How to Build a Simple RFP Process: 5 Steps to Win More Bids
Submitting a proposal is no easy feat…especially if you don’t stick to a standard set of RFP process steps. You’ve got to meet every requirement, engage *unavailable* subject matter experts (SMEs), and transform highly-technical content into a compelling proposal. Winging it isn’t exactly an option.
With companies sourcing roughly 33% of their sales revenue through deals involving RFPs, following the right course of action is essential to perform your best (and prepare for surprises). So, if your RFP process flow is a little too spur-of-the-moment, read on to find out what you should do throughout the RFP stages.
In this article, you’ll learn how to simplify your RFP response process by following these five steps:
- Evaluate the Bidding Opportunity
- Research the RFP for Key Insights
- Plan Out Your Response Strategy
- Draft a Compelling Proposal
- Respond & Submit a Winning Bid 🏆
But first, let’s look at the big picture of how an RFP moves from procurement’s hands into yours (and back again.)
The High-Level RFP Process Flow (From Procurement to Proposals)
Instead of searching for a vendor in the wild, a company will issue a request for proposal (RFP) to promising candidates and see who comes out on top. It’s almost like speed dating–they can compare all options simultaneously rather than putting their eggs into one basket. Plus, it allows them to swoon over a vendor’s specific action plan, not just the one they sell over the phone.
To carry out this strategy, a company will follow a procurement process to help narrow down which vendor is a match-made-in-heaven. If you have a comprehensive understanding of what’s happening on their end, you can prepare ways to stand out as a frontrunner: before, during, and after receiving the RFP.
Stages of the RFP Process
A company will kick off the proposal management process after identifying a need. They will assemble key stakeholders to determine the project scope, budget, and goals. Ideally, your sales team will catch wind of an RFP early and notify you to start pre-proposal research.
|Draft & Issue||
Next, the procurement team will put together an RFP with a long list of questions. Either you will receive the RFP exclusively or find it publicly in an online bid portal. As soon as it lands in your hands, it’s go-time to package a winning proposal. 🚀
After accepting all interested bids, they will score the proposals based on the agreed-upon evaluation criteria and narrow down the list. If you make the cut, keep your response saved as a reference for the next RFP. It’s a winning one. 👏
It’s not uncommon for the prospect to ask for additional demos or even an RFP finalist presentation before making a decision. So, keep the champagne on ice and ensure your sales team is aligned on your win themes before they swoop in and close the deal.
At this point, the procurement team should know whether they want to partner with you or not. All that’s left is to get executive approval, send you an RFP award letter, and iron out the kinks in the contract. Let the negotiating games begin.
5 Uncomplicated Steps of the RFP Process for Proposal Teams
A lot of time and effort goes into crafting a compelling proposal. Whether you’re an RFP expert or just learning how to manage the RFP process, the workload is always daunting. There’s no getting around it.
Many teams will jump right into responding without an action plan, knowing there’s little time to waste. But the secret to conquering complex RFPs is to break down the project into smaller visible goals. That way, you can chip away at the proposal rather than feeling like you aren’t making any progress.
How do you do this? Like procurement, you can create your own RFP process flow with the following five steps:
1. Evaluate the Bidding Opportunity
Just because you receive an RFP doesn’t mean you have to respond. It may not be the right opportunity right now. Or, you may have other RFPs more deserving of your time. So, the first step is to consider whether a response is the best move before investing valuable time, resources, and collective energy.
Determine whether the opportunity is a good fit.
👉 Action items
- Review opportunity: Ask your sales team to complete an intake form, which includes key information about the client (such as the company name, geographical region, and top needs)
- Assess RFP: Use RFP evaluation criteria to measure customer fit (and your existing relationship), the cost of pursuing the opportunity, and if you have the right resources available.
- Prioritize the proposal: After evaluating the RFP, add it to your priority list or kindly say no if it’s not worth a response.
2. Research the RFP for Key Insights
Once you know the RFP is a good match, it’s time to dive into specifics. The idea is to find golden nuggets of information that tell you more about the prospect, what they’re looking for, and how to win their business. Don’t skip this homework–the more you know about the client, the easier it will be to personalize the proposal later.
🥇 Your goal
Gather RFP intelligence and identify win themes.
👉 Action items
- Analyze the RFP: Do preliminary research by reading the RFP from cover to cover. Take note of critical information like formatting instructions, special requirements, and even specific features the customer wants.
- Schedule an interview: Ask sales if you can hop on a discovery call with the client. Most companies expect vendors to come prepared with clarification questions, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of this opportunity to tease out more insights.
- Identify competitors: Conduct a competitor analysis to see how your company stacks up. Pick out any differentiators by reviewing solutions on their website, reading analyst reports, and seeing what their happy (and unhappy) customers say in online reviews.
- Develop win themes: Determine the most persuasive reasons why your solution is the number one choice based on your strategic advantage beyond the RFP requirements.
3. Plan Out Your Response Strategy
This stage is arguably the most fun or the biggest headache, depending on your team’s availability and enthusiasm. It involves briefing key stakeholders, subject matter experts (SMEs), and other contributors on the response strategy (a.k.a. your content plan and project roadmap).
🥇 Your goal
Turn your research into an actionable plan everyone agrees on.
👉 Actions items
- Plan content: Use your win themes as the main points you want to communicate in the RFP response. Then, create an outline for the story you want to tell in each section of the proposal.
