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How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

Like the devilishly tempting Hostess Ding Dongs treat, a proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. Unlike […]


Category: Author: Kelly Barnard

Kelly Barnard is the Response Management Strategist at RFPIO. With nearly 20 years of experience working in sales and RFP response management, Kelly is passionate about improving processes and leveraging the power of RFPs to help organizations meet revenue goals. When she's not crafting compelling proposals, you can find her crafting, sewing, and cheering on the Steelers.
How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

Like the devilishly tempting Hostess Ding Dongs treat, a proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. Unlike that aforementioned hockey puck of delectability, proposal cover letters cannot be mass-produced. To write a proposal cover letter with nary a wasted word, you first need to understand its strategic significance in the overall proposal.

I’ve spent more than 17 years on proposals and have written hundreds of proposal cover letters. When I started, we printed out proposals and created huge binders to share with reviewers. Reviewers would open the binders to see the proposal cover letter, then an executive summary, and then dig into the proposal itself. Binders are part of a bygone era; there’s been a big digital shift since I started.

Requests for paperless submissions and the growing popularity of online portals has altered the strategic significance of the proposal cover letter. It’s gone from a “must-have” element, to a “nice-to-have” one. My background is predominantly healthcare and insurance. Anecdotally, maybe only 30% of requests for proposals (RFPs) in healthcare and insurance request executive summaries while most volunteer that a cover letter is optional. If they give you an option, take it.

Some online portals don’t even give you an opportunity to include extra documents like cover letters. In such cases, you now have to include the cover letter as part of your proposal PDF. At the same time, RFPs are more complex than ever, requiring more details in submitted proposals. Issuers expect you to have your content in order, and a lot of it.

Speaking of issuers and what they’re looking for in proposal cover letters: They don’t need information that they can find on your website, that they can Google, or that sounds canned. They want to make sure you’ve reviewed the RFP requirements, and it’s absolutely essential to hit them with that up front, in your proposal cover letter. Especially if your solution meets all of the issuer’s requirements. Emphasize that fact simply and directly.

What is a proposal cover letter?

The proposal cover letter is meant to frame up your RFP proposal. It’s not a rehashing of the proposal or executive summary. It’s a vehicle to thank the issuer for the opportunity to respond, to say, “We’ve seen your business requirements and composed this proposal because we think we’re the best partner for you.” Think of it as the bow on your RFP proposal package.

Whether paper, PDF, or stone tablet, one thing that hasn’t changed about the proposal cover letter is that it’s your first opportunity to declare the value propositions that differentiate yours from competitive proposals. These value props will be the threads that weave through your proposal, from cover letter, to executive summary, to answers to questions.

As far as length, I aim for a page and a half when I write proposal cover letters. Try to keep it under two. Go longer only if a template or specific framework for the cover letter is provided by the issuer, which is sometimes the case in government RFPs.

Why a good proposal cover letter matters

RFP reviewers will be looking for deviations in responses. Deviations among responders as well as deviations from their (the issuers) requirements.

When you can write a cover letter and state, “After reviewing the RFP, we are confident that our solution meets all requirements and detail that fact in our proposal,” you make a compelling argument for reviewers to concentrate on how your proposal illustrates how you solve problems. They’ll notice cover letters that do not mention something that direct, and will review those proposals to look for where the solutions fall short.

When should you write the proposal cover letter?

It’s page one so it should be written first, right? Not necessarily. I’m a proponent of writing the executive summary first, the cover letter second, and then building the proposal. Certainly review the RFP first so you can determine what it’s asking for. But don’t just jump into a response from there. Take the time to establish the value props that will make it a cohesive proposal.

Writing the executive summary first helps you formulate your argument and determine which content you’ll need for the proposal. Once you know what you need to be persuasive and how you can solve the issuer’s problem, then you can develop the three-to-five value props (I try to boil it down to three solid, unique value props) that you can define in the proposal cover letter.

