How to win an RFP

April 15, 2021

In the world of procurement, Request for Proposals (RFPs) are an essential tool to help organizations create value and secure the best possible goods and services. For vendors, RFPs are an opportunity to showcase why your organization is the best-qualified to complete a project or provide a service. RFPs are also the starting point for relationship building between buyers and vendors. Attention to detail, thorough and well-formatted proposals, and appropriately timed feedback and questions all help to make a strong impression on buyers and increase your competitiveness in the evaluation process. 

Ultimately, the goal of any RFP response is to come out on top. We put together a few tips to help strengthen your ability to win any RFP. 

Review the opportunity in its entirety as soon as possible 

While seemingly obvious, we can’t stress this enough. Some RFPs do have quick turnaround times, so by waiting an extra day or two to review, you miss out on valuable time to create the most comprehensive proposal and to ask clarifying questions where needed. Even worse, you may miss out on the opportunity all together. 

Be honest if it isn’t a good fit

If you don’t feel that your company can provide a competitive response, it’s better to politely and respectfully decline so as not to waste the time of your buyer, or your company. You can usually indicate this through the sourcing platform, but we also recommend providing the buyer with your rationale. Perhaps the timeline was too constricting, or your company simply doesn’t have the capability. Sharing this type of  feedback with buyers helps organizations refine their RFP processes so that they can better tailor which opportunities they bring to you in the future. Plus, sharing feedback is an exercise in relationship building, a critical component of any RFP process. 

Be clear on RFP instructions

Buyers craft specific instructions for RFPs to efficiently compare vendors, and when a response does not follow the expected format, evaluating that response becomes a challenge. For example, if a pricing template is provided, make sure your RFP response incorporates that template. Submitting an improperly formatted RFP response runs the risk of your company being taken out of the running because your response can’t be easily compared side-by-side to the other vendors. Make sure you are clear on the details of the request to stay competitive throughout the RFP process. 

Ensure that you include any applicable attachments

Check (and double check!) your response before submitting. Buyers may request certain documents, like specifications, be submitted as attachments to your response. Missing attachments can cause confusion and impede the buyer’s ability to quickly review your proposal. This attention to detail not only helps ensure your proposal is complete upon submittal, but also starts the vendor-buyer relationship off on the right track.

Document all assumptions in your proposal

You know your business best, and it’s your responsibility to illustrate what your business can offer a buyer through your proposal. That said, you want to minimize any guesswork on the buyer’s part by documenting any and all of the assumptions you are operating under when crafting your proposal. For example, if you are responding to a professional services RFP and your pricing is dependent on staffing out of a specific geographic location, state that in your response. Documenting assumptions paints a fuller picture for buyers to understand what working with you will look like.

Understand the details of the RFP process itself

As you compose your proposal, you may have your own questions that the buyer should address. Hence, understanding the RFP process includes being clear on any interim steps before responses are due. Buyers may have different approaches to how they field questions from vendors. For example, some buyers may require that questions are submitted before a certain deadline. Other buyers may respond through an open question and answer format throughout the process. Understand if vendor questions and buyer responses will be shared with all vendors, or if you’ll only receive responses to your specific questions. This helps you be more strategic with what questions you are asking.

Be mindful of RFP close time and buyer location

Many of us have probably had an experience (or two, or three) from our days in school where we submitted a project just in the nick of time. This type of experience is often accompanied by a rush and a little bit of disbelief that you actually managed to sneak in just before the deadline.  While getting down to the wire is sure to get your adrenaline pumping, it isn’t the best position to be in when business is on the line. Collaborating across time zones and through emerging technologies widens opportunities, but also means that difficulties can arise if details like RFP close time and buyer location aren’t carefully considered. Submitting your response early will help to ensure that technical issues, if any, are addressed well in advance of the RFP closing.

Get on the supplier list in the first place

RFP processes are increasingly being managed by sourcing technologies. The days of Google searching vendors and managing an RFP process through an Excel template are dwindling. To keep pace, make sure that you’re registered on the Fairmarkit platform to be considered for upcoming opportunities that you may not otherwise be aware of.

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