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Michael Shabkie - EMS and Ambulance Consultant

Winning Ambulance RFP Strategies

What Every Company Needs to Know

Friday August 24th, 2012
Michael Shabkie, Principal at Marketing 911

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Over the past 20 years I have been in the “unfortunate” position of being asked to develop major Request for Proposals for ambulance services that were worth millions of dollars to the successful bidder. Initially, I had no background or expertise in developing RFP’s - it was truly “trial by fire.” With a lack of resource material or programs designed to educate, it became apparent that I would have to learn as I go. Does this sound familiar? 

Developing winning ambulance proposals is truly an art form. There are so many moving parts to a successful bid that it really transforms itself into a full-fledged project management nightmare. I always tell anyone who listens that you have to know what you’re up against before you invest the time, the money and the resources to respond to a municipal or large government ambulance service RFP. Research shows that ambulance companies that weren’t involved in the early stages of the proposal process do not win the business. The one important take away of this article is that you should know your market, the contract cycles and your competitors at least 12 to 18 months before a RFP is even scheduled to be released.
I have wasted a lot of time chasing contracting opportunities that ended up not panning out. The primary reason was that I did not know the market as well as I thought and that the successful vendor had the “inside track” all along.

I cannot tell you how many times there were RFP processes that had the hallmark indications of a tainted process such as:

  • A procurement process that has a list of requirements that cannot be met by a reasonable company
  • RFP’s released with an artificially short time-frame to respond
  • A process in which there is no access to the key decision makers
  • Anytime I  received an unsolicited call from an unknown procurement officer

In any “Sales 101” class, the secret of making a sale is gaining access to the decision makers. At some point, it is vitally important to speak to those who will affect the final outcome of the RFP. If questions are steadily rebuffed, the RFP requirements too expensive or the timeframe to respond is too quick, these should serve as huge “red flags.”
Borrowing from a country classic, “you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” This is so true when evaluating a potential RFP opportunity.

If your organization is bidding on each and every RFP that comes out, just to have the illusion of productivity, I have to think there is an internal issue that needs to be addressed. Bidding for business that is geographically hard to service, laden with too many expenses or contains unreasonable response time performance criteria is a recipe for disaster.
Each company must have a business development plan that covers a 12 month, 36 month and even a 60 month period. The plan should include, at a minimum:

  • Contract cycles
  • Competitors in the market
  • Strategic partners, e.g. hospitals and fire departments
  • Political support from elected officials
  • Good public relations and branding
  • Records requests to get old RFP’s, get competitors’ RFP’s and to know what others have done
In further developing a winning ambulance RFP strategy you must:
  • Get there first
  • Know the decision makers well before RFP time
  • Appropriately help create or influence the requirements
  • Understand the decision making process and key decision makers
  • Consider lobbyist engagement
  • Ask questions before the blackout period
  • Know your competitors strengths’ and weaknesses

The pressure is on, economic times are tough and the uncertainty of the Healthcare Reform all play into an organization’s decisions on how to best respond to a service request. The bottom line is that your team needs to be educated and up to date on the latest “tricks of the trade” in order to compete. My career has been spent developing successful RFP proposals and I hope that a few of the tips contained in this article bring you much success.

About the Author
Michael Shabkie has extensive EMS and Healthcare management experience in Arizona, Texas and Colorado, with both the public and private sector.  He is currently the CEO of Priority One Ventures, an Arizona based Health and Safety Solutions Company and is a Principal with Marketing911.  He has served as a key collaborator for EMS system design, developed business development strategies, managed political and public affairs, and acted as an executive advisor on operational processes for both public and private ambulance organizations.




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