Top 5 RFP Response Mistakes and How To Fix Them

11/29/17 5:30 PM Anna Duin RFP Responding

You're busy. You can't afford an inefficient RFP response process. Yet, if we're honest, many of us know we're making some sort of mistakes, even if we're not sure what. 

Based on dozens of conversations with our clients, here are the top 5 mistakes that are keeping you from winning. Plus what to do if you've already made them.

(For all our best tips on responding to RFPs check out our new eBook.) 

Mistake #1: You're Bidding On Everything


"Spray And Pray Marketing" is rarely, if ever effective. Going after any and every bid is like offering cheesy pickup lines at a bar -- it's just off-putting. 

It's why we declined two RFPs in the last month alone. As our Marketing Manager that was my call. I spent over an hour reading through each. Not only were the projects laborious (200+ detailed questions), but we didn't meet all of the RFP requirements. Since we weren't likely to win, it would've been a waste of time and resources to respond. Time we don't have to waste. 

Even if you're lucky enough to have dedicated proposal writers on staff, that doesn't mean they have infinite time on their hands. As a former boss of mine said "Everything can't be your first priority. Priorities means knowing what you're not working on to focus on this." 

The fix:  read each RFP thoroughly. Does it look biased? Is it a good fit? Do you meet all of the critical requirements? Message the RFP-Issuer for clarification if necessary.  Be realistic about the time required and prioritize your responses.  

Mistake #2: You're Prioritizing Quantity Over Quality 


Responding to RFPs is critical to winning new business. Yet too often businesses have a "even a monkey can do it" attitude about it., and put entry-level employees in charge of responding to RFPs.

But leaving junior employees in charge of company branding is an absolute liability. That's the sort of thing that happens when our goal is quantity, not quality. It's a huge risk because entry-level employees don't have a full understanding of company products and capabilities. So how can they be expected to provide adequate RFP responses? Even a great attempt on their end is likely to come off slapdash or amateurish. 

The fix: focus on outcomes, not activity. Concentrate your efforts on projects that are a good fit. Also, make sure that seasoned SMEs (Subject-Matter Expert) are helping write (or at least approve) your responses. Better to have fewer compelling responses, than dozens that are blasé. (Learn how to write a winning response here.)

Mistake #3: You Can't Find What You Need

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We've all been there. You know you've been asked this question before. You know your response is around here somewhere. You know if you rewrite it now - at 4:11 p.m. when you're mentally fried -- it's not going to nearly as good as the first time. But you just can't find it. 
And if you're the one tasked with pulling the whole response together, you have an even harder job. You're compiling dozens of response versions floating around your inbox and shared drives. Which version is the most recent? Who wrote what? You don't want to harass your SMEsbut you need to make sure it's all still accurate. 
The fix: whoever is managing your RFP responses has to make sure you have a sustainable method in place. Whatever system you use -- task management, RFP software, etc., you need to be able to find and organize past responses. You should be able to see who wrote what and compare versions. You should also be able to check when content was last updated, and set up review cycles.

Mistake #4: You Don't Know What's Working


Being a Salesperson or Marketer is hard. Really hard. We do a lot to win business, but we're not always sure what's actually working.

This is a problem when it comes to our RFP responses. Because if you're not tracking trends in what projects you're winning and what content went into those responses, you're missing key data. 

The fix: whatever response system you use, make sure you can see win/loss themes. That way you can find your "best content" as well as figure out what needs to be reworked for the next opportunity. 

Mistake #5: You Can't Scale Your Process

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If you're writing responses into the evening or weekends your process isn't scalable. If you lose access to SME expertise as soon as someone goes on vacation, gets sick, or leaves the company, that's a problem. If that's happening to you, it may be time to rethink your RFP response

The problem with the traditional RFP process is that information gets stagnant and outdated. Key data is lost in scattered Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and shared drives. It's limited. It’s not secure, and it’s not effective. Our recommendation: use RFP software to store, track and organize proposal responses. Upgrading your management process will give you greater consistency and transparency, so you can make sure your team is submitting quality responses. Because if you: 

  • Aren't carefully evaluating which RFPs to respond to 
  • Are focusing on activity, not outcomes
  • Can't find what you need when you need it 
  • Can't track content history or revisions
  • Don't know what's contributing to wins and losses 

Then it’s going to be difficult to consistently win business.

The fix: think beyond "what do I need to get done today?" Or "what do I need to do this week?" Figure out what is really going to move the needle in your new business development.

How can you improve your templates and content management? How can you write more persuasively? What tools can you use to scale your efforts? 

That's our real job. More real than finishing X response by 5 p.m. this Friday.

Want more tips? Check out our How to Write Better RFP Responses, Faster eBook.

*Image credits: Ryan McGuire via Gratisography