Top 10 Ways to Write a Great RFP

Alliance  ·  February 09, 2016

Writing a great Request for Proposal is the key to attracting a great pool of applicants. A well-written RFP is the first step towards showing them what you’re about and demonstrating to them why they should work with you. Crafting a great RFP, however, is not always going to be easy. Here are the top 10 ways to write a great RFP to bring the top vendors to your door.

1. Write your RFP for Specific Vendors

Instead of writing your RFP first and then finding vendors to work with, sit down and create a list of vendors you’d love to partner with. Then write your RFP aimed towards these vendors. This will help you narrow down certain aspects of your request because you’ll have a concrete idea of who will be reading it.

2. Write for Ideas, not Tasks

While you certainly want to outline what you need from a vendor, some RFPs read like a checklist. Instead of over-defining what step-by-step features you need from vendors, state your overall goals. This gives vendors the chance to show you how creative they are. Giving them a checklist of tasks to complete may result in every proposal sounding very similar. Vendors may have their own unique and better way of accomplishing your goals.

3. Focus on the Problem

A similar way to write a great RFP is to spend most of the request focusing on the problem. What do you need the vendor for? This is different from writing for ideas, although it’s similar. Some companies know what they need from their vendors—they’ve already identified the solution they want. But if you aren’t sure how to solve a particular issue, define that issue in as much detail as you can and let vendors solve it.

4. Focus on the Audience

Another way of writing an RFP is to focus it around the audience. For example, if you’re looking for a vendor to work with you on a website, define who you’ll be marketing that website too. A website aimed at consumers will be different than one that’s primarily informative or aimed at professionals. Knowing the audience can generate very different proposals from the same vendor.

5. Do you Really want Information?

If your RFP is turning out to be fairly general, or if you realize you don’t have a strongly defined goal, you may actually want to write a Request for Information instead. A great RFP is just that—a true request for proposals, not information. Make sure you’re ready to entertain potential bids for your project. If not, send out an RFI asking for information, then use that information to write your RFP.

6. Craft your RFP Using Vender Management Tools

RFPs used to be mailed out to vendors, who then typed up their proposals and mailed them back. As technology advanced, this changed to emailing RFPs, and today, many proposals are emailed or submitted online. Taking advantage of some of the vender management tools out there can make it much easier to write your RFP, plus these tools will help you refine your ideas so your request is as complete as possible. They also make it easier to compare vendors who respond.

7. Keep it Simple

A great RFP says exactly what it needs to say and nothing more. It covers all the necessary information vendors will need, but it doesn’t go into so much detail that they feel constrained. It also doesn’t ask for too much. An RFP that needs very specific formatting, appendices, extra paperwork, and more is going to discourage some vendors. Keep your paperwork as simple as you can.

8. Write with a Rubric in Mind

Before you send out your RFP, create a scoring rubric or other assessment tool so you know how you’ll be determining which vendor will provide the best services. This will help you hone in on which questions in your RFP are going to be critical and will help you keep your RFP as simple as possible. Have your list of “must have” requirements in mind so you can easily discard proposals that don’t meet your needs.

9. Always Customize your Template

Those who are new to writing RFPs will often go online and find a template. These templates are great for getting started, but you’ll rarely find one that perfectly fits your project. Tailor these templates to your needs, adding or removing sections or questions as you see fit. A great RFP should be specific to your project and its needs, not a template.

10. Write as if you’re a Vendor

If you were a vendor, how would you write a proposal for your RFP? Approach the proposal as if it came across your desk. Of course, this can be difficult to do, which is why it’s always helpful to have others look at your finished RFP. Having a few other people look at the request as if they were vendors can provide key insight into what needs improving before you send the request out. These ways of writing a great RFP don’t have to stand alone—you can combine several of them to create your own method of crafting an RFP that results in great proposals from outstanding vendors.