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Is a proposal development consultant the key to winning your next RFP?

Is a proposal development consultant the key to winning your next RFP?

When a huge opportunity crosses your desk in the form of a detailed RFP, there’s a lot of pressure to […]

Category: Tag: Proposal

Is a proposal development consultant the key to winning your next RFP?

Is a proposal development consultant the key to winning your next RFP?

When a huge opportunity crosses your desk in the form of a detailed RFP, there’s a lot of pressure to get it just right. Will you be ready to create the proposal of a lifetime and seal the deal? If you’re not quite sure, hiring a proposal development consultant may pay off in a big way.

Proposal development consultants go by a number of names. Titles of the role include proposal consultant, proposal writing consultant, strategic proposal consultant or even marketing consultant. No matter what you call them, their goal is to improve your chances of winning the business. 

In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know about hiring and working with a proposal development consultant. We’ll start with what you can expect from your proposal consultant, why you might hire one as well as interview questions to help you find the right fit.

What is a proposal development consultant?

As you might expect, a proposal development consultant works with businesses to create proposals. Sometimes they are called proposal consultants or RFP consultants. These consultants offer an outside perspective, insight and expertise. 

Typically, they have years of experience in the field. Many started their career answering proposals themselves before making the move to consulting. So, your proposal consultant should have a deep understanding of your challenges and industry.

Why hire a proposal consultant?

There are a lot of reasons to consider engaging with a proposal development consultant. For example, you may need expertise in a particular industry you’re selling into, or you may need someone to finesse your responses for a particularly lucrative opportunity. Bringing in a little help to ensure your proposal hits all the right notes will help you move forward with confidence.

When it comes to small and medium-sized businesses, they likely don’t have a dedicated proposal coordinator or manager. So, creating a timely and compelling proposal is a challenge. Beyond pulling resources away from their full-time work, it’s easy to let proposal deadlines sneak up. However, engaging with a proposal development consultant will take the burden off of the team and ensure that the project stays on track.

On the other hand, large, dedicated proposal teams face a different set of challenges. RFPs are a huge part of the overall business strategy. In these cases, proposal managers must find a balance between volume and quality. A proposal writing consultant can help by managing overflow work, consulting on key projects, evaluating and optimizing processes or simply providing an outside perspective.

It’s easy to get entrenched (and a little blinded) by a repetitive RFP process. When creating proposals becomes routine, it can be easy to overlook things that aren’t clear. In addition, little mistakes can pop up here and there. But little mistakes can make a big impression. 

A good illustration of this comes from an interview with Betsy McDonald of the Chicago White Sox. When the team was looking for an advertising agency, they received more than 60 proposals and some were memorable for all the wrong reasons.

“Our stuff needs to be perfectly proofread, so typos and mistakes in the RFP response were hard to overcome.”

Proposal development consultant services

When you hire a proposal consultant for the first time, it’s hard to know what to expect. Generally, businesses seek a proposal writing consultant to help them create content. However, they can be a great resource to your entire proposal team. They’re a wealth of knowledge, so explore the services they offer beyond writing proposal content.

Additional proposal consultant services may include:

Types of strategic proposal consultants

In your search for proposal help, you’ll find a range of organizations and individuals eager to work with you. Before you engage with one, it’s important to understand your options. Your needs will determine what type of consultant you should hire and for what services.

Proposal consultancy firms 

There are some great proposal consultancy firms that are laser-focused on finding new ways to win RFPs. Often, these organizations work in a variety of industries. One benefit of working with a group of consultants is that efficiency is built into their business model. Therefore, they probably have a tried and true process. They should be highly organized, communicative and prompt. So if speed is your highest priority, this may be the way to go.

Marketing consultant or sales consultant

Proposal management often falls into the marketing or sales department. Accordingly, you may find that a marketing or sales consultant has the proposal expertise you need. Thanks to their broad focus on the marketing landscape or sales lifecycle, these consultants can offer trend and process insights. If you’re looking for a holistic approach to RFP management consulting, this might be the way to go.

Independent proposal consultants

When you need expertise about your potential customer’s industry, there’s an independent consultant out there for you. Solo proposal development consultants generally specialize in one field. Because of their experience, they are able to create tailored responses that use the right terminology and tone. More importantly, they understand the underlying need and logic behind the questions in the RFP. To leverage the full value of this insight, engage them to perform regular reviews of the content library as a part of your knowledge management strategy.

Freelance proposal writer

Almost all proposals can benefit from an outside perspective and a second pair of eyes. In this case, a proposal freelancer may be your best choice. Often, it’s difficult to make a proposal consistent. After all, proposals are frequently written by a handful of subject matter experts and stakeholders. A freelance proposal writer will review the content to make it more powerful and compelling while creating a cohesive and error-free final product.

The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) offers a directory with proposal consultants of all types. APMP members can access the entire catalog, while non-members have limited access. Check it out here.

How to pick a proposal development consultant

From a full proposal consultancy firm to a proposal freelancer, there’s no doubt that the right consultant can be the difference between winning and losing. Speed is a crucial factor, so start with these questions ready when you interview candidates. Ultimately, the right answers will depend on your needs. But, remember to trust your gut. All the experience in the world can’t make up for a poor communicator or a bad culture fit. 

What is their process?

This should be your first question. The process they use will impact your entire team and your success. All proposal development consultants should be able to clearly articulate their best practices and work process. Be sure to communicate any relevant project background as well as your goals.

How will they communicate with you and your team?

Collaboration will be key to success. While the consultant will be able to provide input and advice, they don’t have the expertise about your business to complete the proposal themselves. Communication must be a two-way street throughout the process. How and when will they share updates? Will they need to set meetings with stakeholder and subject matter experts? How will they collaborate with you and your team?

What proposal technology do they use?

Speaking of collaboration, how does the consultant leverage technology? An RFP management tool delivers a ton of value when working with a consultant. Will they work with your team within your existing process or will they need you to adapt to them? Do they use a file share system to gather information?

Who have they worked with in the past?

Ask for references and success stories from previous clients. Inquire about their background in the industry and relevant experience. Did they do a little homework about your business? If they specialize in your industry or work with potential competitors, ask about confidentiality and data security practices.

What will they need to get started?

Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll want to move quickly and empower them with the information they need. After all, the proposal deadline waits for no one. How can you prepare your team and empower the consultant to be successful?

Investing in proposals

We all need a little help sometimes. With so many people, questions and elements involved in the RFP response process, there’s no question that organizing a proposal can be a challenge. Luckily, proposal consultants are experts that have worked through dozens, if not hundreds of similar RFPs. Their experience can provide important insight about what you may have forgotten and ideas you should consider as well as subtext about what the buyer is looking for. At the end of the day, engaging a consultant is an investment, but for the right opportunity, it can really pay off.

The perfect proposal format: Create eye-catching RFP responses

The perfect proposal format: Create eye-catching RFP responses

While it’s true that looks aren’t everything, when it comes to your proposal format, appearance is important. Visual appeal is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. The way your RFP response looks impacts how your potential client feels about your company. A properly formatted proposal is more approachable, engaging and effective. Consequently, paying attention to proposal formatting pays off.

I’ve worked on countless proposals and RFP presentations in my career. Frequently, I find myself adjusting the same things. So, the big question is: What should a proposal look like? To help, I wanted to share some tips to help you view your proposals from a design perspective. 

In this blog, I’ll start by offering some things to think about when considering your proposal format. In addition, I’ll offer 11 tips for creating visually appealing proposals. And finally, I’ll share my favorite tools to help. Armed with these tips and tools, you’ll understand how these small adjustments make a big impact.

Things to remember when thinking about formatting

As you read through the tips below, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The format of your proposal should always support your end goal. Naturally, that goal is to help a potential customer decide that your business is the best choice. Some of the suggestions may seem small, but every little advantage counts.

What proper proposal formatting can do

Make a positive impression

Your business did a lot of work to get this RFP, so the response should capitalize on the good impression you’ve already made through capture management. Consequently, the proposal design should reinforce your brand, professionalism and reputation. In addition, the way your RFP response looks can communicate that your company is easy to work with and understands what the buyer needs.

Encourage evaluators to actually read your proposal

Sadly, most of the people who will see your proposal won’t actually read it. It’s unfortunate, but true. In the best-case scenario, your proposal will be one of three options, but at worst, one of dozens. As an evaluator, no matter how short the RFP is, evaluation is a daunting prospect. Naturally, the first review of an RFP response is quick. Several of the tips below are designed to grab attention and turn the procurement manager’s impulse to skim and scan into a positive.

Advance to the shortlist and win the business

Ultimately, the quality of your proposal content should be compelling enough to win the business. However, as any person who evaluates proposals regularly can tell you, there are little things that can work against you. It may seem unfair, but typos and inconsistencies are a distraction. In addition, they communicate carelessness, a lack of attention to detail and an inability to execute. Certainly, those qualities aren’t often associated with winning proposals.

11 tips for appealing proposal formatting

Note: If there’s a tool that applies directly to the tip, click the [tool] text to jump directly to it in the tools section.

