An RFP (request for proposal) is a formal document sent by a company with a specific need asking for information from vendors that want to win their business. Responding to an RFP involves researching the company issuing the request, determining appropriate fit, gathering the right information, designing a meaningful response, and following up.
One of the worst ways you can respond to an RFP is by not responding at all. Pipedrive CRM is a program that keeps opportunities from falling through the cracks with workflow automations, reminders, and alerts. Store RFP response templates, track emails and follow up activities, and use their mobile app to manage your pipeline on the go. Sign-up for Pipedrive’s free trial today.
Make sure your initial response to an RFP gets the attention it deserves with these five tips.
1. Do Your Homework First
When a potential or current client sends you an RFP it means they’ve invited several vendors to submit a proposal. It’s tempting to whip up a flashy proposal and be the first one to send in a submission, but take your time. It’s critical to carefully read the RFP to understand precisely what the client is looking for so you can determine if your products and services are a good fit.
As a reminder, an RFP is a formal document, and an official submission will require more work than your initial review and information-gathering stages outlined in this article. A potential client puts a great deal of time and effort into creating an RFP, and the decision to respond and preparing your submission deserves just as much effort.
Explore the Scope of the RFP
Before you start composing a response, make sure you understand the scope of the project so you can determine if submitting a response would be a mutually beneficial fit. There are several factors to consider as you start composing a response. Keep in mind, you don’t want to waste your time and pull your resources away from more fruitful opportunities if the fit isn’t there.
Assess the company’s needs and expectations, such as:
- The deadline for submission: Be sure you can submit a top-notch proposal before the due date.
- The timing for project completion: Determine if your team can complete the project (and do your best work) in the time frame specified by the client.
- The budget: Decide if your business can provide the scope of services for the budget described in the RFP.
Often, the company will offer a Q&A session to businesses considering submitting a proposal. This is an excellent way to get your questions answered and introduce yourself to the company.
“Many RFPs have a dedicated Q&A time period. Use this to your advantage. Thoughtfully gather every question you have about the scope, budget, project timelines—anything that could affect your proposal. Make sure that you submit your questions according to the deadline and in the format they specify.
An added benefit to participating in the Q&A is that it also is a sales strategy. You have the opportunity to introduce your company before the actual RFP deliverable and demonstrate that you are taking their RFP seriously. This can give you a one-up as they dig into the other proposals.”
—Kate Hixson,Co-Founder & COO, Black Hound Design Company
Determine The Fit
Once you’ve assessed what the client is looking for, be honest with yourself and determine if your products or services are a good fit. Create a checklist of questions that you can use to assess fit with any RFP to ensure you’re able to take on a new project—and that it won’t take away time and energy from more important business initiatives.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- Do we have the skills, resources, and talent to fulfill everything in the RFP?
- Have we completed similar projects in the past with success?
- Is the company issuing the RFP in our target market/same audience?
- Will we have to hire new staff or a third-party vendor to meet the RFP requirements?
- Will placing a bid on this RFP alter existing deadlines or take away resources from other company priorities and plans? If so, are we OK with making changes?
For example, imagine you run a software company that builds websites and mobile apps for local restaurants. A small clothing franchise has heard good things about your company from one of your clients and wants you to build several websites and apps for their stores.
While it’s a lucrative deal you’d love to cash in on, you know you don’t have enough developers or the right background in the clothing retail industry to fill their need. If you try anyway, you might risk damaging your reputation by trying to do it too quickly without the right expertise and resources.
“When I respond to RFPs I’m always very quick to respond, from the initial email or phone call and every inquiry following. It’s important to let your potential partners know you are available to help and you are a team and to understand the potential client’s goals and budget. Don’t try and force a sale if you feel it’s not a good fit—it’s OK to pass on gigs that could distract you from projects that are a better fit for your business.”
—Philip Tadros, Founder & Creative Director, Doeoj
Pro-tip: Many startups and small businesses fall prey to what’s called “shiny object syndrome.” If your company is in the beginning stages of developing your business and you receive a high-dollar RFP, it can be tempting to respond in hopes to win the bid. If the RFP is far outside your scope or you don’t have the bandwidth, it’s best not to submit a response.
On the other hand, let’s say you run a small business that provides educational technology to K-12 schools. You run through the checklist to determine proper fit, and you’re confident your team can provide excellent products and services to the company issuing the RFP. That’s the first step toward submitting an excellent response—but now you need to know how to develop a response that can win the deal.
2. Create an RFP Response Process
In addition to determining fit, it’s a great best practice to follow a formal RFP response process. Ideally, your process should have a point person responsible for getting the appropriate resources together—and ultimately crafting excellent proposals with high-quality business proposal software. This will save time, especially if your business plans to respond to them often, and can help expedite the process, ensuring every detail is accounted for.
In small businesses, people often have to wear a lot of hats. If you have a small but mighty team, designate one or two people to oversee the RFP response process. If you have a slightly bigger team, it’s a good idea to create a permanent RFP response committee that meets regularly to facilitate the response process.
