Every year, private organizations and government agencies award millions of dollars of business to vendors using the request for proposal (RFP) process. Consequently, responding to RFPs is a crucial part of any sales strategy and a great way to increase revenue. However, before you can take advantage of these opportunities to benefit your business, you have to know how to find RFPs.
Chances are you made it to this post by searching the internet — which is a great start. It won’t surprise you to know that’s one simple way to search for RFP opportunities. The internet plays host to thousands of organizations inviting vendors to bid to win their business. But joining or browsing an online RFP database isn’t the only way to find RFPs. You can also proactively submit your information to prospective buyers using online vendor portals.
In this post, I’ll start with a few basics including key definitions that will help you understand the types of RFPs you can find online as well as their pros and cons. In addition, I’ll share the best RFP databases and how to get invited to closed RFPs. Finally, I’ll offer tips for winning more RFPs so when you find them, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Key RFP definitions
Before we get into where to find RFPs, it’s important to start with the basics. So, let’s explore the RFP meaning and answer a few common questions. Then, we’ll go over several common types of RFPs you may encounter.
What is an RFP?
RFP stands for request for proposal. A request for proposal is a document soliciting information from potential vendors. The document includes a collection of RFP questions that help buyers gather standardized information, compare and select the best supplier for any given project.
Why do companies use RFPs?
RFPs organize complex procurement projects and improve objectivity in supplier selection. In addition, the thorough nature of the process reduces overall vendor risk. Ultimately, this helps buyers reduce the overall cost of procurement and create long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships.
Many private companies have a procurement policy that requires bids from at least three potential suppliers before they can move forward with a purchase. Likewise, agencies at all levels of government are required to issue RFPs publically to ensure that contracts are awarded and tax dollars are spent in a fair and transparent way. Accordingly, you can find open government RFPs online.
Who issues RFPs?
Almost every type of organization uses RFPs as a part of their procurement strategy. For example, RFPs are commonly issued by private companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies.
Two types of RFPs you can find
An open RFP, sometimes called a public RFP, is available for anyone to respond to. Generally, these RFPs appear on the RFP issuer’s website and can be downloaded for response. While some private organizations may occasionally take this approach, most often, government agencies issue open RFPs.
Government agencies create the most open or public RFPs. Federal, state or city agencies use the RFP process for most of their procurement needs. As mentioned above, procurement in the public sector is subject to complex regulation. Indeed, RFP regulations ensure a fair, auditable, objective and transparent vendor selection.
Because they operate with some portion of public funding, schools and universities often follow procurement guidelines that are nearly identical to government policies. You’ll find lots of RFP opportunities on school district and university websites.
The pros and cons of open RFPs
Open RFPs typically prioritize price over most other factors. To avoid countless back-and-forth questions, open RFPs contain a lot of information and include rules, contract terms and conditions, and more. Consequently, they are often the longest kind of RFP. For example, public sector RFPs average around 116 pages.
It is also important to note that open RFPs have stringent requirements. Often they require very specific minimum qualifications and submission format. An open RFP may go as far as to specify that responses must be in a table format, use 12-point Times New Roman font, be printed and have hard copies submitted via postmarked package.
While open RFPs may receive dozens of responses, many may be unqualified. But, the procurement team still has to read each one to know which vendors might be a good fit. Consequently, RFP evaluation takes weeks or even months to complete.
For some businesses, the time-consuming and highly competitive nature of these RFP opportunities make them less appealing. However, government contracts also tend to be high-value with the potential for longer contract terms. So, having a strong bid or no-bid process is a must to balance the pros and cons of responding to open RFPs.
Many private organizations use closed RFPs, sometimes called invitation-only RFPs or private RFPs, to compare and select vendors. In this process, the issuing organization or consultant conducts market research, chooses a select group of vendors and privately issues the RFP to them, inviting them to submit a proposal. The small group of vendors may be selected based on data collected from a request for information (RFI), a request for qualifications (RFQ), reputation, area of expertise or experience.
Corporations and companies of all sizes regularly issue RFPs for any goods or services you can imagine. They use them to evaluate new vendors and verify that they’re getting the best value from their existing vendors. Closed RFPs usually focus less on price. Instead, buyers seek vendors who can become partners, are the most qualified or deliver the best return on investment.
