RFPs From the Unthinking: 3 Common Failings in RFP Development

RFPs from Morons: 3 All Too Common Failings in RFP DevelopmentNow that’s a little harsh. But if you’ve ever had to write a sales proposal responding to a badly written Request for Proposal (RFP) you’ll know where the sentiment comes from.

These are RFPs with ambiguous questions or the same question asked in several places. Or RFPs that only make statements and never ask a question for bidders to answer.

Of course Procurement doesn’t intend to send out RFPs that are unclear and confusing but they do.

There is a point in the process when bidders can ask for clarification on RFP questions. But bidders never take the opportunity to ask Procurement “What were you smoking when you wrote this thing?”

In Procurement’s defense, it’s not easy putting together an RFP. The document tries to define scope, bidder qualifications and protect the issuing customer, all at the same time. No wonder they struggle.

However, even with overburdened workloads and tight schedules, Procurement could, as a professional function, do a much better job in RFP development.

Procurement often in the Dark about Bad RFPs

When bidders are confused by the RFP, imagine how confusing their responses are. Multiply that by the number of bidders and Procurement has created a Gordian knot they have to untie.

And when confusing bidder responses come in Procurement believes they didn’t respond intelligently to an obviously clear request. Procurement just doesn’t see their RFP failings….because they wrote them!

So,until Procurement fixes their terrible RFPs, it’s up to the bidders to solve the problem for them.

Here are three all too common RFP failings, and how, as a bidder, to respond to them.

#1 – Ambiguous RFP Questions

Procurement develop questions they think are crystal clear. Yet in the written document it makes no sense to anyone not sitting inside Procurement’s head at the time of inception.


As a bidder, define your own meaning. Decide what you think Procurement was trying to ask.

You’ll want to consider all other questions while you do this. But once you’ve settled on what you think they’re asking in that particular question – PLAY IT BACK TO THEM IN YOUR ANSWER.

In the first sentence of your response, describe what you think Procurement was looking for in their train wreck of a question.

You’re not rewriting their question, you’re describing your understanding of it. Then continue on with your response.

#2 – Duplicate RFP Questions

Although this can be a subset of #1 above, there are too many times when you’ll see the same question asked more than once. Each in a different part of the RFP, each with a different item number.

Procurement either thinks they’re asking for something different in each question, or they’re lazy, or they don’t care.


Before developing your response, map out what you think each question means. Select a unique reason why Procurement is asking each question.

For example, Procurement’s questions may be touching on bidders’ regional capabilities.

Decide you’ll answer 3.12 with your branch office structure and local support…

…4.1.6 with back-office infrastructure that supports your regional capabilities, and…

…12.9 with your roving account management team who covers geographic regions of the country.

DO NOT respond with “We have answered this question in 4.12, please see page 145 for our response.”

Remember, Procurement believes they’re asking something different in each question. You’re better off making your best guess than leaving a bad taste in their mouth with “we’ve already answered that…”

#3 – RFP Statements only – No Questions

RFPs can often be a list of requirements in statement form. These are statements about the successful supplier having to:

  • Maintain a quality assurance program
  • Meet all service expectations
  • Comply with all legal & contractual obligations

Unfortunately, when an RFP has only statements one could make a case for just submitting pricing because the RFP hasn’t asked anything else of bidders.


If there are no questions, but statements only, respond as if they were questions.

Use the RFP numbering schema and present your solution, capabilities and qualities.

You know that’s what they expect from bidders. It’s just they forgot to ask, they missed that subtlety.

How do you make sense of a bad RFP?

Do you struggle and suffer silently through a bad RFP?

Do you after the bid process point out, with sensitivity, to Procurement the RFPs shortcomings?

What do you do when responding to RFPs are your firm’s only source of new business and Procurement RFPs are train wrecks?

Questions or Ideas?

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