How to Build an Effective RFP Process Checklist (Plus a 23-Task Template)
Atul Gawande writes in The Checklist Manifesto that even the most experienced people fall prey to memory lapses or distractions. Pilots use a preflight checklist—so do surgeons before they make the first incision.
So if you’ve already worked on hundreds of RFPs, you may be able to perform these tasks in your sleep (or at least wish you could). But do you still need an RFP process checklist? The answer is a resounding: 💯 yes. That’s because these oversights are just as likely in the detail-oriented world of proposals.
RFPs are highly involved projects that run on urgent deadlines and require the tight coordination of multiple team members. Following an RFP response checklist can help your team stay organized, improve consistency, and avoid preventable mistakes. And oh ya—free up your brain space from thinking about what you have and haven’t done.
This article will show you how to be more attentive in the RFP response process with a workflow that ensures the proper tasks get completed in the necessary order. Simply, follow these steps to create an RFP process checklist:
- Group the Standard Steps of the RFP Process
- Break Down the Steps Into Bite-Sized Tasks
- Assemble the RFP Checklist in a Shared Place
What Exactly is an RFP Checklist?
An RFP checklist is a comprehensive workflow that systematically outlines the RFP process steps from start to submission. Instead of relying on your memory, it provides a simple (yet thorough) way to track the status of all the tasks, required documents, and even subject matter experts (SMEs) needed to win.
How can you make a list of tasks when you’re too busy doing them? Save time by downloading this RFP checklist template 📋 which you can quickly customize with a workflow that works best for your team.
3 Steps for Creating an RFP Process Checklist From Scratch
What goes on your RFP process checklist will depend on the information that’s most useful for your team, but there are some RFP process best practices you can follow when putting your checklist together for the first time.
Unless your RFP process varies a lot in scope, it’s a smart idea to create a master checklist that includes your team’s most common tasks. That way, you’ll be able to make a copy for each new proposal and simply cross off any items that don’t apply to a particular RFP—so you don’t have to start from scratch every time.
Step 1: Group the Standard Steps of the RFP Process
Before you brain-dump tasks onto your RFP checklist, take a holistic look at your proposal process. Think about the different phases a proposal goes through before it’s ready for submission. By categorizing the overarching steps of the RFP process, you can clearly visualize the logical flow of tasks in the next step—ensuring nothing gets missed.
Here are five phases of the RFP process that successful teams stick to:
Evaluate the Bidding Opportunity
“Too many teams spend time chasing deals when frankly, they haven’t got a realistic chance of winning,” says Jon Williams, Managing Director at Strategic Proposals. So, make sure to include an RFP evaluation process before you’re halfway down your checklist, and there’s no turning back on a worthless RFP. Even if you can’t control what comes your way, you should still make time at the outset to prioritize bids: Which ones must you tackle first, leave closer to the due date, and crank out quickly?
Research the RFP for Key Insights
To find the perfect vendor, procurement teams put a lot of thought and energy into issuing a request for proposal (RFP). But it’s a two-way street. Do your part by reading the RFP carefully and asking open-ended questions at the Q&A to gather key insights that will help you understand (and later articulate) why a partnership would be a match made in heaven. Plus, the more time you spend researching, the easier it will be to complete proposal writing tasks on your RFP response checklist.
Plan Out the Response Strategy
Next, it’s best practice to make a content plan based on the research you did in the previous step. Decide on your proposal win themes, sketch a proposal outline (or content storyboard), and work backward from the RFP deadline to build a project roadmap. The time you put into thoughtfully planning your response strategy will set your RFP team up for success because they will have a clear path forward and an overall vision of how to win as they start tasks in the Draft phase.
Draft a Compelling Proposal
You know it’s coming, and you can’t avoid it—even if you make a wish 3x for the proposal to package itself. While this phase comes with the most tasks, it’s also the most rewarding since you get to see all of your previous efforts come together as a winning proposal. The best way to tackle this heavy workload? Divide and conquer. ⚔️ While you personalize answers, have SMEs fill in the gaps. And work in tandem with your designer as you write—this will ensure a cohesive look and feel.
Respond With a Winning Bid
Take one more editing pass (with fresh eyes). Check if your proposal is compliant, consistent, clear, and compelling. And follow the delivery instructions to a tee. When you’re confident you’ve gone above and beyond the requirements, it’s time to hit send or slip the response into the mailbox. 🎉 But wait—before you celebrate, there’s one more step. After submitting, save your answers in a content library to reuse in upcoming proposals. That way, you can breeze through your RFP checklist next time.
Step 2: Break Down the Steps Into Bite-Sized Tasks
Now, for the real work. Think about what your team needs to accomplish at each stage of the RFP process to move forward confidently. Then, assemble your RFP process checklist by listing the tasks in the natural order you’d complete them, from Evaluate to Respond.
