Developing a request for proposal (RFP) is a key business practice that allows buyers to identify the right vendor to solve their biggest challenges. But creating an effective RFP is no easy task. Fortunately, there are best practices you can follow to quickly write and RFP that help you accurately evaluate vendors’ capabilities.

5 Tips to Speed Up Your RFP Development and Preparation

1. Use a standard format

Fortunately, the RFP is not a new document. It has a long, rich history of use that you can draw from. And that means there are tons of standardized formats you can use to get started on the right foot.

For example, HubSpot recommends including these nine elements:

  1. “Background/Introduction.”
  2. “Project Goals and Scope of Services.”
  3. “Anticipated Selection Schedule.”
  4. “Time and Place of Submission of Proposals.”
  5. “Timeline.”
  6. “Elements of Proposal.”
  7. “Evaluation Criteria.”
  8. “Possible Roadblocks.”
  9. “Budget.”

Of course, not everyone agrees on exactly what should be included in an RFP. In the video below, Mark Wolters, teaching associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, suggests including 12 steps.

12 Elements To Include in RFPs:

  1. “The statement of purpose.”
  2. “Background information.”
  3. “Scope of work.”
  4. “Outcomes and performance standards.”
  5. “The deliverables.”
  6. “Terms and conditions.”
  7. “Payments, incentives, and penalties.”
  8. “Contractual terms and conditions.”
  9. “Requirements for proposal preparation.”
  10. “Evaluation and award process.”
  11. “Process schedule.”
  12. “Contacts.”

The point is that while there isn’t an ultimate RFP format that you should follow no matter what, there are common elements. Look at your specific needs and determine whether you want additional detail to make the right decision.

2. Take cues from successful templates and examples

If you read the tip above and thought, “That’s great, but I still don’t know what to write after I select an RFP format,” don’t fret. The internet is full of helpful RFP templates and examples that demonstrate how successful RFPs are written, structured, and presented.

Here are a few RFP templates to get you started.

And here are a couple of RFP examples if you’d like an even greater head-start.

3. Start with these standard questions

To draw the right responses from vendors, you have to ask the right questions.

Standard RFP questions include:

  • Is there a trial period? If you can sample the solution before making a purchase, you have a much better chance of making the right decision.
  • What’s the implementation plan? You need to know how long implementation will take, as well as who will be expected to do the bulk of the work. Will they hold your hand through this process or throw you to the wolves?
  • Can I speak with a current customer? If a vendor doesn’t have references that are willing to speak with you, that’s a red flag. Happy customers are usually willing to voice their support, and if a vendor can’t make their current customers happy, how will they make you happy?
  • How do you handle customer complaints? No matter how awesome the product or service a vendor offers, issues happen. Does the vendor have a strong customer service team ready to right any wrongs? Are you limited in when and how you can submit a complaint? What are their typical response times? You may even want to inquire about customer satisfaction (CSAT) or net promoter score (NPS) figures.
  • Who are your competitors? If your vendor isn’t willing to name their competitors, you may need to question their honesty or confidence. This question can also help you identify vendors you aren’t aware of that may offer a solution more suited to your needs.
  • What are your training options? The better you understand a solution, the more value you can extract from it. Try to determine if your vendor offers a certification program, training for new users, and refresher courses. It’s also a good idea to find out if they offer multiple ways to complete training, such as in-person, online, and written formats.

Additional questions should support your unique circumstances. For example, you may want to ask questions about your industry challenges and regulations to determine if responders know enough to support your organization.

4. Issue the correct request

People often view RFPs as a catch-all, but they actually serve a very specific purpose. And depending on your needs, it may be quicker to issue a different type of request.

That’s why it’s critical that you understand the difference between an RFP, a request for information (RFI), and a request for quotation (RFQ). Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to understand.

If you aren’t certain what types of solutions are available — or even if anything exists to solve your challenge — you want to submit an RFI. This is a simple document that allows you to quickly get vendor responses, which you can then use to create a shortlist for RFPs.

If you have a good idea of what type of solution you want, but you’re still open to hearing vendors’ creative solutions, it’s time for an RFP. This more detailed document will let you learn specifics about vendors’ offerings, including things like price and timeline.

If you know exactly what you want and you aren’t open to hearing about other options, then you want an RFQ. This is usually a line-item list of requirements you use to identify nearly identical solutions based on price. Use caution with this approach, as you don’t want to eliminate options you aren’t aware of. It’s best to use an RFQ only when the marketplace is saturated with solutions that don’t offer distinct features and functionality.

Read our blog article: RFI vs. RFQ vs. RFP

5. Use tools to streamline the process

RFP software can help you more easily create and issue an RFP, as well as evaluate the resulting proposals.

We recommend looking for a solution that:

  • Includes a knowledge base of centralized RFP data to use in future RFPs.
  • Allows multiple users to work on a single document at the same time, preventing version-control issues.
  • Tracks how quickly vendors are completing their proposals.
  • Allows you to create and distribute effective security questionnaires.
  • Simplifies the scoring process.