Your response to a corporate request for proposal (RFP) can be an extremely time-consuming and anxiety-ridden process. The typical RFP is a significantly verbose document that looks more like a legal document than anything else, and has some very specific requirements. Here’s how to examine the basic mechanics of the incoming corporate RFP and how you should respond.

Understand what the RFP is all about
The introduction or executive summary should give you a basic indication and description of what the project is all about. Toward the back of the RFP, you’ll typically find a section called Project Deliverables, or something to that effect, which specifies what is expected of you. These two sections are the starting points to understanding what the RFP is all about.

The RFP will probably also contain a number of different titles and similar sections that, on the surface, may appear to mean the same thing. Many corporate RFPs are put together by disparate teams of individuals, so don’t be surprised to see repetition in the body of the document. Nonetheless, it’s extremely important to read the RFP from cover to cover. Be certain to highlight pages for items of note, including items that are not included in the project deliverables list. You’ll probably also find various inconsistencies and unclear items. The timeline for response is of particular note. Managing an RFP response is the same as any other project, so you’ll need to build a production schedule to properly manage production of the RFP response.

Review components and assess requirements
The first item on your timeline for the RFP response is a review of components and an assessment of requirements. You’ve already read the RFP and have broken out the project description and deliverables, and found various unclear items. List the components and requirements that you’ve found and start assembling content for a response. Depending on your situation, this strategy can begin with assembling an RFP response team and holding an initial kick-off meeting. You can delegate staff with expertise or knowledge about a specific component or requirement to assemble content for that particular section.

Your RFP response team should have a “whip,” an individual who ensures that everyone is doing what they are supposed to, and an RFP lead/project champion, an individual tasked with putting it all together in its final form.

Or, if your situation is such that you don’t have staff and it’s just you (you’re going to hire after you win), then make sure you clear enough time to properly assemble content on your own. It always takes longer than you expect.

Review the requirements
In the process of assembling content for the written response, you or your staff should engage in a critical review of the components and requirements. Consider the following questions:

  • Do the specifications as requested by the RFP make sense?
  • Is the project doable as specified by the RFP?
  • Can you come up with additional items that would add value and increase ROI for the project?

Draft an outline
The RFP that you’ve received most likely has a very specific structure. It’s in your best interest to follow the exact structure of the RFP. Take the numbered heading structure of the RFP and use it as the basis for your outline. Your RFP response must deal with each section as required in the same order as the original RFP. The RFP evaluation committee on the client side will certainly try to match up the components and requirements of their RFP to your response. It’s easier for all involved if you use the same nomenclature and outline structure. It also reduces the risk of information omissions.

Deal with questions and unclear items
Many RFP processes will allow a period of time for questions. Ensure that you are aware of that window of opportunity and mark the date as a milestone on your RFP response project plan. If there is no such date indicated, then that’s your first question.

Answers to questions
Most likely, a number of companies were invited to tender a response to the RFP. In the interest of fairness, it is customary that answers to all questions are made available to all RFP respondents. Ensure that you are getting those answers and if not, find out why.

The answers to the questions can, in many cases, provide enlightening insight into “what they really want.” It also serves as a benchmark on what the other companies are thinking.

The presentation
An RFP presentation serves a number of purposes. On a very cynical level, it’s rare that you win a project based on an RFP response alone. On the other hand, the process is certainly used to narrow down the list, and cut the slack. Your presentation may take multiple forms; it should always exist in print, but you may also be required to make a formal presentation.

Selection criteria
Your average RFP selection committee will evaluate your response based on a score sheet of criteria. Usually those criteria include:

  • Demonstrated understanding of the RFP requirements
  • Demonstrated ability to execute RFP requirements
  • Approach to the RFP requirements
  • Value-added benefits of approach
  • Price

When done properly, responding to RFPs can be a methodical, organized process. My advice is, don’t let the scope or length of the RFP intimidate you. Take it all in stride, answer all sections to the best of your abilities, and, in the end, you’ll not only convince the client that yours is the best shop for the job, you’ll also convince yourself.

What are your RFP strategies?

What tips do you have on responding to corporate RFPs? Post a message in the discussion board below.