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A Guide to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) Blog Feature
Stephanie Hagan

By: Stephanie Hagan on June 28th, 2024

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A Guide to Requests for Proposals (RFPs)

Government Business Development | Government | 7 Min Read

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are a crucial part of your business development as a contractor, but they are not an easy task. There’s a lot that goes into an RFP response, from the early market research stages, to reading over the sections, and leading an in-depth review so your team can submit a successful response. Not only do you have to read, draft, and submit a winning response, but learn all the terminology that goes along with it.

We’ve talked about the differences between RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs, the anatomy of an RFP, and common RFP mistakes, but in this blog, we’ll outline all the specific jargon related to RFPs. Now that Q4 is less than a week away, you'll have to get comfortable responding to a few (maybe even several) RFPs at once as federal agencies rush to use up their remaining budget. We want to make sure you are well prepared to tackle your next opportunity, so let's dive into a guide for RFPs. 

What is a Request for Proposal (RFP)?

First, let's start with the basics. A Request for Proposal (RFP) is the final government solicitation for a certain product, project, or service. A government agency will release an RFP outlining the requirements, capabilities, and solutions they need a contractor to fill. Once an RFP is released, contractors can bid on the proposal and submit a response for a chance to win the contract. Depending on the contract, some RFPs have multiple awardees while others only have one. RFPs are generally considered formal requests, so it’s important you take the time to craft a strong response.

What are RFIs, RFQs, and Sources Sought Notices?

How do RFPs differ from other types of responses you see? Requests for Information (RFIs) and Sources Sought Notices (SSNs) are often used as market research before an RFP is released.

It’s important to look out for these notices early on in the solicitation process because it’s an easy way to put your foot in the door and get your company’s name out there. These notices also shape future RFPs, so if you respond to either one, you have the chance to mold the proposal to your advantage. While RFIs and Sources Sought Notices lack a dollar value, they are still incredibly important. Use these to steer the future proposals in your favor.

A Request for Quote (RFQ) is a document inviting contractors to join the bidding process and respond with pricing information. An RFQ is not a formal offer or proposal, but it’s how government agencies gather information on price and delivery.

Important Request for Proposal (RFP) Sections to Follow

Now that you know what an RFP is, what do you do when you start reviewing one? We know it can be overwhelming when you first crack open the RFP and see how many pages there are and how small the text is.

However, there's a trick to making it a little less daunting. Unlike a book or many other proposals you have to read, we suggest you don’t necessarily start reading the RFP from page 1. The first sections we suggest you review and pay close attention to are the instructions and proposal deliverables section (often referred to as section L), the evaluations section (often referred to as section M), and the total contract performance (often referred to as section C).

You can also break up these sections by team member. If you are short on time or just want to get the ball rolling, you can assign sections to each team member and have them brief the team on their specific section at the kick-off meeting. 

Instructions Proposal Deliverables (Section L)

This section, often marked as section L, details the specific instructions and proposal deliverables. Sometimes, a government agency will only require a portion of the Performance Work Statement (PWS) or Statement of Work (SOW) to be written in the proposal response—this means they will determine which portions of the PWS or SOW are the most important to their evaluation and will put them in this section. (We will talk about the section containing the full PWS or SOW later on in this blog.) 

So, it’s important to review the entire PWS and SOW closely because you are responsible for bidding and delivering the entire scope of work, even if the proposal write-up is just a subset.

This section also outlines the submission instructions and proposal response format. I cannot emphasize this enough--do not skip over this section. In fact, print it out and post it to your whiteboard. Government customers can be very particular with the RFP response format from page number, font type and font size, as well as structure. If you use the wrong font and margins or do not meet the submission requirements, they can toss your response into the trash without reading it. Don't let your hard work go to waste! 

Evaluation Criteria (Section M)

The evaluation section, which is often referred to as section M, outlines how the government will evaluate and select the awardee. This section generally aligns closely with section L and covers what is the most important to the government customer in each section.

This section will often include weighting criteria or ranks, meaning it’ll let you know which areas in the proposal will carry more weight than others. For example, the technical section might be weighted higher than cost or past performance. Sometimes price will be the highest factor, and sometimes it will be value or the solution itself. This section should drive your response. 

Total Contract Performance (Section C)

This section (often referred to as section C) is the Statement of Work (SOW) and the Performance Work Statement (PWS). Within this section, you’ll most likely see a long list of “shall” statements. This is a crucial term in government contracting because it carries legal weight and outlines everything you would need to provide if you win the contract. These statements will also help you assess whether your company has the bandwidth and ability to perform each before you start drafting your RFP response.

Other RFP Sections

The sections above are arguably the most important to pay close attention to, but there are other sections to review when you go through the RFP. While they are not always labeled by a letter, their purpose will generally be similar across the board. It's important to note that not all RFPs look the same, or will be labeled as clearly and easily as others, but we put together a list so you know what other types of sections to look out for:

  • A: Standard Offer Form
  • B: Supplies/Services & Prices
  • D: Packaging and Marking
  • E: Inspection & Acceptance 
  • F: Deliveries or Performance 
  • G: Contract Administrative Data
  • H: Special Contracts Requirements
  • I: Contract Clauses
  • J: Attachments
  • K: Representations and Certifications (Reps and Certs)

Reviewing Your RFP Response

When reading up on RFPs you might have heard a lot of mentions of colors—red, white, gold, pink—what do they mean? While reviewing your RFP response it helps to have milestones set in place so your team can stay on track, and you have several pairs of eyes on each section. There are so many moving parts to an RFP response, and you want to make sure you are staying organized and on task for an on time submission. 

Each color corresponds to a milestone in the review process, which we’ll cover below.

Pink Team

A pink team review should be set when the RFP draft is about 60% completed. This meeting generally happens after the outline is created and your team has met separately on each of their relevant sections. This team should focus on the narrative and detail that has been added to the outline and should make sure each section of the proposal is at least roughly addressed. This team review should be centered around content and not form, style, or grammar perfection.

Red Team

In this review, the RFP response should be about 90% complete meaning all the changes, additions, and edits should be added from the pink team review. All graphics, data, tables, and resumes should be final or close to it, and all sections should be complete. The purpose of this review is to focus on compliance, clarity, and make sure your responses tell a compelling story.

Gold Team

At this stage, the RFP response should be 100% complete including all sections, graphics, tables, and be fully compliant. The gold team should focus on high-level win themes and aspects of the technical proposal that are crucial to winning the award. Have you successfully set your company apart from the other contractors? What makes your solution the best value for the government customer? Reviewers in this section should also make sure the proposal is priced to win.

White Glove

White glove is the final review before submission. This is mainly a visual overview, making sure there aren’t any obvious grammar or printing errors, all the pages are in the same format, font size is correct, etc. Although the gold review may seem final, it’s important not to skip the white glove—it never hurts to double check your work and save yourself from a simple yet costly mistake.

Are You Prepared for Your Next RFP?

Government business development is not an easy task, even if you are lucky enough to have a team assigned to it. If you want to learn more about government solicitations check out our blogs below:

If you have questions about your GSA Schedule or opportunities related to your GSA Schedule, one of our consultants would be happy to help.

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About Stephanie Hagan

Stephanie Hagan is the Training and Communications Manager for Winvale. Stephanie grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and earned her Bachelor's of Arts in Journalism and Rhetoric/Communications from the University of Richmond.