Holy heck Batman! You’ve just opened your email and found a request for proposal (RFP). If you’re anything like me, you immediately drop everything you’re doing, take 60 seconds to panic and then rally the troops with a megaphone and a Woo Hoo! I realize most folks don’t actually react like me.
An RFP is a loaded acronym in my world. It’s both exciting and stressful. I had my first RFP, in my new role, at Schwabe and I learned a ton in the process. While this isn’t my first proposal – far from it – it was my first collaborative project in-house and as well as it went, I’ve got 7 tips to share to improve it for next time.
#1 What’s the Process
Starting here might seem like a no brainer, but every firm responds to RFP’s a little differently. Additionally, every RFP is different so starting with process will give you a solid foundation for hitting this out of the park.
#2 Set Expectations Up Front
While the marketing team might be used to RFP’s, not all attorneys see these regularly. Even if they do, process and expectation setting up front will set everyone up for success.
As marketers, it’s our job to pull these proposals together. It’s our messaging and our creative eye that allows a proposal for legal services to be engaging.
BUT, we can’t build these all by ourselves. When responding to an RFP, pull your team of key collaborators together and set expectations right away for what they are expected to do and by what date does it need to be completed.
#3 Collaboration is Key
I can’t stress enough the power of collaboration. If you’re responding to an RFP, you’re selling your attorneys, your firm reputation, your collective experience and your promised results.
Even for a small or simple RFP, that can be a tall order. Right at the beginning of the process, pull together your core team and decide on how you will work together. Then see #2 and be specific about how you’ll get the work compiled.
#4 Tailor to the Need
Before you draft a single line of content, make sure you are addressing the stated need. This means starting with THEIR pain point.
Make sure every member of your team has thoroughly read through the RFP. If you can, get your team together to debrief on what they think the most important elements to address are. See if anyone has connections or relationships that they can tap into for additional insights. You need to know what is important to the prospect – not what’s important to the firm.
- What do they need? What are they asking for? Are these the same?
- Do they value a single point of contact or a team approach?
- Are they price sensitive?
- Why are they looking for new representation? Who have they used before?
- Are they looking for a certain level of responsiveness?
- Are they looking for a legal vendor or a partner?
#5 Content Before Design
Content is the meat and potatoes of any RFP and more often than not, WHAT you are going to say dictates HOW your proposal will say it. Starting with a general layout or template is fine but don’t let the template dictate how you communicate to your prospect. And don’t be afraid to design outside the box if there’s a better way to show the WHAT.
#6 Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Specific Help
For me, one of the most rewarding part was seeing how the attorneys flock to help. Your team, your firm and your attorneys WANT you to be successful and they’re usually able to help. It’s your job to make it easy for them.
Be specific in your requests.
- What do you need?
- When do you need it by?
- And why do you need it?
Giving the why in addition to please and thank yous increases the chances that you’ll get what you need. Getting the help you need will be significantly easier if you can be specific in what you need and give context for why you need it.
#7 Next Steps are Critical
It may feel like the job is done after the RPF is submitted, but you sell yourself short if you stop now. Once you’ve submitted your proposal, set milestones for follow up.
For this most recent RFP, I set weekly reminders to myself to ask the attorney how things were going.
- Try to set up a time to walk through the proposal.
Don’t just send the proposal off into the world with fingers crossed.
- If you can’t set up a walk through, set up a follow up meeting to see if they have any questions or would like any additional information.
This can be a phone call or an email if meeting in person doesn’t work.
- Have your primary attorney schedule follow up notes or emails.
These don’t have to be specific to the proposal, just something to let the prospect know you’re thinking of them and care about the business.
- Ask when the prospect expects a decision to be made.
Then have your attorney follow up after that time to show your interest.
During the time I was working on this RFP, it was consuming and exciting but I learned a ton. Next time, I’ll be ready and this will be smoother for me and easier for my attorneys. Ultimately, that will also make it better for the prospect – which is the whole point after all.