You’re finally done with that RFP you’ve been working on for hours. You’ve used answers from your RFP management software, previous RFPs or talked with subject matter experts (SMEs) to chase the answers down. And you’re feeling pretty good. After all, your company should win this business — you’ve earned it.
Now all that’s left to do is to slap your RFP cover letter on it and then move on to the next RFP. But wait, not so fast. When was the last time you read your standard RFP cover letter? Like, actually read it. If it’s been a while, it might be time to take another look and be sure it sends the right message.
This post will explore why the RFP cover letter matters, the basics of what it should cover, tips for writing a winning letter, an example and a template you can use to get started.
Download the RFP cover letter template now.
If you’re similar to most businesses, your cover letter could 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.”
Not a terribly compelling way to introduce yourself to your next potential customer. Think of it this way: imagine you are a proposal, come to life. You are being sent to the company that issued the RFP to make your pitch face-to-face. No problem, you’ve spent hours collaborating with your team to make sure you’re an expert with the right answer to every question. You’re ready, all you need to do is get dressed to make a good impression. So, what do you wear?
If your cover letter reads anything like the introduction above, you’re not putting your best foot forward. And frankly, you’re probably not making any impression at all. On the other hand, a great cover letter is like showing up in a tailored suit with a strong handshake and a warm smile.
You spend hours completing RFPs, so why should you spend even more time crafting an RFP cover letter? The RFP cover letter is an oft-overlooked sales tool. It’s a zero-cost way to get your message directly to the people who decide whether or not your proposal wins. The RFP cover letter takes very little time to compose (especially if you use our template below) and offers you one more way to stand out from your competitors.
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
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. Depending on the quality of the cover letter, they will read, skim or ignore it completely. Those that are memorable are either embarrassingly bad or extraordinarily good. Make your cover letter memorable for the right reasons.
The RFP cover letter should be included as a normal part of every proposal, but it’s just one component. But we’re here to focus on the first impression, so let’s break it down.
Components of a cover letter:
- 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 key decision makers and those reviewing your bid
- Be conversational, genuine and confident — but not 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 business
- If possible, express your vision for the future partnership and how you can help the business reach its goals
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 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.
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 letter. You’re also reinforcing the idea that not only are you a good fit based on your qualifications, but you’re also invested in developing deeper relationships to be a strategic partner, not just another vendor. If you start with “To whom it may concern” you’re sending the message that you used a cover letter template, didn’t do your homework and don’t really care that much about winning the business.
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 deliver the same type of services. You are starting to sift through RFP responses that are admittedly, probably pretty dry. It’s a process that is a little daunting and highly repetitive.
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 recent post featured in APMP’s Winning the Business,
“…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 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 automation software to quickly complete the RFP itself, the cover letter offers an 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. Make sure your proposal cover letter is visually appealing, approachable and not too dense. Remember that you’re trying to make an impression, not dive into every detail of your proposal.
Your cover letter should only take up one page. This means 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.
- Opening — As suggested above, use a unique and impactful sentence to open the cover letter
- Center — Make good use of bullet points to highlight your differentiators without specifically calling out your competitors. Include what you excel at like customer support, on-time delivery, cutting-edge features, value adds, growth plans and so on
- Closing — Use a clear and direct call to action (see tip six below)
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.
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.
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, 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.
Recently I was talking to our resident RFP issuing expert and RFP360 Co-Founder, Dave Hulsen, about the importance of RFP cover letters. During his days in procurement, he received hundreds of cover letters so I asked if there were any memorable trends that raised red flags. On several occasions he found himself reading cover letters that left him confused. He recounted his reaction to these saying,
“I would issue RFPs to vendors based on engaging conversations where I felt like the vendor understood what I needed. Then I’d read the robotic, boring proposal cover letters and do a mental double-take. What happened to the welcoming, empathetic salesperson who understood my business?”
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 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 should be clear.
Wrap up your RFP cover letter with a call to action like:
- Please reach out with any questions you may have
- Let me know if I can put you in touch with another customer for a reference
And the final touch on a winning RFP cover letter is an actual handwritten signature. 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 bid.
Even for proposal professionals, it’s a challenge to start a brand new cover letter from scratch so below you’ll find an example to give you a head start on your next great RFP cover letter. Below you’ll see how the cover letter should look. Clean, concise and easy to read.
RFP cover letter template
Ready to start crafting your own RFP cover letter? Check out this template that provides guidance on how to use the example above to create your own killer RFP cover letter.
RFP cover letter template
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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. It also offers an example and template you can download.
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