Saturday, September 12, 2009

Responding to a RFP

The request for proposal (RFP) process provides an effective bidding mechanism to make procurement decisions. It enables the organization to identify risks and benefits upfront. However, the RFP process is relatively lengthier and resource intensive for both the vendors and client. Then why clients make RFPs? Despite its associated costs, the RFP process enables the clients to find the best solution for the best possible cost. Hence, when responding to a RFP, we have to not only address the client requirements but also need to compete with other competitors.

Should we respond?

First, we must understand the client requirements without any ambiguities. If the RFP itself is not enough for that (may be the RFP is poorly written), we should contact the client and request the required information. Once the requirements are clear, we must asses our capability to deliver the client requirements for a competitive price. Then we have to decide whether to respond to the RFP and continue the process. The decision to respond to a RFP can be affected by many reasons.


  • The company does not have the capability or scale to fulfil client requirements.

  • The company cannot respond to the RFP before its deadline.

  • The opportunity costs outweigh the benefits from the project.


If we are committed to spend our resources on responding to the proposal, then it should be a winner. It will be a winner only if it meets the client’s expectations. Then what are client’s expectations? The RFP itself may outline various requirements, but we must understand “what do client really want?” They may want to solve an existing issue, meet a goal, make a change, save money or simply wants to make more money. We have to identify these untold expectations and make sure we address them. We must communicate that we have understood their real issues and convince them that “we are the one” who can help them. How can we do that? Well, clients sense these expectations from many things. The recognition of the vendor, ROI and cost are few of them.

Structure of the Response

RFP process is a bidding process and ultimately one winner will immerge out of many competitors. In order to select this winner, the client has to go through all of their RFP responses. What client is looking for are the possible answers for his problems. According to a study done by Tom Smart, the average review time of responses for a $250k project was just 6.5 minutes. The primary implication of this study is that we have very little time to convince our client. The best way to do this is to write an excellent executive summery. The executive summery should solely focus on the client and their needs. The message should be extremely clear and concise. We should emphasise how our solution solve their issues and help them to achieve their desires. The executive summery is a good place to differentiate our self from other competitors and get the attention of the client to pick our proposal for further analysis.

In many cases, the RFP itself demand a pre-defined structure for the response. It is critical to follow whatever instructions given by the client regardless of what we think about them. We should use client’s language (e.g. vocabulary, style, etc...) as much as possible. Our responses should be specific and direct. Otherwise, the client may loos the desire to continue evaluating the response. It is better if we can highlight our previous experiences of solving similar issues. This will build a trust on us. However, providing irrelevant examples might distract the client. This client focus approach will help to build the relation between us. Sometimes it is more affective to compete this way than simply focusing on a lower price. Of course, the client expects lower prices but they might be willing to pay more for a trusted vendor.

The Checklist

Overall, our response should show that we have understood the client’s needs and we have solutions for all of them.

In addition, we should also make sure that our response;

  • Is easy to read.

  • Offers proofs for our claims.

  • Comply with the RFP requirements set by the client.

  • Builds trust.

  • Is persuasive.

  • Make us essential.

  • Offers a competitive price.

If we manage to do all of this, then we might not need to worry about the opportunity cost anymore!


1. “How to Respond to a RFP for Technology Product and Services” ,

2. “5 quick tips to write better proposals”,

3. “How to respond to a cooperate RFP”,

4. “How to Write a Proposal or Respond to a Bid Solicitor”,

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