1. Pick your font with purpose

To kick off, let’s talk about fonts. It’s a little thing, but not all fonts are created equal. Don’t think it could possibly make a difference in your proposal? Check out this example:

All three of these fonts are well-known and available in Microsoft Word. Each is 12-point and has the same line spacing, but the difference is remarkable. Not only do some fonts pose a page-limit challenge, but imagine having to read an entire proposal in Papyrus. My eyes are exhausted just thinking about it.

If your RFP response will likely be distributed by the issuer digitally, I recommend a sans-serif font, like Arial. While the debate is ongoing, generally designers believe that these simple fonts are best for digital reading. The reason is interesting (at least to a designer) and you can read more about it in this article.

On the other hand, if you know your proposal will be printed or you must submit a hard copy, a serif font may be the right pick. Books and newspapers are typically printed in a serif font, like Times New Roman, so readers are comfortable with the style. Interestingly, it is estimated that Times New Roman uses 27 percent less ink than Arial. So, if you often submit hard copies of long proposals, it’s a reliable pick that looks good and saves you money.

2. Stick with a style [tool]

As I mentioned above, consistency counts. While I don’t have a strong opinion about the Oxford comma, your entire proposal should follow the same style. After all, the last thing you want to do is distract an engaged reader from your message.

When working with several authors and subject matter experts (SMEs), you’ll likely receive content that has a variety of appearances. From page layout to font and everything in between, the proposal design should look the same from front to back. When I review proposals, I always run through this checklist to ensure consistency:

Proposal formatting checklist

  • Margins
  • Font(s)
    • No more than two
    • Size and line spacing
  • Headers
    • Font and size
    • Title or sentence case
  • Capitalization
    • Product or solution names
    • Employee titles
  • Oxford commas – Yes or no
  • Sentence spacing – One or two spaces
  • Photos – Style, border, shape
  • Charts and graphs – Style, colors, font
  • Spelling – International differences
  • Lists
    • Bullet points or dashes
    • Numbers or letters

3. Embrace your brand

Use your proposal format to support your company brand. Part of being memorable is being recognizable. For example, if you have a well-established brand, consider using your company logo, colors, font and images in your proposal format. Not only will it reinforce your brand identity, but it will make your proposal stand out from the stack.

Branded proposal format example

Check out this example of branded proposal formatting from FedEx. Even without looking it up (or reading ahead), I’m sure you could draw their logo and name their brand colors. Accordingly, FedEx leverages its distinctive look in their proposal design. They feature their logo, use brand colors for headers and include photos to make their proposal incredibly easy to spot.

There’s a lot to learn from this proposal format example, and you’ll definitely see it pop up a few more times throughout the rest of our tips.

4. Be concise but nice [tool]

In the world of proposal review and scoring, brevity is a kindness. However, without the benefit of the timing and tone of verbal communication, overly short written responses may be misinterpreted as blunt or harsh. Beyond the challenge of creating a singular voice from a patchwork of input, proposal coordinators must find a balance between cordiality and concision.

Luckily, your RFP cover letter and executive summary present an opportunity to make a human connection. Use these introductory documents to set the tone for the rest of the proposal. Consider mentioning intangible reasons why you’re a good fit. For example, discuss how you can uniquely serve them, your vision for the future and company values you have in common.

Within your RFP responses, strive for short sentences and paragraphs. As you read lengthy answers from SMEs, look for compound sentences that can be broken down. From there, you’ll often find that part of the sentence wasn’t necessary. In addition, it is helpful to read the answer and then summarize it to yourself. With the shortest possible answer in mind, it will be easier to communicate the essential facts and remove anything else.

By simple virtue of being easy to read and not overwhelmingly dense, your proposal will be memorable. This goes for paragraphs too. Try to keep things as simple as possible, so your reader isn’t faced with a wall of text.

5. Personalize with pictures [tool]

Proposals don’t have to be a massive block of text. One of the best ways to catch and retain attention is by adding pictures. For example, if your proposal includes short bios for key staff, add a headshot for each. Or, if the RFP requests a customer story or reference, include a photo or logo from that customer.

Images break up your text blocks, are eye catching and help the issuer picture themselves as your customer. However, when you use images, make sure they are relevant, secondary to your content and good quality.

Again, our proposal format example from FedEx does a great job of using images to capture attention. In the image below, the RFP question is about eco-friendly transportation. Their answer includes information about their EarthSmart program. Additionally, it is accompanied by an image of a truck with the EarthSmart logo. The combination makes the idea of green initiatives feel more concrete.

6. Take advantage of video [tool]

If you respond via an RFP software platform, you have a unique advantage. RFP management systems can enable you to embed videos into your RFP responses. The applications are endless. For example: If the RFP asks customer success questions, you can include a short video about the process. Indeed, who better than the department director to talk through the onboarding process while showing how quick and easy it is to access support services? Notably, a minute of video is the equivalent of about 150 words, the equivalent of about a quarter page of text.

7. Leverage links

In addition to embedding video, proposal software enables you to include links in your responses. Consequently, the resulting proposal is shorter and the person evaluating it has more control.

For instance, a procurement manager may only need the basics about data security protocol, however, when they pass the proposal along to the IT department, a link allows them to dig in further without additional back and forth.

Including links also reduces file sizes. And, it allows the vendor to control access to the information, if necessary. So, even sensitive information can be shared without sending it via email. Ultimately, links allow you to provide additional information without getting bogged down by attachments, addendums and supplemental documentation tacked onto the end.

8. Get creative with charts and graphs [tool]

Let’s face it, spreadsheets are not likely to hold anyone’s attention for long. So, rather than just linking to an attached spreadsheet, create a chart or graph to illustrate your most impactful stats.

Here’s our FedEx proposal formatting example one more time. In a continuation of the question about sustainability, the company further illustrates the results of their efforts. FedEx uses infographic-style visuals to present information in an engaging way.

Not only do they tout their accomplishments, but they also share their ongoing goals for the future. Certainly, it’s a powerful statement of their commitment to doing their part for the environment. For companies who prioritize partnerships with companies who share their values, this looks like a winning proposal.

Remember, just like images and video, the charts and graphs you include must be relevant to the RFP question. No matter how tempting it is to shoehorn your best numbers into the proposal, resist the urge.

9. Make it accessible and inclusive [tool]

Assumptions and implicit bias are everywhere you look. But, they shouldn’t be in your proposal. Remember, once you submit, you don’t know who within your potential customer’s organization will need to read and weigh in on your proposal. Accessibility and inclusion are powerful and matter deeply. Here are some easy ways to ensure your proposal can connect with everyone:

Quick tips for proposal accessibility

  • Avoid using color combinations that are tricky for people with color blindness
  • Don’t use font colors or images that are low contrast
  • Add alt text to describe images for people who are visually impaired

A few considerations for inclusive proposals

  • Use ‘they’ instead of gendered pronouns when referring to a hypothetical person
  • Be sure to feature images that are representative of your diverse company and customer base
  • Avoid language that may alienate your reader like technical jargon and sports metaphors

10. Follow the requested format

This shouldn’t have to be said, but you’d be surprised how often we hear procurement professionals express their frustration that vendors can’t follow directions. In fact, some are so fed up with it they will automatically disqualify suppliers who disregard RFP instructions. You have to play by the rules. That’s really all there is to it.

11. Review, refresh and revise [tool]

We’ve arrived at our final tip: proposal review. After spending hours writing, editing and reviewing, it’s important to ask for outside input. I can’t overstate the value of a fresh pair of eyes. Enlist a colleague to be your go-to reviewer. Then, equip them with a proposal style guide (think about using the checklist in Tip 2) to help guide their edits.

First, ask them to scan the proposal, just like the procurement manager will. If they notice anything that looks out of place or doesn’t make sense, make adjustments. Likewise, ask them to briefly skim the answers and point out any inconsistencies or confusing answers. Don’t be afraid to make last-minute changes. Better to correct it now and feel confident than wonder after you’ve already submitted it.

Tools for help make your RFP response look like a winner

Now, it’s time to put these tips into action. Here are some of my favorite tools and guides to help you get started creating the perfect proposal design.

Proposal style tools

Style guide creation

This helpful blog from Venngage explores all of the things that you should include in your style guide as well as examples from tech companies. However, before you start from scratch, check with your marketing team to see if you have a brand guide that might meet your needs.

Readability tool

Easily one of the best tools for evaluating readability, Hemingway Editor is free to use. Its most helpful feature for proposal teams is the sentence length warnings: it highlights long sentences in yellow and extra long sentences in red.

Inclusion and accessibility tools

A guide for inclusion

The Conscious style guide is a centralized location to find all of the latest articles and educational materials about inclusion. The site offers topics to get you started, or you can simply search for information if you have a specific question.

How to use color blind-friendly palettes

Another great tool from Venngage, this guide explores everything you need to know about color blindness. In addition to providing background information, it offers easy ways to put it to practice.

Color contrast checker

Quick and easy to use, this checker from Coolors is great for ensuring your digital is easy to read for those with low vision. Simply insert your background and text colors and get an automatic visibility score.

How to add alt text to a PDF

If you submit proposals as PDFs, be sure to check out this guide from Adobe to adding alt text to images and graphs. Alt text enables people with a visual impairment to hear a description of the image.

