Every year, private organizations and government agencies award millions of dollars of business to vendors using the RFP process. Consequently, responding to RFPs is a great way to increase sales. However, before you can do that, you have to know how to find RFPs.
In this post, I’ll explore the differences between several types of RFPs. In addition, I’ll share where and how to find RFPs of all types. Finally, I’ll offer tips for winning more RFPs, so when you find them, you’ll know exactly what to do.
Key RFP definitions and types
Before we get into where to find RFPs, it’s important to start with the basics. So, let’s explore the RFP meaning and answer a few questions about RFPs. Then, we’ll go over several common types of RFPs you may encounter.
What is an RFP?
RFP stands for request for proposal. A request for proposal is a document soliciting information from potential vendors. The RFP includes a collection of questions that help buyers compare and select the best supplier for any given project.
Why do companies use RFPs?
RFPs organize complex procurement projects and improve objectivity in supplier selection. In addition, the detailed nature of the process reduces vendor risk.
Many private companies require bids from at least three potential suppliers before they can move forward with a purchase. Likewise, government agencies are required to issue RFPs to ensure that contracts are awarded and tax dollars are spent in a fair and transparent way.
Who issues RFPs?
Almost every type of organization uses RFPs as a part of their procurement strategy. For example, RFPs are commonly issued by private companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies.
Explore more procurement and proposal definitions — download our free RFx Glossary.
Types of RFPs
Open or public RFPs
An open RFP, sometimes called a public RFP, is available for any qualified vendor to respond to. Generally, these RFPs appear on the RFP issuer’s website and can be downloaded for response. While some private organizations may occasionally take this approach, most often, government agencies issue open RFPs.
Government agencies create the most open or public RFPs. Federal, state or city agencies use the RFP process for most of their procurement needs. As mentioned above, procurement in the public sector is subject to complex regulation. Indeed, RFP regulations ensure a fair, open, objective and transparent vendor selection.
Government RFPs typically prioritize price over most other factors. The RFP document contains a lot of information and includes rules, contract terms and conditions. Consequently, they are often the longest kind of RFP. In fact, public sector RFPs average around 116 pages.
It is also important to note that public-sector RFPs often require a particular format. For instance, an RFP may specify that responses must be in a table format, use 12 point Times New Roman font, be printed and have hard copies submitted. For some businesses, the time-consuming nature and high competition of these RFP opportunities make them less appealing.
Many organizations use closed RFPs, sometimes called invitation-only RFPs, to compare and select vendors. In this kind of RFP process, the issuing organization or consultant conducts market research, chooses a select group of vendors and privately issues the RFP to them, inviting them to submit a proposal. The small group of vendors may be selected based on data collected from a request for information (RFI), a request for qualifications (RFQ), reputation, area of expertise or experience.
Business and nonprofit RFPs
Corporations, companies of all sizes and nonprofit organizations regularly issue RFPs for almost all goods or services you can imagine. They use them to evaluate new vendors and to verify they’re getting the best price from their existing vendors. Closed RFPs usually focus less on price. Instead, buyers seek vendors who can become partners, are the most qualified or deliver the best value.
Because most corporations and nonprofit organizations are private, they aren’t subject to regulation. Therefore, they often choose to create closed RFPs. Generally, it is simply a matter of efficiency.
Open RFPs may receive dozens of responses. Unfortunately, a good portion of the proposals received are unqualified. But, the procurement team still has to read each one to know which vendors might be a good fit. Consequently, RFP evaluation takes weeks or even months to complete. By using a closed RFP, private organizations speed up the RFP timeline significantly.
Consultant- or broker-managed RFPs
When high-stakes, specialty procurement projects arise, many businesses engage with a consultant or broker. The consultant is an expert in a particular industry or type of procurement. So, they manage the RFP process on behalf of their client. For example, a business may seek out a consultant to help with a complex procurement project for a new IT network, employee benefits or company insurance. Because consultants and brokers have a deep understanding of their niche market, they tend to issue closed RFPs to select vendors who are the best fit for their client.
First, they work with stakeholders to gather requirements and provide expert advice. Then, they create the RFP, select which vendors to invite and manage communications. Finally, they evaluate the responses and provide recommendations to the client.
How to find RFPs
Now that we’ve covered key definitions as well as the types of RFPs you can respond to, let’s explore how to find RFPs for each category. Finding open RFPs is simply a matter of knowing where to look. On the other hand, being included in closed RFPs takes a little more work.
Two ways to find open RFPs
There are two main approaches to locating open RFPs. You can look for RFPs manually or subscribe to an RFP database.
