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, they send out a request for proposal. Now, to win that business, you need to know how to respond to an RFP.
Admittedly, RFPs can be challenging. So, we’re here to explore how you can master the process, create compelling bids and (hopefully) win. First, we’ll explore common obstacles you may face when you respond to an RFP. Next, we’ll offer the key steps for how to respond to an RFP as well as best practices. And finally, we’ll offer insight on how technology like RFP software makes responding a lot faster and easier. Let’s dig in.
Obstacles in the RFP response process
The scale of an RFP can be huge
RFPs contain up to thousands of questions and requests for specific content. If your company has a solution to the problem put forth by the issuer, then you respond with a proposal that includes all the answers and requested content. Depending on the size of the RFP, it can take you hours, days, or weeks to prepare a response. As long as you submit your completed RFP response by the deadline, your solution will be considered.
Competition is fierce
The issuer compares your RFP response with all of the other RFP responses received from your competitors. Sometimes, the lowest price wins. Other times, the best solution wins. Sometimes, it’s both…or neither.
Success requires more than paperwork
Much of the time, the winner results from the best pitch — an umbrella term that includes the RFP response, relationships built with sales and subject matter experts (SMEs) during the process, pricing, reputation and a variety of other factors. Then there are the times when winners are selected based on prior or existing relationships between the two organizations.
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. Why not put your best foot forward?
How to respond to an RFP
1. Qualify the bid
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.
2. Understand 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.
3. Answer repeat questions
Pull from your content library to fill in answers to repeat questions. If anything needs to be reviewed by a subject matter expert, be sure to get their eyes on it before submission.
4. Note due dates and tasks
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. Review and polish
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.
Don’t let poor grammar and typos be the reason you lose the bid.
8. Submit to issuer
Push send with no regrets.
The Benchmark Report: Proposal Management
Learn about the state of proposal management, and see what teams need to do to be successful moving forward.
Best practices for responding to an RFP
Whether you have a dedicated team of stakeholders from each department or you assign a new team for each project, what matters most is that everyone in the organization recognizes that they have skin in the game.
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.
Build the right team
Proposal managers lead the proposal team. Proposal managers may think of themselves as the director of a motion picture. After that “Directed by” end title flashes, another three minutes of credits roll by.
The proposal team I’m referring to 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.
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.
Respect contributors’ time
If you want SMEs and other stakeholders to feel a sense of ownership for their proposal responsibilities, then you have to respect their time. RFP responses will suffer if contributors end up working after hours and weekends, rushing to meet deadlines. Get their buy-in ahead of time on deadlines and time required for reviews and approvals.
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.
Conduct 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.
Let technology do the heavy lifting
Remember earlier when I said the RFP response process is cyclical? 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 43 percent of organizations using RFP-specific technology, there’s a huge opportunity for you to get a leg up on competitors.
How Responsive can help
Responsive RFP software makes it easier to collaborate with an extended team and leverage the power of technology. With automated processes for scheduling, collaboration and completing wide swaths of massive RFPs using our industry-leading Content Library, you can blaze through the first pass of a response faster than working without RFP software or with less advanced software solutions.
You create more time to spend customizing the responses that really matter and focus on differentiating yourself from the competition. And that’s only the beginning!
Using software at every step in the RFP response process
Here’s a quick overview of how Responsive RFP software helps during each of the seven steps of RFP response:
- Qualify the bid — Check data from past similar RFPs. What took weeks without RFP software may only take hours or minutes with it. All things being equal, is this RFP winnable?
- Understand requirements — Let the tool create a checklist of open items based on what remains after the automated first pass conducted at intake by your Content Library.
- Answer commonly seen questions — Responsive RFP technology consolidates all your previous Q&A pairs into an intelligent content library, so you can automatically respond to repeat questions in just a few clicks.
- Assign due dates and tasks to key collaborators — Assign each RFP question or section as a task to individual collaborators from the project dashboard in Responsive. They’ll then receive a notification from where they’re already working (e.g., email, Slack, or Teams).
- Assign questions for review and approval — Simplify the review and approval process with automated reminders and cues across multiple platforms.
- Polish — From intake, work within a branded template and support answers with approved content that’s always up-to-date according to the SME in charge of that content.
- Proofread — Still important, but working with already-approved content will decrease how much you have to proofread.
- Submit to issuer — Push send from Responsive or your integrated CRM.
We recently created a Proposal Management Benchmark Report where we found that organizations using RFP software already managed 43 percent more RFPs than those who do not use RFP software. If you’re looking to speed ahead of the field in RFP response, then gain traction faster with RFP software.
I’ll just leave these other tidbits right here…
Recognize SMEs and salespeople at quarterly meetings. Salespeople are competitive and like to be recognized for winning.
Implement formal kickoff meetings for RFPs. Make them quick and include pre-reading materials in the invitation to hit the ground running. Some organizations combine this with a go/no-go checkpoint.
Hold 15-minute daily standup meetings or calls as you approach the RFP deadline. Focus on status reports and action items.
Commit to professional development time. Join this LinkedIn group, the response management Slack community, or connect with APMP. This is especially valuable for small shops, where it can be hard to build a network.
If this has inspired you to investigate RFP software, then request a Responsive demo today!