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Episode 125: Generating More Revenue by Winning More RFPs—with Lisa Rehurek

Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. On this podcast, we are going to dive into requests for proposals. These are RFPs that you can either directly reply to to get business or as a consultant, you can help your clients respond to them so that they can do the fabulous things that they want to do. It's a way for you to generate some revenue but it's also a really great way to get a foot in the door so that they can see some of the other fabulous things that you could potentially help them with.

So this is a fantastic way for you to generate revenue for your business. But that means that you better be really, really, really good at it. And, unfortunately, there's a lot of mistakes that people make all the time when they're replying to them, or they just don't know the things that they can do that actually increase their chances of winning.

So I brought on a fantastic expert in this, Lisa Rehurek, who is from RFP Success. She is going to dive into all of the nitty gritty of how you can respond to RFPs or help clients with it and make sure that you win as many of those as possible. Let's get started.

Hi. I want to welcome you to my show today Lisa Rehurek. Lisa, welcome to the show.

Lisa Rehurek: Thanks so much, Deb. I'm excited to be here.

Deb Zahn: Well, I'm excited to have you on because, of course, I know the work that you do so well and it's just such great stuff. So I'm delighted that you are willing to come on my show and talk about it. So let's start off. What is it you do?

Lisa Rehurek: Well, we help companies that respond to RFPs. So for those of you who don't know what that is, that's a request for proposal. And anytime you do work with the government, federal, state, local, or frankly, a lot of corporations, you likely have to respond to an RFP. So we help companies that respond to RFPs do better so that they can win more. That's really it in a nutshell.

Deb Zahn: I love that and I love how succinct that is. I'm intimately familiar with RFPs. But before we get into the details, one thing I want to say for anybody listening is if you're a consultant, you have an opportunity to help clients respond to RFPs. This is a great way to generate revenue and get your foot in a door. You also have an opportunity as a business yourself to reply to RFPs...In either case, you darn well better be really good at it. And that's what we're going to talk about today.

Lisa Rehurek: 100%.

Deb Zahn: So you mentioned an RFP itself. So your work is with local and state governments. They're also federal ones. But why should a business or an organization even consider an RFP?

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. You know, it's such an interesting question and there are people out there that will say, "Don't ever bid on RFPs." And you know, in a perfect world, we'd love it if people didn't have to bid on RFPs because they can be hard and arduous, and it's not the funnest part of the sales process. But if you want to do work with the government, period, and a lot of large corporations, you're going to have to bid. You're going to have to respond to RFPs. I mean, you most of the time can't get around it and most of the time, states can't get around it. They can't just decide we're not going to. State and federal government, there's laws that require them to put bids out or an RFP out. So they have to make it a competitive bid. So you're going to have to bid on them. You might as well get used to them. Like Deb said, you've got to be good at it because you got to find a way to stand out. You can't just answer the questions and that be it.

Deb Zahn: So one of the first steps that folks have to take is they have to make their go-or-no-go decision. And so there's...there's the folks who are like, "Oh, I hate RFPs. I won't reply to them." In which case, you're leaving money on the table. And then, there's folks who are like, "Oh, I'll do every single one." So what do you advise folks in terms of deciding whether or not it makes sense to even reply to one?

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah, we...It is so funny because we get people like that all the time, where they'll say, "We can do all of these." They just want to bid on everything that they can, but just because you can doesn't mean you should. We've all heard of that before. Your go-no-go criteria should be developed far in advance of any RFP hitting your desk and as part of your business development strategy. Some of the things that you want to think about are, are there any deal breakers? Things like conflict of interest or any of the legal terms, limits of liability, things like that, that people a lot of times don't find until they're three weeks into responding to something, and then they realize, "Oh no. We can't bid on this." And they've wasted all that time.

So you want to have things like that. Your criteria should also include things like, you know, is this a client that we want to work with, that is going to value what we do? Are they the right size for us? Do we have the resources for it? Are we going to have to subcontract? So we strongly recommend that people have a kind of checklist. We have clients that have tools, scoring tools, really fancy. You don't have to get that fancy. Have a checklist, and as soon as an RFP hits your desk, go through that criteria and give yourself a score and, you know, there's going to be some that are obvious yeses, some that are obvious noes, and then some that are going to require some additional conversation. A really, really important practice to get into.