Review tool

Real-time grammar feedback

Grammarly is a helpful tool available as a Chrome extension or a standalone web app. If you install it on your browser, you can see real-time feedback when it detects a potential error.

Guide to proposal review

The process to review proposals is a crucial skill. Fortunately, this proposal review guide explores everything you need to know. In addition, it includes helpful tips to ensure you don’t miss a thing.

The proposal management plan for a one-person team

The proposal management plan for a one-person team

An effective proposal management process is like a jigsaw puzzle; it takes multiple pieces, and they have to fit together just right. If you’re a one-person team, putting all the pieces together can be a challenge, but it’s manageable, at least if the right processes are in place. 

With small and medium-sized businesses, it’s common for one-person teams to manage the entire proposal management process. However, they can hopefully count on support from collaborators, such as the sales team and subject matter experts (SMEs).

If you’re a one-person team, you might have other job responsibilities on top of responding to RFPs. In addition, a proposal manager can oversee many different aspects of the RFP process. 

If that’s you, we’re here to help you bring order to the chaos, starting with incorporating these factors into your proposal management plan—powered by collaboration and automation.

How a proposal team of one can optimize the proposal process

A proposal manager is in charge of the proposal management process. Whether they are a one-person team or the head of an entire department, an effective proposal management process incorporates three essential factors: 

  1. Saying “no” as part of your proposal management plan
  2. Engage your sales team
  3. Leverage subject matter experts

There are many aspects to the proposal management process. Let’s dig into three of the most critical and why they matter.

Saying “no” as part of your proposal management plan

RFPs are a great opportunity—and maybe your CEO has the impulse to throw a hat in the ring for each one. That might sound like a great strategy, but it’s also a way to rack up a lot of losses. 

Sometimes your product or service isn’t what the customer is looking for. Responding to poorly-qualified opportunities can put well-qualified prospects at risk because they pull resources from winnable bids.

Establish a go/no-go process to focus your organization’s efforts on suitable proposals.

Work with sales and executives to perform a win-loss analysis on past bids. Understand the likelihood of winning business when new deals are on the table by researching the requirements before writing a single sentence of an RFP response.

A viable proposal management plan is based on data and research. Rather than reactively pressing “go” every time an RFP arrives, pause and analyze to ensure the opportunity is the right fit. Taking this extra time will ensure your time is optimally spent.

Engage your sales team

Salespeople are motivated to sell, and they have a lot to keep up with, so responding to an RFP may not be topmost on their list of selling activities. Yes, you need their support with response content, but what level of support are you offering them in exchange?

Proposal managers can provide a lot of value to their sales teams.They can help sales with time management, content management, and seamless collaboration. With proposal automation in place, you’ll enable your sales colleagues to respond to RFPs faster and more effectively.

Your response process will run smoothly when salespeople have instant access to high-quality content in the Content Library. Since RFPIO® LookUp is accessible via a web browser or CRM, the same content library will come in handy for them on discovery calls and prospecting.

Using proposal automation software, your sales team will collaborate using the same communication tools they’re comfortable with, including CRMs such as Salesforce and HubSpot, and communication solutions such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.

By showing sales teams the value you can provide, they’ll be more willing to help you out, so get sales on board early and use RFPIO proposal automation software as their support system. Show them how they’ll save time and improve client-facing communication.

Many subject matter experts are a one-person show, just like you. Proposal automation makes their lives easier by reducing time spent responding to RFPs and other internal queries. An important aspect of your role as a proposal manager is to continue improving your process to minimize unnecessary SME involvement and protect their time by bringing them in only when necessary.

SMEs are process-driven individuals; they expect clean processes and clearly defined responsibilities, tasks, and deadlines. Your response process will be most effective when your subject matter experts’ time is protected and valued. Proposal automation offers a more intelligent approach to response management, allowing SMEs to contribute and move on with their day.

The first step to transforming your proposal management process into a well-oiled machine is to consolidate all of your organization’s content in one place. Whether you are an enterprise or a small business, proposal software is key to a well-run process. 

The Content Library offers standardized and curated content, effectively breaking down information silos and saving time. You can automatically fill in most of the RFP responses with help from the Content Library and save SME contributions for any revisions or customizations.

Once an SME has provided expertise on one RFP, the proposal manager can seamlessly update the Content Library with the new answer. 

The next time you have an RFP that includes similar queries, RFPIO’s AI-driven content management system and answer recommendation engine will automatically present the responses for your approval, further reducing the time SMEs spend responding.

Successful response management revolves around processes and people. As a team of one, you lead the charge by creating a viable proposal management plan and providing value to colleagues that support you. How can you make collaboration easier? What steps can be automated? Stay focused on plan improvements to keep your team happy, supported, and productive.

The next step in your new and improved proposal management plan is bringing on RFPIO. See how proposal automation allows you to thrive as a team of one. RFPIO can help proposal managers thrive, no matter the resources. 


How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

Like the devilishly tempting Hostess Ding Dongs treat, a proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. Unlike that aforementioned hockey puck of delectability, proposal cover letters cannot be mass-produced. To write a proposal cover letter with nary a wasted word, you first need to understand its strategic significance in the overall proposal.

I’ve spent more than 17 years on proposals and have written hundreds of proposal cover letters. When I started, we printed out proposals and created huge binders to share with reviewers. Reviewers would open the binders to see the proposal cover letter, then an RFP executive summary, and then dig into the proposal itself. Binders are part of a bygone era; there’s been a big digital shift since I started.

Requests for paperless submissions and the growing popularity of online portals has altered the strategic significance of the proposal cover letter. It’s gone from a “must-have” element, to a “nice-to-have” one. My background is predominantly healthcare and insurance. Anecdotally, maybe only 30% of requests for proposals (RFPs) in healthcare and insurance request executive summaries while most volunteer that a cover letter is optional. If they give you an option, take it.

Some online portals don’t even give you an opportunity to include extra documents like cover letters. In such cases, you now have to include the cover letter as part of your proposal PDF. At the same time, RFPs are more complex than ever, requiring more details in submitted proposals. Issuers expect you to have your content in order, and a lot of it.

Speaking of issuers and what they’re looking for in proposal cover letters: They don’t need information that they can find on your website, that they can Google, or that sounds canned. They want to make sure you’ve reviewed the RFP requirements, and it’s absolutely essential to hit them with that up front, in your proposal cover letter. Especially if your solution meets all of the issuer’s requirements. Emphasize that fact simply and directly.

What is a proposal cover letter?

The proposal cover letter is meant to frame up your RFP proposal. It’s not a rehashing of the proposal or executive summary. It’s a vehicle to thank the issuer for the opportunity to respond, to say, “We’ve seen your business requirements and composed this proposal because we think we’re the best partner for you.” Think of it as the bow on your RFP proposal package.

Whether paper, PDF, or stone tablet, one thing that hasn’t changed about the proposal cover letter is that it’s your first opportunity to declare the value propositions that differentiate yours from competitive proposals. These value props will be the threads that weave through your proposal, from cover letter, to executive summary, to answers to questions.

As far as length, I aim for a page and a half when I write proposal cover letters. Try to keep it under two. Go longer only if a template or specific framework for the cover letter is provided by the issuer, which is sometimes the case in government RFPs.

Why a good proposal cover letter matters

RFP reviewers will be looking for deviations in responses. Deviations among responders as well as deviations from their (the issuers) requirements.

When you can write a cover letter and state, “After reviewing the RFP, we are confident that our solution meets all requirements and detail that fact in our proposal,” you make a compelling argument for reviewers to concentrate on how your proposal illustrates how you solve problems. They’ll notice cover letters that do not mention something that direct, and will review those proposals to look for where the solutions fall short.

When should you write the proposal cover letter?

It’s page one so it should be written first, right? Not necessarily. I’m a proponent of writing the executive summary first, the cover letter second, and then building the proposal. Certainly review the RFP first so you can determine what it’s asking for. But don’t just jump into a response from there. Take the time to establish the value props that will make it a cohesive proposal.

Writing the executive summary first helps you formulate your argument and determine which content you’ll need for the proposal. Once you know what you need to be persuasive and how you can solve the issuer’s problem, then you can develop the three-to-five value props (I try to boil it down to three solid, unique value props) that you can define in the proposal cover letter.

Who signs the proposal cover letter?

Notice I didn’t title this section, “Who writes the proposal cover letter?” The person who writes it and the person who signs it may not be one and the same.

If your proposal team is fortunate enough to have a dedicated writer, then have them write the letter based on input from the frontline sales rep. Whoever writes the letter must be fully informed of response strategy and have intimate knowledge of the proposal and executive summary. Strategy, voice, and style need to be consistent across all documents (cover letter, executive summary, and proposal).

Who signs it depends on a variety of factors. In most cases, the frontline sales rep will sign the proposal cover letter. They have the relationship, own the strategy, and likely conducted the discovery that informed the proposal. However, it’s not uncommon for an executive sponsor such as a VP of sales to sign. The thinking being that executive reviewers may appreciate seeing a proposal that’s been vetted by a fellow executive.

There are also those cases when the executive of executives, the CEO, signs the letter. There are two common scenarios for this play. One, the RFP may be large enough to represent a significant percentage of a responder’s annual revenue. Two, the responding organization is concerned with appearing relatively small, and in an effort to improve its stature, seals the proposal with a CEO’s signature.

