3 Tips from an Expert RFP Response Writer

How do you improve RFP responses?

The key to improving your RFP responses is to attract the right vendors in the first place. In order to do that, you need to think like a vendor and their team of RFP collaborators.

I worked as an RFP response writer, from the vendor side, for many years. Many aspects of the job I loved — the competition, the creativity, the collaboration.

Other aspects of responding to RFPs I did not enjoy — many of which were attributed to poorly created RFPs.

I worked for two separate architectural firms during that period. Both are highly respected and at the top of their game. And, like most of their peers, responding to RFPs is a standard part of business development (in fact, the marketing departments for both studios were almost entirely dedicated to RFP responses).

Every year, we saw several really amazing RFPs (typically for projects of the high-profile and big-budget kind).

But, for every great RFP, we also saw many poorly crafted RFPs. The type of RFP that made the high business cost of bidding, a questionable practice.

Responding to most RFPs is an exhausting affair

Responding to most RFPs is an exhausting affair (RFP response fatigue is very real). The hours are long (all-nighters are common around deadlines) and the investment and risk are high (most RFPs by nature do not guarantee an ROI). Coupled with a poorly constructed RFP, the process can be excruciating.

How do you get the right RFP vendor to respond?

As a client issuing RFPs you may be asking, why should I care about what vendors think of my RFPs? As long as my RFPs help me find the vendor I need, that’s all that matters, right?

The thing is, subpar efforts produce subpar results. In other words, that so-so RFP may be getting you responses, but it might not be getting you the responses you need to make the best decision for your project and organization.

So, you ask, what makes a poorly crafted RFP? Or better yet, what should you do to improve your RFPs? Here are 3 practices I suggest to get the right RFP vendor to respond::

1. Clearly outline RFP objectives

RFPs shouldn’t require a decoder ring to understand. That said, poorly written objectives sections are common in RFPs (and probably one of my bigger beef about responding to RFPs that fall short).

Like dating, not knowing what you want, makes it extremely difficult to know whether we’re a good match. Can we as the vendor give you what you’re looking for? It’s hard to know if you aren’t specific about what you’re looking for in the first place.

Clear objectives help respondents present their best (and most relevant) RFP responses and will give you a richer selection of responses.

2. Do not copy and paste from previous RFPs

I saw this a lot (particularly from government bodies). While the practice works for generic sections (such as asking about a business’ background), all too often we encountered recycled requirements that had nothing to do with the RFP at hand.

This naturally would lead my team (and our peers) to ask for clarification during the question round to which the issuing company would respond by either editing or omitting the question. All a costly waste of time that could have been avoided if the recycled content was skipped in the first place.

Limit lengthy RFP responses

3. Limit lengthy RFP responses

Some projects, particularly complex ones warrant lengthy responses (speaking of RFP response exhaustion, I’ve worked on several that climbed towards the 500-page mark).

But for a good percentage, I’m willing to wager that extensive responses are unnecessary. In fact, there’s a good chance they’re slowing down the process for both sides — adding costly time to both the response compilation and review process.

My suggestion is to take a judicious course of action towards the types of questions and requirements being allowed into your RFP. Are multi-paragraph responses useful when a multiple-choice answer would suffice?

At the end of the day, everything asked should add value and make your selection process easier. Stick to this rule and you will start getting the responses you’re looking for.

Want to learn more about finding the perfect vendors? Read our blog “How to attract the right RFP vendors to your RFP”.