: “we listen before we speak.” Once the process is over, provide the partner some casual language to pose to the potential client on why we got the business or lost out.
  2. Refine your internal communication: after tailoring the content, the second largest usage of time is communication between marketing/BD, the involved partner(s) and other parties. BD needs to take the lead on keeping the project well-managed, so come armed with a plan, some structure, a scope and a calendar of what needs to be completed and when in order to stay on track. Make sure you have the right person managing the details and deadlines. Once the RFP is off and a decision is made, schedule a debrief to close the loop and select some best practices. Then document those practices.
  3. Infuse something into your proposal that makes it worth reading. Innovate. Answer a question in an interesting way, consider using mixed media, drop off the RFP in person, but try something that will help you stand out for the right reasons. Average tools, templates and boilerplate language is exactly that - average. If your work and/of your firm is above average, that must be evident in your response. You can’t ask the client to do the work of knowing what makes you the right choice, you have to articulate that for them.
  4. Quantify the RFP process to see how much actual time it takes and compare it to your win rate. Take a long hard look at what is “worth it” for your firm and figure out: 1) if there are any alternatives to a full response, 2) if/when it’s right to say “no” and 3) how to convey that decision to the attorney and the client.
  5. Last, but certainly not least: really, truly respond to the client. Tailor your content so they can see how it relates specifically to them, not just anyone. Use the research you have, lean on your network to gain more competitive insight into the client. Think about their industry, their history, think about what keeps them up at night, ask questions and use your RFP response to position your firm/team as a solution. 

We look forward to seeing how the RFP process continues to evolve and what strides firms have made in next year’s survey results.

See also Jennifer's related Law360 article "Law Firms Get Smarter When Responding to RFP's."

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