top of page
  • Writer's pictureBen Paul

You’ve decided to respond to an RFP you have little/zero chance of winning. What do you do next?

You’ve decided to respond to an RFP you have little/zero chance of winning. What do you do next?

Best practice in developing a high win rate in your RFP responses, requires that you have a robust bid/no bid procedure. Like many procedures that existed before COVID-19, this one has also been reconsidered by many. In an economic downturn it is highly likely that may businesses will ignore this step entirely and respond to any RFP they possibly can. While this will most likely not lead to an immediate up-turn in work being won, it is understandable that with revenues plummeting, businesses and their leaders will not want to let any potential opportunity slip away. This applies to bids that they know deep down that they have practically no chance of winning, at all.

With this potentially new normal bid response strategy, of everything is a go, what can you do to make the most out of responding to an opportunity you have been tasked with responding to? Can you turn a definite loss into a win? If you can’t achieve that, can you somehow respond in such a way that increases your chances for the next RFP that particular client issues? The simple steps below give you some advice on what you should do, when you decide to respond to an RFP you have little to zero chance of winning.

Still do your RFP bid/no bid analysis.

It is essential that you include this step as part of your process, even if regardless of what it says you’re fully committed to responding. If you don’t have this procedure in place, this bid/no bid tool will help you establish one. The reason you should still carry out this step, is because it will help you understand the areas of weakness you have in your response. Understanding these early on in the piece will help you improve your ability to mitigate them in your response.

Pick up the phone.

Lots of formal RFPs don’t actually prohibit you from speaking to those who issued it. Some do, many don’t. Read the RFP carefully. Like everything in sales, don’t make assumptions. I’ve worked with several bid response teams who are adamant that they can’t talk to the client now the bid has come. Having read the RFP carefully, in many cases it turns out this isn’t the case. In which case those who issued the RFP, may well be waiting for you or your competitor to call. If you don’t already have much intel or rapport with this particular business, now’s your chance to start developing it.

Incumbents don’t hold the same sway.

If a flurry of previously unanticipated RFPs hit the market you operate in, there’s probably only two logical reasons for this. Either you’re in a unique sector hotspot post lockdown. The construction and infrastructure sectors in NZ being an example of that. Or the market you supply to is looking to reduce its operating costs, and your services are ones they are targeting. It is this second reason that means the incumbents don’t sit in as strong a position as they traditionally do.

As organisations are looking to cut costs, they will increasingly be less concerned about the costs usually associated with changing suppliers. This means that they are perhaps more open than ever before to appointing someone new.

Be courageous, try something different in your RFP response.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, it is a good idea to think differently. Consider using a well-designed front cover that relates to your response’s key message. Alternatively, put some real investment into your executive summary. This previous article gives you some tips on what to avoid, and what to do instead.

This could be the time to go completely out there and look at submitting a non-conforming bid. If the RFP issue is looking to save money, can you offer them something different? If you have a different service offering or a different way of meeting their needs, even if it doesn’t meet the RFPs criteria, I’d urge you to submit it. A non-conforming bid applied correctly can change the game and help you win. Even if it doesn’t, it has put in the RFP issuer’s mind that your organisation is innovative and has client-centric thinking.

Review the RFP scope and your response to it ruthlessly.

It can be easy to add in extra parts to your service response, that have not been requested. This trap is one that many service providers and those in professional services often fall into. You have years of expertise and ideas on how to improve or deliver a service that will lead to a better outcome. However, if these additions haven’t been asked for don’t include them. If you do, it could lead to your price becoming too expensive. This is due to you having over-scoped the project.

If you can, and time permits, get someone independent of the direct bid team to review your response against the scope asked for. Ask them to remove/highlight any parts you’ve included that are out of scope. Then either remove them or include them in your response as optional extras (charged separately for). This will ensure you haven’t overcooked your response.

If you need more help with your next RFP response, read our 12 step guide to writing winning bid responses.


It doesn’t happen often, but you can sometimes manage to win from a losing position. I’ve experienced this thrill a few times over my career. Have no illusions though, it is still less than likely to occur. To have any chance though, you’ll need to have the courage to do things differently. The tips above should help you with that.


bottom of page