Client extension – friend or foe?

Jun 02, 2024


A client extension should be utilized to review, refine, and enhance the existing proposal, rather than expanding or revamping it.

We’ve all been there. Hustling to get a proposal submission-ready (because after all, a proposal is never really done, just due) and wishing we had just a few more days. And then, like a gift from the skies, an email arrives announcing an extension.

Who wouldn’t be excited, relieved, even grateful?


Over the years, I have seen numerous RFP extensions, but I can count on one hand the times when the extra time was actually used effectively and resulted in a better deliverable. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, shame on you,” but hear me out.

When I began my career nearly 13 years ago, the average turnaround time for proposals was four to six weeks. Most clients still required physical copies to be mailed to their office, and it was rare for me to have more than three or four collaborators helping me develop the document. Now, that seems like a lifetime ago.

Instead, I’m accustomed to the two-week turnaround in a wholly digital world, where I’m coordinating among 15 or more SMEs, project managers, relationship partners, business development managers, principals, you name it. While building consensus on our winning strategy, articulating our unique value proposition, and translating our technical solution onto paper (or screen) have always presented challenges, these obstacles are amplified when you have less time and more cooks in the kitchen.

And so, one might assume I’d welcome a few extra days, or even a week. Here’s why I dread extensions in four common mistakes:

  • The team relaxes. Thinking they have all the time they need, their efficiency decreases. It’s important to remember that even though two or three days may seem like a lot, these extensions are actually quite short. I have often found myself questioning whether I should even inform the authors or contributors about the extension. The last thing I want to see is our sense of urgency dissipate.
  • The team thinks we need to do more with the time given. Suddenly, we start considering alternative solutions and additional value-adds. We realize we may have overlooked important details like elaborating on our post-implementation support or commissioning and startup. We start questioning if there’s enough content in certain sections or if we should price multiple options. Now, I’m not saying these concerns are irrelevant, but if they were crucial to our submission, they should have been addressed earlier. Let’s not inflate our page count during the extension – all these additions may come across as exactly what they are, afterthoughts.
  • The team gets new players involved. Recruiting another principal or executive in the last hours is counterproductive. Without prior involvement in strategy discussions, they will certainly bring different ideas and suggestions, and our precious extension is spent bringing them up to speed and reiterating previous decisions. Additionally, the new team member may feel compelled to make substantial changes or identify gaps, which can disrupt the cohesion of the final deliverable. To ensure a well-thought-out proposal, it is crucial to have the right people involved from the beginning and avoid last-minute invitations.
  • The team rethinks our entire strategy. This is the biggest blunder of all. If you have ever managed a proposal where an extension is used to scrap what we had and start afresh, you know this pain all too well. Extensions can lead to uncertainty, questioning previous decisions, and even starting from scratch. This is detrimental. Not only does it waste previous efforts, but it’s likely an overhaul will confuse authors and contributors and muddy our solution to the client’s issues. Overthinking often results in less coherent deliverables, non-compliant proposals, and lower quality submissions.

So, what is good use of a client extension on an RFP? It’s simple: A client extension should be utilized to review, refine, and enhance the existing proposal.

It allows for a thorough document review and a mock evaluation from the client’s perspective. This time can be used to ensure that the sales message is consistently conveyed throughout the entire document, beyond just the cover letter and “Why Us?” section. It provides an opportunity for subject matter experts to review and ensure smooth flow between sections contributed by different team members. It enables us to condense repetitive information and improve clarity and conciseness. Additionally, it allows for a comprehensive copy edit to correct spelling, grammar, and mechanical errors.

By using the extension wisely, we can ensure that the final deliverable reflects the quality and attention to detail the client can expect from us on a project.

Effective leadership, particularly from the proposal manager and account lead/sales lead, is crucial to appropriately leverage a client extension. While the temptation to make changes may be strong, it is important to consider the implications of such actions. As leaders of the proposal development process, it is our responsibility to instill confidence in our team and focus on sharpening, rather than expanding or revamping, our proposal. 

Mercedez Thompson has 11 years’ experience in professional marketing services. As a pursuit manager at PwC, Mercedez collaborates with thought leaders, marketing and sales staff, and client services personnel to develop the firm’s most strategic proposals. She was a 2022 APMP 40 Under 40 Winner. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.