After weeks of work, you’ve finally put the finishing touches on your request for proposal (RFP) response. The proposal is a product of the hours you invested customizing past content, collaborating with subject matter experts, and refining your messaging.
Because of your efforts, the proposal is a masterpiece — creative, comprehensive and compelling. Consequently, you’re feeling confident. After all, your company should win this business — you’ve earned it. Now, there’s only one thing left to do … slap a proposal cover letter on top, submit it and move on to the next RFP.
But wait. Not so fast! When was the last time you read your boilerplate RFP cover letter? Like, actually read it. If you’re like many others, it’s been a while. Unfortunately, that means you might not be putting your best foot forward.
So, before you send off that RFP response, let’s take a closer look at your proposal cover letter and be sure it accurately represents your proposal. With a couple easy tips and a quick review, your cover letter will send just the right message.
In this post, we’ll explore what a proposal cover sheet is and why it matters. Then, I’ll explain what a cover letter includes, how to write a proposal cover letter, and a few sample RFP cover letters. Finally, I’ll share a proposal cover letter template you can download and customize to get a head start.
What is a proposal cover letter?
A proposal cover letter is a single-page letter addressed to a prospective customer containing high-level information from a prospective vendor. The letter precedes an accompanying RFP response or business proposal.
Alternative names for the proposal cover letter include RFP response cover letter, bid proposal cover letter, RFP cover page, cover page for business proposal, and other similar variations. No matter what it’s called, the cover letter is your chance to introduce your business and offer to a potential new customer. As such, you need to make it count.
Why a well-written cover letter matters
You spend hours working through the proposal process, so why should you spend even more time crafting an RFP response cover letter? The proposal cover letter is an oft-overlooked sales tool. Indeed, it’s a zero-cost way to get your message directly to the people who decide whether or not your proposal wins. Furthermore, the RFP cover letter takes very little time to compose and offers you one more way to stand out from your competitors.
If you’re like most businesses, your cover letter can probably be summarized like this: “Dear Mr. or Ms. Company — Thank you so much for this opportunity. Included in this proposal you will find our answers that meet the requested specifications. Thank you for your consideration.”
While common, this isn’t a terribly compelling way to introduce yourself to a new customer that could help you grow your business. Your RFP cover letter provides a first impression to the proposal evaluators and decision makers reviewing your proposal.
Think of it this way: If you were going to present your proposal in person, how would you greet the buyer? You’d probably wear your best suit, walk confidently, put on a warm smile and share a confident handshake to make a memorable introduction. It should be the same with your proposal cover letter. Unfortunately, if your letter is anything like the example above, it’s like showing up in sweatpants and offering an unenthusiastic, mumbled greeting.
The RFP cover letter can also be used to:
- Create or deepen the connection between you and your buyer
- Reinforce your brand, values and expertise
- Promote your key differentiators
- Establish primary points of contact
No matter how you use the RFP cover letter and what you put in it, remember that the person receiving it is just that — a person. The quality of your bid proposal cover letter determines whether they read it carefully, skim it quickly, or ignore it completely. Generally, proposal cover letters are memorable either because they are embarrassingly bad or extraordinarily good. Make your cover letter memorable for the right reasons.
Proposal cover letter basics
The RFP cover letter should be included as a normal part of every proposal, but it’s just one component. Indeed, most proposals also include a number of other elements that will generally appear in a specific order.
Parts of a proposal
- Cover letter
- Executive summary
- Terms and conditions
- Supporting documentation (case studies, references and additional data)
If your left temple is throbbing just looking at that list, take comfort in the fact that your well-curated and maintained content library can do up to 80 percent of the work for you.
Components of a cover letter
As the first element of your proposal, the cover letter is bound to be seen by a lot of people. So, it’s important to make sure it is the best possible representation of your company. But, how do you decide what to say? One of the biggest challenges when writing an RFP response letter is how to keep it short while also making an impact — remember, your cover letter should fit on a single page. To help you craft your message, focus on these five elements.
