This is what it takes to win an RFP from start to finish

Written by
Konnor Martin
Konnor Martin
Updated on
  9 min read

How to win an RFP

Winning an RFP is always the goal. But often we aren’t sure what it really takes to win — no matter how many hundreds of RFPs we’ve responded to.

Every RFP response involves many moving parts. Collaboration and efficiency are absolutely critical, but so is the writing. The quality of your response will help determine whether the prospect chooses your organization or one of your competitors.

In this article, we’ll uncover what a winning RFP response looks like from start to finish and offer tips on how you can replicate this successful response strategy with your team.

Understanding what it takes to win an RFP bid

A winning RFP is about so much more than service, pricing and deliverables, although those are important. Winning an RFP requires a deep assessment of all of the buyer’s requirements and responding in a way that conveys your understanding and professionalism in an easy-to-follow format.

Responses that make buyers feel individually catered to with customized (rather than boilerplate) responses will make your bid clearer, more noticeable and more effective.

Before the RFP: preparing to respond

By taking time to sort out fundamental details at the beginning, you’ll be able to complete any RFP process faster and with greater overall effect.

Understand your customer and their needs

Know the qualifications your customer is looking for. Read the RFP to determine specific needs. Use a tool like Requirements Analysis to save time with AI-generated document summaries.

You should also do your homework beforehand, like building relationships with the individuals involved in the review and spending time getting to know the company. This will also help you feel comfortable speaking their language when you write your response.

Bid or no bid?

Responding to every RFP that comes in the door doesn’t increase your chances of winning new business. In fact, it wastes time and resources.

For example, if you don’t have an existing relationship with the issuer, experts say your chances of winning are very low. Every second you spend chasing a low-probability opportunity is time you’re not focused on the deals you’re more likely to close.

So, stop going after deals that aren’t a good fit for your company. Make sure this prospect is the best fit and whether it makes strategic sense to pursue the opportunity. Focus on winning RFPs that support your business goals.

The best way to do this is to use a bid or no-bid process.

Define your RFP process

Once you’ve decided to bid on a project, determine the most efficient way to complete the proposal.

If you don’t have an RFP team or proposal coordinator, don’t worry — many companies don’t have those roles. Just make sure to clearly define ownership with a RACI matrix and responsibilities in the RFP process. That way everyone knows who is involved, the expectations and the deadlines.

During the RFP: creating your response

The details can make or break an RFP’s success. Here are some ways to ensure that you cover all the finer points.

Follow the issuer’s instructions

Yes, sometimes companies will make you jump through hoops, repeat yourself, or have you fill out tedious forms and spreadsheets — all of which burn your time and may feel like wasted effort. But read, understand, and make sure you follow the instructions provided in the RFP,  just as they were presented in the document. Your prospect has asked for what they need and will appreciate the responses that match those requirements.

Tailor your content

If you use canned responses, the people who score the submission will see right through it. Instead, you should provide customized responses addressing their most pressing concerns.

Using this three-part structure can increase the persuasiveness of key answers.

  1. First, restate the question, and make it clear that you understand why it is important.
  2. Next, provide your answer, clearly and concisely.
  3. Finally, especially if you have made a claim or stated a differentiator, substantiate that claim, preferably with third-party evidence. For example, consider including a customer or recognized analyst quote.

Pro tip: Leverage AI to help you build, curate and manage your content library as well as tailor responses to specific audiences.

Use clever formatting to make differentiators stand out

Evaluators may need to wade through an ocean of text, especially in long responses, drowning out the key information you want them to see — for example, key differentiators or other standout data that will illuminate your company in its best light.

Carefully use formatting techniques (bold font, call-out boxes, white space, bullet points, highlighting, images or screenshots, etc.) to draw attention to key points. Diversifying your response with visuals, such as charts, pull quotes and images will make your bid easier to read and maximize impact.

Leverage your relationship with the prospect to win

By taking the time to understand the company and team members, you’re setting up your RFP response project for success. Use the relationship and intelligence to level up your company. Sales should continue nurturing the prospect, rather than going radio silent once the RFP is in progress.

After the RFP: how to move forward

You’ve made it! You provided quality answers to all the questions, presented the response in a way that made it easy to read and understand and submitted it on time. Now what?

Confirm receipt

Give the buyer a quick call or send them an email to ensure they received the response. This is not the time to discuss the RFP. A thank you note is a great way to let them know you appreciate the opportunity.

Save responses

Help keep your knowledge library current by saving all your question-and-answer (Q&A) pairs for future RFPs. If you feel the information and layout could be used in the future, save the response as a template.

Conduct a post-mortem

Every RFP presents a learning opportunity. Engage with company stakeholders to determine what you did well and what might need improvement moving forward. Leverage data and analytics to reassess resource needs.

Prepare for next steps

If your RFP response makes it to the next stage, the buyer might ask you to give a presentation. Be proactive and prepare the presentation in advance, anticipating any further questions that may arise.

Continue to nurture relationships

While contacting a prospect before they make their decision might backfire, building a longer-term relationship will help open future opportunities for your organization. Continue deepening relationships months or years after the initial RFP. Putting in the extra effort creates the potential to become lasting partners long after the close.

