RFP Best Practices To Get Better Responses!

A Request for Proposal (RFP) is something you’ve probably heard of before, and likely squirmed about if it’s something you’ve actually had to write – particularly because of how tedious they can be. The process of the RFP is usually done by regulatory bodies, associations, and large organizations to ask vendors to send them proposals in order to get their business. It’s a way to invite local competition equitably, and a plus is that you may also receive some proposals from vendors that you had yet to know existed that have viable solutions. After all proposals have been received, the organization narrows the list to a few, may receive some demonstrations, and ultimately chooses the proposal that they feel will be the right partner to help them achieve their goals and purchases that vendor’s software.

The downside is that RFPs involve a lot of work both from the vendor and for you. Many vendors don’t participate in the RFP process because it is so time-consuming and costly – preferring other methods such as referrals, word of mouth, demonstrations and other methods of connecting. When a vendor decides to respond to an RFP they often have to kiss the next few weeks goodbye! Here are some best practices to get a positive response from your RFPs (if you must write one)! For a quick refresher on what an RFP entails, I put together the process and time frame below.

The Process

Generally, the process involves:

  1. You write various requests for proposals.
  2. You send them to vendors, procurement websites (www.merx.com), etc.
  3. You go through a limited time Q&A period with all potential vendors who have questions about your RFP.
  4. You receive some proposals.
  5. You review the proposals, rejecting some and scoring others.
  6. You pick a few of the top proposals and ‘short list’ them.
  7. You then invite those vendors to answer some additional questions for you and demonstrate their software for you, or even engage in a free trial.
  8. Select your vendor of preference.
  9. Finally, you and the selected vendor complete a contract.
  10. Now you start the implementation process! 

Time Frame

The process of an RFP from start to finish can take several months. While there are only ten steps to complete the whole process, as seen above, each step needs different amounts of time. The part of the process that takes the most time is reviewing the proposals and then selecting a vendor. Proposals are fairly lengthy so giving yourself a reasonable amount of time to review them thoroughly is critical.

It’s also important to realize that often you have to take one or two steps backwards in the process – you realize that you want to re-review a proposal or forgot to include some critical requirements.

Quality RFPs

The quality of your responses is based on the quality of your RFP. It’s a way to filter out the vendors you want to work with compared to the ones that you’ll end up wasting time with. Think of it like asking someone on a date: would you prefer a stranger yelling “GO OUT WITH ME TONIGHT!” from a moving pickup truck or someone that got to know you a little first, then asked politely? I’m guessing you’d choose the second one (I hope). This is like vendors, the quality ones will reply to the people they feel are worthy of all the work to put together a proposal. Anyways, below are a few points that make an RFP better:

Language (To be formal or informal?)

Using ourselves as an example, we prefer an informal tone when it comes to receiving RFPs. Before starting your RFP, you should review the content that vendors are putting out there on their website, blog, etc., and judge what kind of tone to use on the RFP from there. If you are an informally-spoken organization, try to find an informally-spoken vendor. Similar characteristics in organizations will create a stronger relationship and a better understanding of each other.


Describing your requirements in accurate detail is a must. Find out exactly what your organization needs from various departments and prioritize them from most to least important. The most important requirements are crucial to communicate in your RFP. Sometimes, missing requirements get noticed during training and orientation after a software has been installed. This might be due to under-communicating how important a requirement was.

Also, it’s better to not make the vendors have to write out paragraphs describing their ability to reach a requirement. Make it simple, preferably a checklist or a simple “yes” or “no.” They can add notes on the side if they have something extra to add, but in the end, you are choosing one software. It’s easier to create a shortlist and keep vendors that say yes to the important requirements and remove the ones that say no, compared to having to read thousands of words explaining to you why they don’t have something (which is a waste of time). This makes it easier for the vendor and for the evaluator.

You can investigate the “why” or “how” of responses later on when you’ve gotten them down to a shorter list.

Let Them Choose Their Response

Vendors, especially long-standing ones, have had experience with many challenges that regulatory bodies and associations are seeking solutions for. As an organization, don’t require that a vendor accommodates your method to fixing a problem. Vendors are experts. Instead, express your challenges in the RFP and let the vendor respond with their own solution, as well as use previous cases where they were successful in implementing a solution. You never know – it could be the solution that could work for you!

What About RFIs?

RFPs are already a tonne of work. Some organizations feel like it’s a great idea to send RFIs as well (request for information), before sending an RFP. An RFI is what an organization sends to vendors to find out some basic information about the vendor: strengths, typical costs, etc. An RFI is generally not exclusionary – meaning that most times they’re not used to weed out vendors – but rather to assess if there are vendors out there who can satisfy your requirements and what the typical costs might be – essentially to help you decide if you even want to go to the trouble of an RFP!

To a vendor, filling out an RFI response can be similar to an RFP. While the vendor likely does want your business, nobody wants to do twice the work and ultimately the effort that goes into responding to RFPs and RFIs gets reflected in the cost of their application!

If you choose to send an RFI, allowing the vendor to choose the level of detail that they provide may encourage more responses.


Evaluating multiple proposals can be confusing, and you don’t want to mix up any information. An easy way to evaluate proposals is to use a Software Procurement Checklist. This is where you make a list of excellent requirements and features you want your license management or association management software to provide, and you simply check off yes or no if it has it. After doing this for each proposal, you can refer to the checklists, instead of the proposals, to find information quick when discussing which vendor you prefer to colleagues. With the checklist, you can also easily see which vendors don’t match many of the requirements compared to others and easily throw them out of the pile.

Remember, evaluation isn’t only about requirements. Customer service, enthusiasm, personality, expertise, punctuality with responses, and other non-measureable traits are important to consider too. These are the things you will need to deal with when you are asking for help, or maybe needing something deleted!

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Check out our other blog posts giving you the benefits of other methods to find software for you. If you are interested in using our procurement checklist, please click on the image below! It can be used to evaluate and compare any license management or association management software.