Much like a human, every RFP is different. However, from an anatomical perspective, there are also similarities. Each RFP response your team creates will impact your organization’s win potential. Knowing how to respond to an RFP effectively can increase your chances of landing a deal.
This is by no means an extensive list of every question that you will encounter (or email you’ll have to send). Instead, we picked a few RFP questions and themes to explore. The goal is to help you know what’s coming ahead of time, so you are more prepared with a stronger foundation.
By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you’ll understand that:
- There is an effective way and an ineffective way to respond to an RFP
- Understanding the anatomy of an RFP helps you create stronger responses
- Team success happens by combining processes with technology
Once you’ve completed this “lesson,” you’ll have the necessary anatomical background to respond to RFP questions with precision. And, you’ll also understand why RFP software is the primary set of tools you need to operate.
How to respond to an RFP effectively
RFP stands for “request for proposal”, and is one of the many “requests for” that your company may respond to. RFP is part of a broader category known as RFx, which also includes RFIs and RFQs. Between an RFI, RFP, and RFQ an RFP will likely require the most effort to respond to.
As you’re preparing to respond to your RFP… you need to know how to respond to an RFP. There really is a right way and a wrong way to respond to an RFP:
The effective way to respond to an RFP
- Exceptional teamwork happens with every RFP project.
- Communication is clear and easy for all contributors.
- A documented RFP process serves as the anchor for your team.
- Content is easily accessible in an answer library.
- The answer library is always relevant to ensure quality.
- There is plenty of time to spare before the deadline.
- Branding and messaging is on point every time.
- A healthy percentage of these RFPs result in business won.
The ineffective way to respond to an RFP
- Teams and departments work in distinct silos.
- SMEs feel frustrated to contribute because of inefficiencies.
- Nobody owns the RFP response process.
- Responders can’t find content when they need it.
- Spreadsheets, emails, and online folders “store” historic responses.
- RFP contributors work after hours and weekends to meet deadlines.
- Inconsistent fonts and language are compromising the deliverable.
- A high percentage of these RFPs result in business lost.
The effective way is made possible with both a great internal process and technology that offers continued support. The ineffective way is the result of a manual RFP response approach where a lack of direction, process, and accessibility cause great inefficiencies.
Teams using RFP software experience a much more streamlined process. They not only cut their response time down, they also improve the quality of the responses to win more deals. Yet, only 16% of organizations are using RFP software to support their efforts.
This is a disservice to busy teams, who can benefit from a tool that helps them manage a lengthy document like an RFP. As we dig into the anatomy of an RFP, it’s easy to see just how many sections there are to handle—and how technology is really the right move here.
Understand the anatomy of an RFP response
Ready for your RFP anatomy lesson? From “head to toe,” here are some questions you will likely come across in an RFP.
Your homework as a responder is to familiarize yourself with the nuances of an RFP, so you can pass your prospect’s test with flying colors. Analogies aside, understanding these different questions and themes will help you craft stronger responses to win the next opportunity.
“27% rated project management flow during the content creation process as ‘fair,’ revealing that some projects moved along efficiently but they faced bottlenecks.” – Content Marketing Institute
Though it may seem like a basic part of an RFP response, company information can be tough for teams. This content includes all of the foundational pieces for your organization: company name, address, annual revenue, employee count, website URL, year founded, etc.
While HQ’s address is an easy one, the employee count is not. Depending on company growth the number of employees might change dramatically every year or even every quarter. RFP software automates this basic content in your answer library, ensuring the most accurate information is on-hand for team members.
Responding to an executive summary is tricky in an RFP, but it’s also one of the factors that affects your organization’s chances of winning. Though usually an optional section, this particular content section allows you to stand out by adding some flavor to your deliverable.
All too often responders mix up the RFP executive summary with the cover letter—but they are two distinct sections. An executive summary is high-level content that covers the issuer’s challenges, and demonstrates how your solution will help. While a cover letter is more of a conversational introduction that mentions your reason for responding and what you are providing in your RFP response.
There’s a high probability that you will be asked to state your competitive differentiators when responding to an RFP. Here are some examples of what that question might look like:
- What is the competitive advantage of your solution?
- Describe your competitive position relative to your competitors.
- When comparing yourself to the market, what are the unique selling points?
- Briefly state how you are differentiated from any competitors.
- Why should we work with you instead of one of your competitors?
Speaking of competitors…a generic RFP response to this particular question will only benefit your competitors dazzling the issuer with a great response. Instead of using jargon-y adjectives that everyone else uses, focus on demonstrating the value your solution provides.
Knowing company differentiators is half the battle for many organizations—take the time internally to explore what these are and how to communicate them. Once you have these locked down, make sure the best versions are readily available for your team to grab and tailor appropriately within your answer library.
“A value proposition offers clients something they want and gives them a good reason to choose you over your competitors. In the executive summary and in your full proposal, communicate a strong value proposition that matches your client’s needs and demonstrates your unique offer.” – APMP Body of Knowledge
The approach question is a seemingly straightforward inquiry. However, similar to competitive differentiators, this is another RFP response that teams struggle to execute well.
