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Primer on writing a RFP Response (proposal)

We're frequently asked for any tips we might have for people writing proposal responses to Requests for Proposals (RFP) that they've received. After finding us through the RFP Database, viewing the number of RFPs present, and with the realization all of those RFPs are open competitions: to make the time spent working on the proposal worthwhile, the proposal must stand out from the crowd.

So here are some quick tips that can make your proposal stand above the others:

Focus on your executive summary

The saying goes "can't judge a book by its cover", yet book covers are designed to sell because judgements happen in a snap. When faced with an overwhelming number of proposals, each themselves large documents, initial introductions are vital. Having to read through thousands of pages of proposals many people pay attention initially then decide if they should keep going. Your executive summary or cover page should give a 1-page overview of your proposal, with special focus on why you are the optimal choice for them, address the budget and other necessary details. Show you have read and understood the entire RFP. Collecting that information on one page, the first page, makes a strong initial impression and underscores to the client "yes, we have read your RFP and understand your needs". It is a vital component in setting the tone for the remainder of your proposal.

Use clear language and get to the point

It is tempting to try and prove your value through shop-talk, using buzzwords and adding information that isn't requested nor has any real project impact. Some of this is boilerplate, used from previous proposals. Simply because material is ready does not require it be placed into the proposal. Faced with multiple pages of multiple proposals, be careful not to punish the reader by forcing them read more than is required. Answer the question in one paragraph rather than five. Bring focus to your proposal and stay close to points that convey the necessary information. Less is more so long as you properly respond to the questions.

Respond to specific points

We review many proposals and can alway tell when one is a "stock proposal". Lots about the responding firm, little about the project. There is no point in spending time submitting a proposal if you've answer questions the RFP did not ask and omitted the questions they did ask. Pulling a stock proposal "off-the-shelf" and throwing it out there does not work. The best way to show a client you are a good fit is by putting real, honest effort into your initial work with them: answer their questions, respond to their specific RFP. The way to show a client that you are not really that interested? Not addressing specificities in their RFP. They bring up specific points for a reason and they are judging you on the responses. Ignoring these elements of the RFP only helps your competition.

Use relevant examples

The best way to make a potential customer comfortable that you are able to professionally execute their work is to provide examples of other similar projects you have completed. Remove doubt regarding by enumerating a few projects you have completed that share elements with the requested work. Clearly describe these similarities so the customer has no trouble making the connection between your work and where it applies to their project. If they are able to look at your past projects and like what you have done you are at an advantage.

State why you the best choice

Companies fall back on pricing as a differentiator from their competition. You should make it clear in the proposal why you are the best choice, and it should not be price. By focusing on price your problems are two-fold: there is always someone cheaper and you may end up not bidding on the real cost of the project but rather against what the competition will bid on the project. This upends your pricing structure and may result in later failure. Do not focus on the price, focus on you. Think about your quick pitch, the thirty-second explanation of what makes you different/unique and perfect for the job at hand. The customer should leave your proposal thinking you are their perfect fit. This will always be a stronger thought than "at least they are cheap".


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