Responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) can be stressful. How should you design and format your RFP response template? What information should you include? How do you make your business stand out from competitors that offer similar solutions? Where will you find the time to gather all the necessary information?
In this article, we’ll cover the following topics:
- How gaining efficiencies in your proposal process directly impacts your company’s bottom line
- Successful RFP response templates and examples for a variety of industries
- Best practices on RFP response formats and outlines
- How to use technology to automate your RFP process
- Additional resources including proposal writing, design tools, and expert RFP response advice
Investing in RFPs
Research shows most organizations spend 30 hours on every RFP response, and their win rate is only 10%. In other words, they respond to 10 RFPs, spending a total of 300 hours, before they win a single deal.
That’s a significant investment.
If we assume that work is done mostly by a proposal manager, who earns an average of $94,656, we can quantify just how costly the proposal process can really be.
Broken down by hour, proposal managers earn about $45.51. That means it costs $1,365.30 to respond to an RFP… and most organizations spend $13,653 to win a single deal.
When you realize that many of those hours are worked by subject matter experts, who often earn more than proposal managers, you realize just how expensive it can be to create proposals and respond to RFPs.
Michael Makatura, senior director of analytics and sales operations at PlanSource, experienced this problem first-hand.
“People who were already very busy at their jobs spent far too much time providing RFP responses, only to have us lose the project anyway,” he explained.
Technolutions Chief of Staff Laura Gardner faced similar challenges.
“We get between 65 and 75 RFPs on average per year,” she said. “The people who work on proposals also have other responsibilities.”
Fortunately, we can learn from those who have created successful RFP responses in the past in order to create more effective proposals in less time.
Using knowledge gathered from RFP360’s founders, internal RFP experts, customers, and independent research, we put together a list of the best proposal templates, formats, and tools you can use to simplify your RFP process.
RFP response templates
The quickest way to create proposals that work is by following a successful template.
Just remember that no two RFP responses are ever exactly the same. The organization you’re responding to is unique and has unique needs and challenges. Make sure you tailor your proposal to reflect that.
Created by DigitalMarketer — an expert in, you guessed it, digital marketing — this template is perfect for marketing agencies. It provides:
- 8 elements to include in every proposal (and why excluding ANY of them can kill your conversion rate)
- Step-by-step, fill in the blank template for creating a proposal that engages your leads and demonstrates why it’s important for your client to use your agency as a tool for success
- Proven, actionable copy strategies that you can use to improve client conversion rates (and why what your saying is important)
This proposal template was created for entrepreneurs, but it’s perfect for almost any organization. It was designed to “show you how to write proposals in a fraction of the time, increase your close rate, and stop leaving money on the table.”
Jonathan Stark, the consultant who created the template, claims he has closed “well over seven figures of business with this exact template.”
- How to structure the proposal
- How many options to provide
- Why to focus on benefits, not deliverables
- How to anchor your prices to the outcome, not your hours
- What pricing terms to include
- What to negotiate – and what NOT to negotiate!
Additional RFP response templates
OpenOffice offers a number of proposal templates to help you create proposals quickly. Their proposal templates are free and work well with Office apps. These sites also offer free proposal templates:
If you’re pursuing federal opportunities, Fedmarket offers a proposal template popular in the federal contracting world.
There is no one-size-fits-all proposals format, as some industries have very specific requirements. But there are key elements almost every proposal should have. Below is a standard proposal outline along with professional tips and ideas to keep in mind while you’re writing.
1. Executive summary
First thing’s first—show the client you understand the problem at hand. Paint a clear picture by restating known objectives and giving a preview of your solution and approach. It’s important to let the client know you understand the current landscape and can provide the best solution. Although the overview is the first section, pushingsnowballs.com suggests writing it last. That way, you can pull out the main points from your overall RFP response to craft a more effective summary.
Here’s a great example of what an executive summary should look like from Template.net.
Notice how it sets clear expectations and ends with a strong benefits statement.
Pro tip: Remember to keep your executive summary clear, concise and compelling. This is where you will hook your prospect.
2. About us
The about us section – also known as the management overview – explains your story and qualifications. Brag about yourself a little. Set yourself apart from the competition by being creative about your strengths. You aren’t small; you’re adaptive. You aren’t inexperienced; you bring a fresh new perspective. Be proud of your accomplishments. This is your time to shine, to show the client what makes you unique.
Without tooting our own horn, we think the About us page on our website can give you a good idea of how to handle this section. Just like on a website, the about us section of your proposal is all about demonstrating your strengths and how those strengths will benefit the reader.
As you can see, we quickly establish ourselves as a proven leader in RFP management technology and leverage social proof to drive that point home.
More info: Better bio and reference tracking
3. Project schedule
Lay out the contract schedule using milestones and key dates. This will help the client visualize where they’ll be in the future. What will their world look like? Detail when you will finish certain tracks of work and what outcomes the client can expect. (Don’t get into specifics just yet—you can sort that out in the implementation plan.)
