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Two Procurement Pros on Adapting Your RFP Responses in 2020

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“For many, the added challenge of working from home is changing how procurement is done.”

Emphasized by Emily Lambert, Content Marketing Strategist, following a recent webinar by sourcing software Bonfire, it’s a topic at the forefront for many Request For Proposal (RFP) response teams right now. How is work with vendors changing? And how does this change how to respond to an RFP?

To give you an insider’s look, we enlisted the help of two procurement pros who evaluate RFP responses 24/7: Pallabee Bera, Vice President of Procurement for Acosta Sales & Marketing, and Ben Winter, Head of Growth and Strategy at Fairmarkit, procurement software.

Below, they share how to write an RFP response that will stand out in 2020.

For more original research on how responders are shifting their RFP process in today’s climate, check out our recent report: How Proposal Teams are Managing RFPs During COVID-19.

Summary: Key RFP Response Changes Coming Your Way in 2020

How To Write A RFP Response RFP That Will Win in 2020

Q: What changes are you seeing in terms of the volume of RFPs that you’re creating right now?

Pallabee Bera: “There has been a renewed focus on supply chain continuity and vendor partnership in the procurement community. The emphasis weighs heavily on existing relationships right now.

Current circumstances have brought the value of strong vendor partnerships to the forefront, as well as the consequences of weak ones. There is a spotlight on each vendor’s ability to manage through this crisis while delivering goods and services to their customers.

I expect this will present an opportunity for an increase in bids in the coming months, as the procurement community seeks to reduce risk and strengthen the supply chain.”

Q: What types of RFP questions should vendors expect to get more of in 2020?

Ben Winter: “We are asking vendors about payment terms and flexibility on term lengths. We have no idea how long this situation will last and how we will be impacted in the short or long term, so having flexibility is crucial during these uncertain times.”

Pallabee Bera: “First and foremost, business continuity is top of mind. Two key topics will be reemphasized during this time. The first is the financial stability of the vendor, which indicates their ability to continue delivering goods or services through a crisis. Plus, companies should expect an ask for audited financial statements.

The second topic is disaster recovery planning. How will the vendor ensure continuity of supply? What have they learned through COVID-19, and what will they do differently moving forward?”

Q: How should vendors adapt how they write RFP responses this year?

Pallabee Bera: “I don't foresee major changes needed for approach on how to write an RFP. The value-added opportunity is to ensure that the RFP response highlights the stability of the vendor, their ability to innovate, and their nimbleness to respond to change. Exemplifying this gives RFP evaluators an understanding of your ability to evolve with the business.”

Ben Winter: “Understand your prospects' needs in this environment before you respond. The biggest change is around risk and extra layers of evaluation, mainly financial ones. What was previously their focus at the onset of a project may have changed drastically, as business needs have been continuously evolving during this time.

The project proposal that we provided last week may no longer be relevant the next week, so we are continually asking for updates, staying on top of changes, and making sure that we adapt.”

Q: How has your work as a procurement professional changed recently, and what does this mean for vendors??

Pallabee Bera: “The biggest change I'm seeing is a re-prioritization of business objectives. COVID-19 has challenged companies to evolve their service offering to better meet customers' needs. This opens up new business opportunities for vendors, as well as new RFPs in the pipeline. This is also an opportunity for companies to reevaluate the way they work today and implement long-term solutions that will improve efficiency and reduce costs.”

Ben Winter: “The biggest impact has been in the way that we communicate—with a substantial increase in remote calls and conversations. With this change, people need to stay more on top of their devices and make sure they are available to communicate because you can’t walk over to someone’s desk to chat.

On the positive side, after some initial bumps, we have become more productive and better able to go into modes of deep work to focus on larger projects. That has been a positive outcome from the whole work-from-home process.”

Adapting How You Respond to RFPs (And Win Your Next Bid)

Q: In light of the changes mentioned above, how can proposal managers better engage procurement teams throughout the RFP evaluation process?

Ben Winter: “Work to understand the needs of the company you are selling to. Listen to them and what they are telling you and be flexible. Also, remember that everything is changing every day, and incorporating that lens when you consume information and plan next steps is crucial.”

Pallabee Bera: “There are five things the proposal managers can do to support today:  

1. Be digitally savvy. Be well versed in the technology being commonly used, like video conferencing tools, to make the best use of allocated time.

2. Be flexible. Business priorities are changing, and this may also impact RFP responses.

3. Be prepared for short term change, with the long term picture in mind. As business priorities are changing, so are expectations of vendors.

4. Be patient. Business changes may impact timelines.

5. Be the subject matter expert for your business. Companies are navigating a lot of change and may be learning in the process.”

Q: What’s the best way for proposal managers to ask for deadline extensions during this time?

Ben Winter: “Ask and explain your circumstances. Everyone is willing to make concessions and work together during these difficult times. Be honest, be upfront, and identify areas where there may be a risk. Your potential customer will be understanding and appreciative of disclosing that information.”

Pallabee Bera: “There is an overall understanding that the current circumstances are impacting the way everyone works. RFP response teams need to be proactive in communicating specific needs and challenges; this includes everything from deadline extensions to technology challenges. Transparency is critical to ensure any special needs can be considered.”

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Adjusting Your RFP Response Management Strategy in 2020

How are other teams adjusting the way they fill out RFPs right now? Read this research report for some ideas.

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