Who signs the proposal cover letter?

Notice I didn’t title this section, “Who writes the proposal cover letter?” The person who writes it and the person who signs it may not be one and the same.

If your proposal team is fortunate enough to have a dedicated writer, then have them write the letter based on input from the frontline sales rep. Whoever writes the letter must be fully informed of response strategy and have intimate knowledge of the proposal and executive summary. Strategy, voice, and style need to be consistent across all documents (cover letter, executive summary, and proposal).

Who signs it depends on a variety of factors. In most cases, the frontline sales rep will sign the proposal cover letter. They have the relationship, own the strategy, and likely conducted the discovery that informed the proposal. However, it’s not uncommon for an executive sponsor such as a VP of sales to sign. The thinking being that executive reviewers may appreciate seeing a proposal that’s been vetted by a fellow executive.

There are also those cases when the executive of executives, the CEO, signs the letter. There are two common scenarios for this play. One, the RFP may be large enough to represent a significant percentage of a responder’s annual revenue. Two, the responding organization is concerned with appearing relatively small, and in an effort to improve its stature, seals the proposal with a CEO’s signature.

There’s definitely some gamesmanship at play here. Even so, the name on the letter will never overshadow the content of the proposal.

7 steps to write a proposal cover letter

The compact nature of the proposal cover letter makes it difficult to fit everything in one or two pages. Good writers are valuable assets in these instances. Every proposal cover letter should contain the following sections:

  1. Thank the issuer (and broker, where applicable) for the opportunity.
  2. Recite your understanding of the opportunity to validate that you reviewed the RFP requirements.
  3. List your abilities to meet requirements. If you can meet all of them, lead with that fact.
  4. Describe your value propositions. You’re trying to portray that, “This is what we bring to the table, and that’s why we’re the best choice.”
  5. Provide a high-level future snapshot of what business will look like after your solution is chosen.
  6. Conclude with a persuasive delivery of your understanding of next steps: “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further.” Show that you’re able and willing to move forward in the sales lifecycle.
  7. Sign it from the frontline sales representative or executive sponsor. This should not look like a form letter from the organization as a whole.

3 common mistakes to avoid

Beyond the mistakes of not including a proposal cover letter at all or writing one that’s too long, proofread your next letter for the following mistakes before sending it.

  1. Avoid repeating anything from the executive summary or proposal. Those documents need to live on their own, just like the proposal cover letter.
  2. Don’t waste space with your resume. Something like this…

    RFPIO’s growing list of 600+ clients including 40+ Fortune 500 organizations continue to take advantage of our one-of-a-kind Unlimited User licensing model, expanding their usage on the platform to scale organizational success. With RFPIO as their team’s support system, every day they break down silos by facilitating collaboration and efficiency in their RFx response process
    ….is boilerplate that can appear elsewhere in the proposal or not at all, given that it’s likely available to the issuer on your corporate website.
  3. If a broker is involved, thank them, too. The proposal cover letter is also an opportunity to directly address the issuer. This can be particularly valuable when a broker is involved. Some issuers rely on RFP brokers to sift through responses to make sure only the best possible solutions get serious consideration. Ignore these brokers at your peril. While the response and executive summary will address the issuer and the problem at hand, the cover letter is where you can give a nod to the broker. Acknowledging their involvement in the process and thanking them for the opportunity as well will at the very least alert all reviewers that you paid close attention to the RFP requirements.
  4. Don’t guess. Make sure you or someone on your team does the legwork and discovery to inform your response strategy. The more you have to guess, the longer the letter will take to write.

