How to write a winning RFP response
It’s easy to fall into a rut when it comes to creating request for proposal (RFP) responses.
But you and your coworkers put hours into those responses. So make them count.
(Download “7 Steps to Creating Winning RFP Responses” for more advice on how to make the RFP response process easier and proposal content more compelling.)
Below are quick tips on how to:
- Hit the objectives of each section
- Get better responses from subject matter experts (SMEs)
- Stand out from the competition
Hit the objectives of each section
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of each section, let’s start with the golden rule of RFP responses: if it isn’t relevant to the project’s scope, don’t include it. Delete any and all fluff about your organization.
Your evaluators are incredibly busy. Don’t waste their time.
If they can’t find your key points, you could lose them.
- Goal: Prove you understand their challenge.
- How: Restate their known objectives. Give a preview of your solution while focusing on how you’re solving their problem. Make it all about them. Use their terminology. Read our article on how to write a compelling executive summary.
About Us/Management Overview
- Goal: Prove you’re qualified to fulfill their needs.
- How: Do your homework. Find out why they’re issuing the RFP. (Did their last provider fail to deliver? Is their business growing?) The more you can speak directly to their needs, the greater your chance of winning the project.
- Goal: Set key milestones.
- How: Create a timeline that helps the client visualize the process from purchase to go-live. Let them know exactly what kind of timeline they’re signing up for.
- Goal: Explain how you’ll manage the contract in terms of supervision, communication, and quality assurance.
- How: Provide very specific details — list number of check-ins, who handles them, how it’s handled, etc.
- Goal: Let them know what to expect and address any concerns.
- How: Provide a schedule summary matrix. Be sure to include:
- Risks or potential problems.
- Location of the work or team (on-site, off-site).
- Project staffing (by name or job title).
- Goal: Overcome unfair preferences with education and awareness.
- How: Look for instances in the RFP where the client seems to favor one approach versus another. If the phrasing is overly specific, it could indicate your competitor got to them first. Counteract their preconceived notions by explaining why your product or approach better addresses their needs.
References and Case Studies
- Goal: Provide concrete evidence of the results they can expect.
- How: Share the positive return on investment you’ve achieved for clients. Include metrics and powerful quotes, if possible. And use examples they can relate to. The procurement team’s interest will pique when they see what you’ve done for people like them.
Get better responses from subject matter experts (SMEs)
One of the hardest parts of creating an RFP response is getting high-quality content from your SMEs. They’re usually very busy people.
But there are steps you can take to improve the quality and consistency of your SMEs’ responses. Try:
- Explaining exactly what you need. Your SMEs may not intuitively know what to cover in their answers.
- Providing an answer formula for guidance.
- Making content management a priority — you’ll get much better answers if you don’t ask the same questions every time you get an RFP.
That last point is huge. The easiest way to frustrate your stakeholders is to ask them the same question 15 times. And you better believe the 10th time they answer won’t be as good or as thorough as the first.
Invest in technology that empowers you to:
- Quickly search and find past proposal content.
- See who wrote the content.
- See when it was written.
- Access a revision history.
- Verify when the content was last updated.
- Check how often it’s been used.
Too many teams spend all their time writing responses … but never organizing them. If your team can’t find and reuse past responses, you’ll end up constantly reinventing the wheel.
Stand out from the competition
Here are a few quick tips for making your proposal stand out:
- Make it skimmable. Your evaluators are pressed for time. Write clearly and succinctly. Use headings, subheadings, call-outs, and bullets to make your proposal easy to skim.
- Keep it simple. Data shows the majority of people only effectively read at or below an eighth–grade reading level.
- Read your responses out loud. It will help you catch a ton of errors/awkwardness that spell check won’t. (Work in a crowded office with no conference rooms to snag? Word and PDF both have text to speech options that are just as helpful.)
- Don’t default to using a theme. (Learn more effective ways to quickly create winning proposals.)
- It’s never about you. Your audience doesn’t care how great you are. They only care about how you can make their lives easier and improve their profitability.
- Don’t just explain what you do, but also why it’s important. (Here’s a great video on that. It will help you write an about us and/or background that will make prospects pay attention.)
- Use these 10 Simple Edits That’ll Instantly Improve Any Piece of Writing. They will help make your content stronger, more concise, and more persuasive.
Want to learn more? Download “7 Steps to Creating Winning RFP Responses.”