- Greeting and introduction
- Summary of RFP needs
- Your broad qualifications and differentiators
- Thank you and closing
Your RFP cover letter should:
- Be the first page of your RFP response followed by your executive summary and proposal
- Introduce your company to the buyer’s key decision-makers and any others reviewing or scoring your bid
- Be conversational, genuine and confident — but it shouldn’t be an overt sales pitch
- Offer an overview of your understanding of the company’s needs
- Clearly state why your business is uniquely qualified to win the RFP opportunity
- If possible, express your vision for the future partnership and how you can help the business reach its goals
- Follow the customer’s instructions if they ask you to include specific information in the cover letter
What’s the difference between a cover letter and an executive summary?
When building formal RFP responses, this question comes up a lot. What is the difference between a cover letter and an executive summary? The confusion is understandable as the two documents share a lot of similarities. They are both short, introductory documents that precede your proposal.
The primary distinction is that a proposal cover letter is an introduction to your company while the executive summary is an overview of your offer for a specific project. In addition, the cover letter should almost always fit on a single page while the executive summary may be two or three pages if necessary. Admittedly, the difference is subtle. While the contents may seem to naturally overlap, try to avoid repetition and ensure that each document provides unique information.
Beyond the basics: Six tips to writing a better RFP cover letter
1. Address it to the right people
Who is going to review your proposal? If you don’t already know, find out. Get in touch with the RFP contact and ask for the names of the key contacts who will weigh in on the decision. This may be a committee of people or a combination of procurement professionals, stakeholders and executives.
If you start your RFP response letter with the standard “To whom it may concern” salutation, you’re blending in and sending a message. Unfortunately, this approach communicates that you couldn’t be bothered to update your cover letter template, didn’t do your homework, and don’t really care that much about winning the business. It certainly doesn’t reflect the hours of time you’ve likely invested creating the proposal that follows.
By specifically addressing the proposal cover letter to the key contacts, you make a quick connection and instantly improve the chances that they’ll actually read the bid proposal cover letter and your subsequent proposal. This attention to detail reinforces the idea that not only are you a good fit based on your qualifications, but you’re also invested in developing deeper relationships. You’re in it to be a strategic partner, not just another vendor.
2. Keep it fresh and be human
Put yourself in your recipient’s shoes — You’ve just received dozens of proposals from vendors who more or less provide the same type of services. You are starting to sift through RFP responses that are admittedly, probably pretty dry. The initial review checking for proposal compliance is time-consuming, highly repetitive and gets old quick.
So, if a cover letter starts with something like, “Thank you for the opportunity to earn your business,” it’s just adding to the tedium. It’s a classic and well-worn opening line. While it’s good to be humble and grateful, it’s far better to be unique and memorable. A post featured in APMP’s Winning the Business said,
“… never start a cover letter with ‘thank you.’ It’s boring, and almost everyone does it. This seemingly respectful thank you does not help your organization to stand out or inspire your reader to keep reading.”
The article goes on to recommend starting with something specific and complimentary about the business. This opener accomplishes two things; it quickly shows that this is no ordinary copy-and-paste proposal cover letter while reinforcing that you did your homework and recognize the business’s goals.
In an increasingly automated and efficient world, it’s easy to forget about the people behind the process. Even if you use RFP software to quickly complete the RFP itself, the RFP cover letter offers a rare opportunity to be human and genuine.
3. Use formatting to catch their eye
Your cover letter only helps you win the business if it actually gets read by the right people. Just like using the perfect proposal format, the right cover letter format invites the reader to engage. So, make sure your cover letter is clean, visually appealing, approachable and not too dense. Remember that you’re trying to make an impression, not dive into every detail of your proposal.
Because your cover letter only uses one page, you have to be smart about how you use the space. There are three main places where you have the best chance to hook the reader: the first sentence, the center of the page and the closing.
Nothing catches your eye like your own name. So, as suggested above, address the letter directly to the evaluator(s). Then, include the buyer’s company name in a unique and impactful opening sentence.
Make the most of the center of your RFP response letter using bullet points. Draw the eye directly to your biggest differentiators without specifically calling out your competitors. Include what you excel at like customer support, on-time delivery, cutting-edge features, value adds, scalability, customer growth and so on.
Use the final line to move the deal forward. Offer the prospect a clear and direct call to action (see tip six for more information and an example). For example, provide details about how they can move forward with you, request the information you need to speed up contracting, or share what comes next in the process.
If you can engage a reader in any one of these areas, they are far more likely to take the time to read your entire cover letter. Ideally, it’s intriguing enough that they continue on to check out your executive summary and proposal as well.
