We have written extensively how to create a detailed RFP, tackling all the questions about how to write it and what it should contain. We shared insights into what an RFP is, its importance and where it fits in the world of business, marketing and design.
And now, we discuss another integral part of the RFP process – the response. However, unlike drafting an RFP which is done by the organization looking to procure a vendor, this is an undertaking for the potential service supplier.
Going beyond the RFP meaning and RFP process, in this article, we’re switching gears and telling agencies how to write the perfect RFP response that will help them secure more clients.
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What is an RFP Response?
An RFP response is a service vendor’s answer to the questions the prospective buyer – a company looking to procure services or solutions – has posed in the RFP document.
A compelling answer and a set of arguments in the RFP response are necessary to persuade the procuring company that a vendor has the means and knowledge to fill in the gap and provide the required services.
After evaluating all accepted RFP proposals, procurement can then decide on the selected service provider.
An RFP response is a standard part of replying to:
How to Write an RFP Response
The actual content of the RFP response will depend on your agency’s expertise and the potential client’s market and requirements. However, all RFP responses can boil down to the bare essentials that follow in this section.
1. Cover Page
A request for proposal response should begin with a well-designed cover page. Since companies will be inundated with these responses, you would want yours to stand out.
On the cover page of an RFP proposal, include their logo as well as your own, to initiate the idea that this response is specifically crafted for that particular company. Utilize a pleasing design, layout and color scheme to appeal to the company and separate yourself from the competition.
Finally, ensure that the company information is correct and that you refer to the company correctly. Take note of unique capitalization or spacing in creative company names.
2. Table of Contents
Including a clear, easy-to-follow table of contents at the beginning of your RFP response document will make it easier for companies to find and review specific parts of the proposal.
Instead of scrolling down or going through each page, they can find exactly what they want to look at simply by skimming through the table of contents. This hugely improves the organization team’s user experience, which is a great impression to make at the beginning of your potential business partnership.
3. Executive Summary
This should not be mistaken with an RFP response cover letter.
An executive summary is where you should sum up your prospective client’s requirements. It is a quick reminder about the project parameters and its purpose is to show the client that you fully understand what they need.
Make sure you echo and align with all of the client’s requirements from their request for proposal document.
4. Client Overview
This particular section should prove that you understand the potential client’s business model and can identify their pain points that need solving.
It should focus on the client’s:
- Business model analysis
- Target audience
- Key differences in the market and their unique selling proposition
You should pay extra attention to accurately describing their demographic to show that you understand their brand and who they’re targeting.
5. Your Company Overview
This is where the focus of your RFP response shifts from the client to you. Feel free to take several pages or slides to talk about your agency, team, expertise, company culture and other relevant aspects that a client should know about.
At this stage, during which you can also discuss why you think your team will be a good fit, include the following items:
- Talk about who you are, what your brand mission and values are
- Mention what makes you different (your unique value proposition)
- Provide insights and examples of your work, including awards and portfolio links
- Outline your team’s structure
- Highlight your agency's area of expertise that aligns with their specific needs
6. Project Ideas
Arguably the most important part of the response is where you present your specific ideas and solutions to the requirement(s) stated in the client’s RFP document.
Remember that prospective clients are looking for actionable, creative campaign ideas rooted in research. They want the “how” — how you can help them increase the traffic, encourage customers to convert, create a more optimized platform, etc.
Provide very specific, step-by-step ideas, mock design creatives and other ways that will convince the client that you are capable of providing them with a solution that they are looking for.
Clients will base the majority of their hiring decision on the ideas you can come up with. Your strategies will set you up for success, but your ingenuity has the power to wow clients and set you a league above your competitors.
7. Case Studies
Case studies are one of the most efficient trust-builders that show how you solve problems and surpass challenges. Nothing says more about your company’s capabilities than cold, hard results.
They are an effective way to showcase your skill and expertise. Data doesn’t lie and with carefully prepared case studies, you can show how you’ve helped transform other businesses in the past.
Especially in the case of B2B models — 55% of B2B chief officers think that case studies effectively help drive conversion rates and sales.
Therefore, a section dedicated to all the details of your specific records, including the creative ideas you used, tactics employed and results achieved, are mandatory in your RFP response.
8. Timelines and Milestones
The better you segment your activities and explain your journey towards reaching the client’s goal, the more successful your RFP proposal response will be. Make sure to formulate these with precision because you don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver.
Add a clear timeline — what will the deliverable consist of and when will you submit it?
Clients that send out RFPs understand that some tasks take time, but they'll also award the project to an agency that has the tools, resources and manpower available to finish it on time.
Be realistic and specific about your capabilities. The more you leave room for doubt, the more questions a company may have and the harder it will be to land the project. But if you do win the account, it will be extremely challenging to hit your deadlines and markers just the same.
9. Project Cost
Determining your projected fees may be the most difficult part of your proposal. Agencies have to determine a price that will make it worth their while to take on a project without nickel-and-diming a client, and must take into account a lot of different costs that can add up.
However, you also need to price yourself competitively. Companies seldom disclose their total departmental budget, and you can easily quote something that is well above their means. Conversely, agencies can easily quote too low.
Pay special attention to developing your cost proposal. Calculate it well and fairly. Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t overshoot it. You have to be critical and deliberate to ensure that you provide a figure that hits the sweet spot, both for you and your potential client.
The appendix is a suitable place to offer further explanations of various terms and processes. Tie up loose ends, provide further context and clarity, define any terms you used throughout the proposal and close your proposal on a powerful and impactful note.
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Understanding the RFP Response Process
Now that we have gone through the essentials, let’s address the finer points of writing an RFP response. In order to understand how to create the best response to an RFP, you need to first understand the entire RFP process.
