Writing a good response to an RFP (request for proposal) is what is going to land you the job in the first place. The main goal for the RFPs issuer is to gather as many proposals (responses) as possible, compare them, and award the one with the best offerings, which turns out to be the lowest price in certain situations.
Since your proposal is your only shot at catching the investor's eye and winning the job, it is crucial to write it in a good manner. Here we will explain some of the best practices you need to adhere to when writing a response to an RFP.
Writing an RFP response is not just saying to the prospective client - Hey, I can finish the job, hire me. It is far more complicated than that, and there is a structure you should follow and things you should include in your business proposal. Before you even come to that part, you need to see whether you actually can do that or not. This is why the first step in the proposal process, metaphorically speaking, is to see yourself in the mirror.
How does the Proposal Process work?
It is important to understand that writing an RFP response is not definite in terms that once you finish writing a section, you can continue to the next one and forget about the previous one.
The process of writing an RFP constantly requires you to update and change information in all parts of the response because it is a time-consuming process, and it is completely normal to expect there will be additional information that needs to be included or changes that have to be made.
Here we will explain the steps you need to undertake to finish the process successfully and win a happy client.
Evaluate If You Should Respond
Before you even start working on your proposal, the very first key step you need to accomplish is evaluating all the requirements from the RFP and see whether you are a good fit for the job or not. On the other side, you also need to see if you are interested in working with the issuer of the RFP.
Here you have to be very real and down to earth. Know your capabilities and capacities before you jump to binding yourself to something you could do in theory, but the practice says differently.
There is no point in writing responses to request proposals you don’t think you can win in the bidding process. Sometimes luck is present in the game, but if it is too time-consuming for you, and you are unsure whether you can win the bid at all, drop it.
Another thing you need to consider is whether you can fulfill the scope of work from the RFP if you do win the bid. If you are not 100% sure you will be able to meet the deadline, you and your potential partner shouldn't bid in the first place.
There is nothing wrong with realizing the job is not a good fit for you. However, as long as you are aware of your capacities, you can see room for improvement and action accordingly.
Learn the Requirements
Once you estimate you are the right fit for the job, make sure to review all the requirements again. Sometimes the investor may miss something inadvertently, like a technical detail or a deadline for a specific milestone.
On the other hand, when you need to propose a solution to a prospective client's problem, make sure to evaluate the situation and think of other parties you will need to include in the project organization.
Points to include references to your angle of the problem and the solution you can offer (and how is that better from your competitors). You will have a bigger chance of winning the bid if you show how they will benefit from doing business with you.
When you start writing an RFP response, and you know that you have to finish the project by some date, you may easily fall into a trap believing that you can meet the deadline.
This usually happens because, as a beginner, you may not have enough experience to evaluate all the tasks that need to be finished and the coordination needed to complete the project.
You must turn into a real juggle to coordinate all the parties working on the project plan and to respect the fact that people will also have other tasks to work on.
Check Commonly Asked Questions
Later on, we will explain if you should be using RFP software at all. Still, if you are using one, it probably gives you some commonly asked questions alongside the answers (everything based on empirical data).
However, this can be a good starting point, but once you review the requirements, you should comprise a list of questions regarding the project and try to look for answers. Sometimes in the RFP, you will see FAQ, but if the answer to your question is not there, there are two options.
The first one is to contact the RFP issuer. Usually, the investor will leave some window frame when you can ask questions potential vendors may have. This is a good opportunity to hear first-hand what the potential client was referring to in the RFP.
Another option is to hire an SME (subject matter expert). As the name says, these people are professionals and are specialized in guiding you through the RFP response process. So even if you don’t have any questions to be cleared, make sure to hire an SME before you submit your entire proposal.
This way, they can give you an objective opinion on whether you have written it well or you should edit some parts. Anyways, they will provide some valuable input for you to consider.
To guide the whole process, you may need to hire a proposal manager who is highly experienced in this process and can help you navigate through it from beginning to end.
Assemble the Team
Writing a good RFP response means that there will be many stakeholders included in the process. Every one of them will play a vital role in the process. For example, the sales team will provide some input on whether you can win the bid, the sales tactics you should use, which analysis to do, and include…
They will also create a good sales pitch, which will be your competitive advantage in a situation where there are no other factors that can differentiate you and the other vendors.
