We’ve written quite a bit in previous posts about how to navigate the request for proposal process when you are the primary consultant responding to the RFP, and how to find RFPs that are right for your firm.
But what if the services you provide are so specialized that they’re seldom requested in their own RFP? Are there proactive steps that you can take to earn a spot as a subconsultant on RFP teams, as opposed to just waiting for teaming requests from prime consultants?
In fact, the mechanics of the RFP process create some unique opportunities to find prospective projects, and the challenges that the process puts on respondents can be turned to your advantage and help you secure a spot on the team.
Many of these techniques are actually variations on the things that you would do to pursue RFP opportunities as a prime consultant, with some subconsultant-specific twists.
1. Monitor and share published RFPs
In order to pursue a place on teams being formed to pursue new RFPs, the first thing you need to do is find a way to stay abreast of RFPs as they are released. This can be done with an RFP monitoring service like FindRFP, or through a variety of other methods described in this previous post on How to Find RFPs.
Once you’ve spotted RFPs that might require a firm like yours as part of the project team, you can reach out to companies in your network that might be likely to respond to the RFP as a prime consultant. The message to them is “If you’re responding to this RFP, we’d like to be part of your team.”
Some subconsultants and vendors even make sharing RFPs a regular part of their outreach effort to prospective clients, updating prospects on relevant RFPs even if they don’t see an opportunity to be part of the team. In general, however, it’s getting harder to find RFPs that sophisticated firms haven’t already heard about, so I’m not sure how much value you actually deliver by doing this. The more important thing is to target the RFPs that offer immediate teaming potential.
2. Attend pre-proposal meetings
What if you’ve used your RFP monitoring activities to identify a new opportunity, but none of your regular contacts has indicated any interest in putting together a team to respond? If the RFP includes a pre-proposal meeting, that presents a great opportunity to see who is considering a response, and even meet them in person.
Depending on the specifics of the meeting, there may be a variety of ways to find out who is there, and also make your own presence known to potential team members.
At smaller meetings, attendees may be asked to introduce themselves. Take good notes, and when your turn comes, identify yourself in a way that clearly establishes the role you could play on a team.
There is often an opportunity for brief interaction with other attendees at the end of the meetings. Take advantage of the opportunity to introduce yourself to potential teammates and exchange cards.
Pay attention to the sign-in sheet. At bigger pre-proposal meetings, it can be hard to figure out who’s in attendance. In this situation, the sign-in sheet can be your friend. Some institutions/agencies will release the list of attendees as an addendum to the RFP. If not, try the guerrilla technique of visually scanning the sheet for key company names as you sign in yourself.
3. Be prepared to respond
Once you’ve identified firms willing to consider you for their teams, all of the work you have (hopefully) done previously to assemble and organize your marketing tools will pay off. You should be able to provide all of the materials needed by the prime consultant – quickly and in the exact format they need.
This quick response will pay long-term dividends. That is because while marketing directors always want to team with the firms that are the best fit for a project, they also put a lot of value on a team member’s ability to make their life easier by promptly complete, concise, and clearly organized information ready for use in their RFP format.
Over time, marketing directors at large firms learn who can be trusted to help them build the best RFP response, and those subconsultants will always top their list of potential team members.
4. Stay on people’s radar
Professional services marketing always has an element of “being in the right place at the right time,” and the hunt for RFP teaming opportunities is no exception. Sometimes the subconsultant that is asked to be part of an RFP team is just the one that happens to be on someone’s mind because they recently received an email from them, or saw a blog post they had written, or read something about them in a professional journal.
5. Become a resource
This one is closely related to #4. That’s because the most effective way to stay on people’s minds is to earn a reputation as a resource for information about your area of specialization. Even more than end users, prospective partners don’t need to be bombarded with marketing messages. Share information about new technologies and trends in you specialization – and serve as a reliable source of answers and advice – and you’ll be the firm that people turn to when they’re assembling teams for potential projects.
6. Increase your odds with multiple teams
One factor to consider when you’re participating as a subconsultant on RFP teams is the issue of being included in more than one proposal. If your service is specialized enough, then there may be occasions where prime consultants are fine with you being a part of multiple teams. In fact, it is not uncommon for a highly specialized consultant to be included on all of the teams pursuing a project.
Of course, there will also be situations where a team leader – especially one that has a good chance of getting a project – requests exclusivity from all of the members of its team. The point here is that you shouldn’t automatically assume that you can or can’t be a part of multiple teams, and when you can, you should increase your odds of success by participating in as many teams as possible.
As we’ve said before, finding work through RFPs can be a frustrating and time-consuming endeavor – with the odds stacked against you. This means that anything you can do to minimize the resources you put into an RFP or increase your chances of success is a good thing. And as a subconsultant on an RFP team, you’ll invest less time in the preparation of the response, and sometimes even have an opportunity to enhance your odds by being a member of multiple teams pursuing the same project.
By taking a structured approach to your efforts to expand these kinds of opportunities, you should be able to reap some of the benefits without drawing resources away from marketing initiatives aimed directly at end-user clients.
In future posts we’ll address some other issues related to RFP teams, including the specifics of what you should be ready to supply when asked to join a team, and what you can do to make sure that being a member of a winning team actually turns into billable work.