Navigating the K-12 RFP Process
Insights and Tips from January 2019 POE: Potential of Edtech
Sooner or later almost every edtech company will be faced with responding to a request for proposal from a potential customer. To say this is a daunting process is an understatement. Sylvan Learning and TU Incubator teamed up to present Navigating the RFP Process as part of our ongoing POE: Potential of Edtech series of events.
Hosted by Allovue at their headquarters above R House in Baltimore, Emily Levitt, vice president for education at Sylvan Learning, moderated a panel of experts — Laura Nord, director of sales at Allovue, and Tabatha Sweeney, senior director at Sylvan Learning — in responding to RFPs.
For those attending the event the two panelists offered unique perspectives. Sylvan Learning responds to hundreds of RFPs annually on a wide-range of educational activities. Allovue responds to five to 10 annually to school districts with specific budget management requirements. While different in scale, both have small teams, one to two people, managing the RFP process with additional expertise available as required.
- Make sure the RFP is the right fit for your organization, don’t just respond to everything. Be disciplined about what RFPs you respond to. Submissions are time-consuming, if the proposal is obviously written for a competitor it is probably best to not to prepare a submission.
- Rules on communications with public officials are strict when it comes to RFPs. Once the process starts be very carefully to communicate with only the designated official.
- Be careful to avoid under bidding for work. It’s tempting to lower the price to get the work. However, the danger is the quality of delivery will decline which leads to reputation issues.
- For startups, getting the initial reference can be a challenge. Working with customers on pilots is a way to get those first reference customers without having to go through the RFP process.
- Sometimes revenue (scale) can be an issue in qualifying for RFPs. If possible, do not provide financials unless specifically required. Again, pilots may be the way to address this issue.
- Relationships are crucial. Get your foot in the door and then try to influence the requirements for the RFP.
- It is a good idea to have a third-party review the proposal to ensure it answers all of the questions and tells a good story.
The two takeaways I found most interesting were:
- Keep a database of every question and answer from previous RFPs. This will make preparing future RFPs easier as the answers can be cut and pasted as appropriate.
- Be thoughtful about what information is submitted in the RFP. RFPs are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)requests. Don’t submit confidential or proprietary information that is not specifically requested. Submissions are a source of competitive information for you and your competitors.
Even without a FOIA request there is a wealth of information that can be gleaned from a district’s procurement website including contractors, contract value, pricing, and terms.
There were two recurring points that both panelists brought up multiple times, the importance of:
- Reading the RFP in its entirety, ensuring you answer all of the questions, and double-check them.
- Be sure to ask questions if you have the opportunity, making sure to ask the right questions. The #1 questions should be the budget limit.
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I manage the daily operations and programming of TU Incubator and help to foster an environment that promotes innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship throughout Greater Baltimore.