Responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP)

Christopher Witt —  June 28, 2012

Request for ProposalKnowing how to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP) can greatly increase a company’s success rate in winning contracts.

“A request for proposal (RFP),” according to SearchITChannel, “is a document that an organization posts to elicit bids from potential vendors for a product or service.”

Governmental agencies–federal, state, and local–release RFPs for projects large (several billions of dollars) and small (hundreds of thousands of dollars).

For example, I’ve worked with companies on proposals 1) to improve a federal agency’s tsunami warning system; 2) to ensure the security of a state court system’s file sharing program; and 3) to outsource a county’s IT department.

More and more frequently, private sector companies and organizations are releasing RFPs as part of their procurement process. Construction companies and architects, for example, often win (or lose) contracts based on their responses to an RFP.

As a consultant, I’ve worked on over 300 proposals. And I have, myself, responded to RFPs. (The RFPs I’ve personally responded to have been, mercifully, much less complicated. But they can still be quite daunting.)

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself and your team as you’re preparing your proposal in response to an RFP:

  1. What are the customer’s main problems or challenges?
  2. What makes those problems / challenges worth solving? What pain does the customer feel as a result of them?
  3. What is the customer’s most important goal or objective?
  4. Why does this goal / objective matter to them? How will they benefit from attaining it?
  5. What does the customer want and how do they want it? What can you give them that exceeds their expectations?
  6. What don’t they want?
  7. What are your strengths and capabilities that will allow you to help them solve their problems and achieve their goals?
  8. What are your weaknesses and limitations—actual or in the eyes of the customer—that could keep you from helping the customer solve their problems and achieve their goals.
  9. Who are your competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses relative to yours?
  10. Why are you a better value to the customer?

 Have you ever worked on a proposal? What questions would you add to my list?

Photo courtesy of Kelly Pretzer at

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.