- Rally SMEs: Take a look at the content plan you’ve created and figure out which RFP sections need input from subject matter experts in other departments.
- Create roadmap: Create a project workback schedule to map out major milestones in the next two RFP stages and divide tasks among contributors.
- Host a kickoff: Get your team excited about the opportunity by briefing them on the content plan, outlining the RFP process steps, and gathering their winning input.
4. Draft a Compelling Proposal
You’ve laid the foundation with in-depth research, expert guidance, and strong win themes. Now you can put everything together. In this stage, you’ll craft a winning response by personalizing answers, enlisting the brainpower of SMEs, and designing an eye-catching proposal.
🥇 Your goal
Create a final proposal that’s ready for submission.
👉 Action items
- Write the first draft: Tap into your content library (or your most recent RFPs) to answer the questions you can. Be sure to provide only relevant information (don’t go overboard) and tailor each answer to the prospect.
- Fill in gaps: Invite your SMEs to answer any skipped questions or fact-check answers after you’ve tackled the first pass.
- Provide proof: Back up each claim in your proposal by gathering substantive evidence, such as case studies, industry reports, survey statistics, or aggregated customer data.
- Collect documents: Fetch supporting materials and required documents to show beyond doubt your qualification, like relevant certifications or business policies.
- Proofread and edit: Fix any typos, smooth out awkward sentences, and ensure the proposal is easy to understand. Also, double-check to see if you’ve answered every question.
- Polish the look: Give your proposal to a designer (in-house or freelance) to tell a visual story, adjust the format to submission guidelines, and find opportunities to co-brand the document.
5. Respond & Submit a Winning Bid 🏆
You’re almost at the finish line. 🏁 After making sure you’ve dotted every I and crossed every T, you can finally submit your bid. But the RFP process doesn’t end after you click Send. If you hear good news that you’ve made it on the shortlist, you’ll want to save your winning response in a content library for the next RFP.
Submit your winning response before the deadline.
👉 Action items
- Check the quality: Do a final once-over using the “four C’s” approach for quality assurance. Simply ask: Is it compliant, consistent, clear, and compelling?
- Verify instructions: Triple-check the delivery instructions–like whether you need ink signatures or to get the document notarized. Overlooking the submission guidelines will only tell the prospect you’ll overlook other important details during the project.
- Submit your response: You did it. 🎉 Submit the proposal and wait to hear back about getting shortlisted.
- Build a content library: Save your answers in one convenient place for the next RFP. With a content library, you’ll spend 10% of your time answering new questions—and the other 90% tailoring existing responses.
- Host a postmortem: Have one last meeting to review your RFP process steps. What went wrong? Where can you improve? A retro helps you zoom out at the end of an RFP, capture valuable lessons, and praise everyone for a well-done proposal. 👏
The Benefits of Having Consistent RFP Process Steps
Creating an effective RFP process is critical whether you manage 100+ RFPs or a dozen. Tight deadlines don’t have to mean long days at your desk. You can submit a winning bid without throwing everything together at the eleventh hour. Here are the benefits to following a series of RFP process steps:
Faster Response Times
Companies replied to an average of 137 RFPs last year. Although this number is down from prior years, that’s still a super high volume of responses to put on a proposal manager’s plate. Luckily, when you have a plan already mapped out, you can jump right into crushing your work (and your deadlines), one RFP after another. Less thinking, more doing.
Higher Quality Proposals
When you check every box on an RFP process checklist, you ensure nothing slips through the cracks before you respond–like key information that can help shape your win themes for proposals. Plus, when your team has visibility into the agreed-upon process, they can focus on crafting personalized answers instead of wondering what to do next.
Higher Win Rates
A happier team = a higher win rate. According to the 2022 RFP Trends Report, proposal teams that are satisfied with their RFP process have a 6% higher win rate than teams who are not. So, if you’re not making the shortlist, it could be because you’re burning out your team by treating RFPs like an ad-hoc project rather than having a system in place.
Next Steps: 3 Must-Have Tools for Your RFP Process
With so much on the go, it’s easy to see how RFPs can become unmanageable. FYI–here are a few helpful tools you can add to your proposal toolkit to optimize the RFP process from start to submission.
1. RFP Process Checklist
Checklists are super handy for ensuring you don’t miss any important steps in the RFP process. Plus, they can help you stay on track and feel good about completing tasks as you make it closer to the deadline. Don’t have one yet? Customize this RFP Checklist Template to your proposal team’s workflow and follow it for every RFP.
2. Go/No-Go Decision Tool
As you’ve learned earlier, you must evaluate whether an RFP is an unmissable opportunity once it lands in your inbox. Instead of deciding whether it’s an immediate yes or no as you skim through the document, it’s best to be diligent with a consistent scoring system.
Not sure what to evaluate? Follow this Go/No-Go Decision Template, which compiles the top factors that hundreds of proposal teams consider before deciding to move forward with a RFI, RFP, or RFQ response.
3. RFP Automation Software
Manual RFP processes were so last year. Now more than ever, organizations are optimizing their resources and investing in RFP automation software to store content for reuse, answer RFPs automatically, and close more deals. For example, see how Alight uses Loopio to level up their RFP process best practices.
Are you ready to level up your RFP process steps?
Read this RFP response process guide and learn how to take action on the above steps with a detailed plan and tried-and-true tips from proposal experts.