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How to Write a Winning RFP

By Julie Kennon   |   June 3, 2020

When you’re tasked with writing an RFP, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. This primer will give you the tools to get it right.

When any organization issues a website redesign RFP, there’s always an expected outcome. Perhaps you have released it to a select few vendors and you’ve specified the content management system (CMS), so you want to take a close look at some different project approaches. Perhaps you don’t have a clue what to budget for the project, and you don’t have a preference for the technology, so you release the RFP publicly and just wade through all the responses until you get an idea of the average cost and approach. Regardless of how or why you issue an RFP, we can recommend a few guiding principles after spending the past few decades evaluating and responding to requests for proposals. There is an art to writing an RFP that will solicit the responses you want!

Q&A and Deadlines. It will help vendors to refine their responses if they are given a period in which they can ask clarifying questions. Make sure you’re able to field and answer questions well before the proposal due date. You can also choose whether to answer each individual vendor or compile a list of questions and answers and release it to all vendors. All pertinent dates should be highlighted – when are questions due? When are the proposals due? Mail or email? Is there a specific time you want to cut off submissions?

Introduction/Objective. Tell me about your organization – what is your mission? Who is your audience? How will you define success for this project? Give me a bulleted list of the goals you hope to reach with a website redesign and include both business and UX goals.

Technical Environment. Explain your current technical environment. Do you like your CMS or do you want to explore other options? Do you prefer open-source or licensed? If you want new technology, what is it about the old technology you didn’t like? Are there microsites?

Scope of Work. Break this down into phases, with what you expect in each phase. Here are some pretty common phases that can also help you organize your thoughts.

Budget. Unless you are conducting a fishing operation to see what your project will cost, you will save a lot of your own time if you offer a budget – either a not-to-exceed number or a range. If you’re going to choose the lowest cost, say so. Many highly qualified companies will bend prices to fit in a budget. Very few, if any, companies will raise their prices to meet your budget numbers, so don’t worry about that. Getting proposals that match on as many points as possible – CMS, technical requirements, budget – will make the evaluation job easier.

Proposal Content. To compare apples to apples, it’s best if you give the format you prefer. You can also give a page count requirement, but this often yields incomplete proposals. We recommend a requested format like this:

Following a plan ensures that your RFP is well thought out and complete. Once you have it written, go back through and delete any language or facts that aren’t necessary. You want a clear, concise, easy-to-follow document, and you’ll want to get similar responses in return. Including sample contracts and legalese, unless you’re contractually bound to do so, makes for a cumbersome, hard-to-read RFP.

Finally, please respond to every vendor who submits a proposal, whether they’re chosen or not. Great relationships are often formed between organizations and vendors they didn’t select! And, of course, networking is always a smart idea.

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