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How to Nail Your Next RFP in Sales (and Win the Deal)

Illustrated salesperson responding to an RFP document with green checkmarks and dollar signs
When you respond to an RFP, make sure you address what the prospect wants, what they must do to get there, and how you can help. [Studio Science]

Learn how to stand out from the competition with your proposal.

It’s no secret that selling is tougher than ever before. According to our State of Sales Report, 69% of reps agree their jobs are harder now. And yet, sales teams are under pressure to keep hitting their targets. That’s why it’s critical to know how to respond when you get a request for proposal (RFP). You need to act quickly to get the attention with your bid, but skipping out on details could put your proposal in the trash bin.

Whether you’ve never handled an RFP before or you work with proposals on the daily, we’ve got you covered. We’ll walk you through how to respond to RFPs, why they’re important, and best practices for standing out.

What you’ll learn:

What is a request for proposal (RFP) in sales?

A request for proposal, or RFP, is when a company asks for work proposals from potential vendors. If a company has a large or complex project it wants to complete but lacks the internal resources, it may choose to issue an RFP.

The RFP document typically includes a scope of work, timeline, budget, and other specific project requests. It asks prospective vendors to submit bids based on the outlined criteria.

Sales organizations might respond to RFPs as part of their sales process. An RFP response is like a written sales pitch, describing how your offer can accomplish the request.

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Why is an RFP important for sales?

RFPs are common in B2B sales. Companies that issue RFPs are typically looking for businesses that can provide things like IT support, software, hardware, AI technology, and more. They’re also heavily used in the government and other industries like construction, manufacturing, and real estate management.

This presents opportunities for companies that offer these services to submit proposals and compete for new business. Whether you’re creating or submitting an RFP, your sales team should be fam.iliar with the process, as it can be complex and time-bound.

Some benefits of RFPs for sales teams:

  • They can present new sales opportunities outside of your regular sales process.
  • They lay out exactly what prospective clients are looking for, so you can respond quickly and accurately and increase your chances of closing the deal.
  • They help you get a foot in the door with potential clients so you can create long-term relationships.

RFPs are sometimes distributed publicly to cast a wide net. This can help businesses reach potential vendors they may never have considered or known about. Other times, they are sent to a pre-selected list of qualified vendors, which helps reduce the time it takes to evaluate proposals.

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The 3-step RFP process

Before sellers can submit bids, a company needs to create the RFP and send it out. We’ll break down how to respond to an RFP shortly, but first, it’s important to understand what goes into creating one. Knowing what companies are looking for will help your team craft a better proposal to meet their needs.

A typical RFP follows this three-step process:

Step 1: Define the objectives

The first step in creating an RFP is to outline the goal and purpose. It’s also where any potential roadblocks should be addressed. This is the most time-consuming part of the process, but it’s also the most important.

Researching industry standards and competitors is a good way to find out what others are doing to accomplish similar goals. It can give you a better idea of what it takes to complete, who should be involved, and how long it might take from start to finish.

Step 2. Draft the RFP

The draft should include the project scope, timeline, budget, necessary background information, technical specifications, and a deadline. Some RFPs will also list the evaluation criteria the issuer will use to make a decision.

Most RFPs have a typical flow. It looks like this:

  • Project purpose overview: States what the issuer is looking for. This helps vendors decide immediately if they’re a good fit for the job. For example, Alpha Industries is looking to implement new CRM software for its sales department.
  • Company details: Details what the issuing company does, who they serve, and how long they’ve been in business so vendors can get an idea of their history, industry, and target market.
  • Project goals and scope: Outlines the goals of the project and what’s involved. For example, what will implementing CRM software help Alpha Industries accomplish? Does their team need to be trained on the software? Are there any technical considerations vendors should be aware of? All that goes in this section.
  • Timeline: If the project must be completed by an exact date, that will be noted here. As a vendor, it’s crucial to understand the timeframe so you can budget your resources accordingly.
  • Potential issues: In a perfect world, things would go 100% according to plan. But that’s not typically the case. This is where you may find out any potential roadblocks the issuer anticipates. For example, if the timeline could be delayed due to supply chain holdups.
  • Evaluation criteria. If there are must-haves for the work request — insurance, specific experience, work samples, and references — this is where the issuer will list them. It’s also where they might explain what other requested elements will weigh most heavily in their final decision, as well as any disqualifiers.

Step 3. Send the RFP out

Once finalized, RFPs are usually distributed via a press release or social media or sent directly to a shortlist of vendors. Companies may create a landing page for their RFP or use their local chamber of commerce to get the word out. LinkedIn groups are also a great resource for vendors to find potential RFPs.

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Software and tools to support the RFP process

Some companies have a formal process for RFP submissions. This may include an online portal where vendors can submit their proposals. Others ask potential suppliers to register their organizations in their supplier directory so they can keep track of interested parties in one place. Other options include:

  • CRM software: A central hub where you can track all your RFPs in one place is a common tool that supports the process. CRMs can also house a digital library of marketing materials, product specs, and other content you can drop into an RFP as background or educational support.
  • Proposal software: One of the easiest ways to create an RFP is with software. Salesforce can help generate proposal documents within your CRM, making it easier for your team to create proposals and send quotes.
  • Collaboration tools: Slack is a good option for teams who work on t.he RFP writing process together.
  • Project management tools: These can help your team stay on schedule during the RFP process, so you don’t miss deadlines.

Even something as simple as online office software can be useful. Team members can use it to write collaboratively and read and review the RFP before it goes out.

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How to respond to an RFP in sales

If your company is interested in submitting proposals to win new business, RFPs are a great opportunity. Let’s briefly outline what this process looks like. How you respond to an RFP may vary based on industry and scope of work, but you’ll typically be asked to submit the following:

  • Cover letter: This is a brief introduction to your company that expresses your interest in the project and explains why you’re responding. Provide an overview of your business, including your industry expertise, success with similar projects, and why you’re a good fit for the job.
  • Contact information: Provide your email, phone number, and website and address on a cover page or in your cover letter.
  • Executive summary: This is where you address the project details. Don’t just summarize the proposal. Address the prospect’s wants, what they must do to get there, and how you can help. Point to research you did, who you spoke to, and how you came up with your recommendations. Demonstrate your value and why the client should choose your company.
  • Deliverables and methodology: Include a projected timeline with milestones, deliverables, and a completion date that aligns with the proposal. Highlight your strategic approach to the project.
  • Pricing estimate: You will likely be asked to provide a cost breakdown for your product or services. Salesforce CPQ is a good resource for this since it’s an easy way to quote quickly and accurately. If there are any additional costs you foresee that are outside of scope, you should address those here.
  • Awards, case studies, work samples, and references: Provide examples of your work and a list of professional references — a current client list or the names of specific references. Include any recent awards or recognition your company has received and their significance. Case studies should relate to the goals of the RFP and provide measurable results.

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RFP response example

Now that you know what goes into an RFP response, you’re ready to put your own together. Here’s an example of what that might look like in practice.

Cover letter

Dear [prospective company],

We were excited to hear about your Request for Proposal (RFP) for [project]. [Your company] believes that our qualifications make us an ideal partner, and we’re excited about the possibility of working with your team to achieve [goal of project].

[Your company] has been in business for [X years], providing [your solution/area of expertise] to [your customer base]. We are a leader in [your industry] and have helped [list similar clients] achieve similar goals. This is demonstrated in our case studies and success stories.

Our proposal will address [key proposal elements, such as methodology, scope of work, timelines, and deliverables]. We’re confident we can provide successful outcomes for [prospective company] and help support your broader mission to [mission of prospective company].

We strive to deliver results that exceed our client’s expectations and offer value. We understand that communication and collaboration are vital to this process and are eager to work closely with your team to deliver a personalized solution that meets your needs.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to discussing more soon.

Executive summary

[Your company] knows that [prospect’s industry] is facing [current trends or pressures]. Our [your solution] can not only help solve [goal(s) of RFP] by [how your solution works], but it can also provide your business with a competitive advantage and growth potential by [address greater industry issues].

Based on the RFP and our own research [include research you’ve done], [your company] understands that [prospect’s company] is experiencing the following challenges. Here’s how [your solution] will address these issues:

  • Pain point 1 > Benefit-driven solution
  • Pain point 2 > Benefit-driven solution
  • Pain point 3 > Benefit-driven solution

Next, we’ll explain our process and how we’ll accomplish the goals of the RFP.

Deliverables and methodology

RFP goal 1: [State project goal]

  • [Your company] will do [action] by [deadline] to accomplish [goal].
  • We will do this by [explain approach/method].
  • We will deliver [state deliverables].
  • This will provide [prospect’s company] with [benefit driven solution].

RFP goal 2: Repeat process for subsequent goals.

Pricing estimate

Price estimates will vary depending on the scope of work and other factors, but here are some things to consider:

  • A complete price list for your products and services
  • Any additional costs for upgrades, updates, or ongoing maintenance fees
  • Costs for any third-party vendors you will use (if applicable)
  • Cost breakdown per milestone + total price for project completion
  • Variable costs/fixed costs

Best practices for responding to an RFP in sales

RFPs can be an important tool in the sales process when done well. To make sure your efforts get the results you want, keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Do research and be thorough: Sending a thoughtful and well-crafted RFP takes time. Make sure to research the company, study the RFP, and address all its elements. A flawless submission can set you apart from the crowd.
  2. Ask questions: Before you spend time writing a proposal, you should know if the client is the right fit for your services. Much of this information will be listed in the RFP, but if any lingering questions will influence your decision to work together — such as timeline, budget, or resources — you should ask them beforehand. For example, if their budget is lower than you would normally consider, it might be the wrong opportunity for you.
  3. Be specific about your value: Avoid generalizations when writing your RFP. If you have success stories to support your case, point to the data. Give figures, facts, and timelines whenever possible. Be clear about the value you can provide.
    • Don’t say: “Our company has a track record of project completion on time and within budget.”
    • Instead, say: “Our company will complete [X tasks] by [X date] with a budget of [X dollars]. We will do this by completing [action item 1], [2], and [3].

Get ready to win the next bid

Great partnerships can come from RFPs. To succeed, make sure your team has the tools to respond with a strong proposal. You need to stand out from your competition to win, so show your value and get specific on what you can do to help. Focus on tailoring your pitch to the company’s goals and explain why you’re the best fit for the job. With these tips, you’ll be ready when the next RFP opportunity lands on your desk.

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Erin Hueffner, Writer, Salesblazer
Erin Hueffner Writer, Salesblazer

Erin Hueffner is a writer from Madison, Wisconsin. Her career spans two decades in tech, journalism, and content marketing. At Salesforce, Erin’s work focuses on sales fundamentals and best practice content for Salesblazers. Erin has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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