Deb Zahn: And so what if you see an obvious no? I mean, I know this is an obvious answer, but I want us to say it out loud.

Lisa Rehurek: Now, you...That obvious no, you need to set it aside and walk away. And it's hard to do. When we are building businesses and we are looking for business, it's hard to walk away from any kind of business. But I'm going to tell you you're going to waste your time. You're going to waste resources. You're going to waste precious motivation in your employees because they're going to get burnt out bidding on things that they keep losing. So it is...It is an obvious answer, but it's not always easy to do.

Deb Zahn: And I know before people write a single word of a response, they have to understand some basic things. It's like sports. You don't just say, "Well, we're just going to win and let's rush in." You have to think through what matters. So what do you encourage folks before they start putting anything on a piece of paper? What do they have to understand?

Lisa Rehurek: Well, the first thing that they have to understand is that they have to read the proposal. Like, it is amazing to me how many people don't read it.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: And then, again, they find something out two weeks in or three weeks in, and they're like, "Oh, we can't. We can't do that." So that's crucial. You've got to understand that. You need to understand the whole terms and conditions piece, and again, kind of back to your legalities. You should have a lawyer always look at those. Your lawyer internally or hopefully you've got a lawyer attached to your business, to read and make sure that there's nothing there. You've got to understand...You know, there's always going to be some kind of an insurance requirement, so can you meet those insurance requirements? You've got to understand how that all works and how quickly you can get any certificates that they might be requiring.

And then, you've got to be able to figure out...And, this is going to sound kind of crazy, but Deb, I know you're going to get this. You have to figure out how they want you to put this thing together because it's not always obvious.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Lisa Rehurek: And, oftentimes, there's this moment where you're like, "Oh, this is really obvious, the way they want it laid out." And then, there will be contradictions throughout the rest of the proposal. So really understanding how to lay it out is important also. I could go on and on about this topic, but those are probably the top ones.

Deb Zahn: You're edging towards another part of it, which is the mindset piece of it, which is it's not about you. I mean, it's about you, but it's not about you. Say more about that because I know you talk a lot about that.

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah, and this is my...Yeah. This is...This is my soapbox, for sure. It's really hard to grasp this mindset because they ask you a question, and they're asking you a question to describe how you do something or something about yourself. But it is not about you, and even though this is going to feel unintuitive, you have to flip the script because what they really care about is how your solution is going to work for them. So they don't really care about the how. They don't really care about you until they understand that you are the one that can provide the right solution. Until you build that trust. Until you show them that you have enough...that you know how your experience relates to what they need. So it's not about, “We have all this great experience...yada, yada, yada.” It's about having experience that is directly going to relate to what you need, and here is why it's going to give you the best solution that you could possibly have.

Deb Zahn: I love that. And that's so much like getting clients when you're a consultant. It's the same thing, which is it's about them. It's about their needs. It's about their outcomes. It's not about you until it's about you because you've shown them that it should be you. That's wonderful. Now, when someone...This is one of my favorite things because one of the mistakes I see a lot is people don't know who they're writing for. So it's just a thing that came out of a local or state or federal entity, but really, whose fate is...? Or, whose hands are your fate really, truly in when you're responding to an RFP?

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. And, if you don't know that going into the RFP, let me tell you, you have a less than 5% chance of winning.

Deb Zahn: Ooh.

Lisa Rehurek: Less than 5% chance. Let that sink in. Are you willing to waste time and resources? And there are times where there's a strategic reason to do that. But most of the time, people are just bidding cold. If you don't know anything about the entity that is putting that RFP out, if you don't know a little bit about what pain they're feeling, about the challenges they've had, about what they really need to solve...If you don't know any of that, all you're going to be doing is writing a pretty generic proposal. Not any different than sales, right, Deb?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: This is a sales tool. It is a written sales tool.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: And so it is the exact same thing. If you don't know anything about them, it's going to shine through. All you're going to be doing is talking about me, me, me, me, me, and they're not going to care and they're going to get bored and they're going to check out and they're not going to pay any attention and you're going to lose.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And who are they? Because I think they matter. Who's actually reading it and you need to feel your love flowing through the written word?

