How to Respond to an RFP Effectively + Free Template
A request for proposal (RFP) is a common way that a company can learn about multiple vendors and select the one that best meets their needs.
So when responding to one, you’re likely competing against several vendors and have to ensure your response stands out.
To help you simplify the RFP response process and win more bids, we’ll cover the step-by-step process, explain how software can help automate the process, and provide a template below.
What is an RFP response?
An RFP response is a bid from a qualified vendor or contractor to complete a project that was publicly announced and described in an RFP. This response should show that your organization can meet the client’s criteria for skills, budget, and timeline, among other factors.
The exact information you include will vary depending on your business, the client, and the requirements specified in the RFP — as will the length of your response.
According to recent research, the average number of questions on an RFP is 77 and it takes approximately 25 minutes to answer a question. That means the average time for writing a single RFP response is 32 hours.
Now imagine you get multiple RFPs a week. Responding to them can be highly manual, tedious, and time-consuming. Having a standardized process in place can help solve these pain points.
What is a Request for Proposal? + Template
RFP response process
An RFP response process is a set of interrelated and repeatable steps you follow to respond to an RFP. This process can help you determine which RFPs are worth responding to, assign deliverables and deadlines to the right people, and ensure you submit a draft that’s already been reviewed and proofread by the due date.
Having a standardized process can ensure that RFPs are responded in a consistent way, even as your organization grows and looks to take on more clients.
Let’s take a look at the individual steps involved in the process below.
How to respond to an RFP
Follow the step-by-step RFP response process below to showcase how your organization can meet the client's needs.
1. Evaluate the RFP.
The first step is to evaluate the RFP to ensure you understand exactly what the client is looking for and decide whether you should respond to it. You may determine that it’s not a good customer fit or that you don’t have the resources to complete the project on the expected timeline or that the return on investment will likely be lower than the cost of completing the project. Whatever the reason, you can decide not to respond, saving your team valuable time and resources.
If you determine it is a good opportunity for your organization, then you can continue onto the next step.
2. Map out the proposal timeline and assign deliverables.
To ensure you submit the RFP response in a timely manner, it’s important to clearly assign roles, responsibilities, and deadlines.
While there are different project management approaches you may take, a common one is to break down each task required to complete the RFP response into individual steps and assign an owner and due date to each.
For example, the task of evaluating an RFP may be broken down into several steps, like:
- reviewing and summarizing the RFP by a proposal manager and account executive
- making the go or no-go decision after consulting with legal, finance, and an executive stakeholder
- creating and publishing a proposal timeline with by the proposal manager
3. Draft the RFP response using previous responses and new insights from subject matter experts.
When drafting an RFP response, you can likely repurpose some answers from previous responses. You may see repeat questions asking about your firm, team structure, related project experience, and project approach as well as references and a cost proposal.
You will likely also need to consult subject matter experts for net new content or for help tailoring responses to the specific client. For example, responses to security and IT questions may require input from your CISO.
4. Distribute the draft for review.
Before you submit your response to the client, you should get input and sign-off from key stakeholders in business operations, marketing, IT and security, finance, and legal and at least one executive stakeholder.
5. Submit your response to the client.
Before the due date specified in the RFP, submit your response to the client.
RFP response best practices
The tips below can help you write effective RFP responses that clearly demonstrate why your organization is the best fit for prospective clients.
- Follow the client’s instructions: Make sure you respond to all required questions and follow the submission instructions specified in the RFP. Instructions might dictate the length and format of your RFP response, when it should be submitted, and more.
- Focus on the client’s needs: Every section of your RFP response should be dedicated to proving how your organization can meet the client’s needs. Make sure to continually reference the RFP and requirements outlined in that document when writing your response.
- Tailor your responses to the client: While you can repurpose answers from previous RFP responses, you should take the time to tailor the response to the unique client and requirements of their RFP. For example, you can customize your company’s boilerplate messaging to mention the client specifically. Say Secureframe was responding to an RFP. Instead of saying, “Our company can help companies of all sizes achieve and maintain compliance with rigorous global standards,” we might say “Our company can help ABC Company achieve and maintain SOC 2 compliance.”
- Be specific: Be as specific as possible in your RFP response. After reading your response, the client should understand what tasks you are able to complete, how you plan to complete them, by what date, and with what budget.
- Include visuals: When possible, use visuals like charts and graphs to make your response more engaging and memorable.
- Use a template: Instead of starting from scratch, use an RFP response template to help speed up your drafting process.
- Automate your RFP response process: Automation can significantly speed up the RFP response process by suggesting answers based on previously answered RFPs, enabling you to assign subject matter experts to individual questions, and keeping an up-to-date knowledge base of previous responses.
RFP response template
Download this free RFP response template to get a better understanding of what prospective clients might ask when trying to evaluate vendors and how you should answer. This can help you respond to RFPs faster and easier and increase your chances of winning these bids.
RFP response software
Responding to RFPs is an important part of winning opportunities with new organizations, but it can eat up valuable time and resources for startups and large enterprises.
Some questions are the same from customer to customer and require you to repeat yourself or track down previous responses. Some questions vary from customer to customer with no standardized format, set, or order of questions, which means you need to bring in subject matter experts to answer or update previous answers.
