I hate to lose on RFPs but sometimes it’s when I learn the most

For the past three and a half years I have been working for small marketing agencies as the “Interactive Guru Expert of all things Internet Related” (not my official title just kind of my feeling on the situation), it’s a role that I feel I have flourished in over the past few years. It is always challenging because my industry is always changing, and as the person who prospects for new website work, writes the proposals, presents our proposals AND does all the design and front-end programming I am VERY invested in all aspects of the process.

I hate loosing out on Website RFPsI really hate it when I come in second for a website development job….but this is how we evolve.

This year has been a good one, filled with great opportunity and few narrow misses that I know we could have landed with a bit more experience and insight into the industry. This is how I always try to take the RFPs that we don’t end up getting, use it as a learning experience, ask questions, get as much information out of the contact as they are willing to share, things like:

  • Was the winning bidder selected the cheapest?
  • Was our pricing competitive with everyone else?
  • Was our location or distance to you an issue at all?
  • What system did you decide to use for your new site?
  • How could we have improved our presentation?
  • What other areas could we have improved upon to possibly change your decision?
  • Did our proposal do a good job explaining our product and services?

Here’s the most recent example of what I mean

These are the big questions that have helped me to learn a lot more about the projects we didn’t get and a fair amount of industry insight as to what potential clients are looking for most from their vendors of choice. Case in point….over the past three months I was working for FirstTracks Marketing Group trying to land the website development contract with Eastern Maine Community College. We came in second, out of 35 potential bidding vendors (not bad if you ask me, but not good enough unfortunately). Obviously my immediate reaction is frustration and disappointment but I was able to have a nice conversation with the director of the college to dig a little bit deeper.

Here’s what I discovered

A few less surprises at this point as I have been doing this for a few years now, but to keep a long story short:

  1. The winning bidder was the cheapest – something you really need to keep first and foremost in your mind when dealing with any non-profit, healthcare, state project, or educational institution. The old addage “money talks” really holds true here.
  2. Distance was NOT an issue – we were the only bidding company in the finals NOT from Maine, did not make a difference to them
  3. They loved our design work
  4. They loved our proposal
  5. They decided to use WordPress for their new website – this is important to note because we were proposing to use our own custom CMS system we have developed for a number of reasons, the most important of which was to develop a custom Access Control Layer system for their new site.

What do I take away from this?

Based on this most recent round of feedback on a missed opportunity I have come to the following 5 conclusions:

  1. Price is king, always has been always will be, even when a fixed budget is proposed, they don’t want to see how you can best use that money they want to know how you can do what they want to do for the least amount of money possible
  2. Location is quickly becoming less and less of an issue. Do local companies still have an edge? Yes of course they do, but as technology continues to shrink the world there are no shortage of ways to complete projects without ever having to meet in person. It’s all just a question of client comfort.
  3. Providing design samples with your proposals is a pain but 9 times out of 10 worth it. Even though we didn’t get the job, they raved about my design work, it only took me a few hours to put a few samples together, and it went a long way towards differentiating our skill set from the other competitors.
  4. My proposal formatting is working. We are constantly getting to the final rounds of these RFP processes, which means our strategic planning and presentation materials are doing what they should do, enticing our potential clients to our products and service solutions.
  5. I am seeing a lot more WordPress usage for larger enterprise level sites. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, I do quite a bit of design and development work in WordPress these days. It is the world’s best blogging platform and if you can find plugins to do what you want your site to do there is fast becoming not much that it can’t do with some tweaking and customizing. And in this case I learned that there is a phenomenal plugin for WordPress that actually lets you create a multi-level access control system for your site. Which is something I am positive I will end up using for a future project at some point. A definite big time take away that is going to add to my ever expanding bag of tricks.

So what now?

Now we look to the next project, armed with more information and feedback than ever before. This is a constantly evolving process where we are always striving to hone our presentation elements and improve our materials. I try to not take these things too personally, remain objective and continue to believe that sooner or later with all our continued hard work and effort that we will start hitting these RFPs as often as we like. It’s all about being a good judge of the situation, reading your potential client and providing them a solution that they can’t possibly say no to. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your website development agency.

I would love to know what your experiences with the Website RFP are like. What things have you learned? Feel free to leave your comments below, let’s start some discussion and see if we can learn even more from each other. If you are looking for help with a project you are trying to land, I am always available for phone and in-person consultation meetings. Please fill our my contact form for more details.

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2 Responses to “I hate to lose on RFPs but sometimes it’s when I learn the most”

  1. David November 14, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    Proof that a RFP post-mortem is a valuable part of the process!


  2. Matthew Nelson November 15, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks for the comment David. I agree the RFP post-mortem is an essential part of the process, that if you are not willing to dedicate proper time to regularly you should just stop trying to win bids on RFPs because you will just be wasting your time.