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah, right? Absolutely. If you don't know anything about them, then you don't know who the ultimate buyer is. You don't know who the...You know, in an agency...Let's say we're bidding on a state agency. You've got procurement officials in there that are not going to be emotionally attached to it at all and maybe not even have involvement. Sometimes they have involvement in the evaluation but sometimes not. Then you've got the ultimate buyer or buyers, but there's other people that are often involved and I'm going to tell you, they could be really random. It could be, "Hey, somebody called in sick and we need you. We're pulling you in. Read this proposal and score it." So if you can be ahead of time...This goes back to your business development strategy.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: Who are your target clients? And you're building those relationships, and you're learning a lot more about those...Who's going to be buying these services? You've got to know it or you're not going to be able to build trust in that response.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And I think your point about the reviewers being random is also a really good one. So I've...As you know, I've been a reviewer on a number of RFPs, so I've been on the other side and basically every single one I pick up is either going to make me happy or cranky.

Lisa Rehurek: Yes.

Deb Zahn: You don't want me cranky when I'm scoring. So write it so that it's easy. It's a delight and it follows what it is I need to do to fulfill my requirements that I didn't know about yesterday.

Lisa Rehurek: Right?

Deb Zahn: Or...Or maybe I knew about it, but I don't know why I said yes.

Lisa Rehurek: I mean, it's so funny because it's true. We all have stuff in our day, right? I think that people forget that there's a human being reading these.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: So we all have stuff in our day. Like, we maybe had a bad drive in the morning, for those people that are still driving into work or again driving into work. We might have something not good going on at home and we might be a little checked out. We might be in a really great mood and then you ruin it by reading the first page of the RFP. So people are moody. People are judgmental. They're going to judge whether they...You know, they're generally given a set of rules, if you will, around how they should be scoring these. But, you know, we're still human and we judge and it is brutal if they just set it aside and say, "I just can't even read this anymore."

Lisa Rehurek: I have a quick little story here if you don't mind me indulging.

Deb Zahn: Please.

Lisa Rehurek: When I first started kind of in the real RFP world, I was working for a large global consulting firm, and I was sitting at the table just to get experience. I was not anybody that was going to verbalize. I didn't know what I was doing. But there's all these high-powered consultants sitting around and they were doing a proposal for a very large pet supply company and they were like, "Oh my gosh. We should include this brochure. And then, let's tell them about this. And we can do this and this and this." It was all absolutely true. That consulting firm had a ton of beautiful, beautiful experiences. But 90% of what they crammed in this proposal was not being asked for. So they submitted three...I kid you not. Three three-inch binders for a proposal response.

Deb Zahn: Ouch.

Lisa Rehurek: And what's so funny about that...And I remember at the time thinking, "I don't think this is right. Like, this is way too much." But I was too...I wasn't experienced enough. I was too new to speak up. Learned my lesson there because years later I found...I met somebody who actually was on that evaluation committee and they said, "Oh, it went straight in the garbage can."

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Like, they didn't even try to re-use the binders.

Lisa Rehurek: Didn't even try.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: And that's heartbreaking. We spent a gazillion hours on that thing. So you don't want to be that person, for sure.

Deb Zahn: I really love how you talk about there's a human on the other side. And so if anything, before you respond, almost close your eyes and think about what it would be like if you were on the other side and you've got stuff going on in your home and you've got stuff going on in your work and you really didn't have time for it but now you got to add it and the only time you can do it is at 7:00 at night, after dinner.

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: And you really just want a glass of wine and you might have one anyway.

Lisa Rehurek: Right. So yeah. So then you've got the glass of wine that kicks in at some point, right?

Deb Zahn: Right. Right. Right.

