How to Write A Winning RFP (Request for Proposal) for Your B2B Venture
By Dorian Martin, Last updated: 2021-05-25 (originally published on 2019-11-04)
“I love writing RFPs!” Said no one, ever.
A well-thought-out Request for Proposal (RFP), that has the potential to get high-quality responses, takes a lot of time and effort to compose. So this task is pretty difficult for many. Let alone those who have limited experience with writing.
What Is A RFP?
The name “RFP” pretty much says it all. It’s a document that gets submitted to vendors in an effort to secure their bids and eventually choose the best one for a project. A RFP is one of the most common types of subcontracting documents used in B2B contracting to send to potential agencies and contractors.
Writing clear, detailed, and relevant content for an RFP is in your best interest. This document represents your company to potential partners. A well-written one is likely to get you interesting proposals and working partnerships. While a poorly written one won’t. On top of that, it can confuse bidders and undermine the reputation of your business.
The good news is that you don’t need to learn anything complex to create a superb RFP. To achieve this goal, one has to follow a clear structure and respect all of the elements of RFP style.
RFP Essentials: Process
Before we dive into actual writing tips, here’s how the RFP process starts. The person in charge of writing the document should be knowledgeable about the project in question. This is essential to provide vendors with everything they need to know, in as many details as possible.
This person should follow this process to ensure that the final version of RFP has the best potential to achieve its goals:
- Have a good understanding of the project’s needs and requirements. A person who has limited knowledge of the project shouldn’t be in charge of writing the RFP. So the first step is to ensure that he or she knows the most important things to communicate to the bidders. These typically include skill needs, goals, and deadlines.
- Write the RFP according to the accepted outline. Just like any other documents, an RFP needs to have a structure. This has to be followed to ensure logical information flow and provides all the details. Since every project is unique and has different needs, you can choose from numerous templates to find one that suits your requirements.
- Send the final version out. Just like sharing your resume, distributing a new RFP is something that requires consideration. While there’s no universal formula for this, it’s commonly advised not to send it out to a lot of companies. If you do, there’s a good chance that you might get an equal number of proposals. This could be overwhelming and cause you to fail in easily identifying the best way to go.
- Assess the replies. This is perhaps the most time-consuming part of the RFP process that requires all your attention. As you begin receiving responses, read them carefully. Then categorise them to identify the best ones. Clearly, a lot of factors are at play here – agreement terms, pricing, deadlines, to name a few – so engage your best talent to shortlist the options for you.
- Make the final decision. Selecting the vendor that can deliver on their promises marks the end of the RFP process.
Clarity of writing is the overarching theme here. Unclear RFPs typically cause minimal bids, extremely high bids, and incompatible bids, according to Computer World.
Also, regardless of how great your project and company are, you’re going to have to overcome a number of additional common barriers in the RFP process.
RFP Common Mistakes
One of the main goals of the RFP process is to help you find a partner that will guide you in the right direction with their expertise and skills. However, many companies make a mistake by making their request full of specific deliverables. This means that their content is problem-driven. This approach doesn’t really consider the expertise of your potential partners.
Another goal of the RFP is to start a working-business relationship, but many authors fail to consider this.
“As a result, they write extremely impersonal texts that get equally impersonal replies, says Zach Edelman, a senior writer from BestEssayEducation. “That’s why failing to describe the vision of your perfect partner is a sure-fire way to fail to find one.”
Okay, let’s move on to the actual writing tips now. Below, you’ll find the tips to write the best RFP for your B2B business (in no particular order).
How to Write A Great RFP
Be As Clear As Possible About Project Goals
The main goal here is to describe what you’d like to accomplish with the project. What are the things that, if achieved, will ensure success? For example, if the project involves creating a website, then you might ask yourself the following questions to come up with good goals:
- Who is the target audience of the website?
- How to make sure that the target audience can use the website to achieve their goals?
For example, B2B businesses often include customer testimonials and multimedia-rich case studies on the website to demonstrate their expertise and attract the attention of potential partners. In other words, it’s important to keep the user of the final product in mind and make sure that they can accomplish their goals with it.
Describing the goals of a project in a clear manner is a critical requirement here. Let’s suppose that the project involves creating a website for a small B2B business that plans to expand within a year by doubling the size of the current workforce.
Here are some examples of what I mean here:
Good goal: Increase the number of employees.
Better: Increase the workforce by 50 percent.
Even better: Increase the workforce by 50 percent, adding 8 more Lean Manufacturing experts by the end of Q4 of 2019.
Be Transparent About Your Team
“The last thing you want to do in your RFP is to give inaccurate information about your team and decision-makers,” shares Tonya Bledsoe, a content editor from Trust My Paper. “To build a working relationship with a new partner, you need them to understand that it’s going to be a partnership, not a dictatorship.”
So, describe your company, its vision and mission, and who is involved. There’s a good chance that the people who will be reading the RFP have never read about you. So it’s your job to let them know who you are and what makes your organisation unique.
Be Specific With Technical Requirements
This might easily be the longest section of the RFP document where you describe all limitations and requirements for the project. Let’s consider an example to show you what should be included here.
If the product you’re trying to describe is a website for a B2B company, then you have to list all relevant technical requirements that need to be met. Including but not limited to:
- Content management software like WordPress, Drupal, etc.
- E-commerce options. The company may require accepting online payments, so an SSL certificate should be considered to ensure security
- Web integrations. These depend on the company’s need to support third-party services like email marketing and inventory management tools
- Responsive design. With the recent Google’s mobile-first update, having a non-responsive website may affect the ranking of the website, therefore, a mobile-friendly, responsive design is a must.
Identify Timelines For Completion
These indicate the deadlines by which the project stakeholders should see progress. For example, timelines typically mark the completion of significant project phases such as planning, setting up, and implementing. If your project is quite complex and you’re not sure about what dates and timeframes to include, it’s totally okay to include approximate values. Or you can indicate that the deadlines are flexible.
You can ask the bidder to provide their own deadline estimation in their reply. But it’s still recommended to have a clear vision of how long each project part should take to be in charge of it.
Describe Selection Criteria
The bidders should know how you are going to assess their offers, so you have to briefly describe this process. For example, you can evaluate them based on the experience of the bidder, cost, and past work. So indicate this in your RFP in the form of a bullet list.
Summary: Clarity Is Paramount
The vendor’s first goal when reading your RFP is to understand it well enough to make an informed decision. That’s why they read the document fully and note any questions that they have about the project (and then forward it to you). It’s quite common for vendors to expect an unclear RFP. That’s why many of them put a lot of effort in understanding the essence of the project.
Therefore, making it easy for them is your most important goal. One good indicator of a well-written RFP is the length. You should try to make it as brief as possible to avoid wasting the time of vendors by giving them a lot of excessive, complex information to figure out.
It goes without saying that the clarity of your writing is a strong precursor for success. The more clearly you explain what you want, the more likely you are to achieve your goal.
Dorian Martin is a graduated Digital Marketing Specialist and an Editor at Grab My Essay and a content creator at Pick the Writer. He has dedicated his professional career to content creation and online marketing, fields in which he aims to develop through contributions to writing platforms such as WoWGrade. In his spare time, Dorian makes an effort to write for his personal blog, Not BusinessAsUsusal, and provide his readers with up-to-date insight into digital content trends.
This article does not constitute legal advice.
The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.