Searching for RFPs manually
A manual search for RFPs requires practice and research, but it’s the most cost-effective way to find new opportunities.
Google search for government RFPs
Because government organizations are required to make their RFPs public, they post them on their websites or in a searchable portal. You can quickly and easily find almost any state or local procurement page or portal with a simple Google search. When you search, remember that each state may use different terminology. For example, try searching by the state or municipality name plus contracts, procurement, RFPs, invitations for bid (IFBs), or requests for tender (RFTs).
Finding open RFPs on social media
While less common, some organizations post their RFPs on social media. LinkedIn is the most popular social network for finding RFPs, but you will also see some on Twitter. Luckily, the search functionality on these networks makes RFPs easy to find. Simply search your industry and ‘RFP’ to browse through the results and find the latest open opportunities.
Use an RFP database
If you want to implement an RFP strategy to grow your business as quickly as possible, an RFP database may be worth the cost. There are a number of sites that scour government and business websites and collect RFP information. Then, they place the relevant information into a searchable database. This allows you to quickly sift through hundreds of RFPs and find the opportunities that are the best fit. Most are subscription based and cost anywhere from $10-50 per month.
Best RFP databases
There is a lot of overlap between RFP services, so it’s important to do your research and pick the best RFP database for your business. Consider how often the database is updated, if they regularly have RFPs that align with your business and if they will send you automatic email notifications based on your needs.
How to be included in closed RFPs
Becoming a selected vendor in corporate RFPs is all about getting your company’s information to the right people. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but here are two that I’ve found to be most effective.
How to receive more corporate RFPs
If you want to be included in RFPs from private organizations, the first step is to make sure they know who you are. Unlike using capture management, which proactively pursues known upcoming RFPs from specific targeted companies, being included in unknown future RFPs may be as simple as raising your hand.
Register as a supplier or complete a vendor profile
Many large organizations accept vendor applications online. The process has different names including supplier registration, a vendor form or a vendor profile. If you know you’re a fit for a specific company, check their website for one of these forms.
If you can’t find the information online, consider calling their procurement department to ask how to be considered for future RFPs. This is particularly useful if your business has diversity certifications and can help the buyer meet their internal objectives.
Examples vendor registration pages
How to get on a broker or consultant’s radar
There are brokers and consultants that use RFPs to serve a wide range of industries. In fact, you likely already know who they are within your sector. But, the real question is, do they know who you are? Procurement consultants want to deliver the best results to their client, so if you can provide value, introduce yourself.
When you do reach out, be brief. Send an introductory email with a few lines about how you serve their client base and what sets you apart. Then, ask about their vendor onboarding process and if there’s a vendor profile they use to track available suppliers. If you don’t get a response in a week or so, follow up and attach a short vendor profile of your own.
Once you connect with someone, follow up with them from time to time to stay top of mind. Remember, be genuine and provide helpful information. If you can build a relationship with a broker or consultancy firm, they are more likely to trust you, include you in RFPs and provide insights about customer trends.
5 tips for winning more RFPs
1. Make sure you’re qualified
Pay close attention to the requirements and evaluation criteria and prioritize your efforts. It’s easy to get caught up in answering as many RFPs as possible. However, if your chances to win are low, dedicating time and attention to creating a proposal is probably not worth the time. When you find RFP opportunities, ensure they pass your to bid or not to bid criteria. Responding to too many RFPs with fast proposals will impact your win rate and tax your proposal team resources.
2. Research your prospect
Learn as much as you can about the buyer. With more background and context, you’ll be able to better address the buyer’s needs and goals. If you’re responding to a government RFP, look for a previous proposal that won the contract. Just like RFPs are public, often the responses from each vendor are as well.
3. Pay attention to the instructions
Carefully read the instructions before beginning your RFP response. This is particularly important when you respond to government RFPs. If your proposal isn’t delivered as specified or doesn’t meet the submission criteria, they may not read past the first page. Instead the procurement manager may just throw all of your hard work out.
4. Ask questions
RFPs are complex, and unfortunately, some questions aren’t always clear. Instead of guessing at what the buyer meant, ask them. Even if the RFP timeline doesn’t provide a vendor question period, send the inquiry. Not only will it help you get insight, but it also shows the buyer you’re invested in understanding their business and being a partner.
5. Make sure your messaging hits the mark
Make your responses customer-centric and provide specific benefits. Address their primary needs and convey your understanding of their goals. Finally, when using your proposal knowledge library or RFP software to create quick responses, don’t forget to tailor your answers to the buyer.
Additional resources for better RFP Responses
Want more information about how to win business with RFPs? Check out these resources: