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Best Practices Series: The Go/No-Go Decision

This guide delves into optimizing the response to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), emphasizing a balanced approach combining project management skills and comprehensive company knowledge. It outlines a systematic process, including initial assessment, scoring criteria, intrinsic decision tensions, and the role of software in streamlining operations. The importance of leadership alignment, communication, and clear tradeoffs is highlighted to mitigate conflicts. While software tools like CRMs and AI-native RFP automation can enhance efficiency, the focus remains on process alignment. The article concludes with a glimpse into future topics, promising insights into project management, information integration, common pitfalls, and post-submission strategies for RFP success.

Responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) is a process that requires both strong project management as well as strong product and company knowledge. The Arphie team has collaborated with many organizations to optimize their RFP / proposal / RFX processes, regardless of whether RFP response automation software is implemented. 

This series will walk through a “golden path” to RFP process streamlining. The approach will vary based on the team composition and types of RFPs that are being responded to. 

In this series, we will focus on teams that receive a fair volume of RFPs per year (50+), but do not yet have a dedicated Proposal team to quarterback the process. Instead, Sales Engineering or Solutions Engineering are the primary drivers of RFP completion, with input from other teams.  

RFP Intake: The Initial Assessment of Go / No-Go

The initial assessment involves a thorough review of the RFP document to determine its alignment with your company's capabilities and objectives. This step is vital in deciding whether to proceed with a response (the “go/no-go decision”). 

Scoring: Evaluating Fit and Feasibility

When a RFP reaches the sales team, there are usually several criteria that are part of the go/no-go decision-making process. The criteria are ultimately ways to programmatically break down the question: “What are our chances of winning the RFP, and if/once we do, can we do a good job?” 

We suggest scoring the RFP based on the following:

  1. Does the RFP align with the company’s business goals? For example, if one key priority for the company in the fiscal year is to break into the financial services vertical, and the RFP came from a top 5 multinational bank, the RFP would score highly in this dimension. 
  2. Does the company have the capability to fulfill the RFP? In other words, how aligned is the company’s product and services with the requirements of the RFP?
  3. Was the company involved in putting together the RFP? This is typically the first question that sales leaders will ask. Depending on the industry, if a company is invited to participate in a RFP with no prior contact, the chances of success are lower than if the company had helped shape the RFP process. 
  4. Who are the competitors involved, and how strong are they? This information may either be directly shared by the prospect, or it may be gleaned / inferred from the RFP itself. One trick that we’ve seen folks employ is to search for key phrases in requirements to see if it shows up in marketing collateral of competitors. Typically, what is the win rate against the competitors?
  5. Have expectations around pricing already been set? If so, is pricing at a level that makes sense for the company to participate and hit margin goals?
  6. Other logistical questions, such as whether there’s enough time to put together a good response to the RFP, or bandwidth for the team to work on it. 

Don’t overcomplicate with a 0-10 scale, or oversimplify with a binary Yes/No. Usually we see teams that implement scoring use a 1-3 scale or a 1-5 scale across this list of questions. Of course, feel free to modify this list as you see fit – this should hopefully be a good starting point of evaluation criteria. 

Intrinsic Go/No-Go Decision Tensions

It is important for the evaluation and scoring to be done by a party that is as neutral as possible. For example, most sales teams are incentivized by a commission structure. If they don’t see obvious tradeoffs from investing time on a given RFP, the sales team tends to push for RFP participation regardless of the probability of winning. This can lead to significant tension between the sales teams, and the teams that end up needing to bear the brunt of the RFP preparation work (e.g., sales engineering or solutions teams). 

To preempt these tensions, we suggest: 

  • Alignment upfront between sales leadership and sales engineering / solutions leadership on what the threshold is for go/no-go. Buy-in from leadership is important to ensure that if escalations occur, the criteria has already been established. To get leadership comfortable with the structure, we’ve seen teams retroactively score the last few RFPs to provide tangible examples of the scoring at work. 
  • Sales enablement to communicate these requirements (both at structured events like Sales Kick Off (SKO) and on an ongoing basis, such as sales enablement and training documents) 
  • Having an escalation path. There will always be exceptions; for example, business goals may trump other criteria if it is a strong enough priority to try and win a certain logo. Pre-defining this escalation path allows for flexibility to remain despite having a structure in place. However, it is critical to also establish expectations as to how (minimally) frequently escalations should occur (e.g., “We should expect no more than 5% of RFPs to be escalated if we reach a ‘no-go’ decision, and the VP of Sales must be bought in that an escalation is necessary.”) 
  • Making it clear what tradeoffs are. For example, if the sales engineering (SE) team is primarily responsible for completing RFP inputs, and the sales team is asking for prioritization of a RFP despite a heuristic no-go decision, the SE leader should be clear on what active deals would be deprioritized in favor of completing the RFP. Sales leadership is then responsible for the tradeoff of: “If we spend time and resources on completing this RFP, we will de-prioritize deals X, Y, Z.” and do the calculus on whether the probabilities of deal closing align. 
Process and Software

In our opinion, the most important aspect of this step is about buy-in and process alignment, and frankly less about the exact software that is used. 

That said, software can help operationalize and streamline the process. We’ve seen a few different approaches: 

  • Track the intake and scoring in spreadsheet tools like Google Sheets. We suggest this approach if the go/no-go decision is only just starting to be operationalized. Pros: easy to implement, flexible to tweak as the process gets nailed down. Cons: not directly tied with CRMs, harder to operationalize / kick off workflows. 
  • Track the intake and scoring in a CRM (e.g., Salesforce). We suggest this approach if the go/no-go decision is already fairly crystallized and the team wants to be able to kick off processes depending on the decision. Pros: can orchestrate if-then flows, centralized reporting with the CRM. Cons: less flexible and may require CRM admin bandwidth. 

Where things start to get interesting is using AI-native RFP software to help with scoring, as well as help operationalize the scoring process. 

  • Operationalization: Depending on the software, you may be able to kick off the RFP process after the go/no-go decision is captured in the CRM. For example, you can configure a Salesforce integration to automatically create a project and pipe information into the RFP automation software. 
  • AI-assisted scoring: Some qualification questions mentioned earlier (e.g., whether the company can provide the services and products requested by the RFP, and whether there are other competitors involved) can be AI-assisted in scoring. This helps ensure that the scoring is as objective as possible. This capability is on Arphie’s roadmap in 2024. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact us. 
  • Lowering the barrier to RFP response: Without AI-native RFP automation software, the process of responding to a RFP requires much more time, effort, and sacrifice of other priorities. Teams using Arphie report the ability to respond to more RFPs than before with less time and effort required, resulting in more RFP wins.

Next in the series

In the next few articles, we will be walking through: 

  • Once the “go” decision is made to proceed with a RFP, the ideal project management process to run 
  • Best practices to solicit, collect, and integrate information from other teams (Subject Matter Experts, or “SMEs”)
  • Common pitfalls in the RFP process and how to avoid them 
  • After the submission: how to maximize your chances of winning
Best Practices Series: The Go/No-Go Decision
Arphie Team
Product Marketing

Arphie's product and content marketing team.

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Learn about the latest, cutting-edge AI research applied to RFPs and questionnaires, as well as practical tips and tricks to win more proposals.