How to Write an RFP (Quick Infographic)

480 is the average number of searches for "How to write an RFP" each month on Google.

Why? Because writing a Request for Proposal can be intimidating, even for the pros.
That's why we've made the brief infographic below, covering some of the key types of questions to ask. Think of it as an RFP process checklist. The infographic covers quick tips, but for a more in-depth guide, check out this podcast: 

How to Write a Killer RFP podcast

(Are you a vendor or supplier responding to RFPs? Get your proposal writing tips here.) 

Prep for Success  

First things first. Here are 5 questions you should ask your team before you even think about issuing the RFP. Like whether we should start with an RFI instead? Are we using a template? How should we score, etc.?
How you manage scoring is crucial, it will influence many, if not all, of the questions you ask. To get you started, here's how to make RFP evaluation easier with objective scoring.
Once you've completed and/or ruled out an RFI, and decided how you're going to score, you're ready for phase II.


Step 1: do your prep work and clarify the process. Again, make sure you've specified whether or not you should start with a high-level RFI. By the time you send the RFP you should narrowed down your options and done basic research on providers.
Other things you may want to discuss with your team: 
  • What tools are we using in this RFP process? 
  • Are we requiring a certain response format?
  • Is it time time to try a new RFP sourcing and review process?
  • Have we selected a Project Manager or Project Lead? This one is is crucial. Establish who will be the primary external Point of Contact early on. Also, decide who will be internally responsible for keeping the process moving.
  • Have we established the key stakeholders/judges? It may sound obvious, but it's easy to overlook.
  • Are all the key stakeholders involved and up-to-date?
  • Do we have a clear budget? You need to have budget approval from your C-Suite before you start your search. Otherwise you waste everyone's time. 

How to Write an RFP Infographic.png*Right-click on image to save.

Step 2: Choose your evaluation criteria. If you did your all prep work, you've likely agreed on some general scoring guidelines. Now it's time to get specific.
Hash out exactly how you're using setting up weights, criteria, and evaluation categories. Ask your team what are our different evaluation categories? How important is each category? For example, functionality might be 50%, security 20%, implementation time 20%.
Include all your key stakeholders in this discussion. It's a lot easier to get IT and legal priorities at the start, rather than half way through.

Key Questions to Ask

Step 3: Establish crucial "deal breakers."

You could be like many purchasers and ask your candidates hundreds of questions. And you could grade thousands of responses.
Or you could shortlist with "deal-breaker" using questions.
We recently had a client who used a 600-question RFP. But then realized they had 6 questions that would immediately eliminate unsuitable vendors. They realized they had certain pricing, implementation, and security "deal-breakers."
They made 600-question RFP, a 6-question RFP, simply by asking the deal breakers first.
Ask your team what would immediately disqualify a supplier if they couldn't do/provide X? 
Make the non-negotiable your short-list criteria, then follow up with more in-depth questions.

Step 4: Write your questions -- tailor the template and and use rounds
Reusing templates is a great way to save time, but make sure you always tailor the questions to the RFP. Suppliers hate one-size-fits-all RFPs. If you don't have template and don't where to start, try asking colleagues for theirs. Or start with a simple Google search for your project + RFP, ex. "RFP for corporate health insurance."
Making it a multi-step process means you don't have to decide all your questions right away. It also makes it easier for vendors to engage and means you have room ask followup questions.
Start with a high-level RFI if needed, then follow up with brief rounds of questions as you narrow your list. Your last rounds should only have 3, maybe 7, serious vendors spending time on their responses.  

Step 5: ask both open and close-ended questions.  

The trick is to ask specific, detailed questions, while keeping an open mind. The specifics help suppliers understand your needs. The open mind gives them the opportunity to present you with a solution you might not have expected.
This is especially true if you're buying services rather than commodities. Services usually have an infinite number of approaches.

Do this by combining both open-ended and close-questions. For more subjective categories like innovation and leadership ask more open-ended questions. Phrase it“in your experience” or “in your opinion, etc.
This gives providers room to surprise and impress you, while also being score-able.

Step 6: ask about contract specifics.

Don't be afraid to ask for agreement and contract details in your RFP. Some topics you may want to get specifics on: 

  • Ask about trial and warranty restrictions
  • Their competitors - who are they? Why do they lose to them? 
  • Implementation time frame, how long does it typically take? 
  • Ask about contract duration options, can you pay monthly, annual, etc.?
  • Industry-specific questions (ask colleagues for recommendations)
  • Ask security-specific questions, your IT department will likely have several
  • Ask for customer and/or third-party reviews and specific use cases. 
  • Ask for final and best pricing.

Step 7: specify how you want additional collateral/attachments submitted. 

It's hard to score proposals if they come attached to an arsenal of marketing collateral. Because, let's be honest, most suppliers will give you more than you want to grade.

To avoid this paperwork monstrosity, give specific submission guidelines for all attachments. You might specify that the attachment/collateral must answer only the question asked.
You could even deduct points if a supplier answers differently than requested.  
We hope these tips make it a bit easier to write your next RFP. If you want more specifics and tips check out the extra resources below. 
 How to Write a Killer RFP podcast
You might also like:

5 Questions to ask Before You Issue an RFP

Write, Send, and Review an RFP in 9 Steps or Less [Infographic]

Best RFP Questions to Ask [article]