RFPs: How to Make the Most of Every Opportunity

In the AEP blog series, Ask an Expert, experts offer their advice on the most pressing issues facing the educational resource industry. Here, RedRock Reports offers advice on how to prepare for and prosper from the increased amount of RFPs issued in the education community.

When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed, it heralded in a new level of transparency for the education community. Education expenditures were opened to an unprecedented level of scrutiny under the new ARRA reporting requirements. As a result, districts that once simply wrote a purchase order began issuing Request for Proposals (RFPs), leading to an increase in education RFPs across the board. And it appears that the increased transparency will not go away when the final ARRA funds are spent this year. Rather, it’s a trend that seems to be gaining momentum.

The increase in RFPs from the education community is an incredible opportunity for companies. But, it can also be overwhelming. Here are some tips to navigate the RFP process to result in winning bids for your company.

Lay the Groundwork
Make sure you’ve laid the groundwork so that you can participate in opportunities as they are announced. Requirements vary widely by state, district, and school. Some RFPs require that bidders be existing registered vendors for the state. Others won’t even allow you to view the RFP unless you are a registered vendor. Ensure that you’re registered as an approved vendor in your key states and districts to avoid missed opportunities. The process should be clearly defined on each state’s procurement page.

Prioritize
The number of RFPs released is overwhelming. Dozens of RFPs can be released by the education community in any given day.  To avoid feeling flustered by the vast offerings, prioritize which regions or districts to monitor. Then within your selected geographic scope, further prioritize based upon your company’s bandwidth and preferences.

Some RFPs require in-person attendance at a bidder’s conference. This may not be practical for your company, depending upon its size and employee base. Other RFPs require a fee, which may or may not be worthwhile for you based upon the size of the RFP.

Be Ready to Respond
On May 6, an RFP was released by a school district for printers. On May 16, the RFP was due. That brief window for response is commonplace. RFPs are often released with tight turnaround times—as little as 10 days in some cases. Timeliness on your part is critical.

To be prepared you must invest the time, or hire a service, to track RFPs so that you are able to reply within the designated window. Searching for RFPs every month or every quarter is no longer adequate and will lead to missed opportunities.

To enable your company to respond to RFPs within a short window have language pre-drafted for your products and services. Create succinct descriptions of your products and services. Provide evidence of effectiveness and research to support your products. Then, you can customize that language based upon the particular opportunity.

A Cohesive, Targeted Approach
Tracking RFPs is an important sales strategy.  But it’s not an easy task.  With a targeted approach and some advanced planning, your company will be poised to take advantage of the right opportunities when they are announced.
________________________
Jennifer House, Ph.D, is Founder and Principal of RedRock Reports, helping schools and companies navigate the educational funding landscape. Dr. House is a former school district administrator and educational technology innovator. In addition to tenure with the Cupertino, CA, school district, she also held executive positions with Apple Computer, Classroom Connect, and other leading K-12 organizations. Under Dr. House’s direction, RedRock Reports has assembled a team of specialists with a broad range of professional experience and industry perspectives. Visit RedRockReports.com.

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