4 Tips for Better RFP Responses

The “P” in RFP doesn’t have to stand for “pain”. Below are 4 tips that will make your RFP process an asset instead of a chore.

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 1. Start from Scratch

If you’re not getting the results you want or need from your RFP process, my first tip is go back to step 1 with your process. In fact, you should go back to step 0. Instead of thinking about your traditional first step, think about what you want to accomplish through your RFP process. Or, maybe you want to relieve specific pain points in your process either through elimination or reimplementation. Either way, let those goals guide a refresh of your end-to-end process.

With regard to your RFP document, a dirty little secret in the corporate world is that a lot important documents (RFPs, job descriptions, proposals, etc.) are based on templates or examples that no one remembers the origin of. “This is the template we have always used” is a common refrain. While you’re tearing down your RFP process, tear apart your RFP document template as well. Let the tips below guide your creation of a new template and remember: shorter is always better.

2. Build a Relationship with Your Legal Team

A common complaint from vendors who respond to RFPs is the amount of “legalese” they have to wade through in order to figure out what to propose. While some amount of legal jargon is required, does it need to make up 75% of the RFP document?

Part of this problem comes from the way we work with our legal department. We create a draft of an RFP document. We email it (,AKA—throw it over the wall,) to our contact in the legal department. The legal department makes copious changes and sends it back. Iteration after iteration until one side gets tired of the dance.

Invest the time with your legal team to find out why they feel their changes are necessary and explain to them what you are trying to accomplish through the document. This time investment could create enough clarity in your RFP document to get the right vendor to create the perfect proposal.

3. Use Your Network (Both Internal and External)

You’ve probably got people on your team who have responded to RFPs as vendors or you know people in your network who are vendors and respond to RFPs for a living. Talk to them. Ask about the best RFP process they ever went through. What did the RFP document look like? How did the requesting company provide and manage information? What did the requesting company do differently that made the experience so positive?

At the same time, ask about the worst RFP process they ever went through. Why was the experience so negative? What did the requesting company do that was so terrible?

Everyone loves talking about scars they have earned or asses they have kicked, give them a chance to tell you and then use that information to improve your RFP process.

4. Transparency, Openness, Availability, Responsiveness

Why do we ask multiple vendors to help us with important work and then immediately make it hard for them to help us?

What needs to be in the RFP document:

  • A realistic budget: This helps you get proposals from vendors who are legitimately interested. Furthermore, a lack of proposals indicates that your budget is not where it needs to be.
  • Eliminating factors: Does the vendor have to be local? Does the vendor have to be minority owned? Is the vendor required to have won a specific award?
  • Desired deadlines, not an estimate: If the project already has deadlines attached to it, make those apparent up front. Don’t tell a vendor how long it should take them.
  • Input from your technical team: Vendors need to be aware of any technical details, dependencies, or constraints from the beginning.
  • A single voice: Have one owner who is responsible for the final draft of the RFP document. The RFP document should not read like 13 different people wrote every other sentence.

What needs to happen during the RFP process:

  • Share the number of bidders or potential bidders: When you send the RFP out, share the number of potential bidders with the overall group. When a bidder is added or a bidder drops out, share that information with the overall group. A vendor that is one out of four might be more engaged than a vendor that is 1 out of 25.
  • Keep proposers updated on where they stand: If you eliminate a vendor, tell them immediately. They have other work to do and that closure shows them respect that might be helpful in the future. Bad news is better than no news.
  • Don’t invite a vendor to bid if you know you won’t hire them: This is also known as “Doing the Right Thing”.
  • Give time after the Q&A period for vendors to give their best effort: An engaged vendor needs time to digest the answers to its questions and update their proposal. The less time you give them, the more rushed they will be and the quality of their proposal will suffer. Better yet, provide multiple rounds of Q&A. However, if your vendors require an excessive amount of Q&A, then you’ve got an issue with the requirements in your RFP.
  • Learn how to use the “Bcc” field in your email client: Including all the bidders on the “To” line of your communication is disrespectful and lazy.
  • Be diligent about updates, be prepared to manage the information around your RFP: If you’ve got an RFP out, it’s a big deal for your company and a big deal for the vendors who are bidding. Let your information management echo that importance.
  • Include a feedback loop: Use “exit surveys” to gather feedback from your vendors to find out how to improve your process for future RFPs.

Your potential vendors are experts and leaders in their respective fields. You wouldn’t bring Lebron James onto your basketball team and then require that he only shoot left-handed. If you follow the tips above, you will likely receive alternative solutions to the ones in your mind. Your vendors are trying to propose something that makes the most sense for you and for them. Be open to these alternative solutions. Don’t let your assumptions and biases prevent you from considering what could be the best possible solution.

When you’ve got your RFP process and documentation ready to go, Agency Spotter can help you find the right list of vendors to get your next project off and running.

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Jason Campbell