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How to Write a Request for Proposal or RFP ?

Odds are that you will be introduced to a request for proposal (RFP) at some point in your career. You may have to respond to an RFP or write one to facilitate a procurement process for your company. When that time comes, we want you to know how to write a request for proposal that will realize the best outcome.

Organizations distribute RFPs to outsource to prospective vendors when a product or service cannot be fulfilled inhouse. Sometimes an RFP is sent out as a form of protocol to keep vendor management fair and transparent, yet most often, an RFP process allows organizations to gain deep insight into vendor capabilities.

What is the Purpose of an RFP?

Before we get into RFP details, we will go over the purpose of an RFP. An RFP requests information from vendors that respond at will based on the vendor’s business objectives and service capabilities. Vendors respond to the RFP with a detailed sales proposal that describes service offerings and solutions for the issuing organization’s primary concerns.  It is a sales pitch and a saving grace all in one document.

The RFP is just one of several procurement documents that organizations use to fulfill sales objectives and to build partnerships. Typically, an RFP response will provide more information than other procurement documents.

What are the Benefits of an RFP Process?

An RFP process provides several benefits to organizations. One of the main benefits to an RFP process is being in control of the price ceiling and price floor for the terms of the contract agreement. Most RFPs will contain a Terms and Conditions section that references pricing and nonnegotiable terms. You can influence how vendors price services in your RFP and save costs in the long run (vendors will offer competitive prices). Here are some other benefits of an RFP process:

  • Increased vendor transparency. For government requests for proposals, information is open to view for the public. Often, vendors are aware of the competition, and will see the questions that competitors ask during the Q&A period of the process. Healthy competition is one of the best ways to control costs and to gain quality RFP responses.
  • Detailed solutions. Your organization will gain extensive information about service vendors that can be referenced later – you have a better idea of which vendor would make a good partner for future needs. An RFP process allows your management team to understand vendor offering in greater detail prior to partnership, reducing risk.
  • Quality sales pitches. Vendors spend a large hunk of time writing an effective proposal in response to an RFP that offers vendor differentiation because the expectations are high and there is a lot of competition. Most RFP response processes can only have one winner. The level of quality work that is provided in a finished proposal is a good indication of the quality of work that the vendor will provide in a partnership.

Competitive prices, service solutions, and vendor differentiation are all elements of an RFP response, and the only way to get this information in the best format is to create a good RFP.

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Steps You Need to Take to Create a Good RFP

You want to gain as much valuable information from the RFP response process as possible. Your RFP should be well-written, organized, detailed, and presented in a way that you would like the proposal responses to mirror.

Imagine This: You go out on a first date. Yes, you read that right. You’re on your best behavior on the first date. Why? You and your date are looking for reasons to continue dating or to excuse yourself to the bathroom to never return.

Wondering what that has to do with anything? It is simple. You receive what you offer, and first impressions are everything – especially when that is your only chance at moving forward. Your organization cannot sensibly expect quality work from responding vendors if your RFP is not put together well. Keep that in mind as we walk you through the steps to create a good RFP.

  • Step One: Clarify Your Requirements. Your organization will issue an RFP for a specific reason. What problem needs a solution from outside vendors? What are your terms for partnership? What is your timeline for the RFP process and vendor award notification? Talk to management and other stakeholders to understand the exact requirements.
  • Step Two: Outline Your RFP. Once you have the requirements, outline your RFP. The RFP should follow an industry-standard pattern with all the basic sections like Background, Scope of Services, Technical Proposal Requirements, Cost Proposal Requirements, Terms and Conditions, and Evaluation Criteria. Yet, you can tailor the RFP based on your organization’s needs.
  • Step Three: Develop Content Based on Requirements. Under each section heading in your outline, begin to develop content that aligns with the heading and tells the reader of the RFP a thorough story. You want the RFP to be detailed and to uphold your brand – adding in your brand voice is a nice touch.
  • Step Four: Review and Edit. Your RFP is an important document and drives the procurement process that your organization will host. It is also a contractual document! Whatever is written in the RFP will influence the proposals you receive for evaluation. If your RFP content is not clear or is hard to interpret, vendors will bombard you with questions or submit insufficient proposals, which means your organization will have to spend time and money hosting another RFP process. Review, review, review the RFP draft. Consult management to get their constant input. Spend as much time as necessary editing to mitigate risks and ensure a smooth process.

Does Your RFP Meet Industry Growth?

More and more, organizations are embracing the rise of digital transformation and emerging technology to streamline processes. The RFP management process is no different. Today, vendors use RFP management software to automate the RFP response process and to facilitate team collaboration. Yes, that means that you must think of writing the RFP in terms of what is helpful to vendor management systems and similar software. Your RFP should be written in a format that supports RFP parsing and keyword tags.

We hope this is helpful. Happy Proposal Writing!

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