A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Confusing RFP Response Terminology

If you’re new to responding to RFPs — whether you’ve just joined a team experienced with the process or your company has just started looking into RFPs as a potential revenue source — some of the language used in the RFP industry can be quite confusing! 

If you’re part of an established team, you’ll be able to learn from your teammates. You also may have access to some of the comprehensive resources offered by the Association for Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), particularly their Body of Knowledge (BOK) which includes a glossary. 

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But even if you have this comprehensive resource, there are numerous examples of industry jargon that are not included. Plus, if your team, experienced or not, is doing the work manually, the terms around automation may be equally as confusing. We’re going to walk through the key “terms of art” and tools that you’ll want to know for success.

Let’s start off with an obvious question:

How do you automate RFP responses?

This answer is complex, and depends greatly on how large your RFP and the subsequent response is, what industry you’re in, who the final client is, and how short or long the turnaround time is. A point of particular consideration is how customized your response will be. RFP response automation can include these activities:

  • Cataloguing / managing all of your proposal material in a proposal database
  • Scrubbing of prior proposal content
  • RFP shredding
  • Creation of a compliance matrix
  • Suggesting answers to proposal questions
  • Managing workflow
  • Enabling collaborative proposal writing

Software solutions that support some or many of these activities can be classified as RFP Response Automation software, or sometimes as Proposal Automation software (which is technically a broader category that includes tools that support the creation of any type of proposal, not just those created in response to an RFP).

What is the RFP response process called?

The gold standard in the industry for the RFP response process is known broadly as the Shipley method or process. Technically the Shipley Business Development Process, this 96-step process was developed by Shipley Associates to codify the steps a business should take in serving Federal government clients. The process actually goes well beyond the activities associated with RFP response, although about two-thirds of the steps fall into their phases of Proposal Planning, Proposal Development, and Post-Submittal Activities.

As you might have guessed from its length, this process was designed to support the intricate requirements of companies vying for multi-million dollar Federal contracts. Because this process is frequently too complex and impossible to staff for organizations not doing this type of business, you’ll see many truncated variations of the process. Often consultants and process providers indicate that their method is based on the Shipley process, but tailored for the types of organizations they support.

What are Color Team Reviews?

Color Team Reviews are a series of team or management reviews that occur at specific points in the RFP response process. Each color-coded review has a specific purpose in order to ensure that the proposal is developed in compliance with the requests of the RFP issuer and in a manner that best positions a company to win the bid.

Sometimes the color of the review helps indicate its purpose, for example, the Green Team Review covers the pricing aspects of a proposal, and the Gold Team Review is the executive review of a completed proposal to ensure it’s submission-ready. Some of the other color reviews, however, are not as intuitive in their naming. If you need to understand the full array of these reviews, AOC Key Solutions has published a useful guide to color team reviews on their blog.

What is RFP shredding?

RFP shredding is the process completed by many organizations to thoroughly read, understand, and highlight the information contained in an RFP and also the requirements for the response. We’ve also heard professionals call this process “bursting” the RFP. For Federal Government RFPs, which have a uniform structure as specified by Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), the focus is on Sections C (the Statement of Work), L (Instructions and Guidelines), and M (Evaluation Factors), in particular. 

When completed manually, many organizations actually use colored highlighters to designate content in different categories, like questions that must be addressed in the response, timing information beyond the due date like due dates for vendor questions, or budget requirements.

Why’s it called “shredding”? We haven’t found a definitive answer to this question, but we’ve heard that the term came from the appearance of the highlighted doc, because it looks like it’s been shredded (even though it’s still technically in one piece)!

What does it mean to scrub a Proposal?

When companies enter their completed Proposals into a content library or database, they frequently go through a process of “scrubbing” the content. This process removes client- or solution-specific information from the text, like company names, pricing, names of assigned staff, and sometimes information like acronyms. It might be more aptly called “redaction”. Here’s an example of some scrubbed content:

Example of scrubbed proposal content

The goal of scrubbing is to ensure that when proposal content is reused, inappropriate information or details are not accidentally included in new responses. Scrubbing alone doesn’t guarantee that you won’t make errors. But when scrubbing is done well — particularly with visible handling of removed information — you and your team will have reduced the risk significantly of making an embarrassing mistake with new proposals that you deliver.

How do I know when to start using RFP response software for my team?

If your team is working manually, and you are constantly struggling to meet deadlines or complete other assignments, it’s probably time to start thinking about an RFP automation tool. This even applies for teams of one!

DraftSpark.ai is an RFP Response Automation solution that helps teams host their proposal library, shred new RFPs, find their prior content and automatically populate a new, first draft proposal. It also supports automatic scrubbing of content in prior proposals. We also make it easy to collaborate during the proposal writing process and manage the tasks and timeline in a unified interface. 

If you’re online researching how to create RFP responses and how to be more efficient with the process, this may be another indicator that it’s time to adopt software. A platform will save lots of time, and the benefits could far outweigh the costs!

Have more questions? Think we missed some terms? Email us at marketing@draftspark.ai and let us know! We’d love to add to our list and publish updates for our audience.

Download the Ultimate RFP Response Process Guide to learn how your team can win  proposals in less time.