Proposal cover letter example

Feel free to use the proposal cover letter example below as a template for your next letter. One of the many advantages of proposal building software such as RFPIO is the automation of the cover letter process. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to write it, but RFPIO helps:

  • Access and write in the template within the platform (no need to toggle back and forth between a word processor and whatever application you’re using to build your proposal)
  • Include identical brand elements as the proposal and executive summary
  • Add the cover letter to the front of the proposal and/or executive summary when you output it for submission

When you use the following example, you’ll need to swap out the RFPIO-centric items with your own company and solution information as well as the custom value props for that specific proposal. The three value props highlighted in the example are Salesforce integration, data security, and customer support. For your letter, these will be specific to your solution and the problem stated in the RFP.

Hi [Issuer(s) first name(s)],

Thank you for considering RFPIO as your potential vendor for RFP automation software. We are cognizant of the effort it takes to make a selection like this, so we very much appreciate the opportunity. First and foremost, RFPIO meets all of the requirements detailed in your RFP. That’s illustrated in greater detail in this proposal. In the meantime, the following capabilities make us confident that RFPIO is the most qualified company and solution for [issuing company name’s] [RFP title].

  • Helping businesses improve and scale their RFP response process for greater efficiency. The time and resource savings reported to us from our clients has allowed them to participate in more proposals and provide high-quality responses that create additional revenue opportunities.
  • Automating the import and export functions, centralizing content for RFPs, and facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders.
  • Managing knowledge and content through our AI-enabled Answer Library.
  • Giving clear visibility into the entire RFP process through reports and dashboards—including project status and progress, and analytics for actionable insights.

We know that it’s important for [issuing company name] to find a solution with a strong integration with Salesforce. This proposal details RFPIO’s integration with Salesforce, and how it will work for you. In addition to that, RFPIO’s open API allows for integrations with many other technologies for cloud-storage, collaboration, and other desired platforms.

We also take your data security concerns highlighted in the RFP very seriously. You can be assured that your data will be safe and accessible. We work with a variety of enterprise customers and understand the necessary level of security that is required. From the beginning, we made it a priority to build security right into RFPIO’s technology, which we continue to maintain. We are SOC 2 and ISO27001 certified, while continuing to pursue other best-in-class certifications to ensure security.

Regarding your requirement for ongoing support following implementation: When it comes to customer support, our technical and account managers are high performers. We have an expert group of 110 nimble programmers and developers who are always ready to provide quick technical fixes (that you can request right within the solution). Our reliable and attentive account team is ready to fully support [company name] should we move forward as your vendor.

Upon deploying RFPIO, it’s intuitive user experience is simple to get used to. You’ll also get free access to RFPIO University for all your training needs, now and in the future. Getting started is as simple as loading that first project. The whole team will be collaborating from there. As your Answer Library grows, machine learning will provide more and more automation opportunities. It won’t be long before you see a drastic uptick in proposal quality and number of proposals submitted.

If you’re interested in comparing our solution to other comparable tools, we recommend that you visit software review platform G2 Crowd’s top RFP Solutions grid. This information is based on user satisfaction and places RFPIO at the top in all categories.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further. We appreciate your consideration, and wish you luck on your selection.

Thanks,
[Signee’s name]
[Signee’s title]

You should have it “cover”-ed from here

If you’ve done your research and client discovery, and you know the value props specific to the RFP that you’ve already reviewed, then letter writing will go fast. The better you know the client and people involved, the easier it is going to be for you to tailor the proposal cover letter, the executive summary, and, most importantly, the RFP proposal.

To learn more about how RFPIO can help you write better proposal cover letters, schedule a demo today!

How proposal teams can prove their value and drive sales productivity

How proposal teams can prove their value and drive sales productivity

This blog is a continuation of RFPIO’s white paper, Experience the Freedom to Thrive. Read the full paper here.

RFPs are part of the sales cycle. Ergo, RFP teams should be part of the sales team. You’d think it would be that simple… but, alas, nothing in the world of proposals is simple.

I’ve been in the proposal industry for almost two decades. Throughout that time, I’ve had to “make my case” to prove why I deserved a spot at the sales table.

This is despite the fact that $11 trillion of revenue is won through competitive proposal processes every year—and organizations with proposal professionals submit 3x more RFPs than those without.