Even losing bids can help establish relationships. Just because you aren’t a fit today doesn’t mean you won’t be for tomorrow’s needs. Keep buyers aware of product enhancements and updates.

5 tips for crafting RFP bids that win

Stop reinventing the wheel with every RFP response.  Consider these five tried-and-true strategies for a more successful – and scalable – RFP response process.

1. Centralize your proposal content

It’s imperative you develop a centralized repository of proposal content you can quickly access and tailor to each RFP.

This can be daunting, but it’s absolutely worth it. Start by compiling answers from recent, successful RFP bids. You’ll know the content is up to date because the bid is recent, and you’ll know it’s compelling because you won the bid. Then, create a list of the most frequently asked questions and start collecting answers.

You may need help from some of your team with this step. Don’t hesitate to ask. They’ll likely be happy to help knowing this will prevent them from having to answer the same questions over and over again. Automated workflow will help you find the right team members.

2. Assign proposal tasks early

Start assigning tasks as soon as you receive the RFP. Whatever you do, do NOT procrastinate. Remember, if you have to engage subject matter experts, proposals are lower on their priority list so it may take some time to get the answers you need. A well-curated AI-powered knowledge library will take a lot of work off subject matter experts’ shoulders by locating similar previous responses so all they have to do is edit and respond to unique questions.

Giving them as much time to answer questions as possible will help them balance their priorities and help create winning responses. In addition, it prevents you from scrambling to add their content at the last minute.

3. Make the issuer’s job as easy as possible

When responding to a questionnaire, you may see questions that have already been answered elsewhere in the document. It’s tempting to respond by saying, “See question No. 44,” or, simply include a URL, and move on. Doing this might make your life easier, but the RFP issuer must jump around in the response document, adding to their workload.

Do this too much, and you can annoy them, subconsciously causing them to mark you down. If possible, answer the question fully, everywhere it is asked. After your response you can add a postscript, such as, “Also see question No. 44.”

4. Highlight how you are different, but don’t give away your secret sauce

Keep it simple. Provide value through substance, not superfluous detail. For example, a public relations firm might want to detail how their industry contacts and relationships can help a potential client get the exposure and press they’re looking for.

They won’t, however, want to list those contacts to prospects — it provides little value, can potentially undermine the sale and may even sour those critical relationships.

5. Leverage purpose-made RFP software

Purpose-made AI RFP software plays a pivotal role in every stage of the RFP process. It provides a single platform where team members can collaborate in real-time, access a centralized knowledge library, and automate repetitive tasks such as populating common responses and formatting documents.

The software also facilitates better project management by tracking deadlines, assigning tasks, and ensuring accountability among team members. Advanced analytics to measure response performance and identify areas for improvement.

RFP software provides several advantages that significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the RFP response process, including:

  • Time savings: Automation features reduce the time spent on manual data entry and formatting, allowing your team to focus on crafting compelling and customized responses.
  • Improved collaboration: Real-time collaboration tools enable seamless communication and coordination among team members through in-app @mentions and integrations with multiple communication and collaboration applications.
  • Consistency and accuracy: A single source of truth ensures that all responses are consistent with the latest company information and messaging, reducing the risk of errors, outdated content and brand inconsistency.
  • Enhanced project management: The software provides tools for tracking progress, managing deadlines, and assigning tasks, which helps keep the response process on schedule and ensures accountability.
  • Data-driven insights: Advanced analytics and reporting features offer valuable insights into the effectiveness of your RFP responses, allowing for continuous improvement and more strategic decision-making. It also helps calculate ROI.

How Responsive can help you win more RFPs

Through its best-in-class RFP management software, Responsive delivers unparalleled efficiency and strategic advantages. By leveraging advanced automation, Responsive streamlines the complex and often chaotic RFP response process, ensuring that organizations can quickly and accurately craft high-quality proposals.

The Responsive Platform centralizes an organization’s best content, enhances collaboration, and automates repetitive tasks, allowing teams to focus on strategic activities that drive higher win rates and business growth.

Some final thoughts

Creating a winning RFP involves juggling a lot of balls at once. You must determine the criteria, figure out whether it’s a fit, find the right people and content, check for accuracy, write and edit, stay on schedule and present the RFP to the customer in an attractive, on-brand and easy-for-the-customer-to-follow response. If that sounds like a lot to you, you aren’t alone.

Responsive is the #1 RFP software according to G2 for good reason. The AI-powered platform does all of the above and is agile enough to scale with you and keep up with changing market trends and demands. Are you interested in seeing how it all works? We’d love to show you.

Just discovering RFP software and feeling overwhelmed? Check out: How to choose a proposal management solution.

Konnor Martin

As the Regional Vice President of Sales at Responsive, Konnor Martin helps organizations understand the value of RFP software, so they can improve and scale their response approach—and win more business. With more than eight years as an executive sales professional, Konnor is highly experienced in training and development, territory management, software sales leadership, international business, and developing industry best practices.


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