Lisa Rehurek: As a whole other...It's true. You know, one of the things I always say is stop the boring.

Deb Zahn: Yes.

Lisa Rehurek: Come on people. Stop the boring. Nobody wants to read boring. You don't even want to read boring. So think about how you feel when you're reading the RFP and how hard it is to read it because it's boring.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: Don't then just turn around and submit the same back to them. Give them some personality. Give them some...Give them stories. Give them things that they can get to know you and that you can build trust with. And it is not a big technical how-to manual. I don't care how technical the ask is. It does not need to be that technical.

Deb Zahn: Yeah...We used something. I was helping a big client respond to a federal RFP and it was boring and it was a technical response to technical questions. And so we came up with the idea of, well, how do we describe what this does for actual people? And so we came up with a persona. His name was Anton.

Lisa Rehurek: I love that.

Deb Zahn: And we described all of this technical stuff. What it would mean for his experience, his outcomes, his life. And they got an incredibly high score and we owe a bunch of it to Anton, who doesn't exist.

Lisa Rehurek: That is amazing. Yep. I love, love, love that. You know, it's funny because I have a book about RFPs and in there I have a little character as well who is an evaluator and we have funny things, like he goes out one night and gets drunk and then the next day he's hungover and he's asked to evaluate. I mean, could you imagine having to read through a technical evaluation if you're not feeling well?

Deb Zahn: Wow.

Lisa Rehurek: So we have a little bit of fun with it. The other thing you can do is, you know, tell little anecdotes that...or metaphors. Kind of take what the technical information and then maybe add a little metaphor to...or an anecdote or something that describes it in layman's terms. And know, it's funny. This is not meant to offend anybody, but every now and then, people get offended by this. But you know those books that they write, For Dummies?

Deb Zahn: Yes.

Lisa Rehurek: You know? Like Excel For Dummies and Word For Dummies. You know how many of them there are out there? There's thousands of them.

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I have a bunch.

Lisa Rehurek: Do you know why? Right. And you know why they're out there, is because we're all a bunch of dummies outside of our area of expertise.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Lisa Rehurek: And so you've got to write for the dummies, and with love. I say that with love, right? But the people that don't have that technical expertise. They're hiring you for that.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Lisa Rehurek: If they had it, they wouldn't need you. They're hiring you for that. But you need to help them understand and simplify, and so sometimes when you have to explain a really technical thing, figure out a metaphor that you can plop in there that really helps them see it and sink their teeth into differently than having to just the technical jargon.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Or even just loading it with jargon that everyone else is using. It doesn't mean anything to anyone.

Lisa Rehurek: Right.

Deb Zahn: But they're reading something. Like I just read a page. And I've had this happen to me as a reviewer. I read an entire page. I'm like, "I don't know what you actually just said."

Lisa Rehurek: Yep.

Deb Zahn: I'm in this field and I don't know what you just said. You're killing me.

Lisa Rehurek: That happens all the time. And then, you know what happens then? When you ask somebody...when we ask our clients, "You know, can you explain this to us? What are you trying to say here?" A lot of times, they don't even know.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: So yeah.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. If you can't turn around and explain it to someone who doesn't know it, don't write it. Don't include. I think that's a great rule. So surely there are folks who are doing fabulous RFPs and they understand what it takes to actually win. If you had to tell someone, "Look, no matter what, do these two or three things if you really truly want to win," what would you tell them?

Lisa Rehurek: I would tell them to make sure they're bidding on the right things, number one. Number two, to answer the question. And I know that sounds really simplistic, but we do a gazillion reviews of RFPs and audits and we...Every single one of them...100% of them will have at least a few questions that they just didn't answer. So answer it as it was asked, and that will take you really far. And number three...Pay attention to the evaluation criteria. What are they really going to be evaluating you on? And make sure that you're incorporating that into your response that is about the solution. So I'm going to sneak number four in there. Make sure you're writing to the solution and not about you. So speak withthem, and how you're going to partner with them, and not at them.