The RFP response process should entail:
- Collaboration between departments to coordinate required RFP information
- Creation and management of a calendar of deadlines and milestones
- Communication with the RFP contacts when questions or concerns arise—including moving the conversation along if it stalls
- Guidelines for bringing in appropriate third-party vendors to fulfill RFP requirements, if needed
Pro tip: If you’re a solopreneur, don’t feel like you should miss out on responding to RFPs—after all, you’re used to doing it all. Create your own process and scan your network and see if you can get additional advice or help from another solopreneur who has experience submitting RFP responses.
3. Gather Your Information
One surefire way for your hard work to go to waste is neglecting to submit all the required information. Even if you have the best products or services out of everyone who is submitting a response, if you don’t cover all your bases, chances are high that your business won’t even be considered.
“Read the RFP thoroughly and highlight the requirements. Make sure to ask all questions during the prebid period to avoid making any assumptions on the interpretation. The contractor sometimes modifies the RFP because they discover some items lack clarity. Request to review the previous awards for that RFP so you can determine the ballpark amount. Even if they give you a proposed budget make sure you base your proposed amount on your actual costs for labor, materials, and markup. Lesser doesn’t always give you a greater advantage.”
—Shannon Battle, CEO, Family Services of America
Whether you have an RFP team or you’re flying solo, this is the most critical step. The company issuing the RFP will likely provide something that looks like a rubric similar to what you’d see in a college course syllabus to outline everything you need to submit if you decide to make a bid.
Typically, the RFP will request information such as:
Your cover letter should serve as an introductory letter thanking the RFP issuer for their consideration and the opportunity to earn their business. If the company met with you to clarify the project and answer your questions, thank them in the letter. Include a table of contents of information to follow, your company contact information, and a next step call to action such as, “I’ll contact you in a week to discuss next steps and answer any questions you have.”
Your company history may also be referred to as an executive summary. The main point of Including a company history is for the RFP issuer to get a glance into your business, brand, and story. Include details about when your business was established, your mission and vision, major milestones, company location and size, and an organizational chart, if you have one. Limit this section to one to two pages.
Executive Team or Project Team Information
This section should give the prospect insight into the experience and ability of your leadership team, project team—or both. Include a short professional biography of each key staff member with information such as education, years of experience, awards, and key successes. If any team members have worked with notable companies in the same industry as the RFP issuer, include that in this section as well.
Describe the main products and services your business offers in-depth in this section. Point out precisely how your products and services can fulfill the business need described in the RFP, painting a picture of what success looks like.
It can be helpful to visualize the key benefits with case studies and testimonials. For example, if the issuer is seeking a company can increase qualified leads for their business, provide a case study that showcases the successful results you achieved for a similar customer.
This section outlines what your business will deliver to the prospect, by when. It should include a proposed project schedule, communication expectations, key deadlines, and crucial milestones. It’s important to include this so both parties agree on what services will be performed and/or what products need to be developed within a specific time frame.
Estimated Breakdown of Costs
This is the numbers section. Depending on the scope of services you’ll be providing, include anything that involves what you expect your company to be paid for in a clear format. Examples include billable hours, product development costs, and the cost of any third-party providers. You should also include your billing and payment procedures.
4. Design Your RFP Response with the Client in Mind
One common mistake small businesses make when they respond to an RFP is to flood the potential client with information about themselves and all the benefits their company can offer. Develop a customer-centric response with their needs and pain points in the forefront of your mind, rather than focusing on what you can do for them—this allows you to customize your response to provide unique solutions.
“First, you want to understand the ‘why.’ What is the client’s biggest pain point? Make sure you understand which requirements are mandatory and if any are ‘nice-to-have.’
When the client put the RFP together there is very good chance information was lost or mistaken, so next you want to ‘dig.’ Talk to anyone and everyone you’re able to in order to find out what they know. Talk to other vendors who have won and even lost business with the client. If they’ve lost business with the client you should listen, but take their advice with a grain of salt.
Finally, tailor your solution. Show that you truly understand the problem and also other areas they may not have even known about.”
—Jared Landrum, Vice President of Business Development, Bond.AI
Tailoring your custom response also gives you the opportunity to be creative. For example, use a program like Wisita to incorporate a video into your response to add a personal touch, foster rapport, and ensure your response is memorable.
Once you’ve decided to move forward with issuing a bid in response to the RFP and gathered all the required information, it’s time to create a formal proposal. Learn how to design a business proposal that stands out.
5. Schedule a Follow-Up Meeting
Once you’ve delivered a stunning RFP response, you’ll likely feel relieved but anxious to know if you’ll win the account. Don’t hold your breath and wait for them to reach back out to you. Ideally, you’ll know the deadline for accepting responses, but you may not know when a decision will be made. Furthermore, sometimes deadlines get extended and projects get put on the back burner.
A week after the closing date, reach out to ask if they have any questions about your proposal and if there’s other information they need. Ask when a decision will be made and plan to follow up with a phone call or email a few days after that date for more details. If you aren’t given a date, don’t keep calling or emailing regularly—it can become annoying. Remember, they are looking for a company they will enjoy working with, not one that pesters them daily.