Because most corporations are private, they aren’t subject to the same level of regulation as public entities. Therefore, they often choose to create closed RFPs. Generally, it is simply a matter of efficiency.
Consultant- or broker-managed RFPs
When high-stakes, specialty procurement projects arise, many businesses engage with a consultant or broker. The consultant is an expert in a particular industry or type of procurement. So, they manage the RFP process on behalf of their client. For example, a business may seek out a consultant to help with a complex procurement project for a new IT network, employee benefits or company insurance. Because consultants and brokers have a deep understanding of their niche market, they tend to issue closed RFPs to select vendors who are the best fit for their client.
First, they work with stakeholders to gather requirements and provide expert advice. Then, they create the RFP, select which vendors to invite and manage communications. Finally, they evaluate the responses and provide recommendations to the client.
Pros and cons of closed RFPs
Unlike open RFPs that may garner dozens of responses, closed RFPs limit the number of proposals a buyer receives and has to score. This means competition is a lot easier and it speeds up the overall RFP timeline. However, the size of the contract is often smaller, and may be subject to lengthy negotiation and shorter terms.
Hybrid RFPs: Invited vendors but open RFP
The hybrid RFP approach is less common, but still deserves a mention here. This is when an RFP is issued individually to a handful of vendors, but is also posted in an open invitation. If an organization struggles to garner adequate exposure or interest in their RFP using an open RFP approach, they may reach out to a handful of qualified organizations to request a proposal.
Hybrid RFPs are most frequently used by non-profit organizations. Because they receive tax benefits, public grant funding and donations they strive for transparency in their procurement processes. Unfortunately, their website or brand may not have enough exposure to simply post their RFP online and receive the required number of responses. A hybrid approach solves this and means you can find their RFPs online.
How to find RFPs
Now that we’ve covered key definitions as well as the types of RFPs you can respond to, let’s explore how to find RFPs for each category. Finding open RFPs is simply a matter of knowing where to look. On the other hand, being included in closed RFPs takes a little more work.
Two ways to find open RFPs
There are two main approaches to locating open RFPs. You can subscribe to an RFP database or look for RFPs manually.
Use an RFP database
If you want to implement an RFP strategy to grow your business as quickly as possible, an RFP database subscription may be worth the cost. There are a number of sites that scour government and business websites and collect RFP information. Then, they place the RFP into a centralized, searchable database. This allows you to quickly sift through hundreds of RFPs and find the opportunities that are the best fit. Most are subscription based and cost anywhere from $10-50 per month.
Best RFP databases
There is a lot of overlap between RFP services, so it’s important to do your research and pick the best RFP databases for your business. Consider how often the database is updated, if they regularly have RFPs that align with your business and if they will send you automatic email notifications based on your qualifications.
- The RFP database – Government and corporate RFPs
- FindRFP – Government and corporate RFPs
- Government Bids – Government only
- GovSpend – Government only
- Gov RFP Finder – Government only
- Bid Search – Government only
- Open Minds – Government only
- Bid Prime – Government only
- RFP Guru – Government only
- BidNet – Government only
- Bid Banana – Government only
Search for RFPs manually
A manual search for RFPs requires practice and research, but it’s the most cost-effective way to find new opportunities.
Google search for government RFPs
Because government organizations are required to make their RFPs public, they post them on their websites or in a searchable portal. You can quickly and easily find almost any state or local procurement page or portal with a simple Google search. When you search for an RFP opportunity, remember that each state may use different terminology. For example, try searching by the state or municipality name plus contracts, procurement, RFPs, request for bid (RFBs), or invitation to tender (ITTs).
Find open RFPs on social media
While less common, some organizations post their RFPs on social media. LinkedIn is the most popular social network for finding RFPs, but you will also see some on Twitter. Luckily, the search functionality on these networks makes RFPs easy to find. Simply search your industry and ‘RFP’ to browse through the results and find the latest open opportunities.
How to get invited to closed RFPs
Being invited to participate in a closed RFP is all about getting your company’s information to the right people. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but here are two that I’ve found to be most effective.
Proactively reach out to potential buyers
If you want to be included in RFPs from private organizations, the first step is to make sure they know who you are. Unlike using capture management, which proactively pursues known upcoming RFPs from specific targeted companies, being included in unknown future RFPs may be as simple as raising your hand.
