May 27, 2009

5 quick tips to writing better proposals (RFP responses)

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, seeing the abundance of RFPs that it contains, and knowing that all of those RFPs are open competitions, the natural question is "if I'm going to spend time writing a proposal it has got to be a winner".

So here are our five quick tips that can make your proposal a stronger candidate:

1. Write an amazing executive summary

While you might say you can't judge a book by its cover, when faced with a stack of 30 or more proposals, each consisting of 20+ pages, you better believe that your proposal is judged by its first page. Faced with the situation of having to read 300+ pages of different vendors' proposals many people read the first page and then start skimming, and if they're not skimming, their minds are probably going numb. Your executive summary or cover page should give a 1-page overview of your proposal, hitting all of the high notes for why you are the optimal choice for them, including budget and other pertinent details. Having that information on one page, the first page, makes a great first impression and says to the client "yes, we're thinking of you and trying to be helpful". It's one of the quickest and easiest things you can do to set the tone for the remainder of your proposal.

2. Be succinct


Nothing makes a reader's mind go numb like endless shop-talk, buzzwords, and information that isn't requested nor has any impact on the project. Again, faced with 300+ pages of vendor proposals, you are actually punishing the reader by making them read more than they need to. If you can answer the question in one paragraph why make them read five paragraphs? Focus your proposal and stick to the points that are necessary to convey the information to the client. Go back to the maxim that less is more so long as you answer the questions.

3. Answer the questions


It always makes us laugh when we find ourselves saying "this seems like a stock proposal" or "fine, but they didn't answer any of our questions!" What's the point in spending valuable time writing a proposal if you've answered questions the client didn't ask and didn't answer the questions they did ask? The best way to show a client you're a good listener? Answer their questions. The quickest way to show a client that you're not attentive to their needs? Not answering their questions. They asked the questions for a reason and they're judging you on the responses so does ignoring them give you a leg up on the competition? Doubtful!

4. Provide relevant examples

The best way to prove to a client that you can successfully complete their project is to show them examples of past projects that you've completed that are similar to their own. Dispel any doubt that they might have regarding your ability to fulfill the project by listing out three to five projects of the same caliber as their own that you completed that have strong similarities. Spell those similarities out so that the client can say "oh, that's just like ours". If that sentence is immediately followed by "and I like what they did here" I'm confident you'll be a finalist.

5. articulate what makes you the best choice (and not the price!)

Too often companies fall back on pricing as the greatest differentiators between them and their competition. By focusing on price you end up with two problems: there will always be someone that underbids you and you're not bidding the project but instead what you think the competition will bid on the project... which greatly skews your pricing and sets you up for later failure. So instead of focusing on the price, focus on YOU. Get back to your elevator pitch, your 30-second explanation of what makes you new/different/unique/perfect-for-the-job. You want the client to come away from reading your proposal thinking "they seem like the perfect fit for us" which is a much better takeaway than "well, they're the cheapest".


The biggest question that you need to answer in all proposals is "why are you the right choice for this project". If you can do that you're halfway to a winning proposal.


If you're having trouble writing your proposal, or would like feedback on it,