responding to RFPs
Corporate Culture

The Art of RFPs

James Charlesworth
James Charlesworth
President, Charlesworth Consulting

Let me start by saying if you’re an avid reader of this What Up Holmes blog, you’re going to notice my blog will be vastly different than what you normally see. Here’s the reason. I work with the Charlesworth Consulting arm of Holmes Murphy. Our approach to clients is not as an insurance agent or salesperson, but rather as a consultant specializing in risk management. We don’t sell insurance. Instead, we advise clients on how to invest their insurance dollars wisely. We review the entire risk transfer and risk assumption philosophy of our clients and make recommendations based on our years of experience. One of the services we offer is RFP analysis. And let me tell you…it’s an interesting part of the job.

Why I bring this up is that if you’re a company that offers services, you may very well have been presented a proposal to complete in the past (maybe you’re working on one right now). While I’m going to focus this blog on broker RFPs, please note, everything I say really does impact anyone in the process of answering an RFP.

So, here goes.

I’ve been involved as a consultant on dozens of broker RFPs over the years. This year alone, we’ve already facilitated three broker RFPs and, in each case, the broker who I felt had the best written response didn’t get the award. Also, in all three situations, I was wrong in my prediction on who would win. I guess the lesson is to expect the unexpected. What I tell anyone who will listen, the only realistic goal of an RFP response is to get an interview.

So, if you’re the one answering an RFP, I’m sure you’re asking, “What drives these decisions?” I can tell you that sometimes it’s a methodical/rubric process; however, it’s more common for decisions to be based on relationships, trust, and/or the path of least resistance. It therefore begs the question, is responding to RFPs worth the effort? I believe the answer lies in the expectations. If there’s no relationship or history, the chance of success is very slim. I can show you RFP responses from some major players in the insurance industry, and at the end of the day, they pretty much look and say the same thing. But it can provide a good introduction to a company and hopefully result in an interview audience. It’s hard to get a dedicated 30 minutes to an hour with a prospect. If that’s the goal, then respond. Get your foot in the door and nurture the relationship to place yourself in a better position down the road. Who knows. Maybe you’ll be successful and land a new client.

As an insurance geek, I enjoy the broker that’s creative in their risk transfer strategies. But the most recent RFP we facilitated was with a group of cities and, to them, it all came down to the service team. Who can they trust to keep schedules current, issue certs correctly, confirm invoices are accurate, etc.? It was about trust. They didn’t care about shared aggregate deductibles, challenges in the property market, etc. Of the six brokers who responded, I initially ranked the ultimate winner as No. 5. Of the three finalists, I had them at a very distant 3rd. But the client simply liked them the best. How do you compete with that? After the interviews, I got into the car with my associate, and he looked at me and said, “What just happened?”  Welcome to RFPs.

So, no matter what kind of RFP your business is answering…I can offer a few tips.

  • Be strategic in your presentation and balance the product expertise and the service team.
  • Know your audience.
  • Be sure and talk about the charities supported by your company and your involvement in the community.
  • Don’t bring too many people and make sure everyone has a role in the conversation.
  • Avoid the cufflinks and expensive watches.
  • Don’t bring a laminated marketing placemat (everyone hates them).
  • Have fun and be fun.
  • Be different and accept that that will resonate with some, but not others.

Regardless of the outcome, you can leave with your head high because you were real and honest. Isn’t that what you want people to think anyway?

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