Podcast: Writing Better RFP Responses

Listen as Debbie Davy, a senior IEEE member and documentation solution leader for DK Consultants, tells you five ways to write betterRFP responses, as well as two ways of quantitatively measuring RFP success. [Script Available]


Podcast Script

Hello. This is Debbie Davy of the IEEE Professional Communication Society. Over the next 5 minutes, I’ll share 5 tips with you for writing better RFP responses and discuss 2 ways of quantitatively measuring RFP success.

RFP responses are replies to formal requests for goods and services, and are often used by companies to win business. As technical communicators, we can help companies win business by writing effective RFP responses that leverage our communication skills, expertise with rhetoric, and understanding of user requirements. A good RFP response has a better chance of winning business and positioning the company as the best solution provider. What is a good RFP response is determined by the company’s strategic direction.

Here are 5 tips that can help you develop a good RFP response.

Tip #1 – Develop an accurate and easy to use table of contents.

It is important to understand what is being asked. An accurate table of contents developed from your careful reading of the RFP will demonstrate to the RFP requestor that you understand what is needed. Your table of contents needs to exactly match the order of the questions in the RFP, as sections of your proposal may be evaluated by different evaluators and may need to be shared. Focus on making information easy to find for the evaluators as your main goal in developing the table of contents.

Some RFPs will tell you how to structure your table of contents. These are the easy ones. Other RFPs will provide information in several places and you will have to intuit what the evaluators, your users, want. These are the harder ones, as you will need to leverage the technical communication core competencies of audience analysis, information design, and clear communication.

Tip #2 – Address all mandatory requirements.

Mandatory requirements are sections that you must answer or your RFP response may be disqualified. They are there to help the evaluators assess your proposal fairly against other RFP responses, and to provide a consistent and transparent framework so that everyone’s response can be evaluated in the same way. It is important that you address all of the mandatory requirements. Make sure you have identified all of them, as these are often located in various sections of the RFP, not just in the section labelled “Mandatory Requirements”.

Tip #3 – Use a checklist to track information.

You can develop a checklist from your table of contents to track the information for the RFP. Various software tools, such as spreadsheets, work well. A good idea is to assign someone to manage the flow of information as the RFP response is developed. Information you may want to track includes the RFP section reference, the person who is responsible for providing the information, the internal deadline for providing the information, and the structure of any strategic messages.

Tip #4 – Follow instructions and answer the questions.

It is important to follow the instructions of the RFP. For example, if you are instructed to provide your RFP response in 20 pages, do so — additional pages may be disregarded by the evaluators or the RFP response may be thrown out of the bidding process. It is the RFP requestor that sets the rules for bidding, and we need to follow their rules to get their business.

Tip #5 – Be aware of rated requirements.

RFP evaluators give more value to certain sections over others, and usually tell you in the RFP what these are. In public and broader public sector RFPs, rated requirements are clearly stated. In private sector RFPs, you may need to “read between the lines” or use market intelligence sources to discover these.

It is important to know the value that is placed on a particular response so that you know how much effort to devote to your answer. For example if your company description is rated at 10 points out of 100 and your proposed work plan is rated at 90 points out of 100, then the work plan is the most important information the RFP requestor is looking for and deserves most of your attention.

Here are two ratios that you can use to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of your RFP responses.

Win Rate Ratio

The first is the win rate ratio; that is, the ratio of RFPs won to RFPs lost. Win rates are complex to track, because win rates can include many categories of data: was the RFP won or lost, did you decide not to bid, did the client cancel the RFP, or did the client postpone their decision. A higher win rate is an indicator that you are winning more of the small, less competitive competitions.

Capture Ratio

The second is the capture ratio; that is, the ratio of the value of RFPs won to RFPs lost. The capture ratio is a better measure of success because large dollar bids, which are likely to be more competitive, bring in more business for the company. A higher capture ratio is an indicator that you are winning more of the larger competitions.

At the end, the company’s strategic direction will determine which ratio, or combination of the two, is more valuable.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with one last thought about effective RFP responses. Do make sure that your answers focus on the RFP requestor and their needs. The rhetoric you use to answer the questions should not be ALL about your company; instead, your rhetoric should always be in support of the RFP requestor’s requirements.

You can make sure that YOU support the RFP requestor’s requirements by answering the “so what” question as you develop your answers. Ask yourself, so what do I offer that makes me different from my competitors? Why should I get the business?

Good luck, and happy RFP response development.