If someone were to ask who you are as a person, how would you answer them? You might go with a safe answer about your line of work and what you do. Or, you might share a little bit about what you value and believe in. There is no right or wrong way to answer this, because you are made up of all of these things.
When you respond to the approach question of an RFP, think about who your organization is along with what you do. Explain your methodology and how your solution benefits your customers. Also demonstrate why you do what you do to show your greater purpose behind offering the solution.
How does content impact an RFP response? Majorly. Which is why marketing teams often own this piece. Branding isn’t a specific question per say, but more about how the final RFP deliverable is presented. Messaging, font style, and any visual design must align with your brand.
Due to the collaborative nature of RFP responses, you end up with many voices and styles from SMEs who don’t always have their pulse on branding guidelines. Random fonts and bullet points combine with an ancient logo from eight years ago for a big design headache. Technical jargon makes sense to the expert, but isn’t engaging for the issuer reading the response.
To achieve a consistent look and feel when it’s time to wrap up the RFP project, manually fixing the branding bloopers can cost marketing a lot of time. RFP software helps teams save hours during the export process with templates that ensure consistency for a higher quality deliverable.
Security is a concern for modern organizations and this topic is becoming more and more common in RFPs. You will either need to address your internal processes by responding to a specific section of the RFP or you may need to respond to a separate security questionnaire. It’s also quite possible that you will do all of the above.
A security questionnaire might arrive at the same time as an RFP, or along with the DDQ if you’re further along in the vendor selection process. Depending on your industry, a security questionnaire might have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand questions.
To share pricing or to not share pricing…that is the question. As an RFP responder, you must answer this one way or another. There is a strategic decision to be made about pricing depending on many factors.
If you provide pricing in your RFP response upfront, you have less control over the conversation around pricing. Negotiation and discussion are replaced by numbers on a page. So, you might decide to hold off on providing pricing until you have advanced further in the RFP response process.
Like anything else, as long as you show the value of your product or service, the pricing should not disqualify you. In this case, you could get away with maneuvering around this question by sharing benefits of your pricing model without getting into exact numbers. It’s really up to your organization on this one, and you could test RFP responses over time to see if the price reveal is working for you or against you.
Support / Customer Service
Today’s buyer has many, many choices. When they choose your solution, they want to make sure they have a partner who will stick around to offer support long after the purchase. Your response is an opportunity to make your organization stand out as the obvious partner.
This is a great time to take advantage of subject matter experts from your appropriate service department to clearly explain these benefits. Do you have a help center where they are able to self-educate? Do you offer onboarding sessions and in-depth webinars to ensure they start and continue on the right path? When you respond to this question, you can highlight your service in a number of ways.
More powerful than your voice is the voice of your customer. So, another good move is to share validation from your happy customers. This could be a review or customer success story that covers the positive experience they had while working with you. Like this one…
“RFPIO’s customer service is amazing! Between weekly training and addressing questions with platform improvements in a matter of days, onboarding has been a pleasure rather than a chore.” – Lauren Daitz, Senior Manager at HALO Recognition
Including a great review can make a big impact with an issuer. All of your competitors are answering this same question—and they might be answering it the same boring way, with a generic rundown. Play to your strengths and to their emotions with a little storytelling.
With RFP responses, your legal team will be involved at some point. Specific wording must be used to stay in line with certain legalities. Legal might come in during the review process or to answer legal questions.
Collaboration with your legal team is much easier with RFP software. There is always a healthy amount of redlining in Google and Word docs when legal chimes in with feedback. This can all be handled within a solution to make communication and finalization easier on everyone.
Past responses that are “legal team approved” can be stored in your answer library as well to populate responses with correct information. That way legal only has to perform a quick review rather than repeating themselves every time a similar question arises.
General Requirements / Situational Requirements
Speaking of repetition, general requirements are the questions you have answered thousands of times on every other RFP for your product or service. They can be disqualifiers or “knock-out” questions you plow through quickly.
On the other hand, situational requirements are gaining popularity with RFPs. With these questions you respond to a scenario, rather than just saying “yes” or “we have this feature.” The issuer might spell out a problem and ask you the following:
- How would your software handle this situation?
- How would your solution solve this problem?
- How would your approach alleviate this issue?
…no pressure, right?
Situational requirements require a thoughtful response that demonstrate how your solution is the right choice for them. As such, they take more time to craft and refine. These responses should reinforce some of the strongest parts from your competitive differentiators and approach.
Again, RFP software is highly useful for knocking both general requirements and situational requirements out of the park. All content is already stored in the answer library. Search functionality helps you select the most relevant response in seconds, versus endlessly digging through emails and folders—or rounding up a committee of SMEs and marketing to constantly create fresh content.
Combine a great RFP response process with technology
Nice work, RFP responder! You made it through your RFP response anatomy lesson. We hope you feel more confident about the next RFP that lands in your inbox.
By combining a great RFP response process with technology, your team will submit a quality deliverable that has a higher potential to land the deal. And, it will all happen in less time so you and your team can operate with greater precision and move on to other priorities.
Ready to improve RFP response operations? Reach out and we’ll show you how RFPIO can help you manage everything.