I love RFPs – I hate RFPs. I love them because they mean I’m competing for qualified business and new customers/money are on the line. I hate them because they are a pain in the a$$ to do. Fortunately, there are ways to make them easier to process. Here are some best practices on how to respond to an extensive RFP. This post deals primarily with the process for getting the RFP done. I don’t get into the content or strategy for the actual response.
- Receive the RFP - The prospect will usually email the RFP to you. It typically takes the form of a Word or Excel document. Some have web tools but these are rare. Instead of just forwarding the email to the 10 people on your team who usually help you, upload the file to a collaboration solution like Chatter and create a group for it. There are many benefits for doing this:
- Archive the RFP as a master document
- Make it easy for people to find it in the future
- Link to it as you complete other activities
- Plan the work – Don’t just dive in and start answering questions. Treat it like a mini-project. Read it thoroughly and figure out who the best person is to respond to the different questions. In some cases, you may do the entire thing and this step is either very fast or irrelevant. In other cases, you may have upwards of 10 people who are responsible for contributing. Once you’ve come up with your plan, document it and communicate it in your group. This allows people who are working on the RFP to know their assignments clearly and will serve as the place to add status updates on progress. Have them update the group as they complete their work so everyone is on the same page, literally.
- Create a template – Instead of 1) sending out the document, 2) asking people to fill in certain portions, and 3) pasting them all together, you should create a template using a Google doc or some other online document. This allows you to track progress more effectively, eliminates issues with version control or people overwriting each other or hand offs, and makes it very easy for your contributors to work. They don’t need any software, just a browser.
- Review the RFP sections – It is crucial for one person to own the final RFP and complete an edit. If you are like us, we have multiple people writing copy for the document. Each person has different writing styles and phrases. It is best for one person to do a final sweep through the entire document to make minor edits and ensure the voice, style and demeanor of the document is consistent.
- Send it to the prospect – There are two ways of doing this. The first, and most common, way is to take the content out of the Google doc and paste it into the original RFP document (make sure to save it as a different version for future reference). One trick I’ve learned is to use a Notepad editor to strip out any HTML tags that come with a normal paste. This keeps the final document neat and retains its formatting. The second way is to share the Google doc with the client so they can collaborate with you in real-time. This way, they can ask questions or get clarification in the actual document and your team can see their feedback. Trust me, the prospect will be impressed with your professionalism and technical saavy.
For one page RFPs, this process may be overkill and unnecessary. For long multi-section documents, this is absolutely critical for processing the RFP quickly with a high degree of quality. The added benefit of following this process is the work is captured and searchable when the next RFP rolls in.