Proposal review: How to avoid mistakes in your RFP responses

Written by
Helene Halliday
Helene Halliday
Updated on
  8 min read

Will your proposal win? From your executives to the sales team, it’s the question on everyone’s mind. However, the moment you click send and submit your RFP response, the outcome is entirely out of your hands. If you’re the proposal manager in charge of the RFP response, you might find yourself suddenly wishing you’d had more time to spend on the proposal review process.

It’s a common challenge facing proposal teams. How do you move quickly and meet deadlines while also dedicating enough time to reviewing your RFP response and ensuring you’re putting your best foot forward? It’s a constant balancing act.

Luckily, this blog is all about finding a proposal review process that works for you. First, we’ll discuss what a proposal review is and why it’s an important part of the RFP response process. Then, we’ll offer an overview of common review strategies so you can evaluate which approach is best for your team. Finally, you’ll learn tips and best practices for ensuring an effective review process that helps you get your proposals as close to perfect as possible.

What is a proposal review?

A proposal review, or request for proposal (RFP) response review, is the process of examining the content, format and messaging of an RFP response to ensure quality, accuracy, compliance and consistency. Proposal review is a standard step in the proposal process that occurs near the end of the proposal timeline.

Due to the complexity of RFPs, there are many aspects of the proposal to assess. Therefore, a proposal review is actually made up of several rounds of reviews focused on specific aspects of the RFP response.

Focus areas for RFP response reviews

  • Storytelling, cohesiveness and messaging
  • Competitive positioning and win themes 
  • Compliance and completeness
  • Pricing
  • Response accuracy and consistency
  • Spelling, grammar and brand compliance
  • Proposal format and visual elements

Each of these focus areas is important to the overall success of the proposal. And, despite each of these reviews having unique and specific focus, their ultimate goal is the same: to identify any errors to be corrected, points to be clarified or improvements to be made before the submission of the final proposal. In short, the purpose of these reviews is to make the proposal as close to perfect as possible.

Who does the RFP response review process involve?

Ultimately, the proposal manager is responsible for navigating the proposal process, including the RFP response reviews. In their role, they recruit qualified reviewers, coordinate review scheduling, provide guidance for each review team, settle disputes, seek clarification when needed and ensure edits are promptly implemented.

With so many nuanced proposal elements to consider, proposal managers depend on help from other members of the proposal team as well as stakeholders and executives within the business. Indeed, after dedicating hours to collecting, customizing and writing the proposal, a new perspective and a set fresh eyes to review the RFP response is absolutely essential.

Why establishing a proposal review process is important

It almost seems inevitable. The instant you submit your final proposal to the prospective customer, you’re bound to suddenly see an obvious error or a better way to phrase a crucial answer. Indeed, this frustrating feeling is all too common among proposal professionals. The relatable sentiment was recently shared by Jeremy Brim, proposal expert from the bid toolkit on LinkedIn.

Despite our best efforts, mistakes may happen. However, the proposal review process seeks to minimize the risk of missing a disqualifying error. After all, nothing stings more than losing an RFP opportunity over a small mistake.

Common approaches to the proposal review

There are a lot of different philosophies when it comes to proposal review. Some companies use a complex, multi-level review cycle for each and every proposal, while others find a scalable review process beneficial.

Similar to other common proposal practices like discussions of return on investment and to bid or not to bid, ideally, the complexity of your proposal review process should reflect the value of the RFP opportunity. Regardless of your specific approach, every RFP response deserves some level of pre-submission inspection ⁠— after all, if it’s worth responding to, it’s worth reviewing.

Simple two-person proposal review

Suitable for small businesses and simple RFPs, a simple proposal review minimizes the burden on your team and accounts for the most important elements of your RFP response. 

This process assumes that the proposal manager also wrote significant portions of the RFP. Consequently, it calls for two outside reviewers: one to check the messaging and compliance and one to read the proposal for consistency, grammar and formatting. Consider recruiting marketing or sales team members to complete these review tasks.

Proposal compliance matrix

For short RFPs with fairly straightforward requirements, a proposal compliance matrix can easily be used to facilitate your RFP response review. As you might expect from the name, the primary focus of this process is RFP criteria and requirement compliance rather than storytelling or persuasive messaging.

Thanks to the grid format, a member of the proposal team, stakeholder or executive can perform this review quickly. To facilitate deeper discussion of feedback, consider adding a column to your proposal compliance matrix to encourage reviewers to provide comments, corrections or suggestions for improving your proposal. Then, review the feedback with your team and take action to make any necessary updates.

