You lose every RFP you don’t submit, but that doesn’t mean that proposal response is a numbers game. Without quality responses, your team is just spinning their wheels, which is even worse than failing to submit at all.
Instead, to win more bids, you need to manage a difficult feat: submit a high number of responses and make sure all of them are good enough to be competitive.
We’ve provided a lot of resources on how to increase your RFP response rates, even if your team is small. But even if you manage to quadruple the number of proposals you submit, you need a solid RFP win rate for all that work to turn into real profits.
“Too many opportunities are lost because of ambiguous and overly complex language, long and dense sentences, and vague, lifeless prose. Clear writing, in contrast, makes its points simply, demonstrating a bidder’s competence and quality.” – APMP Body of Knowledge
For that, you need your proposals to stand out, and directly address all of the customers’ requirements. The kind of persuasive proposals that win business tend to have a few main things in common:
Best practice #1: Customize answers with specific deliverables
Does it ever feel like you’re operating in rote? You have spent so much time talking up your company that you can cite its features and metrics with your eyes and ears closed. That might be fine for a cold call, but RFP issuers want deeper, tailored answers.
That’s not to say that you can’t get some help from past answers. There’s nothing wrong with repurposing and reusing old answers on new proposals—it’s a smart way to get more done, especially when using RFPIO’s Answer Library. But for those estimated 20% of questions that require customized answers, reinvest some of the time saved through automation into really trying to impress reviewers at every level.
Related: Corporate wiki vs internal knowledge base: Which is better?
To be truly persuasive, you need to convince your audience that you understand their particular situation well enough to provide the right solution. That means using content you’ve already created, but making changes to bring it in line with the specific use case of this client.
RFP response example:
RFP response sample question: On average, how long does implementation take?
The easy RFP response sample: On average, implementation takes X months.
The better RFP response example: The average implementation takes X months. For organizations of your size that will include setting up integrations with X, Y, and Z products; we estimate implementation will take around X months, with X weeks for training and onboarding.
Why it’s better: Making your answer specific to their particular needs and situation makes it more relevant to them. It also shows that you do your homework. Not only do you have the expertise to provide a knowledgeable answer, but you understand enough about their needs to provide one with greater accuracy.
Best practice #2: Be succinct and real
Talking about complicated technological tools can get, well, complicated. The more complex the subject matter you’re dealing with, the more important it is to emphasize clarity in your answers. You may not be able to avoid technical terminology entirely, but you can look for opportunities to simplify your language and sentence structure. The ability to explain a complicated subject in clear, understandable terms demonstrates expertise better than industry jargon or needlessly long words ever will.
RFP response example:
Sample question: What is your company’s approach to project management?
The wordy RFP response sample: We systematically approach each project. We follow several phases in which we gather requests, develop our strategy, create a WBS, execute on our plan within the estimated project timeline, and then deliver on all desired outcomes. We implement each project and validate that it has met the needs of the customer according to their primary KPIs.
The better RFP response example: Our project management team is agile. We tailor our proven process to each client’s unique needs with the main steps remaining consistent: build, test, and deploy to deliver value.
“Every reader, even a technical expert, appreciates clarity. Use the same style of English you use in conversation to make your proposals more open and accessible to a wide range of audiences.” – APMP Body of Knowledge
Why it’s better: It’s easy to hide behind jargon. Big words like methodology, execution, strategic, etc. have their place in business, but with RFPs, they feel generic, scripted, and empty.
You should also assume your audience is busy. The people reading your proposal (and making a decision based on it) want to get the answers they need quickly and easily, without extra fuss. If you use confusing terminology or overlong sentences that make it harder to get through each answer, you’ll lose them. Getting straight to the point with a clear response gets your point across better.
Click here for winning RFP response examples using story telling
“Your goal is to make readers spend less time untangling your meaning and more time reviewing your solution.” – APMP Body of Knowledge
The 2021 benchmark report: Proposal management
Learn about the state of proposal management, and see what teams need to do to be successful in 2021
Best practice #3: Make life easier for the issuer
Reviewing a (long) proposal is a tedious enough process, don’t also make the issuer do extra digging to find answers. Rather than directing them to an attachment or a URL to find the answer they’re looking for, answer their question within the proposal itself. In addition, you can always provide an attachment to expand on your answer, or to offer supporting evidence for it.
RFP response example:
Sample question: Has the tool been subject to any application security testing? (e.g. Veracode, other). Please attach if yes.
The RFP response sample that creates more work: Yes. Please refer to <file name>.
The better RFP response example: We practice secure application design and coding principles. Engineers are required to undergo security training for security awareness and secure coding.
We use third-party services to perform vulnerability/application security scans annually.
The most recent penetration report is attached to this package: <file name>
Why it’s better:
The issuer gets information that lets them know your company meets their needs on this point right there in the proposal, without having to stop their review and go look for a separate document. But they also have access to the additional supporting documentation to prove that your claims are legitimate.
Click here for sample RFP response cover letter
Best Practice #4: Elaborate when appropriate
You don’t want to be too wordy or provide unnecessary information, but there are instances where a bit of elaboration is valuable. Sometimes you have to read between the lines to figure out what the customer needs. Rather than just providing the most direct answer to the question, try to understand what the buyer is actually trying to learn. If a more detailed response provides a better answer, go for it.
RFP response example:
Sample question: How do you communicate new features to your clients?
The simple RFP response sample: Upcoming platform enhancements are communicated to customers via email. They can also be accessed from the Help Center.
The better RFP response example: Our roadmap is heavily influenced by our customers, through a feedback/enhancement request feature within the application. Customers can interact with one another’s requests, as well as with the development team. Their comments, voting, and status reports all influence future enhancements.
We then communicate enhancements to our customers via email release announcements. This email will have the major highlights from the release, a document outlining all the release details, and a link to the release details that can be accessed 24/7 in the Help Center.
Why it’s better: While we believe that clear, concise answers are far better than those loaded with unnecessary filler words, this detailed response shows a well-developed and thought-out process for improvements. It answers the question, but also provides additional reasons for why the company is worth choosing.
Best Practice #5: Say no with style
When filling out an RFP, a “no” can seem scary. If you don’t offer everything the company wants in a vendor, won’t that lose you the sale? It could, but it doesn’t have to.
An honest answer is always better than a misleading one. And finding the right way to frame that answer can make a big difference. When the honest answer to an RFP question is “no,” think about how you can make the answer more useful and compelling than those two letters.
RFP response example:
Sample question: Does your tool integrate with XYZ tool? Please explain.
The basic “no” RFP response sample: No, our solution does not integrate with XYZ tool.
The better RFP response example: Currently, the solution does not integrate with XYZ tool. However, a potential integration is on our 6-12 month product roadmap. We would love the opportunity to partner with you in identifying the best path forward to build an XYZ tool integration.
Why it’s better: It makes clear that you don’t intend to stop at “no”—you have a plan for providing what they’re looking for in the near future. And it lets them know that you’re actively interested in their input so you do things in a way that works for them.
Click here for more RFP examples and a free RFP response template
Modernize your RFP response process and complete more winning bids with artificial intelligence
None of these best practices are worth much if you can’t manage to complete each potentially winnable RFP, or find time to customize them when you do. To get to the point where you can actively put this advice into practice, you need software that takes care of the more tedious and time-consuming parts of an RFP.
Related: Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software
RFPIO uses automation to do most of the proposal process for you, so your team can stick to customizing specific answers to improve quality. Schedule a demo of RFPIO to get started with a better RFP process.