There’s definitely some gamesmanship at play here. Even so, the name on the letter will never overshadow the content of the proposal.

7 steps to write a proposal cover letter

The compact nature of the proposal cover letter makes it difficult to fit everything in one or two pages. Good writers are valuable assets in these instances. Every proposal cover letter should contain the following sections:

  1. Thank the issuer (and broker, where applicable) for the opportunity.
  2. Recite your understanding of the opportunity to validate that you reviewed the RFP requirements.
  3. List your abilities to meet requirements. If you can meet all of them, lead with that fact.
  4. Describe your value propositions. You’re trying to portray that, “This is what we bring to the table, and that’s why we’re the best choice.”
  5. Provide a high-level future snapshot of what business will look like after your solution is chosen.
  6. Conclude with a persuasive delivery of your understanding of next steps: “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further.” Show that you’re able and willing to move forward in the sales lifecycle.
  7. Sign it from the frontline sales representative or executive sponsor. This should not look like a form letter from the organization as a whole.

3 common mistakes to avoid

Beyond the mistakes of not including a proposal cover letter at all or writing one that’s too long, proofread your next letter for the following mistakes before sending it.

  1. Avoid repeating anything from the executive summary or proposal. Those documents need to live on their own, just like the proposal cover letter.
  2. Don’t waste space with your resume. Something like this…

    RFPIO’s growing list of 600+ clients including 40+ Fortune 500 organizations continue to take advantage of our one-of-a-kind Unlimited User licensing model, expanding their usage on the platform to scale organizational success. With RFPIO as their team’s support system, every day they break down silos by facilitating collaboration and efficiency in their RFx response process
    ….is boilerplate that can appear elsewhere in the proposal or not at all, given that it’s likely available to the issuer on your corporate website.
  3. If a broker is involved, thank them, too. The proposal cover letter is also an opportunity to directly address the issuer. This can be particularly valuable when a broker is involved. Some issuers rely on RFP brokers to sift through responses to make sure only the best possible solutions get serious consideration. Ignore these brokers at your peril. While the response and executive summary will address the issuer and the problem at hand, the cover letter is where you can give a nod to the broker. Acknowledging their involvement in the process and thanking them for the opportunity as well will at the very least alert all reviewers that you paid close attention to the RFP requirements.
  4. Don’t guess. Make sure you or someone on your team does the legwork and discovery to inform your response strategy. The more you have to guess, the longer the letter will take to write.

Proposal cover letter example

Feel free to use the proposal cover letter example below as a template for your next letter. One of the many advantages of proposal software such as RFPIO is the automation of the cover letter process. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to write it, but RFP software helps:

  • Access and write in the template within the platform (no need to toggle back and forth between a word processor and whatever application you’re using to build your proposal)
  • Include identical brand elements as the proposal and executive summary
  • Add the cover letter to the front of the proposal and/or executive summary when you output it for submission

When you use the following example, you’ll need to swap out the RFPIO-centric items with your own company and solution information as well as the custom value props for that specific proposal. The three value props highlighted in the example are Salesforce integration, data security, and customer support. For your letter, these will be specific to your solution and the problem stated in the RFP.

Hi [Issuer(s) first name(s)],

Thank you for considering RFPIO as your potential vendor for RFP automation software. We are cognizant of the effort it takes to make a selection like this, so we very much appreciate the opportunity. First and foremost, RFPIO meets all of the requirements detailed in your RFP. That’s illustrated in greater detail in this proposal. In the meantime, the following capabilities make us confident that RFPIO is the most qualified company and solution for [issuing company name’s] [RFP title].

  • Helping businesses improve and scale their RFP response process for greater efficiency. The time and resource savings reported to us from our clients has allowed them to participate in more proposals and provide high-quality responses that create additional revenue opportunities.
  • Automating the import and export functions, centralizing content for RFPs, and facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders.
  • Managing knowledge and content through our AI-enabled Content Library.
  • Giving clear visibility into the entire RFP process through reports and dashboards—including project status and progress, and analytics for actionable insights.

We know that it’s important for [issuing company name] to find a solution with a strong integration with Salesforce. This proposal details RFPIO’s integration with Salesforce, and how it will work for you. In addition to that, RFPIO’s open API allows for integrations with many other technologies for cloud-storage, collaboration, and other desired platforms.

We also take your data security concerns highlighted in the RFP very seriously. You can be assured that your data will be safe and accessible. We work with a variety of enterprise customers and understand the necessary level of security that is required. From the beginning, we made it a priority to build security right into RFPIO’s technology, which we continue to maintain. We are SOC 2 and ISO27001 certified, while continuing to pursue other best-in-class certifications to ensure security.

Regarding your requirement for ongoing support following implementation: When it comes to customer support, our technical and account managers are high performers. We have an expert group of 110 nimble programmers and developers who are always ready to provide quick technical fixes (that you can request right within the solution). Our reliable and attentive account team is ready to fully support [company name] should we move forward as your vendor.

Upon deploying RFPIO, it’s intuitive user experience is simple to get used to. You’ll also get free access to RFPIO University for all your training needs, now and in the future. Getting started is as simple as loading that first project. The whole team will be collaborating from there. As your Content Library grows, machine learning will provide more and more automation opportunities. It won’t be long before you see a drastic uptick in proposal quality and number of proposals submitted.

If you’re interested in comparing our solution to other comparable tools, we recommend that you visit software review platform G2 Crowd’s top RFP Solutions grid. This information is based on user satisfaction and places RFPIO at the top in all categories.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further. We appreciate your consideration, and wish you luck on your selection.

[Signee’s name]
[Signee’s title]

You should have it “cover”-ed from here

If you’ve done your research and client discovery, and you know the value props specific to the RFP that you’ve already reviewed, then letter writing will go fast. The better you know the client and people involved, the easier it is going to be for you to tailor the proposal cover letter, the executive summary, and, most importantly, the RFP proposal.

To learn more about how RFPIO can help you write better proposal cover letters, schedule a demo today!

Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Before I get into the business proposal example, template, and tips, I need you to remember one thing: You’re Yoda, not Luke Skywalker:

“Think about Luke Skywalker and Yoda in Star Wars. When Luke meets Yoda, he encounters the perfect guide. Yoda understands Luke’s dilemma and has mastered the skills Luke must develop if he is going to defeat the Death Star.”
Donald Miller

As the writer of a business proposal, you want to come off as the perfect guide. Your goal is to make your prospect look like Luke Skywalker, the hero of the story. The prospect doesn’t care about your product; they care about solving their problem.

What is a business proposal?

Put simply, a business proposal is your solution pitch to a prospect’s business problem. It’s you saying, “I understand your problem. This is what the situation will look like after it’s fixed. Here’s a few ways we can help you fix it. Sign here to get the solution rolling.”

It’s used often, especially if your prospect isn’t the only stakeholder involved in deciding whether or not to buy your solution. In such situations, the business proposal is the document that your prospect will share with those decision-makers. Jeff Bloomfield, sales coach and author of NeuroSelling, says, “They need to know that they are saving money with your solution when compared to the high cost of the problem you are solving.”

As succinctly as possible, you need to tell the story of how your solution will help your prospect look like Luke Skywalker. That’s not much room; the opening scroll in all the Star Wars movies takes up more than two pages.

A business proposal is brief, yet informative and customized to every prospect’s specific problem, even if you only have one solution. Remember this is about their needs rather than your features. To put it another way, it’s the photo negative of a brochure or website.

How to write a business proposal

Arguably the most important step when writing a business proposal takes place before any writing begins: Confirm interest in your solution. Odds of winning deals from unsolicited business proposals are multi-state lottery-level. Any effective business proposal starts with a conversation.

When you understand objectives and have a solution, then you can begin writing. If after identifying the prospect’s pain points you believe that your solution isn’t strong enough, then keep digging for the pain points where you can excel. Sometimes you have to push to get the right objectives to make sure there’s enough pain to justify your solution.

Timing is essential because a business proposal needs to be educated and comprehensive. Too early and it’s going to land on deaf ears. Too late and either someone else solved the problem or you’re perceived as not caring enough to make it a priority.

As soon as you’ve identified pains, objectives, and how to position your solution as the ideal, then gather the following content:

  • Logos (yours and prospect’s)
  • Pricing options
  • Scope of work collateral you can link to from the business proposal

Now you just have to complete the business proposal template. These business proposal best practices will help.

