When and how to respond to RFPs

Craft winning proposals

Knowing how to respond to RFPs (aka request for proposal) gives you an opportunity to secure new clients and to refine your proposal writing skills at the same time. Soliciting requests for proposal is a common method for established companies to do business and it’s also the only way to do business with an organization like the U.S. government.

If you’ve ever come across an RFP, chances are you know how involved the process of responding successfully can be.

That’s why in this post, we’ll explain what an RFP is, when to respond to RFPs, offer tips for writing a successful response, and share when not to respond to RFPs.

What exactly is an RFP?

RFP stands for Request For Proposal and it’s a request sent out by companies that have encountered a problem in their business that requires a solution.

The companies want someone to respond to their request with a business proposal that offers a solution for their problem.

In most cases, an RFP is a great way to win a new client quickly. However, they also come with a couple of downsides. In some situations, which we will address below, it is more cost-effective not to send a response to an RFP. Additionally, you won’t be able to win every single proposal for the simple reason that you might be competing with several companies.

With that said, let’s discuss when and how to respond to RFPs to increase your chances of winning that business.

When and how to respond to RFPs

How To Respond To RFPs Meeting

When it comes to responding to RFPs, it’s generally a good idea to respond when the project aligns with your service or product and when the company or a business behind the RFP aligns with your ideal client persona.

You’ll also want to make sure that you as the responding company can handle another project in terms of resources, time and available talent.

Once you’re sure that you can confidently take on another client and their project, it’s time to put together a stellar proposal. Here are a few tips to help you succeed:

Demonstrate knowledge of the client

Show the client who issued the RFP that you truly understand their project, their needs and their company culture and brand. Reiterate in your proposal what the problem is and show you’ve done your research on them as well.

Be prepared for tight deadlines

At some point, you’ll come across an RFP that needs a response on very short notice. If the project aligns with your company like we’ve mentioned above, you’ll want to make sure you can send the response on time. Prepare a template in advance that you can customize and tailor to each proposal even when you don’t have weeks to prepare.

Include key information

A winning proposal will include information about your company, your vision and thoughts on project and what makes you different from your competitors. Explain how you will ensure the success of the project, answer any potential questions, and include your pricing, policies and contact information as well as social proof such as testimonials and referrals from past clients.

Pro tip: If you want to make a great first impression, consider adding visuals to your proposal and use the client’s language to help convince the client that you are the perfect choice for their project.

Ensure there’s a call-to-action

It goes without saying that the entire proposal should reflect your desire to win the project, but do make sure to finish off your proposal with a call-to-action so the client knows what the next step is.

When not to respond to RFPs

As we’ve mentioned above, there are a few situations in which you should avoid responding to an RFP.

1. No previous relationship with the company

In most cases, an RFP sent out by a company you’ve never heard off won’t be as lucrative as an RFP coming from someone you’ve collaborated with before. Usually, a company that is issuing an RFP has a list of companies or contractors in mind and if you’ve never heard of them, chances are you’re not on that list and won’t be able to win the proposal even if you put together the best response.

2. The company issuing an RFP is not your ideal client

If you don’t have a steady stream of clients yet, you might be tempted to go ahead and put together a proposal despite the fact that the company is a far cry from your ideal client avatar. Doing so may leave both you and the company dissatisfied. You will find it harder to understand the company and their needs and it may also require you to modify your service or product to fit their needs.

3. Lack of details

Lack of details and refusal to answer questions should be a warning sign in every situation, not just when it comes to RFPs. If the issuer is vague about important details about the project such as the timeline, budget and anything else that’s relevant to the project, you won’t be able to create any kind of proposal, let alone a winning one.

4. Asking for irrelevant information

In some cases, a company or a business issuing an RFP will ask for information that has no bearing on the proposal itself. Details that involve internal information about your company shouldn’t be a factor when considering proposal responses. So if a company is demanding this, it’s better to stay away.

5. Not enough time to respond

In rare cases, a company will give you a very short response time. This usually happens in emergency situations; however, any response time that’s less than two weeks should be seen as a red flag.

Final thoughts

Writing a winning RFP might seem daunting, but it gets easier with each RFP you write. Use the tips in this article to help you understand the process of responding to RFPs and craft winning requests for proposal each and every time.

The above content should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Image by: Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Brenda Barron
Brenda Barron is a writer from southern California specializing in technology and business. When not hunkered over her laptop, she’s spending time with her family and knitting.