How To Organize An RFP – A Template Overview

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Does getting started on the RFP seem like a pain? Do you know where to begin?

It helps to have an RFP template, and that template may be simpler than you think. I always start with these five sections of an RFP, and they’ll probably work well for yours whether it’s one page or – God help us – one hundred pages: 

  1. Background & Instructions
  2. Company Information
  3. Questions & Answers
  4. Pricing
  5. Attachments


In my go-to RFP template, these are labeled tabs on a spreadsheet. But I usually start with simple text headers on a page, adding bullet points below each item during brainstorming. (Editing, copy & paste come later.)

Throughout this series we’ll go much deeper on the content for each section. This article presents a brief description and the purpose of each section.


Section 1: Background & Instructions

Purpose: to qualify your company and the opportunity to the vendor.

If the ideal vendor were to find your RFP blowing across a beach, they should be able to read the Background and Instructions section and know that it is a good fit for them. They would see that you are a customer they’d want to have, that they can deliver the results you are looking for, and they can follow the steps to participate.

In fact, the right vendor should be excited – yes EXCITED – to take part in the next steps.

When you build your RFP template, some of the company background information will be reusable for any RFP. But it must also include the context and the main goals of the specific purchase. Is it saving money? Is it better results? Is it fixing a problem?

Also include the milestones and deadlines for the RFP process.


Section 2: Company Information

Purpose: to qualify the vendor as someone you could work with.

In this section you ask the bidder basic questions that are relevant to your buying decision, or to working with them in general. 

Ask yourself this key question: Is there any knockout qualification that might disqualify the vendor? For example, if you need someone with a Kalamazoo office, or you won’t consider a company less than 5 years old, or cannot work with a company that has foreign ownership – these would be knockouts. You need to get them on the table as soon as possible, so ask them directly and specifically in the Company Information section.

Pro Tip: This is also a place where you can add a few of my favorite open-ended RFP questions, such as “What type of company makes the best client for you?” or “What type of projects do you say ‘no’ to?” These answers can be very illuminating and lead to great conversations.


Section 3: Questions & Answers

Purpose: to learn about the bidder’s product, service, and approach.

The goal of this section is to learn about the vendor’s product, service, and qualifications. Depending on the subject of the RFP, this section could be short or very lengthy. When you are setting up your RFP template, you want to make sure that you have the information in there that you and your company need to know. Whatever the length, almost every RFP should have these three types of questions:

Solution Questions – how would the vendor approach solving a specific aspect of a problem? These questions can be viewed as asking for free consulting, but they give the vendor a chance to differentiate themselves.

Check-off Questions – does the vendor have a certain capability or offering, or meet a specific buyer requirement? These should be short answers, often yes/no.

Open-ended Questions – such as “what’s the greatest risk in implementation?” or “what’s the best way your clients measure success”? Again, this presents a great learning opportunity for the buyer, and lets the seller share their unique perspective.


Section 4: Pricing

Purpose: to understand the COMPLETE cost of the vendor’s proposed solution.

This subject is too rich to try to summarize in a sentence or two. For now I’ll simply write that the buyer should ask for pricing the way THEY want to see it, and expect some follow up back-and-forth to clarify and negotiate.


Section 5: Attachments

Purpose: to help the vendor better understand your situation.

It’s often better to show than to tell. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a PowerPoint deck is worth… well, at least a few hundred words. If there are documents, pictures, slides, spreadsheets, websites or emails that will help the vendor better understand your situation, then by all means share them. Your goal is to get the highest quality responses possible, so help them help you. (I hope that’s not a Jerry McGuire reference, but it might be.)


I hope this makes it easier to get started with your RFP template. If you have more questions, or want help building an RFP template that works for your company, send me a note ( or give me a call at 703.944.9676.

Do you know if your company needs to develop on RFP or an RFQ? Read our great article here that will help you determine which will work better for you.

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