Align with presales, sales and marketing
This approach requires research and a team effort, so it can be time consuming — but I’ve also seen it work. If your organization has a presales, sales or marketing team, they may already have initiatives to proactively connect with specific buyers. This approach is often called account-based marketing (ABM).
The first step ABM is to identify your ideal customer profile (ICP). If you thrive within a certain industry, use this information and your ICP to identify top accounts to target. Then, align your efforts with presales, sales and marketing.
As part of your efforts to get into a particular company, reach out to the company’s procurement team. Let them know you’d like to be considered for future RFP opportunities and ask if they maintain a vendor database. If so, explore how to be included as a prospective vendor. Often, it’s as simple as filling out an RFI.
Note: Procurement teams get a lot of these calls so it’s important to stand out. Be knowledgeable about their business, unfailingly friendly, courteous and patient. It’s also useful to share any diversity certifications, qualifications or local connections you may have.
Register as a supplier or complete a vendor profile
Many large organizations accept vendor applications online. The process has different names including supplier registration, a vendor form or a vendor profile. If you know you’re a fit for a specific company, check their website for one of these forms.
Examples vendor registration pages
Get on a broker or consultant’s radar
There are brokers and consultants that use RFPs to serve a wide range of industries. In fact, you likely already know who they are within your sector. But, the real question is, do they know who you are? Procurement consultants want to deliver the best results to their client, so if you can provide value, introduce yourself.
When you do reach out, be brief. Send an introductory email with a few lines about how you serve their client base and what sets you apart. Then, ask about their vendor onboarding process and if there’s a vendor profile they use to track available suppliers. If you don’t get a response in a week or so, follow up and attach a short vendor profile of your own.
Once you connect with someone, follow up with them from time to time to stay top of mind. Remember, be genuine and provide helpful information. If you can build a relationship with a broker or consultancy firm, they are more likely to trust you, include you in RFPs and provide insights about customer trends.
5 tips for winning more RFPs
1. Make sure you’re qualified
Pay close attention to the requirements and evaluation criteria and prioritize your efforts. It’s easy to get caught up in answering as many RFPs as possible. However, if your chances to win are low, dedicating time and attention to creating a proposal is probably not worth the time. When you find RFP opportunities, ensure they pass your to bid or not to bid criteria. Responding to too many RFPs with fast proposals will impact your win rate and tax your proposal team resources.
2. Research your prospect
Learn as much as you can about the buyer. With more background and context, you’ll be able to better address the buyer’s needs and goals. If you’re responding to a government RFP, look for a previous proposal that won the contract. Just like RFPs are public, often the responses from each vendor are as well.
3. Pay attention to the instructions
Carefully read the instructions before beginning your RFP response. Identify every requirement and include them in an RFP compliance matrix (this process is sometimes called shredding the RFP). This is particularly important when you respond to government RFPs. If your proposal isn’t delivered as specified or doesn’t meet the submission criteria, they may not read past the first page. Instead the procurement manager may just throw all of your hard work out.
4. Ask questions
RFPs are complex, and unfortunately, some questions aren’t always clear. Instead of guessing at what the buyer meant, ask them. Even if the RFP timeline doesn’t provide a vendor question period, send the inquiry. Not only will it help you get insight, but it also shows the buyer you’re invested in understanding their business and being a partner.
5. Make sure your messaging hits the mark
Make your responses customer-centric and provide specific benefits. Address their primary needs and convey your understanding of their goals. Finally, when using your proposal knowledge library to create quick responses, don’t forget to tailor your answers to the buyer.
A final bit of advice
If your ultimate goal is to answer more RFPs (and win them) to grow your business, it’s important to not only search for RFPs, but ensure that your current response process is as efficient as possible.
However, if you’re already facing heavy workloads and tight deadlines, it’s going to be difficult to ask the proposal management team and SMEs to do even more. You have two options: hire more staff or adopt RFP software.
Naturally, I recommend RFP software (specifically, Responsive) because our average customer reduces their response time by up to 50 percent. They are then able to redirect that time toward improving their content library, optimizing processes, finding new RFPs, customizing responses and increasing RFP submissions by 5-15 percent.