8 business proposal best practices

  1. Take advantage of “title” real estate. As my esteemed colleague Keith Norrie explains in his expert advice on executive summaries, the title is too good of a setup opportunity to pass up. Use an action verb to surface the primary problem that you’re proposing to fix with your solution. The following power-verb examples will perk up stakeholders’ ears: increasing, reducing, accelerating, improving, streamlining, monetizing… Check out the business proposal example to see how I framed the solution in the proposal.
  2. Agree on 3-5 objectives with the prospect’s champion during your initial calls. These objectives will be based on pains that your prospect wants to overcome.
  3. Explain how your solution will enable these objectives. This isn’t an opportunity for you to list product features—most of which the prospect won’t care about. It’s where you tie solutions to problems. For example: “RFPIO’s AI-enabled Content Library will reduce XYZ Company’s time spent responding to repetitive questions from 1,200 hours to 720 hours or fewer annually for an equal number of submitted RFPs.”
  4. Give multiple pricing options as a checkable list. Avoid line-item detail. Explain the difference between each option. For example, “This one allows you to scale…this one gets you to the end of the year…this one is best for small businesses…”
  5. Provide a high-level scope of work specific to the prospect’s need. Link out to data sheets or websites for more information.
  6. Include a call to action, preferably a signature request. At the very least, schedule a call to review next steps.
  7. Review the proposal with the prospect over the phone or through video conferencing. If possible, try to get the person you’re really building the proposal for (the decision-making stakeholder in the shadows behind the prospect champion) to join the review. If you can’t schedule a review, then record a Vidyard of you walking through the business proposal that can be shared with stakeholders.
  8. Be careful of jargon. Every industry has its unique terminology, but be wary of using jargon for jargon’s sake. With only two pages, you don’t have any room to waste on hollow language that doesn’t address the prospect’s specific problem.

Download your business proposal template & business proposal example

Here are the business proposal template and the business proposal example. When you’re ready to write your own business proposal, make a copy of the template. Then, delete all the instructions as you complete the sections. That way you don’t accidentally fire off a document complete with my tips and tricks. Also, if you build your business proposals from Salesforce, then these tips on Salesforce Proposal Builder will be a big help.

I hope you find the template and example helpful. Remember, the decision-making stakeholder (likely an executive) will be reviewing multiple proposals. They should be able to look at yours and identify that it’s comprehensive and customized for them. They’ll sniff out cookie-cutter treatments immediately and will sideline them while they look for something unique, like yours.

Be confident. This isn’t a shot in the dark. The prospect needs to solve this issue. Your business proposal will illustrate how you’ve thought through their problems.

Building a proposal management program

Building a proposal management program

After months of voicemails, postponed meetings, and careful nurturing, a customer wants to see a formal proposal. Or, maybe a customer approached you with a request for a proposal (RFP). Either way, you’re in a good position, as long as you have a proposal management program in place.

While proposals entail a lot of work, they are also an opportunity to meet your customer halfway. A well-crafted RFP clearly outlines a customer’s requirements, and a well-crafted response lets them know that you understand their needs and the specific ways your company will address them.

Quality written proposals represent your brand and its approved messaging—your marketing team thanks you. They are unambiguous—we can almost hear your legal department cheering. They clearly outline each deliverable—are those your fulfillment, onboarding, and churn prevention teams we hear joining in? And there’s no disputing the pricing—did the billing department just order cake? And, most importantly, they drive revenue—everyone is coming to the party!

Well-written and thorough proposals protect your company’s interests, and each one you submit has the potential to bring you closer to your quarterly or yearly goals and add to your company’s bottom line.

A proposal management program that leverages advanced RFP response software lets you generate more, higher-quality proposals using fewer resources while also helping level the playing field and achieve sales goals. Still, companies can be reluctant to invest in high-ROI proposal management software.

The future of proposal management is automated

Every once in a while, a proposal manager approaches us, wondering what will happen to them if their company turns to  automation for their proposal management program.

Naturally, we reassure them that even the most advanced proposal management automation software requires human expertise.

We also acknowledge that proposal managers work long, hard hours and that there’s an excellent chance that their companies already partially automate sales, marketing, finance, and customer service processes. Yet, those are still some of the fastest-growing roles within organizations.

Rather than competition, proposal management software is like a long-deserved assistant designed to make proposal managers more productive and valuable.

Qualities of an effective proposal management system

While proposal management shares many similarities with sales or project management, some challenges require a specialized approach.

Inconsistent formatting

RFPs may arrive as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PDFs, with layouts that are difficult to maneuver. A proposal management system should be able to import from any of the most commonly used formats, convert the requests into formats your stakeholders can easily navigate, and export the documents in the customers’ preferred formats.

Inconsistent wording

Up to 80 percent of an RFP is relatively standard, but even if two questions ask the same thing and require the same answer, at first human glance, the questions might look very different.

For example, one RFP might ask how many years your company has been in business, but the wording in your knowledge library question-and-answer pair might ask about the founding date. Both questions obviously have the same answer, but in the few seconds it takes the human mind to determine what search terms they should use, an automated system with machine learning will translate the question and provide the answer.

Scattered team

There’s a very good chance that you are reading this from the comfort of your own home, surrounded by a menagerie of furry friends. Alright, maybe I’m referring to my work situation, but I am far from unique.

In fact, 58 percent of workers work from home at least some of the time. Add those to the numbers of people on the road (common for SMEs) or those who work from other offices, and you can see why gathering your team in a single conference room is a challenge.

Project management software is the answer for most teams. Even here at RFPIO, our marketing and product teams rely on project management software. However, our response teams use RFPIO because it goes far beyond assigning roles and deliverables, although it does that as well.


  • Assists in the go/no-go process by producing trend analytics data from similar RFPs
  • Allows stakeholders to track their overall progress through their preferred CRM
  • Integrates with the most popular communication applications so teammates can stay in touch in real time
  • Provides a simple project overview dashboard for up-to-the-minute progress updates
  • Suggests SMEs based on expertise and availability
  • Leverages artificial intelligence to answer as much as 80 percent of an RFP’s questions
  • Produces the data you need for valuable postmortems

How to build a dynamic proposal management program

It would be really nice if we had a crystal ball that could predict our proposal response needs from year to year or even day to day. Some days you might have just one on your plate and others, let’s just say, more than one.

Even if we could predict our proposal volume, our needs and resource requirements vary according to customer, product, and bespoke particulars.

A dynamic proposal management program will provide you with the agility to respond to your response needs, regardless of volume or complexity.

Establish a clear mission statement

Think of your response team as a microcosm of your company. Your goals and objectives should align but also fit with your specific roles.

We recommend that you, like your company’s founders, create a mission statement to describe your areas of focus. For example, you might want to minimize SME participation, reduce response time, or win more bids. In that case, your mission statement might look something like this:

Our goal is to leverage technology to empower the response team to reduce proposal response time, efficiently manage knowledge library content to minimize subject matter expert participation, and deliver successful high-quality proposals via solicited and unsolicited bids.

  • Create and maintain a centralized repository for company knowledge and documents.
  • Establish efficient and scalable proposal service delivery.
  • Become a one-stop shop for quality proposal content.
  • Provide the content and tools necessary to create engaging and successful proposals.

Obtain company buy-in

If you ask most employees, and even most executives, what their proposal team does, there’s a good chance that they’ll only have a vague idea, even if they know what other revenue-generating teams bring to the table.

Even though most large purchases require a proposal, proposal teams often have to fight for company buy-in. Be sure to keep leadership in the loop regarding your goals and progress. Work with users to understand their content management and general work styles.

Recruit a winning proposal team

Creating high-quality winning proposals requires a very specialized team. You’ll need salespeople, marketing professionals, company authorities, storytellers, and editors. Some juggling skills wouldn’t hurt. If you’re thinking that’s a lot to ask of a single team, we’d have to agree.

Thankfully, your company has existing resources to help. Partnering with a salesperson or two can help you formulate the proposal. Your marketing team can provide you with approved messaging, or at least a messaging guideline. Subject matter experts are authorities within their respective realms, and proposal managers are often de facto company historians.

But every proposal team needs a core skill. They should be able to quickly craft compelling stories and wield an editor’s pen as well as a high school English teacher. In fact, writing and editing may be the most essential qualities in a proposal team member. With an excellent content and project management system, the rest can be taught.

Structure organizational procedures

A mission statement is only meaningful with the procedures to achieve your goals. If, for example, you want to minimize SME participation, you could give them more control over their content review cycles.

Not only will this help ensure that your team has accurate and usable content, but it will also demonstrate to the SMEs that you respect their time and expertise and make them more likely to want to work with you in the future.

Demonstrate growth with metrics and reports

Track your progress toward your goals with data. Generate reports showing your pipeline, SME engagement, win rate, numbers of responses, revenue generated, completed reviews, content use, and so on.

Build your content library

Your content doesn’t have to be siloed, even if your organization is. There is likely a wealth of company assets such as white papers, data sheets, message source documents, value discovery guides, product information and roadmaps, and other marketing materials.

Democratize your content library by allowing everyone access and working with content creation teams to ensure they file the assets for future use.

Enlist the right proposal management software

Your sales and marketing teams have customer relationship management software. Your HR and finance teams have their software. While it is possible to establish an effective response team without proposal management software, the right software will increase your win rate, drive more revenue, and conserve resources.

Look for proposal management software with project management features to help you choose your SMEs and keep your team on track. Find a robust content management system with built-in auditing tools. Invest in a platform that imports and exports in the customers’ preferred formats but provides a standardized working template for all your stakeholders.

Perhaps most importantly, look for customizable reporting features to help you decide whether to respond, determine how many resources you are using, and provide the data needed to make informed business decisions.

Value factors for choosing proposal management software

Do more with less—that seems to be the 21st century motto. Accomplishing that rather lofty goal requires the right productivity software. Look for proposal management software that has all the functionality you need today and is scalable for what you might need tomorrow.