Before you even get involved, a company creates a request for proposal outlining the project, budget, objectives and the information they would like to see in responses, then sends it out to various vendors and contractors.
Agencies interested in working on the project will then create a personalized proposal, specific to the potential client, project and requested information and submit that response by the due date.
Companies will then review the proposals, narrow down the candidates, shortlist the best proposals, and begin engaging with possible agencies to see if they will be a strong fit for the project at hand. This is also the time when the shortlisted responders can ask additional questions to hone their proposed strategy further.
If you've made it to this stage, be mindful of the questions you ask your prospective clients, as this is still a crucial aspect of the selection process. Just like any job interview, companies will judge you based on your questions — and you don’t want to come to the table unprepared. If you ask the right questions, you can further demonstrate your skills and professional perception.
Prepare like you would for a standard job interview. Outline several specific and general questions that the company will use to get a better understanding of who you are and what you’re capable of. These will also help you better understand the scope of the project and what the clients are looking for.
After discussing the project and proposal, the shortlisted candidate will likely be asked to check their proposal and send a final version, upon which the company will select the bidder that they think is the best fit.
How Long Does The RFP Proposal Selection Take?
The selection process can take anywhere from days or weeks to months. Unfortunately, there isn’t a set amount of time for companies to choose a final proposal, so waiting for the results can be a tedious task.
It’s safe to say that a smaller, agile business with a problem that needs a fast solution will be quicker to select an RFP winner.
However, large corporations and enterprises are much harder to pin down because there are usually a lot of people who have to come to a mutual decision. Then, each decision needs to be checked off by several professionals at a variety of levels.
Most requests for proposals will include general due dates for submissions and that may also include dates by which the client will reach out to continue the conversation if they so choose. This information can help give you a general timeline.
How Can You Start Receiving Requests For Proposals?
There are several ways to land RFPs.
The first step (and the most convenient one) is to already be shortlisted so that companies sending RFPs can find you. However, this is often contingent on already-existing brand identity and great reputation, which many new agencies may not have just yet.
You can also find B2B Marketplaces like DesignRush and join their lists. For instance, companies listed at the top of our category rankings receive over 30 requests for proposals each month from various businesses with budgets ranging from $25k to over $250k.
Finally, you can start receiving RFPs by networking and meeting new potential clients. The more businesses know your name, skill set and your availability for new work, the more likely they will be to send an RFP your way.
How to Improve Your RFP Response
The most effective RFP responses open opportunities for future collaboration and empower you to define the project's tiniest details. Here are some ways you can draft a winning RFP proposal response.
Don’t give out all the details: Although you are trying to gain a client and you naturally want to impress them, you shouldn't give them all the answers enough for them to do it all themselves. Show results backed by case studies and craft example campaigns and creatives, but feel free to hold a few details to yourself.
Answer questions and provide insights: The best way to surpass the competition is to provide answers to questions the client didn’t even know they had. This builds your authority and shows that you’re truly grasping all aspects of their organization, business objectives and the bigger picture.
Identify possible problems and create contingency plans: Make sure to pay extra attention to the delivery issues, unrealistic expectations and items that will require additional outsourcing. Cross-reference the client’s information in their RFP. If you find inconsistencies or unclear assignments, add them to the list of questions that you will submit during the RFP Q&A.
Create a template: You need to create a well-written and researched template that will let you automate the RFP response process. You don’t need to write new responses all over again for the parts that don’t change, but you need to make sure there is room for growth and flexibility.
The Benefits of Writing a Good Response to RFP
Outside of potentially getting an influx of work, there’s a lot you can gain from stellar RFP response writing skills.
Future Employment Potential
Apart from landing the client for a project in the short term, if all goes well, one RFP win can bring you a lot of work in the future. Companies will often test contractors by offering them smaller jobs at first in order to cut possible losses if they aren’t happy with the results.
Therefore, securing a project and executing it well is a great way to secure repeat business and maybe even a life-long client. Think of it this way — it’s way easier to expand an existing contract than to go through the process of sending out new proposals and reviewing additional bids.
A great RFP gets your foot in the door and opens up a world of possibilities going forward.
Improved Negotiation Skills
Negotiation skills are one of the most valuable skill sets to have when discussing a potential business relationship. And the more you do it, the better you’ll become.
There’s no better way to learn more about how clients think in a specific niche or industry than by going through a couple of RFP negotiations. Even if you aren’t successful at first, you’re gathering knowledge and experience for later.
Creating A Streamlined Process
Crafting a couple of responses will make the process easier over time. For example, your first RFP response might take you days, but the fifth will just take a portion of your time.
Although you can’t really streamline the research and information exploration you’re conducting, you’ll know where to look next time.
Continued Experience & Continued Learning
You can’t win every RFP, but you can learn from each one. You can even ask the companies for their honest feedback so that you can work on your response going forward.
Then, slowly but surely, you’ll learn to recognize what’s important to potential clients and what to focus on when crafting your next RFP response.
Curating Your Offer
As you complete RFP responses, you'll discover how to present your value in the best possible way.
Perhaps you have to change your overall offer and make it more appealing to clients. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change your business model, just your presentation.
Once you get into the swing of things, you’ll learn to craft proposals that will demonstrate your skills and knowledge, which is an important step to winning a bid.
RFP Response Takeaways
A request for proposal response is a document that can provide major gains for you and your company — as long as you put in the necessary time, research and effort.
To write the most effective proposal, read the request for proposal carefully, then set up an intricate response that will stand out from the competitors.
In your proposal creation, follow the tips above, take your time and have patience. Good luck!
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