RFP responders and issuers spend a lot of time in a world of documents that determine important business outcomes. Rarely do these professionals speak candidly with one another about the RFP response process—which is why we brought both parties together here on The Responsive Blog.
Recently 10 RFP issuers revealed their definition of a standout RFP response. This time we asked RFP responders to chime in with what it takes to craft a winning response. Enjoy this insightful content advice from 15 RFP responders in the trenches.
Content advice from RFP responders in the trenches
Brian Fleming, General Counsel and Proposal Management Specialist at CaseWorthy
It starts with an excellent executive summary. Know exactly what the client is struggling with (current state) and what they seek to accomplish with the procurement (future state). The executive summary should have a simple structure that addresses how the vendor’s solution will not only accomplish the future state but exceed even the loftiest of future state aspirations.
The rest of the proposal should use the executive summary as a jumping off point for explaining how the vendor’s solution will be the best choice, all the while erring on the side of brevity and responsiveness with the supplemental strategies needed to win the deal.
Hope Sutton, Marketing Communication Coordinator at Alera Group
Excellent RFPs are driven by personalization. From the cover page to the content inside, the entire RFP needs to be prospect/client centric. Going the extra mile to show the company that you are tailoring your approach to their needs is a must in today’s competitive market.
David Rynne, Presales Global Content Specialist at Basware
A well-executed executive summary is like a good subject headline. Your executive summary must be personalized for your buyer personas with solutions to their unique challenges, or else it doesn’t give the prospect a reason to read further.
The executive summary is there to position your company as a problem solver that offers multiple benefits and value. The rest of the RFP is structured the same—and reiterates the bullet points of the executive summary, but in more detail.
Erica Taylor, Co-Founding Partner at TINSEL Experiential Design
- Provide a working project timeline to the clients, which demonstrates the feasibility of your team’s involvement and insight into your team’s process, systems, and action steps.
- Re-articulate KPIs and success metrics—if applicable, include other measurable data points that might be valuable and prove the ROI of the project.
- Whether it’s requested or not, share other projects and case studies with proof points that share the same aesthetic style or scope. This helps clients feel secure in the fact that you have the experience and expertise needed to get the job done.
- Include a section to reflect open questions, which demonstrates that you are thinking deeply and analytically about the project proposed in the RFP.
Tyler Sweatt, Managing Partner at Future Tense
Context and clarity will set your RFP responses apart. Too many organizations respond to RFPs with canned marketing language and limited substance, making evaluation and differentiation extremely difficult.
Contextualize your response to the actual challenges the organization you’re responding to is facing. Show them you understand how your solution must fit into their environment. Make it clear that your solution or approach is credible and relevant through cases studies or supporting data.
Frank Oelschlager, Partner/Managing Director at Ten Mile Square Technologies
To make an RFP response truly stand out, it must not only meet the bar for completeness, content quality, and qualifications—it must also provide detail into both “the what” and “the how.”
The best way to offer this detail is by directly connecting the proposed solution to the various parts of the problem statement and requirements laid out in the RFP. Create a narrative that allows the buyer to visualize their success as a result of your partnership.
Greg Githens, Author at Catalyst & Cadre
The strategic thinking micro skill of empathy is critical to a good response. Make your potential client the hero of the story. Show that you have an adequate understanding of the client and their business environment. Imagine the RFP issuer reading your proposal with a compliance matrix next to them, where they first evaluate whether you understand their needs then how well your offer fits.
Walter Wise, CEO at The BPI Strategy Group
Respond to every requirement, providing the exact information requested, using the format that was requested. Write in layman’s terms, typically 10th to 11th grade level, as that is easy to understand by the evaluators. I don’t use fancy covers, but I do use Johnson Boxes and specific proposal graphics when practical.
Ingrid Christensen, President at INGCO International
- Give yourself enough time. It usually takes double the amount of time to prepare a quality response than you estimated.
- Research who is on the decision-making panel and figure out their pain points. Customize your proposal to hit all the details requested in the RFP and tailor your communication to address all pain points.
- Take time to read, reread, and reread again. Make sure you have several team members review the entire document.
- Deliver at least a day early. You don’t want all of your hard work to go down the drain because your RFP didn’t arrive on time.
Rafe Gomez, Co-owner at VC Inc. Marketing
Don’t feature verbose, unnecessary, or extraneous components that make absolutely no sense from a selling perspective. You don’t need to tell the whole story—just tell enough to hook your prospect. By describing the exclusive benefits your organization can deliver as quickly, concisely, and convincingly as possible…you’ll have greater potential to win the deal.
Diane Callihan, President at Callihan Content Creation
I always feel a bit sorry for the person who has to wade through a number of RFP responses, because they are typically so dry and boring. To stand out, I make my RFP responses fun to read—not being afraid to include some personality, attitude, and humor. My agency was awarded a large project, and the client said it had a lot to do with the fact that my proposal made them laugh.
Joe Marchelewski, Sr. Account Manager at Juris Productions PR
Being meticulous with the response is absolutely necessary. Do your homework on the company. What exactly are they asking? Who has represented them in the past? What kinds of clues can you find from their prior representation? RFP responses need context. Context only comes from understanding…which only comes from research.
Ken Gaul, Director at Source One
Understand that there is a certain amount of “checking the box” that needs to be done. Answer the face value question concisely, then springboard into your solution to the question(s) behind the question. Beyond what your prospective customer is asking you for, what should they be thinking about?
To rise to the top of the scorecard, you need to be competitively priced but you also need the prospect to feel that you understand their challenges innately, and that you can guide them to the ideal solution. The premise is that your solution is the ideal one, and they just don’t know it yet.
This is, of course, assuming that you’ve already done your due diligence and qualified the opportunity. Is the person running the RFP going to properly represent your solution to the true decision makers? If not, maybe pass on it. Your time is better spent on prospects with whom you can develop a relationship.
Tamara Van Meter, Firm Principal and Head of Interior Design at SMBW
- Follow their lead. Use the client’s RFP format, including the order and terminology, to make it easy for them to read and evaluate.
- Incorporate performance results from past projects to demonstrate the value you bring to the table.
- Avoid oversaturating each page with text. A good practice with proposal formatting is to use photographs or graphics with no more than three supporting points for a clear and succinct message.
Lisa Rehurek, Founder and CEO at The RFP Success™ Company
Give prompts to your technical writers for each question. Make it easy for them to give you what you need, and help them in the process. Prompt them with how to answer the question with more detailed questions, or provide them with a table that outlines exactly what information you want them to provide. This keeps them focused, it gives you more consistency across multiple technical writers, and it makes the process simpler on them.