As an example, we’ve put together a task list you can strictly follow, use for inspiration, or customize to your heart’s content (download this RFP checklist template). From years of working with hundreds of RFP teams, it comes as no surprise we came up with 23 essential tasks for such a complex process.
|Evaluate||1. Review the Opportunity: Ask team to complete an intake form.
2. Assess the RFP: Measure customer fit, overall cost, and other criteria.
3. Prioritize the Proposal: Add to your priority list or say no.
4. Analyze RFP: Read through the details and note key information.
5. Schedule Interview: Hop on discovery call with Sales for more insight.
6. Identify Competitors: Pick out your key differentiators.
7. Develop Win Themes: Pinpoint strategic reasons why you should win.
8. Plan Content: Outline the narrative for each proposal section.
9. Rally SMEs: Make a team roster for who needs to answer what.
10. Create Roadmap: Map out milestones and divvy up tasks.
11. Host Kickoff: Brief team on the content plan and roadmap.
12. Write First Draft: Repurpose and personalize answers from previous RFPs.
13. Fill in Gaps: Enlist SMEs to fact-check or answer skipped questions.
14. Provide Proof: Gather evidence to back up claims, like a case study.
15. Collect Documents: Fetch required documents, certifications, or policies.
16. Package Proposal: Wrap everything up in a comprehensive proposal.
17. Proofread and Edit: Fix any typos, errors, or incomplete answers.
18. Polish the Look: Send to a designer (follow formatting instructions).
19. Check Quality: Answer the four C’s: compliant, clear, consistent, compelling?
20. Verify Instructions: Triple-check the delivery instructions.
21. Submit Response: Submit the proposal and wait to hear back.
22. Build Content Library: Save answers to repurpose next time.
23. Host Postmortem: Connect with team over what did and didn’t go well.
Step 3: Assemble Your RFP Response Checklist
It’s not a scalable solution to create a notepad version of the RFP process checklist for your eyes only. Even if you are a solo RFP team, you’ll want to set it up in one central location so everyone who contributes to the proposal (a.k.a your SMEs) can quickly see the current status of the RFP response and what they need to get done. What are the best options? A shared document, spreadsheet, or a Project Plan in Loopio.
As a bonus, consider including other information or resources that can help your contributors successfully complete their tasks, like your win theme messaging or a go/no-go decision matrix. Of course, you can tailor the checklist to a specific proposal or repeatedly use a RFP-agnostic version.
Your Checklist for Making an RFP Checklist
✅ Make a master checklist you can copy for each new proposal.
✅ Put it in an easy-to-access location for your RFP team.
✅ Capture key checkpoints, not every single little task (e.g. Instead of listing every person you need to loop into the process, simply put “Rally SMEs”).
✅ Leave room beside each task for the owner, due date, and status.
✅ Link helpful resources for completing tasks, where relevant.
✅ Add new tasks that inevitably come up until your checklist is rock solid.
Avoid These Common Pitfalls with an RFP Process Checklist
Many proposal teams go wrong when they rush through the first few phases of the RFP response process or skip them altogether (like the evaluation and research steps). Due to the time pressure that comes with proposals, it can be tempting to jump straight ahead to filling out the RFP, but this can cost you valuable time in the long run.
The common pitfalls an RFP process checklist can help you avoid are:
- Bidding on Unwinnable Opportunities
Having a dedicated process in your RPF response checklist to evaluate incoming RFPs ensures you don’t waste time bidding on opportunities that aren’t a good fit for you. That means you can spend more time and effort where it matters most—on the RFPs you actually want to win.
- Missing Important RFP Details
Counterintuitively, you need to “go slow to go fast.” Taking the time to read (not skim) the RFP in detail at the outset will actually save you time. Like a doctor evaluating a patient, if you rush the diagnosis, you’re more likely to miss something important and prescribe the wrong treatment. But if you take your time to really absorb the RFP, you’ll have a much clearer picture of how to best respond.
- Lack of RFP Team Preparation
While it can be tempting to skip the project kickoff to save time, it’s a truly critical step. Taking the time to brief your team and align them on a clear project plan will ensure you move together in lock step. There will be no confusion or unanswered questions because everyone knows exactly what they need to do.
Successful RFP Preparation? Check ✔️
An RFP checklist keeps your proposal on track and ensures you complete critical steps consistently—at every stage of the process. Especially for proposal managers, using a checklist can help improve project visibility, coordinate tasks among stakeholders, and ensure nothing important gets forgotten in the flurry of meeting an RFP deadline.
That said, a checklist can only take you so far…
Investing in RFP response software will take your proposal management endeavours to the next level. Using a tool like Loopio allows you to create a list of RFP milestones, send gentle reminders to contributors, and maintain your content library—all in one place. It’s a one-stop shop to optimize the RFP process.
Want more details on how to implement a successful RFP Process?
Read this RFP response process guide and learn how to take action on the above tasks with a straightforward plan and tried-and-true tips from proposal experts.