How to respond to an RFP

Written by
Monica Patterson
Monica Patterson
Updated on
  9 min read
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Organizations issue requests for proposals (RFPs) because they have a need that cannot be fixed internally — a big need — one that will cost lots of money. 

This isn’t calling a plumber to fix a clog. It’s soliciting bids from multiple contractors for complete remodels, or to construct full-on additions.  So in this post, we’ll explain how you can master the process, create compelling bids and (hopefully) win. 

The challenges of responding to RFPs

Admittedly, RFPs can be challenging. To overcome them, we’ll need to first confront them.

  • Scale. An RFP can include thousands of questions and requests for specific content. The sheer volume and detail of information can lead to lengthy preparation times, potentially causing delays or suboptimal responses if rushed.
  • Competition. Sometimes, the lowest price wins. Other times, the best solution wins. Sometimes, it’s both…or neither.
  • Complexity. Crafting a great RFP requires a lot more than writing. It’s a complex document that draws on relationships you have with in-house subject matter experts, sales teams, and the clients themselves.

No matter what the deciding factor between an RFP win or loss, the ultimate truth is that you have to compose an RFP response to have a chance. Let’s look at ways you can put your best foot forward.

The basics of an RFP

When a company or organization wants to make a major purchase or launch a project, they usually issue a detailed document–a request for proposal (RFP)—describing their needs to several potential vendors. A typical RFP will outline the following:

  • Their budget for the project or product
  • The project’s goals
  • Common deal-breakers, such as:
    • Unsatisfactory audit findings
    • Insufficient security protocols
    • Poorly-defined procedures and policies
    • Improperly vetted subcontractors
    • Customer support concerns
  • Inability to meet the buyer’s budget or timeline
  • Not enough customer references
  • No out-of-the-box functionality
  • The most important factors
  • The RFP’s due date

How to respond to an RFP step by step

The best way to produce a winning bid is to have a process in place.  The process breaks down into 8 major steps.

  1. Understand the requirements
  2. Qualify the bid with a go/no go analysis
  3. Answer repeat questions
  4. Set due dates, tasks and expectations
  5. Assign questions for review
  6. Proofread and polish
  7. Submit
  8. Save and audit responses

Let’s jump into each one.

1. Understand the requirements

What do you need to get it done? This ranges from the type of content, to who produces it, to who is responsible for signing off on the final proposal. The list can be extensive, but it must be comprehensive to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

2. Qualify the bid with a go/no go analysis

Is this worth going after? Starting off with a bid or no-bid discussion gives you an opportunity to evaluate your win probability. Essentially, building a proposal is like investing in your future. Every investment requires close scrutiny. Instead of going after every bid, only choose those that best align with your business and are winnable.

3. Answer repeat questions

Because roughly 80 percent of an RFP contains questions you’ve probably answered before—many times—let your automated knowledge management system take a run at it first. Make sure the answers are correct and up-to-date.

4. Set due dates, tasks and expectations

Whose expertise do you need? After you determine the requirements, identify all the milestones. There’ll be due dates for content, reviews, edits and approvals. The trick is to respect everyone’s time while driving the process forward.

5. Assign questions for review

Who needs to sign off on this content? Generally, you’ll have multiple approvers to sign-off on content related to sales, product, support, legal, branding and so on.

6. Proofread and polish

Were the questions answered accurately and completely? Were all the objectives met? Are there any misspelled words or typos? Are the responses otherwise well-written? Have you attached all relevant documents? Don’t let poor grammar and typos be the reason you lose the bid.

Make sure you’re telling YOUR story. Add visuals or other supporting content to help convey your message. If you have the good fortune to have a dedicated proposal team, look to them for proposal formatting guidance. If you don’t have a proposal team, look to your marketing team. Ensure your proposal is in a clean, easy-to-read format. Or, even better, put it into a branded template.

7. Submit

Once you’ve completed and polished the response, submit it (before it’s due). Confirm that it was received and let team members know.

8. Save and audit responses

Every answer is potentially valuable for future RFPs. Save them in a central location that’s easily accessible to key stakeholders. Make sure you regularly audit the content in the centralized repository.

The benefits of following a repeatable process

RFPs are more alike than they are different. You’re going to need to answer some of the same concerns over and over. Do you have project management software? Who is your project manager? Do you have a list of subject matter experts (SMEs) and their schedules? What about other stakeholders, such as writers and editors?

Around 80 percent of an RFP’s questions are relatively standard. For example, it’s common for an RFP to ask about company history, hiring practices, and the onboarding process. Why not have those answers ready to go or at least prepared for a quick proofread?

Creating a repeatable process establishes:

  • Whether the RFP is worth pursuing
  • Team participants
  • Timelines
  • Role definitions
  • SME engagement
  • Final evaluation

Best practices for a smarter RFP response process

RFP wins, proactive sales proposals, and fast turnaround on questionnaires equate to revenue and may determine whether the company grows, shrinks, or offers an extra percentage point in next year’s retirement fund match.

Here are some tips for getting the entire RFP process up to the highest possible standard.

Encourage team collaboration

Because RFPs are long, complex, and require potential input from every department, collaboration is a critical part of an RFP response process. And because we have distributed and siloed workforces, intense competition for SMEs’ time, and tight deadlines, smart processes foster collaboration.

The proposal team is made up of the individuals you rely on for a variety of roles:

  • Prospect and customer interaction – Customer-facing teams have their fingers on the pulse of competitors and customer needs.
  • Subject matter expertise – Many RFP questions require detailed answers, and for those you should turn to the people who know the most about their particular area of expertise.
  • Brand messaging – Consult with marketing before submitting your response to ensure that you are on brand.
  • IT support – Can your company support the issuer’s needs?

