"An RFP asked us to either hand write or type our answers into their PDF document — no digital manipulation of any kind was allowed. We scrambled around the company to see who owned a vintage typewriter, and one of our team members took a whole day entering our responses."
Just when you thought responding to request for proposals (RFPs) was time-consuming, this response team had to resort to creative techniques in the eleventh hour. When we asked responders to share their strangest RFP questions, this survey response was one of 40 bizarre questions we received. As a responder, you’ve certainly seen your fair share of “unique” RFP questions—just as we have.
The reason we asked this question was to better understand the negative association responders have with RFPs. These survey contributors gave us more insight into why 64 percent of RFP respondents admitted they “did not like responding to RFPs but felt they were necessary to the needs of the organization” in research we conducted about RFP Response Habits.
What is an RFP?
A request for proposal (RFP) is a document made by an agency or company interested in obtaining a commodity, service, or asset that is sent to potential suppliers.
You likely fall into one of two categories, the person who sees the value in RFP responses or the person who doesn’t. Responding to an RFP is a chance to capture new business, but it’s also an opportunity to make your organization even stronger. By improving your process, your next RFP response will be a force to be reckoned with.
What is an RFP response?
An RFP response is the answer you provide as a vendor to the question your prospect has issued. An RFP contains a set of questions for determining whether or not you are the right fit that will help them achieve their goals and needs.
Whether you are responding to a question about competitive differentiators, security, or your approach, how you respond will impact the RFP issuers decision to select you or one of your competitors as their partner.
What an RFP response is not? An RFI (Request for Information) response or an RFQ (Request for Quotation) response. These documents might be issued before or after the request for proposal as part of the sales process, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with the nuances of each request.
Knowing the fundamental definition of an RFP response is the best place to start improving your process. Why? Because, like many RFP responders, you were probably swept up into this process rather than signing up for it.
Who is responsible for RFP responses?
The short answer is...everyone. In our RFP Response Habits survey, the majority of organizations (93 percent) revealed that multiple team members were necessary for completing RFP responses.
Responding to RFPs requires collaboration on a grand scale, involving a mixture of owners and contributors who turn a blank RFP document with requirements and questions into a compelling deliverable that ultimately persuades someone to sign the contract and work with your team.
About 64 percent of responders prioritize RFPs, as they are part of their primary job responsibilities—these responders are dedicated proposal managers or proposal leads who own the RFP response process. Other team members are brought in as SMEs (subject matter experts) to contribute to the RFP deliverable.
These responders might be in sales, marketing, IT, customer success, or some other department that has little—if any—relevance to proposal management efforts within the organization. In addition to all other responsibilities, they must squeeze RFP responses into their day as well.
Revenue is the lifeline of an organization. And, responding to RFPs is a revenue-generating activity. Even if a product manager isn’t tied to sales KPIs, this person still has a vested interest in the organization’s success. So, the next time you contribute to an RFP response, know that you are doing your part in sustaining and scaling your organization.
Why you should prioritize RFP responses
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the time commitment of RFP responses. Even the most hard-working team member might end up working after hours on evenings and weekends to complete a request for proposal.
A manual RFP response process greatly impacts productivity levels, fueling the negative outlook growth-driven organizations have about prioritizing RFPs. Yet, there are several positive effects organizations experience with RFP responses as well.
1. Revenue - Revenue generation is the most common reason for responding to RFPs. While there are many avenues for driving sales, RFPs are still a standard formality across industries. RFP responses must both meet requirements and impress the prospect.
2. Opportunities - If your competitor decides to skip this RFP response, you have an opportunity to stand out. By positioning your organization as the right-fit partner, you can potentially take the business they chose not to pursue.
3. Knowledge - Response teams must be in sync with current internal company information, so they usually store content within an answer library. RFP responses can be used for various knowledge sharing needs throughout the organization.
4. Teamwork - Collaboration is key during the RFP response process—content accessibility and open communication must work side by side. By working closely together to respond to RFPs, teams go after opportunities to move toward achieving revenue goals.
Developing a strong RFP response process
Response teams are working with high volumes of RFPs, with more than half responding to 50 RFPs each year. Still, many responders aren’t sure how to respond to RFPs effectively. Responding to RFPs costs time and resources, so there is plenty of motivation to find areas for improvement here. This is where an RFP response process comes in to support you and your team.
An RFP response process? Yes. And, if you’re asking about a dedicated process for RFP responses that probably means your organization doesn’t have one. Not having an RFP response process is actually quite common with response teams.
Organizations have a process for almost everything else. And, it’s an interesting internal phenomenon, considering that most workflow efficiency challenges stem from a lack of clear direction (i.e. not having a documented process).
To make responding to RFPs more efficient, you need to develop an RFP response process. This one-sheet strategy is where you determine roles and responsibilities at each phase of an RFP project. The goal? Clarity. An RFP response process sets a strong RFP management foundation for you and your team to work with.
An RFP response process is both a checklist and a strategy that outlines an efficient workflow. By clarifying roles, responsibilities, and timelines, a process ensures that key RFP contributors are ready to respond to each question on time to meet the issuer’s deadline.
Here is an example of an RFP response process that you can follow.
