How to manage a Request For Proposal – Part 1: Analysis8 min read

A supplier gets his first customer

You have just received a Request For Proposal from a customer. Quick! You only have few days to build an answer because your competitors are already working on it!!! But be careful not to mix up speed with haste. Take a step back and analyze the situation.

Request For Proposal
An RFQ is the document a client sends you to explain more or less briefly the project he would like you to do for him. When it is very detailed, it can be considered as a specification document. You will have to answer it with a proposal in which you tell him how much the project will cost him and how you will match his needs.

As we saw it in a previous article, the more RFQ we manage, the less we close deals with customers. So this is not a good idea to systematically reply to every RFQ we get. It is a far more better option to spend more time analyzing the request in order to ensure we are able to cover the need. In this first part, we will see how to structure this analysis to make sure we correctly understand what is asked. And in the second part, we will define how to build the proposal to make it crystal clear for the customer and kick-start its execution the best way possible.

The following sections will describe the analysis process of the RFQ. This optimized process has been built over hundreds of company experiences.

RFQ analysis workflow

1. Reception & storage

Every time anyone receives a RFQ, they shall store it in the dedicated place for the RFQ managers to handle it. This location shall be some place reachable by anyone like a shared repository, SharePoint, Dropbox… For this we highly recommend taking a look at our article on how to manage your files. Later in the process, several people may have to get access, read and comment the RFQ. So instead of it to be send by mail and multiply its revisions, it is better to have it located in one place so you know which document to trust.

2. Pre-treatment by the project manager

Let say the project manager is the one dealing with the RFQ (RFQ manager and project manager may be 2 different people).

So at this stage, the project manager has to read through the RFQ in order to reach 4 objectives :

  • Reject the RFQ if it clearly doesn’t match with the company activities
  • Identify the experts of the company skilled enough to analyze the technical need and feasibility of the request
  • Write an RFQ abstract containing the main elements to ease the expert analysis (proposal deadline, budget, customer planning, project overview, …)
  • Initiate the completion of the compliance matrix. The compliance matrix is a tool breaking the RFQ into requirements; So each can be individually analyzed by the dedicated expert. (See our article on this tool to learn how to use it)

Once those objectives are reached, the project manager can send the RFQ, the abstract and the compliance matrix (or their location on the shared repository) for the deep analysis. Depending on the complexity of the project it might be useful to organize a quick meeting between the project manager and the experts to introduce the RFQ and perform a Q&A session.

3. Analysis

3.1 By the experts

Thanks to the abstract, the experts can focus their analysis on their dedicated parts. They complete the compliance matrix with their recommendations or interrogations on each requirement depending on their field of expertise.

By the end of this step, the purpose is to whether have a full understanding of what is asked by the customer or to have an exhaustive list of questions to lighten the need.

3.2 By the project manager

While the experts are computing the RFQ, the manager can continue its treatment by looking for a similar project in the company archives. Maybe such a project has already been done for the same or another customer. The documentation of this previous project can be a real asset for the new one. It can help to identify risks, speed up the project execution or you may even be able to reuse elements and therefore be cheaper and go faster than your competitors.

Or, on the other side, you may discover this project is too risky because last time you lost money on it!

4. Is everything clear ?

At the end of the expert analysis, is the RFQ 100% clear or is there questions about it?

If there are questions, thanks to the compliance matrix you should have an exhaustive list to send to the customer.

The project manager can either send to the customer the compliance matrix but it might contain some confidential elements. So we recommend to turn this matrix into a simple reading sheet with only the questions and their subject in the RFQ. Once he answered to them, there is a second round of experts analysis on the remaining points which shall lead to a full comprehension of the customer’s need.

5. To Go or not to Go, that is the question

Now that you have a full understanding of what is asked, a list of risks from the compliance matrix and possibly a feedback from previous projects, it is time to organize a strategic meeting to decide whether you should build or not a proposal for this RFQ.

Maybe you will have all the green lights to continue to the proposal. And yes go for it!

Or maybe you will figure it out this project is too risky, has too much unknown parameters or that your company doesn’t have the skills for it. You may think “all that work for nothing?!” but you will have to step aside for this time because in the end you will save time and money. Those are resources you can now allocate to your other projects to increase their quality!

6. Report why

Whether it has been decided to continue to the proposal or not, either decision shall be documented in a short report. So take the initial abstract of the RFQ, the compliance matrix and add to them the RFQ Go/NoGo status with a section explaining the decision : what were the most important questions, which indicators were used and what was their importance in the decision making?

This report on the RFQ will be of a great value when a similar RFQ will come up again. It will ease the manager analysis (see §3.2), it might save lots of time not to do the whole analysis again if it ends up with a No Go. On the other side, if it is a Go, you will have more time to build a deeper stronger proposal! It is a win-win situation (as always with knowledge management).


You may have noticed that we didn’t mention the duration of this process. It is because it really depends on the size and complexity of the project. Sometimes half a day shall be enough for this analysis because the project only involves one person. Sometimes, on huge projects, this work takes months!

As we said, the purpose of the analysis is not to get a Go. I may even say depending on the amount of received RFQ, you should have more NoGo. Actually big corporates seek to increase their amount of NoGo! Lots of them give a Go to around 80% of all the RFQ they get. But only 1 out of 4 proposals they send to their customer is accepted and turned into a contract. It means 3 out of 4 proposals fail, so all the time corporates took to reply is lost and has cost them money. When they get one successful proposal, they do not have much time to execute it and because of the rush they may have missed to identify all the risks.

That is why the most important thing is to know very early in the process if the company should respond to the RFQ or step aside! It is always a question of balance between all the required information and being fast. In his 2016 letter to shareholders Jeff Bezos advises to take decisions when you have no more than 70% of the information you wish you had. Any higher amount would take too long to acquire.

How Naeptune Software can help?

First, with Naeptune Software, you can upload the RFQ onto you account. It will slice it into requirement clusters (chapters) so you can distribute them to your corresponding internal experts. In a near future, natural language processing algorithms will identify the required skills for the RFQ and suggest to send each cluster to the most skilled and available expert of your company. So you won’t need to keep track on who is working on what and who is still in the company.

Attribuez des parties de documents à vos collaborateurs
Attribute requirement clusters to you collaborators

Then each expert can tag “Go” or “NoGo”, comment and ask questions about every RFQ requirements directly within the application (no more mails, hand-scripted annotations, multiple RFQ revisions…). Everything is gathered in the same place.

You can give access to your customer so he directly answers the questions on the app. Or you can export them into a document and mail it to him.

At the end of the day, you have a very clear view of the RFQ status to take your final decision!

What about you?


How do you manage your customer RFQ?
Do you follow a different workflow?
Do you use compliance matrices?

? Contribute to our Study of documentation on business projects.

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