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What is an RFP?

Government contracts are typically offered following a request for proposal, or RFP, and this can be a lucrative industry for suppliers.
4 min read

Claire Whelan

what is an rfp

If you’re new to the world of RFPs, we’re here to get you up to speed and help you understand the process end to end, including how you can streamline your proposal process and increase your chances of a win. VT Docs helps you to automate vital parts of the RFP process, increasing efficiency, reducing errors, and ensuring you put forward a complete and professional RFP response.

What is an RFP and when is it issued?

An RFP or request for proposal is typically issued by a government agency or department when it’s giving serious consideration to purchasing a product or service. RFPs can also be issued by large enterprises, but it’s mostly the domain of public bodies. If you haven’t bid for government work through an RFP before, here are important terms to understand:

  • RFP issuer: this is the organization that has published the request, sometimes known as the contracting authority. The issuer will evaluate proposals and either select a vendor outright or develop a shortlist.
  • RFP responder: this is the company that’s replying to the request; also known as the vendor or contractor, the responder may complete the proposed work either on its own or with the help of subcontractors.
  • RFP response: if you are a company that’s replying to an RFP, your response is your detailed proposal for how you will fill the requirements laid out. An RFP response can be lengthy and must be complete, compelling, and compliant with every requirement specified, or it may lose points during the scoring process.
  • RFP shredding: this is a close analysis of the RFP in which you systematically identify all elements that the issuer wants in the response. Shredding is an important step in a well-planned RFP process and can be conducted more rapidly using automation software like VT Docs.

Save time in preparing a response

The issuer may publish the RFP just a few weeks before the deadline by which it expects responses. This is why it’s important to prepare a library in advance of materials that may be needed, to have a team of people across roles (solution design, financial, HR) who can contribute to the proposal, and use automation tools where possible to save time and increase the quality of your RFP response.

One of the biggest timesavers of all can be getting a look at an RFI (Request for Information) or a draft RFP before the final is published. If your sales teams are close to their government customers, they might be the first to hear when a draft is due to be published. Vendors who are known to the issuer may also be invited to make a response.

Not all RFPs will issue a draft first, however, and not all RFPs will be preceded by an RFI for the same project. That’s why it’s essential to streamline your process, so you increase your chances of meeting the deadline with a complete, realistically priced, professional proposal.

Other procurement terms

Before we go too much further, RFP should not be confused with RFI or RFQ. It’s easy to get confused when making your first journey into the world of public procurement, so be sure to see a fuller explanation here of the differences between RFP, RFI and RFQ.

RFP examples across industries

Whether you are new to the world of RFPs or have been bidding for government work for some time, it can be useful to consult previous examples to increase your knowledge base and become familiar with common procurement terminology.

Consulting Services – Center for Planning Excellence, Louisiana

This request for proposal from the Center for Planning Excellence in South Louisiana is a good example of an RFP that explains the issuer’s background business pain – in this case, a lack of zoning controls and coordinated development. It’s important to seek out any description of the customer’s challenge and their previous efforts to address that pain and let it guide your proposal as you write your response. Interestingly, this RFP has only been issued to a shortlist of four consulting firms which were chosen following an RFQ.

Aerospace – NASA

This request for proposal from the NASA SEMAA Project (Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Aerospace Academy) includes an excellent example of a clear outcome statement. The subject of the RFP is the establishment of two new sites for the Academy, which aims to inspire a more diverse student population to pursue careers in STEM-related fields. The five desired outcomes for the project are listed early on, and the same clarity runs right through the RFP, including strict instructions about the contents and formatting it expects in every response.

IT services – Buffalo County, Wisconsin

Issued by a county in Wisconsin serving some 14,000 people, this request for proposal for IT services reveals how critical IT infrastructure is to the county, including its requirement for technical support and cybersecurity services. There is little information about the overall business challenge, but the county does reveal that it wants a vendor who has experience in working with customers who have “significant technology challenges” and are transitioning to a well-planned technology strategy. The selection criteria urge responders to be creative in their proposals. This is typical of many RFPs where issuers are open to new ideas, and it’s a chance for RFP responders to show their experience and ability to offer imaginative solutions.

The role of automation software in improving your RFP response

Now that you understand what an RFP is and have reviewed some examples, it’s time to look at the value of your response process: developing an efficient, repeatable response process will improve your chances of securing any contract. RFPs vary in how readable and understandable they are, but automation software like VT Docs makes it easier for you to find, understand and develop a compelling proposal for the RFPs you’re able to win.

  • Qualify RFPs before you respond: VT Docs allows you to make faster bid/no bid decisions based on the contents of the RFP as they compare to your core capabilities. It means you don’t waste time writing proposals that are not a good match for your skills.
  • Shred an RFP in minutes: VT Docs takes just minutes to generate the compliance matrix, which is something you’ll need as you start to assign the right sections of the document to the correct people on your team.
  • Keep win themes in focus: Win themes are the key reasons your organization should win this bid. VT Docs helps ensure that your win themes are consistent and aligned across your proposal, no matter how many team members are collaborating on your RFP response.

Even if you’re new to government contracting, you’re better able to compete for and win this lucrative business when you streamline your process for choosing and responding to RFPs.

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