RFP response software can help automate the process.
You won’t have to spend hundreds of hours of manual work assigning incoming RFP questions to subject matter experts, combing through documents and folders to find previous responses to RFPs, and then copying and pasting them into the new proposal.
Instead, RFP software like Secureframe Questionnaire Automation and Knowledge Base can:
- suggest responses based on previously answered RFPs using AI and machine learning
- store previous responses in a knowledge base, which you can access to auto-populate future questionnaires
- automatically update answers in the knowledge base as new responses to RFPs are finalized
- allow you to assign subject matter experts to edit answers in an RFP response or knowledge base
- enable you to export the completed proposal to the original format to send back to your prospective client
That means you’ll get time back to focus on other high priorities and reduce the likelihood of losing opportunities to other bidders who respond faster.
Speed up the RFP response process with AI
We built Secureframe Questionnaire Automation and Knowledge Base to make it fast and easy to respond to RFPs using AI.
Customers simply upload an RFP or security questionnaire to Secureframe, verify Secureframe’s suggested answers from the Secureframe Knowledge Base, and export the completed document to the original format and send it back to their customer.
Schedule a demo of Secureframe Trust to see Secureframe Questionnaire Automation and Knowledge Base in action.
Use trust to accelerate growth
How do you write a response to an RFP?
- Read the RFP Carefully: Understand every requirement and question in the RFP. Pay attention to the details about the scope of work, deliverables, timelines, and evaluation criteria.
- Understand the Client's Needs: Understand their industry, challenges, values, and what they are likely looking for in a vendor. Tailor your response to align with their needs and goals.
- Assemble the Right Team: Ensure that the people who are knowledgeable about the topics addressed in the RFP are involved in preparing the response. This may include subject matter experts, project managers, finance professionals, and legal counsel.
- Outline Your Response: Start with an outline that maps your response directly to the requirements in the RFP. Make sure to cover all the points and questions raised in the RFP document.
- Develop a Compelling Executive Summary: This is often the first section read, so make it engaging and concise. Summarize your key value propositions and how they align with the client's needs.
- Address the Requirements: Clearly and thoroughly respond to each requirement in the RFP. Be specific about your capabilities, experience, and approach to meeting these requirements.
- Highlight Your Differentiators: What sets you apart from your competitors? This could be your expertise, unique methodology, innovative solutions, superior customer service, or any other factors that give you an edge.
- Provide Concrete Examples: Use case studies, client testimonials, or specific project examples to demonstrate your experience and success in similar projects or challenges.
- Be Clear and Concise: Avoid jargon and overly technical language unless it is industry-appropriate and necessary. Make your proposal easy to read and understand.
- Price Competitively: Provide a pricing structure that is competitive and clear. Ensure that your pricing model aligns with what's requested in the RFP (e.g., fixed cost, time and materials, etc.).
- Review and Edit: Proofread your proposal for any errors. A well-written, error-free proposal reflects your professionalism and attention to detail.
- Follow Submission Guidelines: Adhere to the format, length, and other submission guidelines outlined in the RFP. Submit your proposal on time and in the correct format.
- Follow-Up: After submitting your proposal, it’s often beneficial to follow up with the client to confirm receipt and offer to answer any further questions they might have.
Remember, each RFP is unique, and your response should be tailored to the specific requirements and context of the RFP. The goal is to demonstrate that your organization understands the client's needs and is the best choice to fulfill them.
How long should RFP responses be?
The length of an RFP (Request for Proposal) response can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the complexity of the project, the requirements outlined in the RFP, and the industry norms. There's no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some guidelines to consider:
- Follow the RFP Guidelines: If the RFP specifies a page limit or word count, adhere to it strictly. Failure to comply with submission guidelines can sometimes lead to your proposal being disqualified or perceived negatively.
- Complexity of the Project: More complex projects often require more detailed proposals. If the project involves multiple components, such as software development, implementation, training, and ongoing support, your response will need to be comprehensive enough to cover all these aspects.
- Depth of Information Required: The RFP may ask for detailed information on your company's background, case studies, technical methodologies, or project management approaches. Ensure that you provide enough detail to thoroughly answer each question and demonstrate your capability, but avoid unnecessary filler.
- Clarity and Conciseness: While it's important to be thorough, clarity and conciseness are key. Avoid overly long, verbose responses that can make it difficult for the evaluator to find the information they need. Focus on being direct and to the point.
- Industry Standards: Different industries may have varying expectations for RFP response length. For example, a government contract RFP might expect more detailed and lengthy responses compared to a private sector small business RFP.
- Executive Summary: Even if your response is lengthy, having a clear and concise executive summary at the beginning can be very helpful. This section should be a high-level overview of your key value propositions and how you intend to meet the client's needs.
- Appendices and Supporting Documents: If you have extensive supporting information, such as detailed technical specifications, case studies, or team member resumes, consider including these as appendices to keep the main body of your proposal more concise.
As a general rule, your response should be as long as necessary to fully answer the questions posed in the RFP and to provide a convincing case for your company's selection, but no longer. Overly lengthy proposals can be time-consuming to review and may dilute the impact of your key messages. Always prioritize quality and relevance of content over volume.