12 Questions a developer must answer in a contract winning RFP response

An effective RFP response is critical to winning new business. This document provides a checklist of questions that your RFP response must address to be successful at winning the contract.

Most clients send out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to multiple vendors when they have an IT project to subcontract. However, with rising competition, vendor selection is becoming increasingly complex and more and more clients are using the RFP response as a basis for comparison between different vendors to evaluate the best available option.

An effective RFP response is therefore critical to winning new business. If you're in charge of drafting such a response, you must correctly understand the client's requirements and then write a response that pitches your organization's skills and expertise in the right direction.

This document provides a checklist of questions that your RFP response must address to be successful.

  1. What does the client precisely require?
    Knowledge of the client’s concerns, issues, and expectations is of utmost importance. For instance, if you've been sent an RFP for application development, understand from your technical team if the client is asking for feature enhancements, bug fixes or an end-to-end "turnkey" solution. Your response, resource requirements, quotation and timeframe would be different in each case.
  2. Can we really solve the client’s problem?
    This is an extremely important question and must be addressed at the outset itself. You need to self-evaluate the available skills, resources, and capability to address the problem you're being asked to solve. You need to convey clearly in your response whether you can provide the client exactlywhat they need in the given timeframe and budgetary restrictions.
  3. What are the client's top five requirements?
    Most clients generally have a solution-matrix, which draws a comparison between their requirements and corresponding offerings in order of criticality. Understand what matters most to the client, and organize your proposal in that order. If necessary, do not hesitate to bring to the client’s notice any ambiguities in the RFP.
  4. What is the scope of the project?
    Understand the scope of work, in terms of the nature of the project, required team size and expected duration. Use this with your standard rates and resource costs to develop a reasonable estimate of cost, with some tolerance for overruns.
  5. If we were the client, what would we expect from our vendor?
    Ask yourself, "If I were to receive proposals from different vendors, how would I choose between them?" This is the best approach to get as close to the solution (and the deal!) as possible. Identify relevant strengths and experience that your client is looking for and highlight them in your response.
  6. Can we offer more than one solution?
    Try to give your client alternatives to choose from. This shows him/her that you have not only understood the problem clearly, but have painstakingly invested a great deal of time and effort to understand the project's business objectives and to provide the best available solution. This goes a long way towards signaling your commitment to the project.
  7. What experience do we have with similar projects?
    Ask your technical team to identify relevant work samples and case studies that showcase your experience in the required areas. Nothing reassures a client more than knowing that the vendor has already worked on a similar and comparable project. This increases the client’s faith in the vendor’s credibility, solution, and work quality.
  8. Who are our prospective competitors?
    Never assume that your solution is the best. There is always someone else who might have better solution ideas and more resources than you do. Find out who else in the market would qualify to bid as a vendor. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses against theirs and understand how you can stand out as a winner.
  9. What is our value proposition?
    Can you provide more than what the client is asking for? For instance, if the client requires a solution for the QA and manual testing of an application, suggest the cost, time, and resource benefits of automating the testing process in the long run and explain if/how your organization can provide this service.
  10. Who is in the project team?
    Prepare a skill-matrix and identify the most suitable candidates (and alternates) for the project team. Include key resumes in the proposal's appendix to illustrate that your organization has the skills needed to execute the project. This would also indicate that the learning curve, and hence the time to deployment, would be shorter.
  11. What are the deadlines?
    All clients need to know when you propose to deliver the project. This is an important criterion for deciding between competing vendors. Provide rational and reasonable deadlines and if deadlines are later than expected, note in your response that you are doing so to avoid any compromise on quality.
  12. Do you have references?
    A reference from an existing client always works to your advantage. Try and identify past clients who could vouch for you, thereby reassuring your prospect of your competence and trustworthiness. A good reference can make up for a lot of other deficiencies; above all, clients look for vendors who will not abuse their trust and with whom they can build a lasting relationship.

Answers to all the above questions form the elements of a winning proposal. Make sure your response to an RFP addresses the above points, and you should have no trouble convincing clients to give you their business. Good luck!