Pile of 3-ring binders filled with paper

A lot of government departments and corporations work hard at figuring out what to put in their RFPs, but spend little time thinking about the RFP title or the names of the documents associated with the proposal request. Clear posting titles can often be the last priority, especially when the RFP creators are busy thinking about budgets and deadlines.  

The result can be confusing to folks looking to answer RFPs. For example, this morning an RFP with the elegant name/description of “HOW15044 09/26/2019 11:50” was in my emails. Having absolutely no idea if this was anything my clients would want to know about, I downloaded the PDF (unfortunately named “Solicitation.pdf” so no hints there) and opened it. The request is for “Identification of <state name redacted> citizens not in the Labor Force” and is a 32 page document. How in the world would a company that does surveys of populations know that this RFP is something they should look into? 

Inbox screen shot

People who answer RFPs (or who find them for clients) spend a lot of hours (and hard disk space) on badly-named RFPs like the one above. And people in companies and government departments are constantly missing out on contacting the right people for their projects by giving files and RFPs unhelpful names. I subscribe to multiple state governments’ RFP emails, as well as to several services, and in a single day I will see multiple RFPs for “Application Software” and “Software Solution” as well as the always informative “SOFTWARE SERVICES” in all caps. 

If you are the person in charge of posting an RFP to your state’s website or to a mailing list, you can improve the quality of responses (and potentially cut the number of “what is this RFP about” emails sent to the person named as the RFP contact) by doing one simple thing: writing an RFP title that clearly explains what you want, so that the RFP gets the attention of the right bidders. 

Here are three quick (and easy to implement) tips for improving your RFP titles. 

  1. Don’t repeat the RFP number/system identifier in the title of the RFP. You have a limited amount of real estate, so use it for words that describe the service or product you want bids on, and not on how you identify your RFP in your system.  You should also leave the date and version number off the title since those don’t provide any information to the potential bidder. You can use those things internally during the writing process, but scrub them off the title when you post the final RFP.
  2. Put what you are shopping for at the beginning of the title and keep any department or identifying info for the end. In a list of open RFPs I was browsing this morning, the one titled “<County name redacted> Financial Business and Service Desk Assessment” would be better titled “Assessment of Financial Business and Service Desk” with the county name completely removed. (An exception would be to add the county name at the end as “for County Name” if multiple counties might be doing RFPs for the same service or product.) This title still doesn’t clarify what type of assessment, but it does come closer to being aimed at the folks who might answer it. Another example is “CDFA_STARLIMS_RFO_201911-001” where CDFA is the department name as an acronym and RFO stands for Request For Order; both of those could be removed from the title (along with the date/number sequence). That specific RFP was written to find a consultant who knows how to migrate from an outdated version of a specific software to the current version, and that state would have been clearer using the title a different state used (on the same day no less) such as “UPGRADE SERVICE FOR THE STARLIMS™ APPLICATION.”
  3. Don’t assume the people you are hoping will respond will know what your acronyms stand for. It’s easy when you are within a state (or a department or a company) to begin thinking that the whole world knows all the acronyms you use to save time and space. IFB could stand for “Invitation to Bid” in many states, but in Illinois it stands for “Illinois Farm Bureau” and outside the USA that acronym is usually reserved for the “Insurance Fraud Bureau.”  If spelling out the acronym will help your RFP be found by the right responders (i.e., Insurance people rather than Illinois farmers), then you should spell it out. 

In addition, keep in mind that heavy use of acronyms in the title can hide the fact that your title isn’t following my point #2 and being clear about what the RFP is actually soliciting. For example, one RFP notice that came across my desk was for “CWDC CRM DQ for OIT”  which was actually an RFP for a Salesforce solution. If the RFP writer had spelled out all the acronyms in the title it would have been obvious to the person writing the RFP that the word “Salesforce” wasn’t in the title, which might mean that Salesforce consultants would never even see that RFP.

Writing clear and useful RFP titles can greatly improve your chance of getting the RFP in front of the right companies. I highly encourage anyone tasked with posting (or emailing) RFPs to put time and effort into creating a title/summary that will clearly identify the exact product or service you are asking companies to write a bid for. 

Good luck with your RFPs, and please feel free to contact me if you need help with titles, writing RFPs, or writing RFP responses.  

Three Tips for Improving RFP Titles
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