Deb Zahn: I love that. I really like that you highlighted look at the evaluation criteria because I've seen several requests for proposals where what they told you to write and the evaluation criteria was a little bit different and if you didn't actually look, how am I being scored, then you might have emphasized the wrong things. You might have left out some of the most important information. And sometimes that's because...because I've also been involved in writing RFPs...sometimes that is because the person who did the evaluation criteria is a different person who wrote the part about what you actually have to submit.

Lisa Rehurek: Right.

Deb Zahn: It's usually a team effort, and in my experiences, it's been...yeah because I've done it for states. It's been really...Like, we have to get this out the door by a certain date and so there isn't always that process of going, "OK. Is this internally coherent?"

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. It's so true. I mean, I would say that nine times out of 10, there is disconnect and confusion in the RFP itself and it's because of everything that you're saying and also because they tend to take prior iterations, right?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: And then they add to it and they cut and paste and, you know, that's always rough if you don't have somebody that's really going through and doing a thorough review. They're usually on a timeframe and trying to get that thing out because they need to hire somebody. So they're also human, the ones that are writing the RFPs. And to your point, there's generally several of them and it can be a hot mess and you're having to figure it out.

Another quick side note here is another huge reason to really read the RFP and then map out what your response is going to look like before the Q and A period, OK? So every...almost every RFP's going to have this period where you can ask questions and if you don't read the RFP and then start to lay out your response, you're not going to know all the questions that you need. Those things tend to happen late.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: And then you've missed that period and you're kind of screwed.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Well, and I have experienced where you sometimes have to go back and ask the same question in a few different ways because you got an answer, but it actually didn't really respond to what you were trying to get at, in which case you better have time to submit your question in a different way and try and get an answer.

Lisa Rehurek: You know, that's a great point. And I would also say when you're asking questions...Just a little, little tip there. Do not ever pose it as a yes or a no question because they will always answer it very briefly with a yes or a no. Unless that's truly what you need, if you just need a yes or a no. But otherwise, don't ever pose the question as yes or no.

Deb Zahn: Because then, yeah. You don't get the nuance. So I think those are great. So those are for the winning ones. We got to touch upon the most common mistakes. So what is it you're seeing that folks are doing that you know can be corrected?

Lisa Rehurek: Yep. Not unlike some of the things we've already talked about. Number one. Number one thing. And, by the way, every time I meet an evaluator, I ask them, like, what are some of your pet peeves? The things that you see? And so these are not just what we see, but a lot of what the evaluators tell us.

Number one thing, answer the question. Answer the dang question. And I just talked about this a couple minutes ago, but if they ask you a yes or a no question, start with yes and then do a little bit of an explanation. But what happens is that in kind of our corporate heads, we go into our standard language or we go into something that's familiar to us internally but means nothing to them. So answer the dang question. That's number one.

Number two. It's not about you. You know, focus on the solution and give them a reason to want to hire you, right? Do you ever get caught up in a sales conversation and you are dying to hire that person because you're so excited about the conversation that you've had? That's really what you want to have. You want them to be like, "Oh my gosh. We can't live without these people." So you really want to...You got to make yourself stand out. It is not enough to just answer the question the way they've asked it and to just state that you've got qualifications and experience. You got to go bigger and bolder than that or you're not going to stand out and you're not going to win.

Deb Zahn: That's right because anybody can answer yes.

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. Anybody can. Everybody that's going to be bidding is going to have...most of the time is going to have the qualifications and capabilities, right? Everybody. So how are you going to take that level playing field and knock it out of the park so that you really stand out? I mean, they could be evaluating maybe just three proposals, but they could be evaluating 10 or 14 or 22. You never know. You got to stand out. You've got to know your differentiators. You've got to know your competition and how to, like, push above what they might be saying.

Deb Zahn: That's right. I like that. I like it. So don't get knocked out and then you have to stand out because I think of know, my mom, who used to hire people, said she would have a huge stack of resumes and she would...The first pass would be who can I just get rid of? Typos, bad formatting, not responsive to what we asked. You know, dot, dot, dot. So those go into the trash immediately. You don't even review them. So that's the knockout. And then, how do you rise to the top so by the time they get to yours, they're like, "Ah. I love this. Thank you."?