Improved workflow collaboration

Today’s distributed and siloed workforces require advanced workflow collaboration tools to keep everyone singing the same song. Look for software that integrates with your existing workflow collaboration tools so users can communicate using those tools or directly through the proposal management platform.

Convenient integration capabilities

The last thing your IT team wants is to weigh down your company’s tech stack. Your proposal management software should integrate instead of compete with your cloud storage solution, CRM, project management, and other productivity tools. In other words, it should work the way you work.

Intelligent knowledge base

The knowledge management system is a vital component of any response software solution, but the wrong one could create more work instead of simplifying your response process.

Look for a knowledge base that stores the types of documents you use. The knowledge base should be accessible to anyone who needs it but secure enough to keep prying eyes away. The search functionality should recognize your language and search terms.

It should be intuitive, intelligent, and give you the correct answers when you need them. It should also assist with content moderation and your review cycles.

Built-in security standards

Data security is at the top of every CIO’s priority list, which is why they’ll need to be assured that proposal management software, along with every other piece of software, is fully compliant with the latest security protocols.

Advanced reporting features

While we’re on the subject of data, your proposal management software should offer advanced reporting capabilities to provide actionable insights to assist with everything from your go/no-go process, to where you are on any given project, to where you stand with your team’s quarterly or annual goals.

How RFPIO can help

RFPIO is like a rocket booster for your proposal management program. It handles the routine and surprisingly time-consuming aspects of proposal management, letting you focus on the content that will help win more bids and drive more revenue.

RFPIO’s indispensable features include the following:

  • Improved workflow collaboration – Whether your team works from a single office or several, keeping communication channels open is critical. RFPIO integrates with all the most popular communication applications, enabling your team to work directly through Slack, Microsoft Teams, Jira, and Google Hangouts.
  • Convenient integration capabilities – With more than two dozen integrations, RFPIO leads the pack, and we’re constantly adding more. The platform seamlessly integrates with your preferred CRM connectors, communication apps, productivity, sales enablement, and other applications.
  • Intelligent knowledge base – Use your time to create winning proposals instead of searching for the information you need. With just a few clicks, RFPIO will find you the correct answer to your previously answered questions. RFPIO® LookUp grants access to any authorized user from any place, as long as they have a browser.
  • Built-in security standards – RFPIO takes security very seriously. Our customer roster includes security experts such as Microsoft, Google, Visa, and Zoom, among many others. More specifically, we are ISO 27001 certified and compliant with AICPA SOC, GDPR, and the State of California.
  • Advanced reporting features – Gather the data to help you decide whether to respond to an RFP, track your project’s and team’s progress, analyze content usage, and your wins and losses. That’s just the beginning of the actionable insights RFPIO’s advanced reporting capabilities can provide.

*Next Action*

Proposal managers have a lot going on. RFXs are coming faster and faster, and expectations continue to rise. See how strategic proposal management software such as RFPIO can help you keep up with your increasing demands and make your company more profitable.

Schedule a free demo.

Why every proposal manager deserves a round of applause

Why every proposal manager deserves a round of applause

Proposal managers are the front line of the organization. Your influence is never more apparent than during the RFP response process.

You’re accountable for implementing the RFP response process and flow. This includes all aspects of that process, from assigning tasks and maintaining content quality to leading your team and crafting the overall proposal narrative.

You’re an honorary member of the sales team, a skilled content manager, and an unmatched project manager. In celebration of proposal managers everywhere, here are just some of the reasons you deserve a round of applause for all that you do.

Proposal managers are an extension of the sales team

RFP responses are critical components for winning new business. As a proposal manager, you play “an assist” in closing the deal, passing the ball to sales so they can shoot and score. Ultimately, you’re an extension of the sales team—and they need all the assists they can get.

68% of salespeople do not have enough time to devote proper attention to sales activities. It behooves the organization to provide an automated RFP process so you properly assist your sales department to do what they do best: Land big deals.

Effective proposal managers recognize that RFP responses are an opportunity to tell a narrative in such a way that distinguishes the organization from the competition. As RFP responses are often the first impression for a new prospect, it’s crucial that you and your team nail the messaging.

It’s up to you to craft the most compelling narrative and weave it through each RFP response to capture the attention of prospects and clients. Pull all of this off and you help your sales team land big deals, making you a major value-add to your sales organization.

Proposal managers are masterful content managers

Content management used to be reserved for the marketing department. Now, with the surge in content creation needs throughout the organization, proposal managers are taking their rightful place as skilled content managers.

Often RFP responses involve multiple writers from various departments. As you already know, getting everyone’s contributions well before the deadline is mission-critical. And, it’s certainly no easy task.

Effective proposal managers draw from an updated content library and coordinate responses across many SMEs to deliver the highest caliber RFP. So, how are busy proposal managers pulling this off exactly? They’re using technology to do the heavy lifting.

RFP software offers a myriad of content management benefits so proposal managers like yourself easily curate a centralized content library, ensuring the best and most accurate responses are always within reach.

Centralized and updated

A centralized RFP content library is your go-to source for organizing, storing, and accessing company content. Within the content library, you initiate and schedule content audit cycles, effectively auditing content at your chosen schedule and not during a pressing RFP deadline.

User-friendly and searchable

RFP software is user-friendly and searchable. The technology learns from you—the more you use it, the smarter it gets. RFP software delivers a content library that suggests highly relevant responses to save you time. Automated responses can be revised and customized to suit messaging themes and requirements.

Accurate and compliant

Response content must be factual, accurate, and compliant. RFP software functions as a risk management tool as well as a content management tool. Thanks to the Content Library functionality and unlimited user licenses, simply set up quarterly compliance reviews as part of your content audits and assign new responses to a compliance officer for final approval.

Proposal managers are dexterous project managers

Although you may have the best intentions with execution, internal processes may not support your admirable efforts. When it comes to your day-to-day responsibilities, the stakes are high. This pressure can easily lead to proposal manager burnout.

84% of proposal managers are mired in antiquated RFP processes where Google Docs, text files, spreadsheets, paper documents—and even emails—are the norm. Of course, this fragmented “process” is hardly a process at all. If you still rely on this type of manual RFP response process, you’re technically more of a magician than a project manager.

You deserve an intuitive RFP process, which is made possible when you take advantage of RFP software. RFP software accelerates efficiency, saves time, and elevates the RFP process into an expertly-coordinated strategy.

Whether you orchestrate all of your RFP projects manually, or with the support of RFP software, you’re doing what it takes to help your organization succeed. This is far beyond being a great project manager; this makes you a champion for your organization.

RFPs may not be a priority for everyone within your organization, but you know what they don’t: that responding to RFPs is a direct path to growth. Your organization would not be where it is today without your hard work. You are your organization’s superhero, and that deserves a round of applause.

Alright, superhero…ready to do even more in your proposal management role? RFPIO is here to help you drive efficiency and results.

4 steps to achieving work-life balance in your SME role

4 steps to achieving work-life balance in your SME role

Do you feel like security questionnaires and RFPs have taken over your life? This is common feedback we hear from subject matter experts (SMEs) involved in the proposal process.

You receive a request from your proposal manager at the last-minute and you drop everything to jump in and lend support. From there, it’s a mad dash to the finish line. To “catch up,” you end up working late into the workweek evenings—or even Saturday mornings—to contribute your response content.

So, how do you adjust your SME role in the proposal process to work in your favor? Let’s help you achieve work-life balance and get your weekends back.

1. Find the root cause of your work stress

Something is taking up all of your time…what is driving that? Maybe you feel generally overwhelmed, because you wear multiple hats in your SME role. You’re pulled in a million different directions and you don’t know which way to go first. Everything is a priority.

This feeling is very common for SMEs who respond to RFPs. There is no simple cure for overwhelm, but you can find the root cause of your work stress. Start by looking at how you and your response management team might improve your proposal process to save time.

Maybe you’re a really slow writer or you can’t stand writing. Creating content isn’t quick and easy for anyone, but it’s definitely easier for professional writers. If you don’t have internal proposal writers on-hand, maybe it’s time to outsource writers who gather informational bullet points from you then bring the response content together.

Once you understand what is taking up your time, the next step is getting support. Many subject matter experts are afraid to ask for help and they are worried they will not seem proficient. If you ask for help now, you will be less likely to say “no” later when you are overwhelmed by tasks.

You and your team are better off with an honest conversation about workloads, especially when everyone is dealing with the pressure of tight deadlines and burnout in the proposal process.

2. Play to your strengths to succeed

We all have strengths and weaknesses…that’s human nature. Figure you how to play to your strengths so you’re in a position to be as successful as possible. Who else should you get involved in the response process?

One person can’t possibly know everything there is to know about the organization. When providing the most relevant and accurate responses, it’s best for you to stay in your lane—and for other SMEs to provide responses to the other areas of the business you are not an expert in.

It’s better to be proactive with solutions, so you’re not saying to your proposal manager: “I’m too busy, so I can’t do that.” Instead say: “You know what? That’s not my area of expertise, but I know that X, Y, and Z can fill those roles and fill them well based on my interactions with them on previous proposals we completed together.”