And I know I’m not alone. According to a recent LinkedIn poll we conducted, only 69% of respondents said proposal management sits within the sales organization.

Proposal management in sales

For proposal managers who want to prove their value and drive sales productivity, the first step is demonstrating how your role fits in with the sales cycle.

Put an end to RFP telephone

Oftentimes, the RFP handoff from sales looks something like this:

  1. Sales forwards an RFP to the proposal manager and tries to get the proposal manager up to speed on the last 8 months of activities in about 15 minutes.
  2. The proposal manager starts herding the cats of SMEs and leadership in a short amount of time.
  3. Because the proposal manager wasn’t fully part of the sales strategy from the get-go, they aren’t able to answer questions about proposal strategy from SMEs.
  4. If the SMEs want to know what kind of “spin” they should put on certain questions, proposal managers might not know if they didn’t have a good hand-off from sales.

As a result, the SME answers the question generically. The proposal won’t be tailored to the customer’s specific needs. And sales might lose the deal.

That’s why proposal managers need to be involved in sales conversations from the very beginning.

If you’re trying to get caught up on everything, it’s too much to take in in a short amount of time. You need to understand how sales has been building up to that proposal, and what you need to highlight in the proposal to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

Take your seat at the sales table

The most important thing you can do to prove that you’re part of the sales team is act like you’re part of the sales team.

That means making it clear to your sales leader that you need a better understanding of what’s coming down the line and need to be part of sales huddles and pipeline meetings. This is especially important in this new era of remote work, where we’re not running into each other at the office. In the absence of impromptu conversations, we (proposal professionals) need to be more purposeful about communicating with sales.

If you’re not currently part of sales huddles and pipeline meetings, here’s an email template you can borrow to request to be part of those meetings:

Hi {boss name},

I’m writing to request an invitation to the sales team’s weekly sales huddles and pipeline meetings.

As the proposal manager, I’m responsible for crafting a compelling proposal that solves our clients’ problems. The sooner I’m clued into the status of open opportunities, the sooner I can start researching our client—and the more compelling proposal I can write.

To put a number on this:

    • Total dollar value of proposals won in [last year]:
    • Total dollar value of proposals lost in [last year]:

By joining sales conversations early on, I’m confident I can increase our proposal win rate—and help push deals deeper into the sales cycle.

Looking forward to seeing you in the first meeting!

Best,

{Your Name}

Take this template and make it your own—especially the metric purpose. I recommend tailoring your impact data t your company’s sales goals, whether that be revenue, membership, or new logos signed.

Once you’re part of those meetings, you have a chance to bring up ideas and offer your help. And help people understand that proposal teams don’t exist just to respond to RFPs. They are critical to winning and retaining accounts.

Gimme the data

After you’ve made the case to rightfully take your spot on the sales team, the next step is proving to leadership what you’re bringing to the table. And, more importantly, what would happen if you weren’t there.

This leads me to my golden rule of proposal management:

Even if you think everyone knows how much you’re working, they don’t.

If you’ve ever been told something along the lines of “Wow, your team is magic!”, that’s a big red flag.

My team is full of amazing, competent human beings who are excellent at their jobs. But there’s no such thing as magic. And if everyone else at your company believes you’re a team of magical proposal elves, that’s an easy recipe for burnout.

If you find yourself in that situation, you need to demonstrate how much time you’re spending on projects.

Here’s a list of everything you need to track to start building your case:

  • # of questions in each RFP
  • Time spent
  • By RFP
  • By task (e.g. formatting, printing, coordinating with SMEs)
  • By team member
  • # of RFPs and due dates

If you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to track all this”… Well, that’s probably a sign that you need to start tracking these metrics and prove to leadership how much you’re working.

If you have RFP software, tracking these metrics is easy. If you don’t, it’s a bit more challenging, but not impossible. I’ll cover both methods in the next two sections.