Lisa Rehurek: Yes. I mean, be that breath of fresh air, right?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: Be that one that they're like, "Oh." And their shoulders can relax a little bit and they can just take that deep breath and be like, "OK. These are the ones that are going to help us get what we need." And that's your job to convince them. You know, I think people go into RFP responses thinking it's our job to respond to the RFP. That's not it. It's a different mindset. Your job is to convince them that you have the best solution that is going to make their lives the easiest. That's your job.

Deb Zahn: I want you to say that one more time because that is so perfectly on point with what this is really about and I think really profound. So say it again. What's your job?

Lisa Rehurek: OK. Maybe let's see if I can say it again the way I said it. But your job is not to respond to the RFP. Your job is to convince them that your solution is what they need and that is going to carry them into the future. That was a little bit different, but...

Deb Zahn: No. That nailed it.

Lisa Rehurek: Thank you.

Deb Zahn: I think that that is the most profound thing. And so before you write a single word, before you do anything, and when you're making your no go decision, that's the mindset of can we do that and then how do we show that we can do that.

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: Now if doing RFPs becomes or is any part of a routine thing that a business or an organization does, what types of skills do they need to have or systems that they need to have to make sure that they've got sort of the right stuff to be able to produce winning proposals?

Lisa Rehurek: They've got to have the right process for the strategic discussion, right? That includes the go, no go. It includes the bid strategy. So you've got to have the skill of strategy. You also have to have the right team members, so you've got to have people that know how to project manage a response. You've got to have people that understand how to help the technical writers write to the persuasion and to the positioning because the technical writers are not going to do that. So you've got to have writers that can write. You've got to have editors that can edit, right? You also then have to have...You have to have a solid process. I also strongly suggest for almost everybody, unless you're only responding to maybe one a month...You know, there's RFP softwares out there that really help you manage your library content, and when you've got good library content and a system to help you organize that, it makes your life a lot easier.

You know, we could talk about this forever. The four areas that we tell people that they really need to concentrate on, it's our four-by-four framework. The first one is strategy, so all that upfront stuff. The second one is process, making sure that you have solid processes that make everybody's lives easier as they're going through it. It's not a fun process, but the more systemized you are, the better. Content, and that's a lot of what we've been talking about so far already. And then people. You know, do you have the right people in the right positions? And do you have the right people writing? And do you have the right people reviewing the writing? So all of that is super important and then there's a gazillion things within each one of those that we could talk about around systems and processes. But those are the four kind of areas that you really need to have solid in place to develop a culture of winning in your organization.

Deb Zahn: I love that. And a good chunk of that can be...I don't think can ever be 100% outsourced because you got to have your strategy and your fingerprint on it. But where are those places that it makes sense to get help from, you know, places like your organization?

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. You know, actually all four of them in different ways. But you're right. You can't completely outsource. But we love to get involved with the strategy because we can...You know, one of the things that we bring in general is an objective eye.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: Obviously, our expertise and the objective eye together. So when we have a strategy discussion when one of our clients has an RFP on their plate and we have a strategy discussion, we ask questions that they would not ask themselves. We dig and get to the what are your real differentiators here? How are we going to position you to build that trust and to show your solution? We can absolutely help with the process. We come in as a fractional RFP team, so if you don't have enough resources, we come in and help with the actual response itself. We help with the writing. We can help pretty much with any piece of it along the way, but we definitely prefer to work with the team.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: Because it's your business, right? It's your gig.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I've had folks who are like, "Oh, here. Just do it." And we're like, "No, no, no. We can't. We can't create something that then you couldn't implement. You actually have to be part of this and it needs to match your business strategies and what you're actually trying to achieve on a larger scale. And if not, this is just a one off that you're paying a lot of money to either get or not get."