Your organization will be better served and more efficient if the appropriate team members respond to the appropriate questions and sections. Stick with what you know and help your proposal manager find right-fit resource alternatives so you don’t leave anyone hanging.

3. Have the right people and processes in place

You and your proposal management team will work better and faster when you have the right people and processes in place. Get more people involved and be sure that each contributor knows which part of the process they step into.

Technology like proposal software supports you and your proposal process. Proposal software unifies your entire proposal management team. Because there are unlimited user licenses, everyone works more efficiently within a dedicated response management platform.

Integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams eliminate back-and-forth emails and unnecessary meetings. The searchable Content Library stores and organizes all of your existing responses, so you select relevant content, customize at will, then move onto the next task on your list of priorities.

Again, responding to security questionnaires and RFPs should never fall on one person…you or any other team member. Response management is absolutely a team effort. To win a deal, you must submit high-quality content. The only way winning content will happen is with a team of specialists banding together, owning specific sections that relate directly to their subject matter expertise.

4. Unplug, recharge, and do your best work

Achieving work-life balance is something we all want—but, it’s also something we all need. We live in a hyper-connected world, where it’s all too easy to “stay on” even when we’re supposed to be off. To do your best work, you need downtime to unplug and recharge.

If you’re responding to RFPs on the weekends, that takes you away from family time and personal time. I know that in my personal life, I need to have an outlet to reenergize. For me, that means playing golf. For you, that could be a completely different hobby, sport, getaway, or even blissfully binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix.

Unplugging can also mean taking 10-15 minutes on a weekday afternoon to take a walk. Even if you’re in the middle of working on a complex security questionnaire with your team, it’s okay to give yourself a timeout or shift something to the next morning so you can get back into the project when you’re fresh.

Communicate with your proposal manager to keep them in the loop. Reassure them that you will do your best work if you have a little more time to develop high-quality responses. Let them know exactly when you will deliver the responses, so they know you’re handling the assigned task.

Security questionnaires and RFPs aren’t going anywhere. Today’s organizations are seeing an increasing number of these documents during the sales cycle.

The goal with any response submission is to put your organization’s best foot forward. Take a breather and spend some time thinking about what support mechanisms you need in your SME role.

Working through this actionable plan will help you add more value to your organization. And you’ll finally achieve what you thought was unreachable before…work-life balance.


You deserve to get your weekends back. Reach out to our team and we’ll show you how RFPIO saves you time and helps you prioritize.

Bid proposal software will transform your response process

Bid proposal software will transform your response process

The proposal climate is looking strong overall, as shown in the most recent APMP U.S. Benchmarks Report. Three-quarters of proposal professionals positively rated their organization’s performance in winning new business and expressed great satisfaction in regards to internal processes.

Bid proposal software is absolutely cultivating the well-being and success of today’s response management teams. Processes have been transformed by technologically advanced, collaborative work environments. And, we’re only beginning to scratch the surface.

5 transformative effects of bid proposal software

1. Project Management

When a proposal comes in, it seems like an ordinary business document. But this document contains a world of information, from timeline to scope. Your organization must stop seeing a proposal as a document and manage every proposal as its own RFP project. This mindset applies to any response management team, especially a team at an enterprise organization.

There is always a deadline looming. You have a small window to ask for clarifications—and important milestones to hit. RFPIO is a complete project management application, supporting your team of RFP responders from the time you receive a proposal to the time you submit.

“We had a smaller team last year, so we had to stop answering RFPs and focus on answering security questionnaires. We turned RFPIO on the day after Memorial Day, and since then we’ve worked on 129 projects.” – Elizabeth Duke, Director of Presales Support

2. Content Management

Because of the repetitive nature of proposals, content becomes sporadic with RFP responses stored all over the place. Using a combination of Google Docs or SharePoint does not mean your content is updated and accurate. You need an RFP content management system.

RFPIO workflows help your proposal team manage proposal content and keep responses up-to-date. No longer does Sales ask multiple SMEs to complete RFP responses in the eleventh hour.

Instead, RFPIO’s content review workflow allows the SMEs to review the content on a periodic basis defined by your content managers. This is outside of an RFP. Which means all the content is reviewed and approved by the SMEs beforehand, allowing proposal teams and sales teams to use accurate content that is needed to win the deal.

“Since I onboarded, RFPIO has saved my life. Before we didn’t have a tool at all, so I was manually searching through old RFPs that were stored on SharePoint. And now it’s cut our response time down by at least 50 percent.” – Alison Moeller, Team Lead – RFP & Sales Enablement

3. Collaboration

It truly takes a village to complete a proposal. One of our clients, a massive enterprise organization, involves forty different teams to complete RFPs. Perhaps you can relate. Even if one person is on each team, that means forty people must figure out a way to work together in a cohesive manner.

Teamwork is an integral component of a successful RFP response process, which is why RFPIO was built to foster highly collaborative work environments. The ability to have unlimited users within the platform makes it possible for substantial teams to complete substantial proposals with greater efficiency.

“RFPIO saved us from having to hire a new headcount by taking away a lot of the effort we used to put into coordinating RFPs. It allows us to get input from our subject matter experts faster and put together better quality proposals.” – Anthony Rossi, Sales Operations Specialist

4. Integrations

Proposal teams must communicate…and so must technology solutions. Bid proposal software should help your team communicate with each other inside and outside the platform. Additionally, your team should have full visibility and accessibility.

RFPIO is a system that integrates with your existing technology and content ecosystem. Store content in your favorite cloud storage solution (Google Drive, One Drive, Dropbox, Box, Sharepoint). Collaborate easily through Slack or Microsoft Teams. Align your sales teams with CRM integrations (Salesforce, Hubspot, Microsoft Dynamics, Pipedrive, PipelineDeals).

“RFPIO really has shifted the entire perception of our company in terms of how we gather content, what we do with that content, how we’re managing it, and really, the entire process of perceiving how RFPs should be responded to.” – Lori Coffae, Content Writer

5. Business Intelligence and Analytics

In most cases, only the person submitting the RFP knows why their RFP was selected or skipped. A lost RFP is always a black box, as SMEs and writers will never receive feedback on why the RFP was lost.

Visibility into the RFP response process is much easier with a response management platform like RFPIO. RFPIO has business intelligence and analytics, so you see the gaps and opportunities then take the necessary measures to improve.

RFPIO provides a detailed win/loss analysis that can be shared with contributors and executives. With trend analysis, RFPIO allows proposal managers to clearly estimate and predict the time it requires to complete various kinds of RFx documents.

Insights into capacity planning are available as well. Proposal managers and executives see the current workload of contributors and know exactly when it’s time to hire additional resources.

“I have been working in this space for about a decade and I’ve used a couple of different tools. RFPIO shows their commitment and innovation to those of us who are really in the weeds of the RFP world.”

– Alexandra Maddux, RFP/Sales Support Coordinator

What is the best bid proposal software?

Here’s a secret… there is no “best” bid proposal software. But there is bid proposal software that’s best for your team. As a rule of thumb, effective bid proposal software will have the following features:

As you’re evaluating bid proposal software, you should start by meeting with your wider team to identify problems you hope bid proposal software will solve. You can break it into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”. Your final list might look something like:

  • Improve collaboration on business proposals without relying on color-coded Word docs
  • Consolidate answers to common RFP questions in one place, so SMEs aren’t answering the same question over and over again
  • Create visibility, so leadership can easily check on proposal status

But before you decide on any bid proposal software, make sure you read reviews from verified customers. Sites like G2 and Capterra are great for that.

Here is a screenshot comparing four of the most popular business proposal software solutions:

the best bid proposal software

Transform your RFP response process with artificial intelligence

Automating your RFP response process can reduce your time spent responding to RFPs by 40%. If you respond to RFPs full-time, that could mean an extra 16 hours per week. Schedule a demo to see RFP automation in action—I promise you won’t be disappointed.

How to develop proposal building blocks to win more

How to develop proposal building blocks to win more

All proposal professionals would love to be able to develop unique, individualized content for every RFx response. For most, this remains a pipe dream.

Given the ever-increasing workload and the decreasing time provided for responses, proposal professionals need to develop top-notch content quickly. They also need to make sure responses are tailored to the needs of the client and opportunity.

How can we accomplish such seemingly opposite goals? The solution lies in creating proposal building blocks.

What are the proposal building blocks?

Proposal building blocks provide customized, repeatable sections that allow teams to develop high-quality deliverables. These building blocks can be any length. Some pieces might be one or two paragraphs, while others might be complex, multiple page sections.

At their heart, proposal building blocks are standardized sections that include fallouts for key pieces of information required to tailor the response. These components provide the vast majority of basic input for a section, allowing teams to focus not on the basic core information but customized information for that specific prospect.

Did you know? 51% of organizations respond to more than 50 RFPs each year.

Building blocks vs. boilerplates

It’s important to remember that building blocks are not boilerplate responses. By its definition, a boilerplate is a “plug and play” piece of content that one inserts into a document and does not need to tailor or customize.

Boilerplate responses end up providing generic, basic, and bland information. They do not help the team win proposals. In fact, over-reliance on boilerplate responses can actually decrease pWin (Probability of Win).

