Responding to a request for proposal (RFP) is a bit like playing the lottery. Winning could transform your business… but what are the odds, right?
Well, okay—they’re probably not as low as your chances of hitting the Powerball jackpot. But with the average RFP win rate at less than 5%, they’re not exactly rosy. To put things in perspective, for every 20 RFP responses you send, you only have a chance of winning one.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t beat the odds. In this guide, we’ll go over the art of creating a winning RFP response, and offer some rfp response template examples to help you on your way.
First things first:
1. Decide whether you should respond to the RFP
It takes an average of 20 to 40 hours to craft an RFP response. So while you might be raring to go, it’s worth thinking about whether you should actually invest the time and effort.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Is the project a good fit?
- Have you successfully tackled similar projects in the past?
- Do you know enough about the industry and the prospect’s needs and goals?
- Is the issuer even in your target market?
- Do you have a reasonable deadline to build your rfp response?
If the answer to one of more of these is ‘no’, it might not be worth using your time and resources to respond.
2. Assemble your team
A winning rfp response is a team effort. So, once you decide to move forward, you need to put the right group of people on it.
Jason Jordan recommends having an RFP “SWAT team”—a team permanently assigned to RFP responses. This allows you to work on proposals without over-stretching your resources.
The first part of assembling your RFP go-team?
Assign someone to take ownership of all rfp responses
Whether this is you or someone else on your team, the rfp response leader should own every step of the process, including:
- Coordinating between different departments
- Making sure the proposal is cohesive and consistent in both design and wording
- Building a library of answers and supporting materials.
- Documenting every step of your team’s process for future reference
After you decide on a RFP leader, they can then delegate and build out their team of designers, writers, and sales contacts.
Next, a few tips on saving your new team time:
3. Consider drafting pre-prepared elements
The less time you spend figuring out what to say, the more time you can spend fine-tuning your proposal and getting it just right.
For your RFP introduction in particular, you might want to have some pre-prepared answers ready. For example:
- A brief history of your company, including the organizational structure, company size and the areas you serve
- Key people, their background, expertise and experience, and their contact details
- Success stories—how have you helped other clients reach their goals? (Bonus points for clients in the same industry as the RFP issuer or that sell similar products or services.)
- Your approach and methodology, including how you test and validate results
- Pricing, policies and other terms and conditions
- If applicable, details of your handover process.
4. Make sure you understand the ask
The key to nailing a proposal is to understand what the RFP issuer wants and to give them just that. No more, no less.
Costs aside, your proposal should detail:
- What you’re hoping to accomplish
- A step-by-step breakdown of how you intend to meet the client’s goals
- A timeline, with milestones
- Key deliverables
Try to be as detailed as possible, but don’t ramble. Your answers should be comprehensive and specific, yet concise and to-the-point. Think short, snappy sentences and plain language.
Not clear about some aspect of the RFP? Drop the issuer an email. This will show them how committed you are to getting it right.
Here’s what you could tell them:
Thanks for the detailed and comprehensive RFP outline.
We’re currently reviewing the RFP, and we’re pleased to say your requirements are aligning well with what we offer. That said, we do have a few comments and questions and would like to schedule a [30 minute / 1 hour] session with you to make sure we’ve covered all the bases.
Would your team be available on [Insert specific date and time]? Please confirm and I’ll send over a calendar invite.
Thanks and speak soon,
5. Structure matters
There’s no need to start from scratch every single time. Working from an RFP proposal template can save your team valuable time and headaches. At Marq, we have plenty of free proposal templates to get you started.
That said, you should always tweak your RFP template and think carefully about how to structure it.
The RFP issuer will probably set out their requirements in order of priority. So, if the RFP starts with the specifications and moves on to price, don’t start your proposal with price. Address the specifications first. This makes it easier for the issuer to check your proposal off against their priorities and shows them you have a deep understanding of their needs.
Remember it’s about the client, not you
When you write a proposal, your job isn’t to talk about yourself. It’s to show you can deliver what the RFP issuer wants. Every single point should relate to the ask.
Let’s say the issuer, an architectural design studio in Charleston, is looking to improve their social media metrics.
The first RFP response says:
We have extensive experience running successful social media campaigns in Charleston, South Carolina. We excel at boosting impressions through targeted outreach campaigns.
As an architectural design studio, it’s unlikely that they understand the finer details of social media marketing. They’re probably scratching their heads, wondering what the heck impressions are.
Contrast this with the second RFP response:
We’ve worked with several architectural design studios in the Charleston area, including [Company A], [Company B] and [Company C]. Our aim is to raise awareness of your brand and increase likes, comments & shares by:
- Creating relevant content targeted at your ideal customer
- Posting company-related updates
- Running promotions
- Monitoring analytics to measure response and revise our approach as necessary
Now, that’s more like it, isn’t it? The response showcases the company’s expertise by name-dropping three past clients. It outlines exactly how they aim to meet the RFP requirements in plain English.
More to the point, don’t try to impress by attempting to “improve” on what the RFP is asking for or going in a different direction. Around half of RFP responses get kicked out for non-compliance. Don’t be one of them.
Bottom line? It pays to be strategic if you want to nail your RFP response and maximize your chances of winning the bid.
A strong proposal persuades the client you’re best-placed to help them overcome their challenges and achieve their goals. Once you decide to respond to an RFP, listen hard, communicate clearly and—most importantly—put the client front & center in your proposal.