Instead, say, “Not a problem. I know you have several proposals to examine and you want to select the best choice for your company. Can I call you back in a week to get an update?” This sets up the expectation that they will hear from you in a week—or they can tell you when a better time is to follow up again.
“Make sure your response matches exactly to what is being requested in the RFP! Your prospect may have asked a specific question they need answering. Do not ignore it. First impressions count and that means ensuring you are able to follow the directions they have outlined. Your prospect may well have sent their request to numerous companies. Be sure to follow up in a timely manner to ensure they received it and confirm a time to call back to discuss. Do so, however, without harassing your prospect.”
—Alistair Dodds, Marketing Director & Co-Founder, Ever Increasing Circles
Pro Tip: You can use Pipedrive CRM to set RFP follow up alerts, reminders, log follow up calls, and store email response templates to automate your follow up process right within your CRM. Best of all, you can sign up for a free trial—no credit card required.
Sample Email RFP Response Examples
Before and after you submit a formal RFP proposal, you’ll likely have to email the company with questions regarding the process. We’ve included some templates to make communicating with your prospect easier.
Initial Response to Determine Fit Email Template
You’ll probably have questions you want answered before you make a decision to submit a proposal. It’s tempting to send a long list of questions, but it’s best to keep your email short and start a conversation that builds the relationship. Here’s an RFP response template you can email to the RFP issuer to schedule an introductory meeting:
Thank you for sending your request for proposal—we are delighted to be considered and would love to earn your business. We’ve reviewed your RFP and believe our products and services align with your business needs.
We’d like to schedule a 20-minute call to go over some questions before we submit our formal proposal to ensure we are all on the same page. Is your team available to meet on [specific time/date?] I’m looking forward to hearing back soon.
Pro Tip: Use a program such as Calendly to make it easy for the client to schedule a meeting at the click of a button. Simply share your Calendly link, allowing the prospect to connect directly to your calendar and pick a meeting time that works for them—without the hassle of emailing back and forth.
Declining an RFP Email Template
If you read the RFP and it’s obvious a partnership wouldn’t be a good fit for your business (or theirs) you should still send an email to politely decline and thank them for their consideration. Who knows—they may release an RFP that’s a perfect match for your business in the future, so you want to keep the door open.
To graciously decline an RFP, send this email:
Thank you for sending your request for proposal—we are honored to be considered by your company. We have carefully reviewed your RFP, and unfortunately, the needs you’ve described are not a fit for our business at this time. However, we are growing company with big plans in the upcoming years, so we hope you will keep us in mind for future projects.
If you have any questions about our decision, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team wishes you good luck in finding the right company to partner with to fulfill your business needs.
Following Up on Your RFP Submission Email Template
Some RFP submissions get timely responses and you’ll know if you won the bid or not quickly. In other cases, the review process can seem to last forever or even forgotten about. If you don’t hear anything back within one to two weeks, send this email:
My name is [NAME] with [COMPANY NAME]. On [DATE], I submitted our proposal in response to your [SPECIFIC RFP TITLE].I’m following up to confirm receipt of our submission and gather a few details, if possible. Are you still accepting entries, and if so, when is the close date? Our team is also curious when you will be making a decision and notifying the businesses who have applied.
Thank you in advance for your help. We appreciate the opportunity to earn your business. I’m looking forward to hearing back soon. If you need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.
You can download these RFP email response templates for future use here in Google Docs Word, and PDF.
- Initial Response to Determine Fit Email templates in Word || PDF || Google Docs
- Declining an RFP Email Template in Word || PDF || Google Docs
- Following Up on Your RFP Submission Email Template in Word || PDF || Google Docs
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are common questions to expect in an RFP?
Every RFP is different. Some companies may provide an RFP response template and some will list out what questions you need to answer. At a minimum, be expected to answer questions about how long you’ve been in business, your company history, the size and experience of your team, your current or past clients, and pricing model.
What does it mean if I get an RFP from a current client?
Receiving an RFP from a current client doesn’t mean you are necessarily in danger of losing their business. It simply means they are open to receive bids from other companies. If you get an RFP from an existing client, call them and ask what you can do to keep their business. They will likely fill you in on any changes and provide some tips on how to make your proposal stand out.
Should I respond to every RFP I receive?
No. Review any RFP you get carefully. Be honest with yourself and determine if you have the resources, talent, and bandwidth to do the job well. If you feel you’re trying to stretch yourself and your team too far for the money alone, you’re likely doing a disservice to your business and the company issuing the RFP.
The Bottom Line – Responding to RFPs
Responding to RFPs in a thoughtful, comprehensive manner will ensure your company has the best chance of earning new business. Do your homework and conduct research on the company, make sure you understand the prospective client’s pain points, gather the required information needed to submit the proposal, and don’t forget to follow up.
Pipedrive CRM offers a wide range of features that make tracking stages of any deal simple no matter where you are with their robust mobile app. Plus, it includes task management tools, custom fields, visual pipeline stages, email template storage, call logging, and more—making it an excellent tool for managing the RFP response process. Visit Pipeline today for details.