4. Contract management
How will you manage the contract in terms of supervision, communication, and quality assurance? Will you conduct status meetings? How often? What sort of specific information will you report?
5. Implementation plan
Here’s where you can sort out the details. The work plan should tie into the overall schedule summary and will likely include some assumptions and time estimates. A matrix is a great way to display this information. Some people like to use week 0, week 1, etc. instead of specific dates. That is especially helpful if you don’t have a firm start date mandated. Just, try to be as specific as possible. Other details to cover include:
- Risks or potential problems
- Location of the work or team (on-site, off-site)
- Project staffing (by name or job title)
In some cases, the Project Manager handles the implementation plan. Just remember not to be too aggressive and set your team up for failure.
6. Addressing bias
While answering the required questions, be on the lookout for bias. Pay close attention to the language used in each question to determine if the client seems to favor one approach versus another. If so, it may be an indication that your competitor got to the client first. See if you can overcome bias through education and awareness.
You can’t expect to close a deal without working through the price. That’s where your proposal budget comes into play.
When creating a proposal budget, you must consider five key factors.
- Research and development
- Travel costs.
- Operational expenses
- Profit margin
The goal is basically to show the prospect what they can expect to pay and to justify the cost.
For more detail, read our blog on successfully estimating proposal budgets.
8. References and case studies
People like to know about past successes. Sometimes potential clients want to talk to or visit references, so having client advocates is always good. Other times clients are looking for companies that had similar problems and want to read case studies. Demonstrate how you help your customers solve their problems.
Check out our case studies to get a good example of how they work.
Download our free ebook: The formula for creating winning RFP responses
Proposal management software tools
We all agree content is king. But it’s not enough to just create it; we have to be able to find it, revise it, collaborate, and deliver consistent results. RFP software can help:
Manage proposal content
Your RFP system should centralize your RFP knowledge and answers, making it easy to find and update past responses.
Create a customized proposal template library
Store and reuse your most successful proposals so you can quickly create winning RFP responses.
Collaborate with your proposal team and SMEs
The beauty of cloud-based software is there is only one version, and it’s easy to collaborate.
Track proposal tasks
Make your progress transparent so you can see when tasks have been completed and by whom.
The important thing is RFP Software should streamline the RFP process – saving you time and winning more bids.
Proposal writing tools
Here are some great proposal writing resources:
- 10 simple edits that will instantly improve any piece of writing
- From the infamous writing guru Ann Handley, A writing GPS: The step-by-step guide to creating your next piece of content [Infographic]
- Want to make your proposal more poignant? Here are 317 power words that’ll instantly make you a better writer
- Straight from the horse’s mouth – How to write a really persuasive RFP response/proposal
Proposal design tools
Just like we, dress for success, we should ensure our proposals are both professional and visually appealing. Automational is a great place to start – it covers 42 free and/or cheap marketing tools; to help you with everything from fonts, to mockups, to palette pickers. Our favorite commercial-project-approved stash of free photos resources:
- Unsplash (gorgeous pictures from professional photographers)
- Hubspot’s 550+ Royalty-Free Stock Photos You Can Download Now
- New Old Stock (vintage photos from public archives)
For easy (and free) proposal infographics and image editing:
Expert RFP response tips and advice
Of course, all the above proposal templates, tools, and RFP response format examples won’t do any good if you don’t know how to use them to create compelling content that helps you win new deals.
That’s why we’ve compiled advice from sales and marketing experts to help you create proposals that win.
Be thorough, but simple
“Companies spend a substantial amount of time and energy creating an RFP that will level the playing field for their potential vendors and garner the exact information they need to reach a decision. Give them what they ask for. When we prepared our RFP responses, we were thorough, but simple. We made our pitch early and often, providing only the necessary details to illustrate why our company could add more value than our competitors. Including information outside of the set guidelines may cause your proposal to be bypassed.”
Address the challenges your prospect wants to overcome
“Instead of focusing on what you have to offer your prospect, your proposals should focus on the key problems your prospect wants to solve. In particular, the beginning portions of your proposals should address the challenges your prospect wants to overcome. This will effectively turn your proposals into working documents that outline specific client objectives—a powerful tool.”
Don’t confuse your reader
“Acronyms, technical slang, and other jargon will turn your reader off faster than a sleazy pitch. Don’t confuse your reader by trying to sound smart, that’s bad for sales and bad for you.”
How to use your new RFP toolkit
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry.
We covered a lot — from RFP response templates to format advice, expert tips, and more.
But putting it all together is easier than you might think.
- First, select the RFP response template that works best for your situation
- Then, use the format advice to customize the content in the most effective way possible
- Next, evaluate which tools and technology will best support your RFP response process
- Finally, look over the expert tips and advice to ensure your proposal content is compelling, persuasive, and positions your organization to win
Not too bad, right?
Now, you have the tools and resources you need to quickly and effectively respond to your next RFP.