… and all of the others who are vital to creating a winning proposal.

Even a one-person proposal department needs input from internal or external SMEs to build a high-quality response.

An RFP response system should leverage project management and communication tools to keep everyone on the same page.

Only respond to RFPs you can win

As part of your bid-qualifying at the beginning of your RFP response process, add a go/no-go checkpoint to ensure that you only respond to RFPs you can win. Whether it’s a scheduled team meeting or a checklist, you need to answer:

  • Is the RFP the right fit for your organization and solution?
  • Do you have a comprehensive solution that addresses all of the challenges presented in the request?
  • Does your pricing match the budget?
  • Do you have an existing or prior relationship with the issuing organization?
  • Do you have any insight into why the RFP has been issued?
  • Can you meet the submission deadline?

Basing the answers to these questions on data rather than anecdotal evidence will help validate the go/no-go step as well as your role as a proposal manager. The Responsive platform’s AI-powered analytics tools provide that data.

Document your process

A documented RFP response process will anchor your team during the most chaotic times. It’s up to you to own the process, but RFP software will make it easier to automate, execute and monitor processes from beginning to end on multiple projects running simultaneously.

Create a win/loss review

The win-loss review gives your team an opportunity to close the loop. Internally evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

  • Did you win? Why? How can you repeat it for future proposals?
  • Did you lose? Why? How can you avoid it in future proposals?

Include the whole proposal team in a wrap-up summary, but make the extra effort to work hand-in-hand with sales enablement so they can bring in the customer perspective.

Centralize your response content in a knowledge library

A knowledge management system is about managing a centralized repository of all of an organization’s information. It may include shareholder or annual reports, marketing collateral, sales enablement material, legal documents, contracts, company data, software documentation, operating procedures, etc.

Knowledge, of course, is fluid—so is an effective knowledge management system. The software should prompt gatekeepers to run regular audits for inaccurate, non-regulatory compliant, or out-of-date files. It should also remind them when a record might need to be virtually shredded.

Knowledge management aims to create an effective single source of truth, with accurate and up-to-date information. Whether a stakeholder works in sales, response management, legal, finance, or HR, the information should be easily searchable, consistent, and repeatable.

But consistency and repeatability on their own aren’t enough. A knowledge management system needs to not only have the scalability to grow and change with the organization but also to help the organization grow and change.

Let technology do the heavy lifting

The win/loss review will inform your new go/no-go step, increasing your predictive accuracy of which RFPs you can actually win. It helps to have RFP software for a win-loss review because you have everything that went into the response—the planning, communication, content and the actual response—in one place.

Software is the single most effective way to overcome lack of time, experience and other resources. It’s the difference maker that will help you respond like a boss. With only a fraction of organizations using RFP-specific technology, there’s a huge opportunity for you to get a leg up on competitors.

You can save hours, days, or even weeks by leveraging machine learning to access those repeat question-and-answer pairs, giving you the time to address the questions that need your efforts.

How RFP teams use response software

Chances are, your company uses CRMs and other sales enablement platforms. You probably also use communication apps and some sort of project management software. How does one make a case for more on top of what your CIO might call a bloated tech stack?

Advanced RFP software works with your tech stack, not on top of it. It should integrate with your productivity, communication, and sales enablement apps, but it should also add value on its own. Unlike a standard project management platform, RFP software is customized for proposal management.

RFP software is designed to let you respond to more requests and maximize your win rate. It may not be a specific part of your sales team, but like your top salespeople, its superpower is revenue generation.

How Responsive can help

Optimized workflow

Responsive optimizes workflow by smoothing out the content creation process, establishing workflow roles, providing selective collaboration, curating and cultivating your content library, and letting you spend more time on presentations instead of herding cats.

With Responsive software, users can rename and customize fields and intake forms, and customize frameworks and business processes. Responsive software is a tool that fits with your processes instead of the other way around. In fact, the Responsive product integrates with more workflow tools than any other response management platform.

Unified collaboration

The response process can include dozens of stakeholders from multiple departments and time zones. Timely collaboration can be a challenge, but not with Responsive. The Responsive product integrates with most project management and messaging apps, and collaboration is built into the platform.

The Responsive platform collaborative tools allow you to:

  • Consolidate project-specific conversations – Never lose track of comment threads again.
  • Break down knowledge silos – Each stakeholder on a response has a singular goal…winning the bid! Responsive allows you to share knowledge with stakeholders as needed, and vice versa.
  • Track progress of response completion – See whether the project is running on time and whether each stakeholder is doing their part.

Improved win rates

The average RFP win rate is 45%. Advanced response software uses AI to streamline the response process, which means you have more time to respond to more RFPs and win more bids. Additionally, the Responsive Content Library helps improve response quality by suggesting pre-approved answers to most queries, leading to an increased win rate.

Even if your win rate has only nominal gains, you will still produce more revenue because, as with many other things, RFP response is a numbers game. If you have the time to respond to more RFPs, you will have more victories and drive revenue.


Monica Patterson

Monica is a Sales Engineer with Responsive. With a career in sales support and marketing spanning nearly 30 years, Monica’s expert skills teamed with her business intelligence and analytical acumen equip her to consistently execute on sales support and marketing strategies. She has a passion for content management and enjoys working with clients to keep their proposal libraries filled with gold standard content! Connect with Monica on LinkedIn

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