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. And you know what's a good...That's a really good point because we see this a lot with small business and then, you know, the smaller end of the mid-sized businesses. Where they don't have a good business strategy, and they don't have a good business development strategy. They've never really sat down and thought about that. They think that the RFP is going to be a magic pill. "Well, all I have to do is show this and we know we have the best experience so we're going to win." Best experience is not like the golden ticket.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: So if you are somebody that is listening and you're thinking about doing this or you're struggling with RFPs, go back to the strategy. And you have to have a business, a business development strategy, for this to be successful for you long term, flat out.

Deb Zahn: I love it. And that you understand what this strategy is related to your other strategies.

Lisa Rehurek: Yes. Yes.

Deb Zahn: Oh. Oh. That just makes my heart sing because chasing the money drives me crazy.

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: Because you'll end up contorting yourself. You won't get a lot of wins. But then, even if you get some wins, you're going to end up contorting who you are and go so far off mission or off your central strategy you won't recognize yourself anymore.

Lisa Rehurek: 100%. And your team will get burnt out and demotivated with continuous losses.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: No doubt. And it's not good for morale. It's not good for, you know, the longevity of your retention. So it's just ugly. And it's funny. I was talking to somebody one day, somebody that I had just met, and they said, "You know, what's the win percentage that you help people get?" And I'm like, "Well, it's a loaded question, right? Because it's different for every client." But he said, "Well, I just don't believe in those high 80% win rates." And I said, "Well, what do you mean you don't believe in them?" And he said, "Well, it's because the only reason people have those high win rates is they're only bidding on things that they think they can win." And I just didn't even...I just kind of smiled and I said, "Yep. Absolutely."

And that is part of the process, is to say let's bid on the things that we have the information on. Fits within our strategy. We have some kind of a relationship. We have some knowledge of them. And we can do the work. Right? There's a whole lot of things that come before and we can do the work.

Deb Zahn: Which is one of the reasons I started with the whole go/no-go decisions because I see that get skipped a lot. And it's like, no, no, no. That's one of the most important steps.

Lisa Rehurek: Yes.

Deb Zahn: But that just made my heart cry.

Lisa Rehurek: Oh, yay.

Deb Zahn: That story. But I've had different versions of that, which is, "No. If we just go for anything, then we're likely to get something." But if you just go for anything, then your hit rate's going to be really low, but your effort and expense is going to be really high, which you could spend doing other things.

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. But people don't track that, right? Unless they're outsourcing it and it comes up as an expense, they're not tracking the employees they are paying anyway.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: And they think, "Well, we're paying them anyway, so there's no extra expense there." But there is.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: There is a morale expense and time expense. And what are they not doing that they could be doing to either, you know, add more revenue in a different way or service your clients? There's so much lost money there that people don't pay attention to and people get really complacent with the, "Well, the industry standard is 20% win rate, and we're right about there." And they think that's OK. And I'm like, how is that even possibly OK?

Deb Zahn: Yeah. That's an unacceptable number. So the last thing I want to hit on is...So if you lose, is that the end of the story or is there something else you should do to make it better next time?

Lisa Rehurek: Love that leading question. But, yeah.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. It's very leading. I didn't even try and hide it.

Lisa Rehurek: Exactly. Because you know, right? That it doesn't end there.

Deb Zahn: I do.

Lisa Rehurek: And the most powerful thing is the debrief that you can get at the end of that. Now that's going to show up in different ways depending on the entity. They may have a phone call with you. Sometimes they'll give you the scoring sheets. Whatever you can do to get that. In most government cases, you can do a FOIA request, which is a Freedom of Information Act request, and they have to give that to you. A copy of the winning proposal. A copy of the scoring sheets. A lot of times, they won't do that until after the contract is signed. Most times, they won't do that. So that might take some time, but be patient. Get that information and then really dissect it and be honest with yourself.

We have had a lot of people that have come to us and said, "We want you to do an audit of our prior responses and this one particular, we know we shouldn't have lost, so we want to protest." And I'll look at it and I'll say, "Nope. I agree with their scores." And they'll say, "But we have the best qualifications of everybody." And I'm like, "Well, you did not communicate that in a way that resonated and the evaluators were able to absorb." So you want to see that information and you want to use that to learn for the next one.