1. RFP Issued
✔ Review RFP (Proposal Manager, Bid Writer, Sales Consultant)
✔ Evaluate Response Time / Analytics for Similar Projects (Proposal Manager)
✔ Confirm Project Owner or Project Manager (Proposal Manager)
✔ Confirm Internal Team (Proposal Manager)
✔ Kick-Off Meeting Session (Proposal Manager, RFP Team)
2. Ready Forms – NDA, DPSA, etc.
✔ Fill Out and / or Print (Proposal Manager)
✔ Review and Sign (Proposal Manager & Stakeholders)
✔ Scan / Upload to Connect to Final Response (Proposal Manager)
3. Respond to RFP
✔ Confirm Table of Contents Per Issuer Requirements (Proposal Manager)
✔ Apply / Tailor Boilerplate Sections (Proposal Manager)
✔ Draft Cover Letter / Executive Summary / “Why Us” (Sales, Marketing)
✔ Take First Pass at Responses (Proposal Manager)
✔ Assign Due Dates and Tasks to SMEs (Proposal Manager, RFP Team)
✔ Respond to Sections (SMEs)
✔ Collect All Clarification Questions (RFP Team, Proposal Manager)
✔ Submit Answers for Review (RFP Team, Proposal Manager)
4. Review / Revise RFP
✔ Send Clarification Questions to Issuer (Proposal Manager, Sales)
✔ Round 1 Review of Responses (Proposal Manager, Bid Writer)
✔ Revise Responses / Resubmit for Review (Proposal Manager, RFP Team)
✔ Repeat Review as Necessary (Proposal Manager, Bid Writer)
✔ Final Review (VP of Sales, Executive Stakeholder)
✔ Send to Marketing for Polishing / Branding (Marketing)
5. Submit RFP
✔ Deliver RFP / Supporting Materials (Proposal Manager, Sales)
✔ Follow-Up to Confirm Receipt (Sales)
✔ Add Data to Reporting Database (Proposal Manager, Content Manager)
✔ Send RFP Report to Stakeholders (Proposal Manager, Sales)
6. Save / Audit RFP Responses
✔ Add Q&A Pairs to Answer Library (Proposal Manager, Content Manager)
✔ Save Final Response in Centralized Location (Proposal Manager)
✔ Audit Answer Library Once Per Quarter (Sales, Proposal Manager)
What a standout RFP response entails
Having the best product or service on the market does not make you immune to responding to RFPs. You will always need to demonstrate value to your prospects, because there will always be another option for them if you don’t fit the bill.
Competition is never far behind. To stand out in a competitive industry, you and your team must go the extra mile with RFP responses. And, you will only achieve success together.
The average revenue increase attributed to always presenting the brand consistently is 23 percent, according to Lucidpress. Brand consistency helps build relationships and credibility, and your RFP responses are no different.
Inconsistency is understandably a challenge with RFP deliverables, since multiple contributors are working on a single document. From fonts to language to bullet points, make sure someone has oversight at the end of the review cycle to unify the voice and appearance of your RFP.
Repurposing previous RFP responses is perfectly acceptable as long as you tailor each response to meet your prospect’s needs. RFP content should engage the issuer and make sense. No matter how complicated your services or product may be, aim for simplicity
It’s best to avoid technical jargon and overused phrases. Be informative and concise—above all, speak the RFP issuer’s language. You are writing for them, not for you.
You need a clean and skimmable document. Remember that your RFP responses, if executed well, will turn an RFP issuer into your next client. Appearance does matter in this case, as does the reading experience.
Keep paragraphs around 3-5 sentences, break up text with images or charts, unify fonts and headers, and embrace white space. (Many more proposal formatting do’s and don’ts can be found here.)
Now is not the time for silos. Even if you have a proposal manager who owns the process, it is not humanly possible for one person to be the subject matter expert in all of the complexities of your organization.
A proposal lead should communicate clearly to make responding easier for SMEs, and those SMEs should be willing to contribute to the RFP when asked for support. Figure out the best path for communication, whether that’s Slack, email, or a regular team meeting on the calendar.
RFP management could very well be called “content management.” An RFP answer library serves as a central content hub, making company information widely accessible during the RFP response process—and really anytime someone needs information quickly.
Spreadsheets, emails, and online folders that “store” historic responses are workarounds. Technology like RFP software provides a searchable answer library with the ability to organize and select responses at a rapid pace while ensuring accuracy and quality.
Content audits aren’t just for marketers. Whether your responses are stored in an RFP answer library or a makeshift spreadsheet, someone should own the auditing piece of RFP content management.
Ideally, you should audit your RFP responses quarterly—more often, if your organization is growing or changing rapidly. To stay on top of your content, set calendar reminders. Or, if you’re using RFP software, the solution should have a content audit alert you can schedule.
Making RFP response easier... your turn
Why do 34 percent of RFP responders love responding to RFPs? We’re not entirely sure. But, it’s clear they have worked diligently to find a unique balance between process, technology, and people.
When MarTech expert, Matt Heinz, spoke about optimizing RFP responses, he had this to say:
“An RFP is a ready-made, qualified opportunity. There are a couple of challenges that come along with them, though. Those challenges are ripe for process improvement through technology when it comes to the quality, consistency, and efficiency of RFP responding. By addressing those areas, you should ultimately see a higher win rate and an improved ROI moving forward.”
The most successful response teams practice their process every day, they use technology to support that process, and together, they believe in the value of responding to RFPs. Automating repetitive tasks and streamlining the workflow are key for protecting resources at your organization.
Don’t avoid your next RFP response. Lead the charge, make your RFP responses more impactful, and never stop improving your process.
Ready to learn more about RFP processes? Learn about the best proposal software in 2019.