You respond to Request For Proposals (RFPs) to get more business, but it requires a strategic approach – it’s not just words on paper and a price. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities and the benefits you deliver while also providing good value. Make it clear, concise and compelling.
Here are seven ways to win more business with your proposals:
1. Develop a strategy
Don’t respond to an RFP without a plan. This means understanding what the client needs, not just what they put in their RFP, reading between the lines and doing research. Establish their hot buttons and make sure you hit them. Focus your message and solution to respond directly to their needs. Figure out what matters, identify what to emphasize and how to convince them that you are the only choice. Understand your competition’s weaknesses and strengths and promote your strength where they are weak and give a counter argument where they are strong.
2. Answer the Questions
When responding to an RFP, you usually have to answer questions. Always repeat the question as a title to your answer, paraphrasing if necessary. Answer up-front and with details. If you need to position or qualify your answer, do it only after you give them the information they are looking for. Provide clear evidence to support what you are saying. Generalities and theory are not enough. If the question has several parts, make sub-headings and answer each part separately.
If they asked the question, they have a reason. Understand what the reason is, not just words they use. If you don't make it easy for them to see the answer they are looking for, how can they evaluate you?
3. Avoid Boilerplate material
If you use boilerplate material, don’t just cut and paste. Customize everything to fit the client’s needs and respond directly to them, don’t simply give them packaged sales material. That doesn't mean just doing a 'find/replace' to change the client name, for instance. You must assess the content and re-write it to fit the needs and context of your client. Customized writing will stick in the client's mind when they evaluate you - generic stuff won't.
4. Mirror your Client
Repeat your client's phrases, terminology and even parts of the question itself in your responses. Studies show that this type of mirroring will get better results. The evaluator remembers your answers easier since their own words register and relate to your answer. Call the client by name where possible and use the first person ‘you’ to make it a more personal response. For instance, say "You will increase employee efficiency by 5 per cent with our product" instead of "Our product increases efficiency by 5%"
5. Differentiate Yourself
A proposal is a contest. The evaluators weigh your bid against the others and decide which is best. To come out on top, you need to differentiate your product or service. A good RFP will ask you questions that help evaluators differentiate the bidders, rather than asking questions all bidders can answer easily. When you describe the benefits that differentiate you, give real examples they can relate to. This demonstrates that you can do what you say you can do.
6. Readable Structure
Having good answers, the right solution and hitting their hot buttons will be wasted if your proposal is neither readable nor memorable. Make it easy for them to find the information that matters most and make it stick in their minds for when they evaluating you.
Instead of writing a big block of text, break it up and use headings, bullet points, short paragraphs, pull out boxes and other visual cues to draw attention to important information. Start the section or answer with a clear, unambiguous statement that pinpoints your strengths and benefits to the client. Repeat it in a short summary at the end.
If each question or section is evaluated against set criteria, your structure should match the criteria structure to make it easy for the evaluators to score you. Imagine that they have a checklist to score you with on each question. Make it as easy as possible for the evaluators – they shouldn’t have to hunt for information.
7. Clear Writing
Don’t get stuck in the trap of simply providing a corporate sales pitches and marketing fluff. Don’t try to impress them with your fancy writing. Forget what you learned in English 101 and write to clearly communicate and sell yourself to busy, sophisticated buyers. Put your passion for the topic in check and don’t pack the proposal with interesting information that doesn’t support your message. Proposal writing is about communicating clearly to the client why you should be selected.
Your proposal is the most visible evidence of your professionalism and your capability to serve your client. If you follow these steps and have a compelling financial proposal, you will have the edge over your competition and win more business.
About the Author:
Michel Theriault is an independent consultant with experience writing successful RFP responses and has worked with client organizations to develop RFP specifications, questions, evaluation matrices and performance metrics in addition to training evaluators and evaluating RFP responses. His upcoming book, “Win More Business ... Write Better Proposals” helps service providers improve their proposals.