I think there’s an app for that…

If you really want to get on top of your data tracking, RFP software is going to be extremely helpful. It tracks all those metrics I listed in the previous section automatically, so you can just get on with your normal business and pull a report at the end of the quarter (or month or year or whatever it may be).

At my previous employer, we used RFPIO. We just went about our normal business and let RFPIO whir in the background. At the end of our analysis, we created a report showing (in quarterly timeframes and YTD):

  • How many hours go into each RFP
  • How many hours each individual is working per week
  • How many hours are spent on each part of the RFP

And the results of my report were really eye-opening for senior staff. I was able to prove that we needed an extra 2.5 people to achieve the same output and work 8 hours per day. As a result, we were put at the top of the list for new hires over the entire sales organization.

In lieu of RFP software, pivot tables are your friend

If you aren’t using RFP software, you’ll need to say hello to pivot tables, because they are going to be your new best friend.

First, ask your team members to use a free time-tracking software (like Toggl) to track their time. If you’re anything like me, you hate asking your over-worked team to do extra work.

If you start thinking that, just remember: The only way you can help your team get the support they need is by proving to the rest of the organization how much work you and your team are actually doing.

To put together a comprehensive report, you’ll need to ask your team members to track time by:

  • RFP, and
  • Task (e.g. formatting, printing, coordinating with SMEs, etc.)

At the end of the week, compile the report from each of your team members and pivot table away.

You don’t have to do this exercise forever. Only as long as it takes to build your case. Maybe it’s a week, maybe it’s a month. But just know that at the end of the exercise, you’ll have the data you need to prove how much you’re working.

Because—and I can’t say this enough—nobody knows how hard you work. And after you show them the numbers, they’ll wonder how you were ever able to do it all.

Building the right tech stack for your proposal team

As a proposal manager, you probably won’t have a huge say in what sales technology your team uses. When my previous company switched from Skype to Teams, nobody asked me what my thoughts were. All I could do was adjust and adapt.

And here is my pitch for RFP software. It truly is a game-changer for proposal teams. If you (or your boss) still need convincing, here are all the stats you need to build your case.

With RFP software, you can:

  • Act on the 80/20 rule: Automate responses to standard questions, and spend more time personalizing the client-specific questions
  • Always use the right client names: With RFP software, merge tags like [client name] make sure you never accidentally use the wrong client in a proposal (an easy mistake, but still embarrassing)
  • Consolidate content and keep it up to date: With an AI-enabled content library, you can store pre-approved, proposal team-blessed content, and make sure your entire sales team has access.

If you are already using RFP software, find ways to integrate with the rest of your tech stack. For example, RFPIO (my personal favorite) integrates with all kinds of platforms, including:

  • CRMs (Salesforce, MS Dynamics, Hubspot)
  • Cloud Storage (Box, Dropbox, Sharepoint, OneDrive, Google Drive)
  • Communication Apps (Slack, MS Teams, Google Hangouts, Jira)
  • SSO Authentication (Azure, Okta, OneLogin)
  • Web Browsers (Google Chrome, Chromium Edge) (These are technically called “browser extensions” and not “integrations” but whatever)
  • Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook)

Proposal managers are essential to driving sales productivity

Trillions of dollars of revenue are won through competitive proposal processes each year, and organizations with dedicated proposal managers submitted 3.5x more responses in 2020 than those without.

To learn what else proposal managers can to do drive sales productivity, check out our newly published white paper: Experience the Freedom to Thrive.

 benchmark-blog-report

Are you ready to jump into the revenue-generation game?

Read our white paper to learn how

One thing we found… with the right sales stack, proposal managers become an impactful source of revenue.

Not to toot our own horn, but with RFPIO, you can expect to reduce your RFP response time by 40% (on average).

To put a number on that: If you spend 40 hours per week responding to RFPs, RFPIO could save you 16 hours per week, on average.

Ready to see how it works? Schedule a demo.

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