The Truth About RFP Response Writing | Part I

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If we’re being honest, request for proposal (RFP) response writing isn’t fun for most of us. RFPs are long, complex documents filled with requirements, terms and conditions. If you want to fully understand the RFP and make sense of what it is asking for, you have to devote a lot of time and an even greater amount of patience. Still, this is one of the most critical aspects of the public sector sales process. To help you navigate it smoothly and effectively, here are some answers to frequently asked questions as well as tips for success.

Who Should Write an RFP Response?

In some companies, there are response writing teams made up of folks whose job it is to review RFPs and craft responses. Smaller companies may not be so fortunate. The business owner may have to write the response herself, or a small group of employees who are told to write the response might begrudgingly step up to the plate. In all my years, I’ve never met anyone who willingly asked to write a RFP response!

How Important are RFP Responses? 

While most of us roll our eyes when it comes to writing and reviewing an RFP response, it’s an essential part of the process. Contracts are won and lost by how a company responds. It doesn’t matter how many meetings you’ve had with officials, who you know or how heavily you may have influenced the solicitation process. A response is a response. At the end of the day, you are judged on what is within the four corners of that document.

Who Will Read Your Response?

One of the most important considerations is putting yourself in the shoes of who will be reading your response, but many people mistakenly believe the officials they’ve already spoken to will be the ones to read what they submit. This is especially the mindset when you’ve had meetings, webinars and maybe even a demo or pilot with a particular person. Current contractors that have experience with a particular government agency can also fall into the same trap, thinking the people reading their response will easily understand what they’re trying to communicate.

The problem with this reasoning is that it’s often wrong. In fact, the people reading your response are typically a diverse group from various areas within the agency, who are likely to have never interacted with you at all. You don’t know who these folks are when you are writing your response because their identities are confidential under the procurement policies.

Even if you might be able to guess who some of them are, I am willing to bet that in all of your meetings to prepare for the release of this RFP, you haven’t met with every member of that committee. Notably, the agency director is not on the evaluation team. Neither are the legislators or the governor. All of those folks will be able to have input once the RFP responses have been scored.

Keep Your Audience’s Needs in Mind 

Given the makeup of the group reading your response outlined above, your audience is sure to be varied. Still, there are some common denominators among each member. First, they’re all people who probably haven’t met you personally and don’t yet understand how you are the only one that can solve the problem at hand. Second, they all have full-time jobs. They are reading your response (and all the other responses) because they have been asked to help. It’s above and beyond their full-time job duties and results in no additional compensation.

Now that you know this, you can appreciate how valuable their time is. You can also imagine what it would feel like if your boss said, in addition to your current workload, to please read six separate 300-page documents and score them to identify a winner. And, you can’t pick up the phone and call the company if you don’t understand something in the response. Not exactly a cake walk, right?

Now that you’re viewing your RFP response through your readers’ point-of-view, it’s time to think about how you can hold their interest and make their lives a little easier. Have any ideas? I do.

In my next blog, I’ll be sharing exactly what you need to do to maximize your RFP response and get the best audience reception possible. Stay tuned for that! And in the meantime, please reach out if you’d like to request a consultation.  

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