CFOs and the finance team will be there to calculate ROI (return on investment) and other metrics that will tell you if this project really is lucrative for your company or not. Also, they can give their final blessing on the project. As already said, not any RFP is a good opportunity, and what is the better way to decide whether to invest time in the proposal than the ROI?
The project management team will be in charge of realizing the project, should the proposal be accepted, so it is important to include someone from this sector to create an idea of a timeline. They will also break down the project into tasks and assign them to the responsible persons.
If needed, an SME should be called in to participate in the writing of the proposal. It is already explained how they can provide valuable insight into what you should and should not do.
Tag People in Charge
When writing an RFP response, there are some key points in the process where you will need to get authorization from the person in charge before continuing with the writing.
It is important to mark those people at the beginning to know that they have decision-making responsibilities regarding this project. So be careful here and try to submit the documents for approval before the deadline.
This is because they might have some changes they’d like to be made in the proposal, or they simply disagree with what’s written. But, of course, you must be prepared for these situations, so make sure that you leave some buffer to make the requested changes in time.
Put Everything Together
A high-quality RFP response is a complex thing to write, and sometimes many people may be included in writing it. When this is the case, one person must sit down, read the whole proposal, and put it together.
Different people have different writing styles, some of them use abbreviations, and others don’t. This is why it is important to edit the proposal to feature one consistent style from beginning to end.
Also, it is important to check that there are no inconsistent data throughout the proposal. Not to mention that you will have to proofread the document to correct any typos that might have slipped under the carpet.
Check for All the Data
Ensure that you are not missing an important part of the RFP proposal, like a cover letter or an executive summary. Although an executive summary is not a mandatory part of the proposal, it is highly recommended to have one included - you can only benefit from having one while missing one might rule you out of the bidding process.
The whole proposal should be read to check whether all the important questions from the RFP were answered and that all the key points were mentioned. Ensure that you are not missing anything that the potential client asked you to include in the actual response.
All these details may not look serious, but in a game where the competition knows to be very harsh, even the tiny bits can decide whether you will get the job or be left empty-handed.
Should You Use RFP Software?
Some companies have found a way to keep the response process automated. However, it can be tough for beginners to write a good RFP response (or too time-consuming). Using automated software will save you time and ease up the process, especially for first-timers.
The statistics say that less than half of the companies use this type of software, but that should discourage you if you feel like you also need one. It is better to seek a way to improve your business processes than to lose time trying to do something you haven’t properly mastered yet.
To start, the software can make an analysis that will show whether you fulfill basic requirements from the RFP or not. In this stage, you will see if the project is suitable for your company and vice versa.
Besides this, the RFP response software can create tasks and automatically assign them to the person in charge, alongside the deadline that has to be met.
Also, the software can analyze commonly asked questions that might pop up and give you answers. All FAQ here is empirical, meaning that it is based on previous experiences.
The software can also polish things up on the technical side by proofreading the content and correcting typos. Once this process is finished, it can also automatically send the proposal for approval to the CRM or dedicated person in charge.
Evaluate Your Efforts
It is essential to know how to look back and analyze the decisions you have made. If you don’t conclude the process of writing an RFP response, there is a high chance you will be making the same mistakes in the future.
Let’s start with the situation where you have not won in the bidding process. You have spent time writing the RFP response, and it didn’t prove to be successful. So you need to analyze the whole response process objectively to see what the weak spots that led you to that result were.
Whether it was poor organization, missing to submit some important part of the documentation, or providing some contradictory information, it is crucial to identify these reasons so that you don’t repeat them in the future.
Keep in mind that here we are not saying that you need to look for the person in charge to point at them; we are saying that you need to look for flaws in your response process that need improvement.
Of course, if a single person has failed to deliver their part of the job, make sure to give them feedback politely to work on self-development as well.
This type of analysis will mark areas where your company needs improvement, so once you implement them, you will be more successful in the future RPF bidding processes.
On the other hand, if you have won the job, you might feel like there is no point in the analysis, but you are wrong. In this situation, you also need to look back to see the strong points that have convinced the prospective client to award you the bid. Also, you need to identify any weak spots to make them stronger in the future as well.
Having a conclusion and giving feedback to everyone included in the response process is important because you are putting an end to a project and evaluating everyone’s efforts.
If you are wondering how to properly answer a Request for proposal, or if you are thinking of starting a bidding process, our team of experts is ready to assist you. Book a free consultation with us.