RFP: How to Respond

Unlike a Request for Quote (RFQ), a Request for Proposal (RFP) is a powerful invitation to express your business at its best.

It’s time to look beyond your bid, re-examine your capabilities as well as your differentiators and weave those unique characteristics into your copy.

If your company uses a team-based approach to create proposals or circulates drafts through multiple channels for approval, treat your RFP response like the project it is.

  1. Break down the deliverable – the proposal – into smaller chunks with individual deadlines. Use these individual deadlines to create stability for your draft.
  2. Determine stakeholders inside your organization, and name individuals with final sign-off authority vs. those available to provide feedback. A shorter list of approvers can be a kindness if your deadline is tight. Input from a larger group of stakeholders is easier to collect at the beginning of the data-gathering phase.
  3. Assemble your proposal-writing team, if you have one. If a single interviewer/writer will create the entire draft, make sure that person has access to specific Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to address specific sections of the RFP. Inform SMEs of your timeline and the need for their cooperation and contributions.
  4. If a team or teams are building your proposal, provide firm direction. Without strong leadership, a team may use every meeting as a new beginning, scrapping almost all previous efforts, until the true deadline throws the entire group into a rush. Collaborate as needed to avoid redundancies and/or explain what types of redundancies can be addressed later during the editing process.
  5. Use the RFP as an outline for your proposal, and address these major points in the first draft of your Executive Summary before responding in detail section-by-section. Plan to reduce the length of the Executive Summary after the body of the proposal is complete.
  6. Expect “multiple passes” when writing and when editing. When you seek input, be specific about the types of comments you need. How firm is your draft? Are you looking for grammar-based corrections only, or are you prepared to make major changes based on the feedback you receive? (Note: The proposal may be in flux until the moment you send it to your potential client, but overworking and overwriting any document can do more harm than good.)
  7. Return to your Executive Summary. As you refine it, watch for any important points that weren’t echoed in the body of the proposal, as well as any passages in the proposal that should be summarized in the opening.
  8. Whether your proposal has been a simple job handled by one person or a larger assignment with a deliverable as lengthy as a book manuscript, every word matters. Consider hiring a content editor, also known as a developmental editor, to add a final polish to your draft. A writer can help you insert relevant marketing messages, even if the proposal has been authored by someone else.