Building blocks prompt RFP contributors to incorporate key client and opportunity-centric information. This ensures the baseline section is crafted to the needs of the individual client. And unlike boilerplate responses, tailored responses greatly increase your organization’s pWin.

How do you develop building blocks for proposals?

The first step to developing building blocks is determining exactly what is useful. Ask yourself, and your organization, some key questions:

  • What technical offerings do you have that are easily repeatable?
  • What are the main management and staffing sections that are required repeatedly where your company has a standardized approach or response?

For example, if your company provides agile software development, the basic core of your approach remains the same—you select items from the backlog, you hold daily stand-ups, you develop a deliverable in a short period of time (a sprint), and you conduct lessons learned after the sprint.

This is a prime example of an ideal candidate for a building block.

Create your own proposal building blocks in 5 steps

It’s smart to develop a handful of building blocks as a test before you commit the resources to putting together an entire library. This allows you to develop and refine your process, and ensure you’ve put together the right list of components.

After you have selected your components, you develop the content for the “standardized” portion of the building block.

Step 1: Identify core pieces

Go through historical RFP responses and other documentation your company has (white papers, boilerplate libraries, internal training, etc.). Identify the core pieces of the approach that are standard.

Ask your best positioned SMEs (subject matter experts) who live out these processes for their input. It will ensure you have the right content to build from.

Step 2: Gather resources and SMEs

Using those pre-existing materials as secondary sources, put together a generic write-up for that approach. Make it as specific as possible—in use, it is easier to trim back a building block than to go develop more content on the fly.

Include graphics that have been well-received on other RFPs, but make sure you include prompts asking the team to update them for the new proposal (and be specific on what needs to be updated). Then, ask others to review and provide feedback on building blocks.

Step 3: Gather key information

Develop the callouts for key information throughout the response. Start with the easy one—look for places to insert the client and/or program name throughout the response.

Then, come up with several leading statements and/or questions for the introductory, client-focused paragraph. These input prompts can include asking for hot buttons, win themes, key solution points, etc.

Step 4: Collaborate and customize

Identify other places where you want your team to add customization. For example, if the opportunity puts a lot of weight on personnel, add places to call out relevant individuals in the program.

You should also include callouts for team qualifications/experience examples, win themes, and key solution points throughout the section.

Step 5: Organize building blocks

Lastly, you need to find a place to keep the useful building blocks you’ve created. Here, there is no one great solution. You should use whatever works best for you and your organization.

Options include: a shared network drive, a collaboration tool, a local drive, or proposal management software.

How to use building blocks effectively

Now that you have these building blocks, how can you make sure you get the best value from them? The best time to provide building blocks to your team is when you develop your template.

As you put together your outline, identify which sections map to your pre-existing building blocks. Then, pull the appropriate sections into the template. Sometimes, you might have a section that doesn’t quite fit what is being asked for, but has a good amount of useful content. In those cases, include the relevant building block information, but be sure to tailor the responses.

When you have finished putting together the building block template, use your proposal kickoff meeting to describe its purpose to your team. Reinforce that they need to stay within RFP requirements, such as page count—sometimes your building block will be longer than the allocated space for the section. In these cases, winnow down the building block to only include the most relevant content.

Finally, you still need to have your regular color team review cycle. This ensures the building block is properly tailored to the specifics of the opportunity, and gets outside eyes on the section.

Building blocks can help the proposal manager focus on delivering tailored solutions that meet each client’s individual needs, even on quick turn opportunities. Proposal organizations can increase quality and improve win rates by giving their teams the right tools to win.

5 ways to organize your request for proposal for the win

5 ways to organize your request for proposal for the win

Even an RFP response has a story to tell.

The hardest part of writing any type of content is finding a way to get you (the lovely reader) to believe the promises made at the start, and move beyond them to the next sentences until you feel compelled to take action. That’s any kind of content, including a response to a request for proposal.

Instead of a reader, it’s a buyer. And the action we want them compelled to take is to do business with us.

We can’t move a prospective buyer down the path and fulfill early promises if there’s no plan for where the path leads. I can’t say “We’ll help you save more time with our solution, if you keep reading” without first developing a plan—a plan to show how our solution will save them time, money, or whatever it is that is the main benefit you have to offer.

Responding to an RFP is no different. You want the decision-maker to get to the good stuff, but that means they’ve first got to endure all the technical stuff. The key to successful proposals—and to winning more opportunities with them—is to go into the writing process with a plan.

1. Hook the decision-maker with reassurance

When you’re speaking or writing for a known group, you have the benefit of acquaintance. When you’re an unknown quantity responding to an RFP, you’ve got to spend time laying out how you’ve interpreted the RFP and who you are as an organization to hook the buyer.

The first part of your plan should be to familiarize yourself with the RFP to a point that you can easily summarize and repeat it back—which is exactly what you’ll do.

Your proposal should lead off with a distillation of the RFP. This lets the company you’re trying to win over know that you’ve understood what’s being asked of you. It also shows that you’ve put the time in to understand the project.

“All those decision-makers read the executive summary. They read it first, and sometimes it is all they read. Because of this, the executive summary provides a terrific opportunity. If effective, it fosters a ‘pre-sold’ mindset.” – Dennis Green, APMP

From the restatement of the RFP, you can jump right into your business’s resume, the offerings you have that will be the answer to your buyer’s everyday challenges. Any of the major strengths you’ve highlighted here should be applied throughout the response, using the executive summary as the guiding light that will make your RFP more effective.

2. Open up about what the buyer can expect

In movies, there’s a pretty common narrative device around planning. It’s the one where a character says, “I’ve got a plan—but it’s not going to be easy.” After you hear that setup, you can’t wait to find out what this awesome, yet challenging plan could be. The next section of your proposal is the business equivalent of that phrase.

Let’s say you’re a marketing agency working on an SOW (Statement of Work). Here, you’re laying out how long your incredible team is going to need and what resources you’ll pull. While you shouldn’t be wantonly obscure with your planning, a little mystery can go a long way as long as it’s not too vague.

What not to say: “We’ll need a few hours, six bottles of weak lager, and a rabbit cage.”

Remember, each step of a proposal should move the decision-maker on to the next step. You want them to hit each section of the response, hungry for more. In the time and costs section of an SOW, that means having realistic expectations about resources and working in some more reassurance.

Explain why your previous experience has led you to believe a project is going to take five weeks. What about the last project you completed that led you to a $125,000 estimate? Get the buyer to follow you along so that they’re itching to hear all the details of this wonderful plan that will ultimately help them be more successful at their job.

3. Make your RFP response a cohesive story

Now that you’ve set the scene, laid out how long the process is going to take, and given the decision-maker some ideas about cost, it’s time to fill in the blanks.

There are more lessons to be learned here from content writing. Say what you need to say about a process and move on. People want the action to keep moving, not to hear the same thing phrased 15 different ways.

Especially when SMEs get involved with the RFP response—and start adding technical jargon that no buyer will understand—the content needs to be finessed after team members contribute their responses. You want to position yourself as an expert, but you don’t want the buyer to miss out on benefits simply because they don’t fully grasp the offering.

Trust in your process and explain how each step is related to the next and the previous. The details of your RFP response need to be a cohesive story, not a random list of tasks and technical lingo.

Details are important. Sure, you’re explaining the process, but you’ve got to get the buyer interested enough in the details that they move on to the end of the proposal. The goal is always the same with the work we put into an RFP response: to win them over.

4. Build a great Content Library and repurpose

To have a higher chance of winning an RFP, the quality of the response you craft means everything. It can be disheartening to be crafty when you’re facing a proposal with hundreds of questions you have to answer. Especially when the deadline is…tomorrow.

You’ve already been around the block a time or two with RFPs, so you have plenty of content to work with already—without needing to start from scratch. Building a great Content Library for your team will save a lot of man-hours
when the proposal lands in your inbox.

There’s definitely a wow factor when an RFP response is both relevant and polished. Whenever you repurpose a previous response, take the time to make sure you’re highlighting the features and benefits for that particular buyer. They will sniff out a generic response, so give it a personal touch to showcase the value you can provide.

5. Proposal management software for the win

I’d be a pretty poor technology proponent if I didn’t point out the value of some proposal software in all this.

A good proposal software system can help you spend less time laying things out, hunting for content in spreadsheets, and chasing down SMEs and salespeople for their input. Instead, you can spend more time focusing on delivering the best possible RFP response that has a much better chance at winning.

Proposal software will keep you on track by helping with: formatting, importing and exporting, document and content management, workflow, collaboration, and insights. It’s a pretty wise investment—spending more time planning your response and less time making sure it looks nice—by automating and streamlining all the fiddly bits.

“Reuse as much as possible. What I’ve always strived for in our responses is to improve quality over time. With RFP response, don’t underestimate the importance of having the right processes and the right technology.” – Stephen Marsh, Smarsh

Regardless of how you put your RFP response together, get out there and do it well. The more RFPs you respond to, the more you’ll learn about the process.

Practice, they say, makes perfect. It also means falling on your face a few times, but don’t let that deter you. Good luck!

See how it feels to respond with confidence

Why do 250,000+ users streamline their response process with RFPIO? Schedule a demo to find out.