It's also another great touch point. Hey, we've been on this. We really want to do work with you all. So we want to learn from our mistakes so that the next time this comes out, we are better positioned. I mean, it's a...

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Lisa Rehurek: Another touch point to build a relationship with that entity, even the procurement people. So get that. Have an internal team debrief. By the way, you should also have an internal team debrief immediately when it's submitted to say what went well, what didn't go well, where do we need to tweak our process, what do we need more of, what do we need less of. That should always happen as well. It is a continuous learning journey.

Deb Zahn: I love that, And it sounds also like the importance of cultivating team openness so that anybody on the team...So you were in a position where you're like, "Eh, I'm new. This sounds wrong."

Lisa Rehurek: Right.

Deb Zahn: But whether someone's new or not, you want to have it where anybody can call out that it looks like we're making a bad choice. You know, my husband and I use the term O-ring because of one of the first space shuttle disasters. It was one O-ring. It was one small thing, and there was the failure of finding that thing. And if they had, you know, had an appropriate process in place, anybody could say, "I think this is wrong." They potentially would have saved lives that day. And so on teams that I've led or been part of responding to RFPs, anybody down to the research assistant can say, "I don't think we're being responsive. That's not what they asked. They asked this."

Lisa Rehurek: Yep.

Deb Zahn: And that's how you get a good response. But you have to cultivate that culture.

Lisa Rehurek: I love that so much. It's like, cultivate the culture to allow everybody a voice and everybody feel comfortable. I love that so much, Deb. You know, one more thing I want to say about when you lose and you get that debrief. When you win, get the scoring sheets, too, and most people don't do that. And the reason is because you might have won because you were the best of the worst, right? Like, you were the best of the bad.

Deb Zahn: Good point.

Lisa Rehurek: And what happens is people win, and they'll say, "Oh my gosh. We won. We're going to use this as a model proposal going forward."

Deb Zahn: Yay.

Lisa Rehurek: And then, it's not a model proposal. It really wasn't all that great. So get the scoring sheets even if you win.

Deb Zahn: I love that. Be continuously learning more and adjusting. I love that. So where can folks find you?

Lisa Rehurek: You know what? Go to our website, We have a ton of resources, a lot of information. There's an ROI calculator out there so you can see how much money you're losing, leaving on the table. And then, certainly, if anybody wants to connect with me on LinkedIn, Lisa Rehurek. Super easy to find and I'd love to connect with anybody that's listening here.

Deb Zahn: And don't forget your fabulous podcast, which anyone who responds to RFPs should be listening to. What's your podcast?

Lisa Rehurek: Yep. It's called The RFP Success Show and we're on all the standard podcast platforms or you can go to

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. And So my last question for you is when you're not making the world a better place through the RFP process, what do you do to bring balance to your life, however it is that looks like for you?

Lisa Rehurek: Yeah. You know, I have a couple. I'm a huge dog lover, so I have a couple of dogs and I love spending time with them. I have a cabin in northern Arizona, and I like to escape the big city and the heat of Phoenix and get out to nature and I love to, you know, just hang out with my friends and relax and not...You know, anything that doesn't put a ton of pressure. I love to travel. I am a crazy spa girl, so you'll find me in the spa as often as I can go. But I definitely have learned over time how to relax and kind of disconnect just a little bit because it refreshes my creative brain and allows me to then bring even more juiciness to our clients.

Deb Zahn: Oh. I love it. I can't wait to go to a spa again.

Lisa Rehurek: Yes.

Deb Zahn: That sounds fabulous.

Lisa Rehurek: So fun.

Deb Zahn: Wonderful. Well, Lisa, thank you so much for sharing all this fabulous wisdom on the show. I really appreciate you coming on.

Lisa Rehurek: I really appreciate you having me. It's always fun to talk to you, and I love that you've got that background too because it's just always a fun conversation.

Deb Zahn: Because we get to laugh at the bizarre stuff we've seen and heard.

But again, thanks, Lisa.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.

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