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5 Tips for Effectively Responding to Requests For Proposals (RFPs)

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You’ve crossed one bridge by making a decision to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP), and now you have to cross a bigger one; writing a compelling proposal to demonstrate that you can solve your prospect’s needs. When you’re moving at a mile a minute, seemingly straightforward approaches often get replaced with quick fixes to meet tight deadlines. The tips below will help you stay on track and ensure that you nail your RFP responses every time.

Tip #1: Answer the darn question!

Meme of Bill Lumbergh from Office Space with text that says "If you could just answer the damn question, that would be great."


If you’re being asked a question, answer it! You’d be surprised at how often people get lost in carefully crafting their response that they forget to actually answer the question. A longer answer isn’t necessarily a better answer. Read the question and take the time to respond concisely. For example: If you’re being asked whether you meet a requirement, respond with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ before providing further details. By answering clearly up front, your prospect doesn’t have to fish your response out of a long paragraph or play mind games to decipher what you actually mean.

Tip # 2: Avoid canned responses

Using approved boilerplate content is great because you don’t have to start from scratch or second guess its accuracy. However, it doesn’t need to SOUND like boilerplate content. Avoid the temptation of sending out an uncustomized proposal even when you have the weight of 20 other RFPs sitting on your shoulder. Without customizing your responses, you can appear generic and inattentive. Behind every question is a purpose; take the time to understand the context of each question and tailor your answers so they are relevant and address the pain your client is trying to solve.

Question: Describe the way your software handles data imports and exports. Boilerplate answer: Our system is designed to provide a quick and efficient way to import and export your data. Does this answer the question? No! A more relevant answer: Our system is designed to provide a quick and efficient way to import and export your data. A user with Administrator access can use our standard import/export template to upload and download data to and from the platform when required.


Tip #3: When in doubt, just ask

Silently contemplating what a question means won’t help you move the needle on your project. Some organizations issue a time period where vendors are freely allowed to ask questions. Start early, read through all the requirements, and take advantage of the allocated time to ask as many questions as needed to paint a clear picture. Keep in mind that the questions you ask will be made publicly available to all participating vendors so be sure to ask smart questions that everyone can benefit from. When there’s no defined question period, reach out to your main contact to get clarification. If all else fails, make assumptions that’ll help you move forward, but clearly articulate them in each response – either at the beginning or within the footnotes.

Tip #4: Keep your SMEs happy

"Im sure I answered that question for the last RFP. I have better things to do!" - Your favourite SME


Your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are an essential part of your RFP response process, but with constant distractions, you could very well lose their attention. If your SMEs’ replies resemble the above, they may be starting to think that you’re wasting their time. Red Flag Alert! Build trust by minimizing distractions and documenting their responses so you never have to ask the same question again. You can have them be on point for reviewing this information when necessary or on an agreed upon schedule. When your SMEs are happy, they’ll be much more inclined to help out, even at the 11th hour.

Tip #5: Estimate (but don’t underestimate) your review timelines

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Everyone is juggling multiple priorities so reviews often suffer the same fate as your alarm clock – getting ‘snoozed’ until the last minute. Factor this in when creating a timeline. If your review process is long and complicated, account for this from the beginning. Think about how many layers of review your project will need and work backwards from there, leaving enough buffer just in case things don’t go according to plan. You’ll be happy you did.

Summary

Even the most experienced sales and marketing teams get bogged down by the RFP response process, especially when dealing with a large volumes of them. Let’s face it, RFPs are here to stay – so why not fine-tune your process to benefit from all the time and effort you invest in responding to them.

When you’ve followed these tips and put your best foot forward, you can celebrate your accomplishments.

Learn More

For more tips and insights on streamlining your RFP response process, collaborating, and maintaining content, download the Top Tips from Top RFP and Proposal Experts eBook.

Download the Guide

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