RFPs (requests for proposal) are important for small businesses. These are documents looking for quotes from vendors if you’re buying services. If you’re selling something, they’re a great way to introduce yourself.
RFP Process Tips
Small Business Trends contacted Brian Buck, CEO of, Scotwork North America to get 10 tips for improving your RFP process.
“Regardless of which side of the table you’re on, there are great ways to use RFPs and there are poor ways,” he writes.
Focus on the Need
Buyers don’t want to get bogged down in specs pointing to a solution. Rather, let the sellers bring those.
“In most cases, the vendors from whom you’re soliciting bids are experts in their field. Let them bring their expertise,” Buck writes.
Telling them what issues you’re trying to solve works.
Talk Things Over If You Need To
Some small businesses put together RFPs to gather information. They don’t know what they want from the space yet. If that’s you, don’t put the cart before the horse. Talk with vendors first. Then put the RFP together.
Use the RFP Process to Learn About the Market
Buck explains how RFPs provide valuable insights.
“From the selling side, responding to RFPs can give you the opportunity to understand what customers are looking for. They can help to understand their language, and their measures for success.”
Buck also suggests building relationships with vendors you’ll be sending RFPs to. He says narrowing down the list at first helps.
It’s really a two-way street.
“It’s OK to tell them you’re putting together an RFP and ask them if they would like to participate. This will be a good way to learn more about them and any solutions.”
Don’t Just Use Spreadsheets
These are still a great way to show data points and numbers. But you will need to add more information to show off your company culture or personality.
Links to your website, video and any blogs you’ve written help.
Don’t Set Tight Deadlines
If you issue an RFP on Friday with a deadline of Monday, you’ll more likely get boilerplate responses. It’s best to let vendors have the time to put together thoughtful replies.
Otherwise, what you get back might not address any of your needs.
Respond to Questions
Having a back and forth with a vendor that includes answering their questions is ideal.
Buck has a few suggestions.
“You can have them submit them to you to answer in written format. Or, you can set up a call where you can have the vendors anonymously join. Then you can answer their questions from there.”
Having everything planned out makes the entire RFP process go smoothly. Having questions due by a certain date and the answers following is a good idea. Setting aside specific times for follow-up conversations helps.
It’s a practice that Buck uses to manage vendor’s expectations.
“They’ll ask you fewer questions about where things are in the RFP process,” he writes. “But it’s also good protocol — and good discipline for a business — to have a timeline in place.”
Don’t Forget the Golden Rule
Buck names The Golden Rule specifically. However, he drills down saying you should never move deadlines. Not respecting timetables or not communicating enough is bad business that can frustrate your suppliers.
Treating your business associates respectfully means you’ll get a lot more with less effort.
Don’t Squeeze Suppliers
Sometimes, buyers use the RFP process to put the lean on their existing vendors. They might be looking for lower prices or better conditions. It’s a bad business practice made obvious when a buyer hardly ever changes vendors but puts out lots of RFPs.
It starts the cycle where bidders don’t put much effort into responses.
Try to avoid what is called the annual squeeze by putting together RFPs based on real needs.