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The ins and outs of RFPs

May 24, 2017 -  By

Commercial maintenance experts demystify this aspect of the sales process.

Request for Proposal, or RFP, refers to a process by which many municipal and commercial entities award jobs to third party contractors. It’s as popular in industries like construction or even web design as it is in landscaping.

“The whole theory behind an RFP process, be it commercial or municipal, is to qualify the bidders so there’s not unqualified competitors involved,” says Mike Fitzpatrick, vice president of U.S. Lawns. “That leaves you with just a handful of competitors who are all qualified and now it does comes down to numbers. We’ve seen in that type of situation the pro contractors are never that far apart on numbers.”

For contractors vying to win their first commercial or municipal jobs, however, the chance to participate in an RFP process can be an introduction to the movers and shakers at property management companies and municipal entities.

“We teach landscapers all over the country, it takes an intentional effort at trying to build relationships with the decision makers on properties you’d like to bid on,” says Ken Thomas, co-founder at Envisor Consulting. “A good bid package with the right contents, good graphics and a good message may be able to position your company in a better light.”

Anatomy of an RFP

RFPs can be dozens of pages long. While it’s important to read every detail in the document, here are four aspects that deserve special attention.

Scope of work
This vital portion of an RFP details exactly what work must be completed and how often it must be done. Municipal RFPs can be extremely specific, often listing the exact numbers of trees or flowers that must be featured on the site.

Outcome and performance standards
The RFP will also detail expectations, which may include start and stop times, deadlines or schedules for when the work must be completed, property access details and the
manner in which workers must conduct themselves. Often, the RFP will detail penalties for a failure to meet these expectations or even rewards for those exceeded.

Process schedule
The RFP process typically includes some sort of meeting, like a site walk; a question-and-answer process; a qualifying round for applicants; and more. The process schedule lists these important dates and deadlines, which are stringent.

A well-written RFP will list the contact details for the person who will accept questions regarding the property or RFP. Questions are encouraged.

Pro tips

A quick RFP Q&A with our experts.

Q: Who wins RFPs?

A: “In the commercial world, you have the ability to offer your customer value propositions and service expectations, but if you’re bidding in the municipal world, nine times out of 10 one or two percentage points (difference in price) is going to cost you the job.”

—Mike Fitzpatrick, vp, U.S. Lawns

Q: What’s a good entry point for smaller landscape companies?

A: “Some different market segments are less concerned with pedigree, like multifamily apartments and homeowner associations, especially smaller ones. They are more likely to allow a one-truck operation to bid their properties. Once you get into more professional organizations like BOMA, IFMA, CREW, their members are looking for companies that have some critical mass or are have owners who are members and are presenting themselves as professional landscape service providers.”

—Ken Thomas, co-founder, Envisor Consulting

Q: What’s the downside to the RFP process?

A: “It’s really easy to bid work. We could fill up crews worth of commercial work, but you get to a certain size and notice where you put your time and energy, and these formalized bid opportunities aren’t based on anything other than price. Plus, most contracts are annual, so you’re fighting for your own work every year.”

—Mike Voories, Coo, Brilar

Web Extras
Where to find RFPs
Municipal vs. Commercial RFPs

Photo: ©

This is posted in 0517, Mowing+Maintenance

About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

1 Comment on "The ins and outs of RFPs"

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  1. Mike Voories says:

    This is a great overview of the RFP process. I always try to remind people that there is a difference between an RFP and an RFB. The terms are used interchangeably, and mean something slightly different to some; however, there is a difference. To me, responding to an RFB is offering a price to perform a predetermined and specific scope. Responding to an RFP is different, in that you’re offering a solution (a proposal) and a price. Competing proposals, might not be apples-2-apples. Competing bids; however, usually do aim to compare apples-2apples.