4. Tell a tale and express your understanding
Have a success story with a similar client that could boost your credibility? Tell it, but be brief. Share how a partnership has been mutually rewarding, how you’ve delivered a great customer experience or how you’ve been able to proactively solve problems. This reinforces your understanding of their business and goals.
In addition to telling a story, you can use your proposal cover letter to express your understanding of their pain. Every RFP starts with a need, and you received the RFP because the company believes you can meet that need. So, consider building on that foundation.
The relationship between buyers and sellers is evolving. More and more, businesses are looking for a long-term partner, someone who will actively find opportunities to create wins for both parties. RFP issuers want value but they also want a vendor that is invested in their success.
5. Stay true to your brand
Your company was included in the bid process for a reason, so stay true to the persona, culture, values and tone of your brand. Just because the RFP process is formal, doesn’t mean your RFP cover letter has to be. If your company prides itself on being down-to-earth, use that style in all of your communications.
A cover letter shouldn’t be a lengthy essay, but it should demonstrate that you understand the prospect and their needs. Include “we” statements that hint at common goals. For example, “We believe our XYZ application will play an instrumental role in partnering with you to implement phase two of automating routine customer service processes, freeing your team to focus on reducing churn rates.”
Make sure that the tone of your cover letter accurately represents your brand and builds on the relationship you’ve cultivated. Don’t confuse your prospect by approaching them as if they were a stranger or in an unrecognizable style.
6. Close with a call to action, contact information and an actual signature
While the cover letter should be friendly, relatable and genuine; it’s also still a part of the sale. As with any good sales communication, state what you want them to do next and who they can contact to follow up.
Wrap up your RFP cover letter with a call to action like:
- Please reach out with any questions you may have
- We’re eager to show you more — when we can schedule a demo with your team?
- Let me know if I can put you in touch with another customer for a reference
- To accelerate the contracting process, please send your standard terms and conditions
And the final element in a winning RFP cover letter is an actual signature (either handwritten or digital). It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a nice touch and one last way to show your investment in winning the RFP opportunity.
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 respondent’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.
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.
- Avoid repeating anything from the executive summary or proposal. Those documents need to live on their own, just like the proposal cover letter.
- Don’t waste space with your resume. Something like this … Responsive’s growing list of 1,800+ clients, including 65+ 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 Responsive 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.
- 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.
RFP cover letter template
Even for seasoned proposal professionals, it’s a challenge to start a brand new bid proposal cover letter from scratch, so below you’ll find an example. Hopefully, it will give you a head start on your next great RFP response.
Ready to start crafting your own RFP cover letter in this style? Check out this RFP cover letter template that follows all the best practices covered above. You’ll also find helpful instructions in the template so you can quickly customize it to meet your needs.
Proposal cover letter examples
Sample proposal letter – FedEx to State of Utah
If you only look at one other RFP cover letter sample, make it this one. This sample cover letter and accompanying proposal from FedEx is one of our favorites. Indeed, this request for proposal cover letter follows all the best practices. It includes:
- A specific addressee
- An engaging opening line
- Excellent formatting and bullet points
- A statement of experience
- Simple, but recognizable branding
- A real signature
Sample proposal cover letter – Insight Public Sector to Education Service Center (ESCO)
This proposal cover letter example introduces Insight Public Sector’s response to ESCO’s RFP for technology software, equipment, services and solutions. The letter fits on a single page, reaffirms the company’s qualifications, and uses colorful bullet points to draw the eye to the company’s primary differentiators.
Proposal transmittal letter example – SunPower/GSRP for Town of Nantucket
The RFP response letter focuses on the experience and financial stability of the two vendors partnering to win the business. In addition, the letter confirms the company’s ability to meet the specific qualifications set forth in the RFP for solar PV development for onsite energy generation.
RFP response cover letter sample – ISITE Design for Health Level SevenWhile this cover letter uses the standard opening line, it’s scannable, brief and makes use of bullet points to highlight the company’s qualifications. In addition, the letter is addressed directly to the proposal evaluator. It’s a warm introduction for the web services strategy proposal that follows.
Helpful RFP response resources
Looking for more tools and information to help you write the perfect RFP response? Check the helpful resources below.
Guide to writing an executive summary
Do you know the difference between the executive summary and your RFP cover letter? Learn more in this blog that explores how to write an executive summary that stands out.