The color team proposal review

The most in-depth approach is the color team review process. Indeed, this multi-team, multi-layer approach contains many reviews throughout the RFP response timeline. Accordingly, it’s well suited to lengthy, complex and highly-technical RFPs. For example, color team reviews are standard for businesses that primarily answer government agency and public sector RFPs.

In this model, each team is known by a particular color and is responsible for a specific focus area. While the practice of color team reviews is common, the size and responsibilities of each color team vary slightly from one business to the next. However, pink and red team reviews most frequently appear in the proposal review process.

Common color team review assignments

Pink team review

Generally, pink team reviews focus on content. They ensure that the proposal is compliant with the customer’s stated criteria, needs and expectations. For example, they might ask questions like: Is every answer complete? Does the proposal solve the customer’s needs? Are the established win themes carried throughout the content? Consider asking a proposal analyst, customer success professional and a sales team member to participate in the pink team review.

Red team review

Next is the red team review. Focused on the customer’s perspective, this team reads the review as if they were a proposal evaluator. Specifically, they ask questions like: Does the proposal tell a compelling story? Is it clear that we understand the customer’s business? Have we clearly expressed our plan for partnership? Good candidates for the red team include veteran employees, sales and marketing leaders and customer success professionals.

White team review

Sometimes referred to as white glove, this final review team reads the proposal from front to back looking for format consistency. Are the margins, fonts, headings and bullet points uniform? Does the table of contents match the following proposal page numbers? Are reference tables and data placed and sourced correctly? Were the edits from the pink and red team properly implemented? Are there any obvious printing errors? Ideally, the white team consists of detail-oriented professionals who have not yet been a part of the proposal development process.

Additional color teams

  • Blue – Outline and gap review
  • Black (Black hat) – Competitive analysis
  • Green – Pricing review
  • Gold – Edit implementation

Proposal review tips and best practices

Review tips for proposal managers

Go digital

Avoid distributing paper copies of the proposal for review. Spending time interpreting and comparing handwritten feedback is inefficient. Instead, consider using a shared document or, better yet, proposal software to centralize review notes, clarify edit tracking and streamline collaboration.

Set a schedule and stick to it

Finding volunteers to participate in the review process is typically fairly easy. However, keeping those reviewers on schedule when they juggle other duties is not always as straightforward. So, before assigning reviewers to teams, share your deadlines for feedback and get a firm commitment from them. Then, follow up as needed and be ready to call in a back up reviewer if they cannot meet the deadline or become unresponsive.

Find fresh eyes

Our brains are trained to save time. Unfortunately, this means that if you’ve written or read something once, your brain will automatically start trying to save you time by filling in words, skipping ahead and making assumptions. This is why getting a new perspective is one of the most valuable parts of a proposal review. Consequently, don’t let anyone do double duty, working both the proposal development team and the review team. Make sure as many fresh pairs of eyes review (and improve) your proposal as possible.

Provide a guide

Because many of your reviews should be new to the proposal content, you can’t assume they’ll know what they’re doing. Therefore, it’s a good idea to create and share a guide. Include a copy of the RFP with relevant sections or instructions highlighted. In addition, provide specific directions for what aspect of the proposal they should pay attention to as well as how they should provide feedback.

Best practices for proposal reviewers

Be prepared

Effective proposal reviewing takes a high level of focus. When you agree to be a part of the proposal review process, check the deadline for feedback and block time on your calendar. If possible, request and review a copy of the RFP prior to receiving the proposal so you have some background about the project.

Regularly consult the RFP

When reviewing, the customer’s RFP should be at hand at all times. Indeed, consider it your handbook, blueprint and instruction manual all in one. Because compliance is always a concern, each reviewer must understand how their feedback enhances compliance. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the proposal manager for more information.

Provide actionable recommendations

Be kind to the proposal manager. As you review, remember that they have a big job and they’re counting on you for specific, clear feedback. For example, commenting “Need more info” on a response leaves them wondering what you mean, why you think that and how they can fix it. On the other hand, explaining “I think this question wants more information. I’d suggest we be more specific about our implementation process. Can we summarize step four here and provide our implementation guide as an attachment?” is much more helpful.

Review and win

Unfortunately, humans are imperfect, so mistakes will almost certainly make it into your proposals from time to time. However, with an organized proposal review process, you can significantly reduce risk and improve your chances of winning more RFP opportunities.

Helene Halliday

Helene serves as a Senior Customer Success Manager at Responsive. In her role, she builds meaningful relationships with customers and enables them to meet their goals and maximize the value they receive from Responsive. Helene is passionate about communication, leadership and efficiency.