As an expert in your field, you know you can bring clear value to your clients, but do you ever struggle to communicate it throughout every RFP process? Do you feel as if you are throwing a dart into the unknown, and hoping for the best? The others in your industry likely feel the same way. Being an expert in the field does not always translate into being able to communicate that expertise to a prospective non-designer client.
Here’s where the methodology that I will outline today behind the creative RFP toolkit comes in. This toolkit is meant for architects, urban designers and planners that often respond to a variety of requests and specific design RFP’s. It can be used for any scale, typology, or geography of your prospective project, because it is a methodology with room for flexibility.
In this article, I will go through an overview of steps one and two, of the five-part toolkit that will give you additional clarity on your value proposition and increase your strategic alignment with the client.
1. DEFINE YOUR VALUE
What is your unique perspective and value proposition?
Having been on both sides of the table, as a project architect and urban designer, working as a consultant and a client who manages consultants, I know the frustrations from both perspectives. My goal is to get talented designers, planners, and urbanists to be able to communicate their value to the client, and as a result get ahead! There is everything to gain for the client in working with a diverse set of consultants that can bring their unique perspective and expertise to help make an impact, and get the work done. Often the same people keep working on every project, because they are tried and tested. Newer firms need to be able to declare their values (and alignment) in a powerful manner to be able to disrupt that pattern.
In order to communicate your value, you need to first know your value proposition in and out.
It’s certainly not on you alone as an employee of a larger firm to define, but being able to advocate to your firm’s leadership to go through this soul searching exercise will open doors along the way, for your firm, and yourself. You must know your collective values before you can align them with your client.
So how can you articulate your values? Conduct a charrette!
A charrette is a brainstorming session around a design problem. It is a free flow of ideas coming from a variety of team members which then gets unified into a cohesive, inclusive, and authentic deliverable. Most often the RFP responses are written by an individual using a boilerplate template, or a business development team following a blanket methodology with constrained timelines.
If a charrette can be held for a specific project, it can also be held for a proposal response. This will ensure an authentic response and engage the partners, principals, as well as potential team members that are slated to work on the project. This process breaks downs the hierarchies of a specific company culture and translates into team chemistry during an interview. One of the tips for having a productive charrette is to have a specific proposal you are responding to, a specific agenda (see image below), and worksheets (link to download at end of article) to get at what you need to generate a collective deliverable at the end of the day. The agenda should help you define your value proposition through key questions, as well as encourage breakout groups and takeaways. Having a facilitator is key who can lead the meeting and share the key deliverable as a summary post charrette.
As a deliverable following the charrette, create a Values Specification Sheet that takes key takeaways from your collective brainstorm session and memorializes it. It is a snapshot page that can be circulated by the facilitator to all the participants of the charrette as a takeaway. This document can also be referred to in the RFP response process as a helpful cheat sheet for storytelling throughout the RFP response.
At the end of this charrette, the facilitator who is ideally also the individual working on the RFP response should be far better equipped with ideas to make their proposal stand out. Most importantly, you will have defined your Value Proposition with power!
Once you have your value proposition, you are ready for the second tool as part of this RFP toolkit: Align your Value to your client!
2. ALIGN YOUR VALUE
Now you have your value proposition, and the values specification sheet, you are ready to align it to your client. The key to having done the charrette around values, is to then align them with your prospective client so you can demonstrate why you are the perfect fit for the job.
Why does alignment matter? Any one RFP can have multiple qualified respondents, and the more aligned you are with the client’s priorities, the better chance you have at being shortlisted.
There are 3 actions you have to take to get to a strategic alignment:
- Deep Research on your Client
- Mocking up a Client Resume
- Declaration of Alignment
Action 1: Deep Dive Research on your Client
Explore public and personal resources to do strategic research about your client. This could include the client’s website, any awards they may have won, press articles, and past projects.
It could also be the Q+A Info Session that is the most underutilized event in my experience. There are lots of missed opportunities here that can be leveraged to know what you need to stand out. You just have to ask!
Research without a template can be like going down a rabbit hole. This is where key questions come into play. This stage of deep dive research will help you not only write a more aligned response, but also exude confidence when you enter the interview stage. At the end of this process, you will certainly know more about your client than others who just read the RFP at hand in isolation.
Key Questions to ask during the research process:
Client Values: What drives your clients work? What are their values? State the values and goals of the RFP at hand. What is the client trying to accomplish and how?
Identify Projects: Choose projects that the client has developed before within the same typology of the RFP on hand. What values can you extract from those projects? Have they won any awards? Who worked for them?
Articulate client priorities: Look at your research and identify the top 3 values driven priorities that are related to the RFP at hand. Write it down and make a mental note to emphasize as needed.
Action 2: Mockup A Client Resume
After the research: summarize. Get creative, and mockup your client’s resume. This will be a cheat sheet you can give to each of the interview participants.
About: Values + Expertise
Include vision, mission, and RFP Values and Goals. What drives your clients work? List client’s strengths and weaknesses, typology expertise, process innovations, and unique use of technologies
List projects from your prior research that the client has developed that are relevant to the RFP. What are the Key Values of Project? Who was the design firm? Why did they get selected? Did the project win any awards, and why?
What do they want in a consultant? How can you fit into their future? List your shared values and make it a point to be strategic about bringing it up throughout your proposal.
Action 3: Declare your alignment with power
How do you fit into your client’s future and provide an invaluable service that goes beyond what is on paper? Align your Unique Value Proposition to their need, and pain points.
And there it is, the first two steps to the toolkit that demystifies the process of feeling prepared to respond with your best and most authentic self to an RFP. This overview has now summarized the 2 most important first steps in getting ready for responding strategically and powerfully to an RFP! The Creative RFP Toolkit has 5 steps. I have gone through Step 1: Value Proposition, and Step 2: Alignment in this post.
Step 3: Storyboarding, & Step 4: Mapping your process, get into the details of how to incorporate your values and alignment into the content of the RFP response.
Step 5: Inspire, is about how to best prepare for the in-Person Interview while learning about typical pitfalls that take away from your team’s chances of getting hired.