Best Standard Process for Responding to RFPs

Companies with procurement needs may be familiar with the concept of sending a RFP (Request for Proposal) early in the procurement cycle. A request for proposal is a request made, often through a bidding process, by the company interested in purchasing of a commodity or service. It’s not unlike the RFQ (request for quotation), but it also brings structure to the procurement decision and is meant to allow the risks and benefits to be identified clearly up front.

Potential suppliers may receive multiple RFPs from various companies interested in procurement of their product, and responding to each one may require factual responses specific to the identified requirements. The response is critical to acquire a new found vendor, often of a considerable size to require this kind of competitive selection process, and also years of purchase orders.

RFPs and their responses come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The internal response process for a seller (vendor) would also vary depending on industry – but I will take a somewhat simplified stab at answering your question. Solar energy RFPs typically required more information than your standard construction bidding process. Assuming it is a complex RFP here is the typical internal process many of our clients use.

Decide on whether to respond to the RFP

Usually the first step is for the RFP project manager to build a “GO OR NO-GO” write up. You need to first weigh the RFP carefully before you begin writing a response for an RFP. If part of the contract doesn’t match your company’s interests or you really can’t deliver on all the requirements, typically it is best to spend your time elsewhere. The process behind making this decision varies typically on company size.  Smaller companies where sales associates find and receive RFPs may only have to write up a quick one page reason as to why an RFP should be responded to. Larger companies may first make a compliance matrix (see below) and compare the RFP’s requirements to the business’s capabilities.

Create a compliance matrix

The next step is to usually create a compliance matrix for reference throughout the RFP response.  Compliance matrices are typically no more complex than an Excel spreadsheet.  Each row in the matrix links each proposal section with one or more RFP requirements.  So your columns might look something like ‘RFP Page / Section / Subsection’, ‘RFP Requirement’, ‘Proposal Response Section / Page / Paragraph’, ‘Comments’, ‘Internal Person Responsible’.  Utilize this matrix to go to the next step which is to build your outline.

Next you will want to build an outline.  Your outline should include the following things:

  1. Any customer’s instructions regarding organization
  2. A rational organization of information that will answer all of the questions and requirements
  3. Easy to follow structure for the proposal document
  4. Compliance with all requirements
  5. Optimized for evaluation criteria and approach

Meet with your team

Either while building out the outline or sometime before – typically an RFP team meeting occurs.  The requirements matrix is then converted into working tasks for each responsible team member.  For example, you may need to collect technical information from your technical team – and financials from your finance team.  It is important that all team members are on the same page and understand the RFP and its requirements.

It is important to utilize a project management application to manage everyone’s responsibilities whether using something like Microsoft Project, Procurify’s RFP Project Management Application, or even a Google Spreadsheet.

Bring all the information together (just worry about content at this stage)

The next step is to pull together all of the information matching your outline.  The content management process for managing this information is a whole different issue.  Typically, businesses have some structure for managing previous proposal content.  Whether it is using an application like https://www.procurify.com for managing content or just managing the files themselves with something like https://www.box.com.

The biggest mistake in this step is usually unnecessary documentation and marketing material.  Too much marketing speak is harmful, and also pretty apparent to the reader.  Areas to highlight achievement should be reserved for the appropriate places – like previous work specific to the RFP reader’s goals.  With other sections especially direct questions, provide only what is needed with reasonable supporting information.  From here the information is reviewed for its content accuracy and how it addresses each requirement.

Make it look pretty

Finally, once you have the content finalized, style the content – making your business stand out.  Additionally, taking into account any required layouts or styles directed by the RFP itself.