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What is a Request for Proposal?

A request for proposal often goes by a simpler acronym called an RFP. If an organization has a problem or an upcoming project, but do not have the required resources, they seek the support of an external vendor. In order to find the vendor(s), they “float” an RFP. Vendors who can perform the required skills or provide the right products respond to the RFP with a business proposal.

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Releasing or floating an RFP is one of the most common ways to find external partners or resources for government and commercial organizations. The process is often mandatory for government.

Usually, other documents precede the RFP, including the RFQ and RFI. An RFQ is a request for a quotation, and an RFI is a request for information. An RFQ requests the price of a specific set of products or services and an RFI generally requests answers to a questionnaire.

The RFP is way more detailed with customer requirements that include problem statements, technical requirements, managerial requirements, project oversight details, and other information for prospective bidders to read. It is crucial to read the RFP carefully before responding with a bid to ensure all requirements are thoroughly understood. Leverage an RFP software to help you reduce time.

Proposal teams will sometimes submit one proposal after another to magically win a bid. Yet, that strategy seldom works and wastes time. Never respond to a bid without clearly understanding the customer or reading the RFP or doing your due diligence to qualify the opportunity.

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The negative effects are momentous. If you win a bid that you cannot perform, your organization may be sued in a court of law. Moreover, it would not just cause financial stress to your organization, but it will reduce your company’s reputation.

Simply research and understand the customer, the RFP, the customer’s industry, your competition, and the requirements before submitting a proposal to avoid a grand scale catastrophe.

It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it- Joseph Joubert

Ask the Customer

During the RFP response process, customers will allow you to ask questions about the RFP over email, telephone, or during a bidder’s conference. Be sure to review Q&A requirements because most RFPs require a specific format and schedule for asking questions to maintain fairness.

If you need clarity on anything in the RFP, never hesitate to ask or perform a search in your proposal management software. Designate a single point-of-contact, preferably the account or sales manager to ask or send questions on behalf of your company.

How to Respond to an RFP

Responding to an RFP is a long and tedious task. Here are recommendations for responding to an RFP:

  1. Ensure you have a kickoff meeting: Before you start working on the proposal, ensure that you and the rest of your team have read the RFP and understood it. Once that is done, have a kickoff meeting by inviting those who will actively participate in the pursuit of this deal. Set the expectations during this call and allocate roles and responsibilities.
  2. Work with a schedule: Never start working on a proposal without having a schedule. The lack of a schedule and clear timelines causes the entire team to become complacent. Ensure that you have enough time allotted for proposal strategy including capture planning and review.
  3. Have a content plan: Many times, proposals are written without structure. This is because they are authored by individuals who have the only technical expertise and little or no sales background. Support proposal development with a content plan template. You can find a good resource of a content plan template over
  4. Establish lines of authority: Proposals require sign-off from commercial teams, legal teams, and senior managers before submission to the customer. Ensure that you know whom you must reach out to in order to get the approvals and incorporate this information into your schedule.
  5. Follow up: Often, during the proposal process, you will need to follow up to get the content you need. Converse with them when required in the most suitable fashion. For instance, a phone call may be more effective for an urgent need from a remote SME than an email.
  6. Be aware of the proposal status: Having regular meetings such as the kickoff call, gate decisions, and review updates to stay on top of proposal progress. However, too many meetings waste time. Thus, schedule what is necessary based on your timeline and ensure that only those who are needed are invited to meetings. Keep meetings structured and brief.
  7. Use a good proposal management tool: Developing a proposal is as hard as managing a project. The key to success is adequate collaboration, scheduling, and management of work. Using a good proposal management tool or the best proposal management software, Zbizlink, will help you collaborate, manage proposal schedules, and create a winning response to the RFP.

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