How to say no to an RFP without annoying your prospective client

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How to say no to an RFP

One of the biggest issues, professionals face is knowing how to say no to an RFP. It is all very well running a go/no go process to a Request For Proposal (RFP) you have received. In fact, it is best practice to do so. Which is why we provide a free Bid/No Bid tool on this website for those that need one. Following the steps in the analysis may well lead you to deciding that you need to say no to an RFP you’ve been sent. This leaves you with the task of now telling the issuer that you are declining the opportunity to respond. In short, you’ll need to know how to say no to an RFP effectively.

This isn’t as simple as just saying no to the client or prospective client. Particularly, if that client or potential client has specifically sent you the RFP. Even if you feel they have sent you the RFP, just to ‘make up the numbers’, choosing not to participate and not make up the numbers could potentially upset or derail their process. So how do you say no to an RFP without annoying your prospective client? Below are some suggestions on how to do so.

3 ways to say no to an RFP

Like I said, this isn’t easy. You’ll no doubt feel uncomfortable or even awkward having to convey this message to the issuer. However, it needs to be done and done well. In the right situation an honest response can help build a stronger long-term relationship with your client or prospect. After all, we all respect people who are honest and don’t waste our time. Remember, someone has to read your bid, so if it has no chance of success, ultimately you are wasting their time.

1. Explain why in a formal letter or email

I would urge you to do this early in the piece. Sending a ‘not responding’ letter 1 day before deadline day is not a good look. It leaves the impression to the issuer that you managed your response time poorly. Going forward they will also see you as a person/organisation that has poor organisational skills. So, do it early on.

Secondly, do give thanks and acknowledge them for giving you the opportunity. Then give clear and concise reasons you have decided not to respond on this occasion. One tip, saying that you are not responding because you can’t win is not an acceptable business reason. Instead, if you hadn’t been expecting the RFP and your resources aren’t available to deliver the work or provide a thorough enough response in the time given, make that clear. If it is for a service that isn’t a core part of your offering, then again make that clear. It is perfectly acceptable to say that the service you require is not one that we have much track record in delivering. Rather than trying to ‘fudge’ a response, you have opted to not respond, so let them know that and for future reference where your strengths lie.

Finally, let them know almost immediately. Yes, I’m repeating this point, but it is key. If your reasons are sound, they’ll respect that. If they need a certain number of responses, they have time to invite another vendor. You could perhaps even offer to help them find another vendor to invite. Which leads me to the next point.

2. Decline and offer them something else

We’ve already established that you are going to say no here,  However, if they need a certain number of responses, can you assist them by suggesting an alternative provider for them to invite? While you may be concerned over adding another competitor in the mix, have a think how the issuer will feel. They will view you as someone who will try to help them even if it isn’t necessarily advantageous to you. That is a great starting point for a relationship.

Alongside that, could you offer to run a free workshop on the areas of service that you do cover? Say that you can’t cover all the areas they’ve requested, so rather than investing X hours on your bid response, offer to spend those X hours on a workshop with them. The aim of this would be to give the issuer some ideas and an overview of how to help make the project they are tendering for, successful.  If they take this offer up, you’ll get to help them and also demonstrate the areas you are good at. If they don’t accept, they’ll most likely appreciate the offer.

3. Call them and talk it through

If you’ve thought about your reasons for not responding and put them in a letter, couldn’t you just phone them up? The personal touch is mostly appreciated. It gives the issuer a chance to share their feelings with you. If they really do insist they want you to respond, then perhaps that will change your decision. If they are happy with you not responding, it’s great you know that.

Have that formal email ready to go. There are two clear advantages to this. Firstly, you’ll have your messages clearly laid out before the call for your own reference. Secondly, you can send the email as soon as you hang up the call.

Conclusion – How to say no to an RFP

Deciding not to respond to bid is certainly not a passive activity. It requires a great deal of thought to convey your reasons effectively and clearly. You’ll need to think about what reasons will resonate the best with the issuer. The examples above are to assist you. Not a template as each response requires the right reasons tailored to the RFP and your business. However, if done correctly and with openness and honesty, you can decline an RFP without annoying your prospective client, in fact you can actually use it as a springboard to build a stronger relationship.

If you need further help with your RFP responses, read “The 12 steps to write a winning bid. Proposal success made easy.”

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