Winning The Account: Tips For Successful RFP Responses

April 1st, 2006

Many clients use an RFI/RFP process to identify agencies that meet their needs, but even if none of your clients request an RFP, it is a good practice to develop this material.  In fact, I recommend that you keep a library of materials that are typically requested on hand and ready to use.  It will save time in replying to prospective clients, enable you to respond quickly to a request, and ensure that you can have the best response ready.  Since the information asked is an opportunity to capitalize on the strengths of your agency to a prospect, this exercise can also help you in developing supplemental marketing materials.

An RFP response is your company’s resume – a presentation of the facts – as well as an opportunity to “sell” your agency. Learn as much as you can about what the prospective client is looking for, and then design your RFP response to fit that need.  In other words, tell your prospect exactly what they want to hear.

Even some of the general questions can become opportunities to communicate your strengths to a prospect.  Here is a sampling of questions, and suggested information you may wish to include:

Mission, Vision, and Value Statements
Prospective clients, particularly large clients, are interested in this information because it provides insights into your culture, management philosophy, client customer care, employee care, and management discipline.  Why include it?  As a client I would expect you to be able to state who you are and where you are going in a set of concise statements.

Process management systems
If not asked to provide information on process management systems, such as PPMS or 6 Sigma or some hybrid program you have developed, you may want to. Consider including the PPMS logo in your RFP if you are certified.

Data and Physical Security
This is a huge concern for most credit grantors these days. Clients want to know you are concerned also, and are addressing security. Consider including a list all certifications: SAS 70, ISO 17799, PPMS or any independent audits or reviews. Explain all data security protocols and procedures. List all security software in use – firewalls, encryption, antivirus, password setup, etc. Describe your area access, cameras, opening and closing procedures, physical security set up: badges, building and secured etc. Describe all backup procedures and storage. Lastly, be sure to describe your process of destruction of documents with confidential data.

Disaster Recovery/Contingency Plans
Some large credit grantors not only require disaster recovery plans but want to know the last time they were tested. Clients want to know if you have a plan first, then second, if it covers all possible disasters for your area. They will be looking for how comprehensive your contingency plans are: Do you have an alternate operating site? Do you have back up systems available?

A description of trust account, remittance, and payment processing procedures
Frequently these may be worded as yes or no questions, but take the opportunity to describe the sound practices you have in place. If the question is how often you remit, the best answer is to say you remit on any schedule the client requests. The remittance can be net or gross and remittance made via ACH, check, etc. Clients want to be reassured that you have a secure, controlled process for handling payments received by you on their accounts. Clients today want to know that you can accept payments via as many options as possible:  ACH, checks by phone, credit card, Western Union, etc.  Clients asking for an NSF rate want to understand if your rate is unusually high or unusually low – either could be viewed as a negative.

Hours of Operation
This may seem like a “throw-away” question, but keep in mind, the client wants to know how your hours match up with the time zone where their debtors are located and they are also comparing your information to their model of ideal collector schedules. For example, if you say you can work west coast accounts but are located on the east coast, be sure your hours of operation accommodate calling hours on the west coast.  If you are willing to do so, offer to adjust operating schedules to meet their needs.

Workflows and Explanations of Collection Efforts
The client wants to know how their paper will be worked. If you have sufficient information about the prospect to design a specific workflow or have a current client workflow with a similar profile, use that.  Include all analytics, scoring models and sort criteria you use to decide work efforts on accounts.  Clients may want to know that you have a systematic plan using analytics in place. If you are not sure what that workflow should look like, giving the wrong workflow will create a negative. I once reviewed an RFP where an agency gave me a workflow for $5000+ balances, but we placed $500 balances. I interpreted this as the agency not understanding my business.

Reports, scorecards, and measurements
How you measure your collectors and their success is a pretty standard question in RFPs. What prospects are looking for is not only that you track collections, post dates, promises, etc.; but that you have standards and that you forecast results as well as set goals. This is an example of a question that frequently gets answered with a list of reports when this could be turned into a valuable opportunity to sell your in-depth knowledge of collection call center analytics. The goal here is to instill confidence about your agency’s management capabilities. Think about that as you prepare your response – what will make the client come to the conclusion that you have a well-managed operation?

Standard Scripts and Letters
What I looked for in this question was how well the agency understood my business based on the scripts and letters provided. For example, if I told the agencies responding to the RFP that there is no litigation, no credit bureau reporting, etc., and all the scripts and letters contain that type of language, I might question how much time and attention they are giving my RFP and wonder if that will reflect on how much time they will give my placements.

Quality Control/Quality Assurance
I think this is an area that is frequently not given the level of attention that the creditor gives it. The creditor is looking for established, quality procedures in call monitoring, account auditing, call recordings, collector reviews, and call scoring. You may have a separate department or it may be done by ops, or both. Provide detail about all. Whether you have an existing quality program or not, include everything you do to insure that accounts are handled correctly and collectors are in legal and procedural compliance.

Complaint Handling
Obviously in this question, the client is looking for information that will make them comfortable that you respond, not only quickly, but investigate complaints thoroughly, and – as importantly – that you take steps to correct anything that needs to be corrected going forward, such as a procedural change or disciplinary action or both. As a credit grantor, I want to see specific and separate procedures for debtor, attorney, third-party – like the Better Business Bureau – and governmental agency (attorney general, FTC) complaints. Yes, everybody has and handles complaints, but do your procedures look more comprehensive and well thought out than your competitors?

General RFP Dos and Don’ts

DO:

  • Use color, pictures, graphs, charts, etc.
  • Send a softcopy and overnight a hardcopy.  It shows your level of interest and shows the prospect importance to you as a future client.
  • Include a cover letter.  This is really the “executive summary.”  Emphasize why you are qualified and why you want the business.
  • Have multiple people in your organization read the RFP responses for accuracy and quality.
  • Provide incremental or additional information even if not specifically requested in the RFP if you feel it is important to presenting your agency’s strengths.
  • Think about what your agency does that is unique, is a best practice, is above average, or is exceptional.
  • Lay things out clearly and concisely.  Clients will like it if you make their job of evaluating the RFP easier.
  • Customize your responses to the prospect’s needs.
  • Check your references!

DON’T

  • Answer questions with only yes or no or one sentence.
  • Have conflicting information in different sections of the RFP or in attached documents.
  • Feel you have to use the client’s exact RFP form.  You need to answer their questions but you can reformat – but check with the client first.
  • Skip a question.  If you are unable or unwilling to answer a question – say something.  For example, explain that you cannot answer the precise question because of current client confidentiality agreements but you can provide “x” information.  Or you do not have an audited financial statement but you have provided an unaudited statement and would be willing to do “x” in addition.

Make your RFP response stand out from the rest. Be sure you think about why the creditor is asking each question and consider how they will view the answer.  Would you be impressed with your answer?

To make your proposal as compelling as possible, remember to customize your responses to the prospect’s needs. The creditor wants to feel that you took the time and effort to specifically prepare this RFP for them. That customization indicates how interested you are in their business – and how responsive you are likely to be as their agency!

For more information, contact us at 301-907-0840 or by email.

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