Responding to an RFP is easy. All you have to do is put a response together and send it over. But winning one? Now that’s a lot harder.
Not only does your proposal needs to knock the socks off the client but it also needs to leave the competition behind. By the time the client reaches the end of your response, they should feel like you share their vision and are the contractor they were searching for.
To win the bid, your response needs to stand out from the crowd — by a mile. Below are a few ways to help you do that.
Legwork before paperwork
Don’t start writing as soon as you get the RFP. Do your homework and gather more information — preferably directly from the source. It’s the first step in standing out from the crowd.
Talk to the client
Go through the RFP a few times to understand the project and take notes. If you have a team, get them to do the same.
Do you have any questions that haven’t been answered in the RFP? Are you unclear about some aspect of the project? Do you need more information?
Next, call the point of contact listed and ask them those questions. Something as simple as
“Whenever we handle similar projects for clients, they also have problem X. Since it wasn’t listed in the description, I figured I’d call and ask. Do you face this problem too?”
Not only will this establish your authority immediately, but it’ll also get your foot in the door. Because you called to talk about the project, your business’ response will catch the client’s attention since they would already be familiar with your name.
Attend the kickoff conference (if there’s one)
If the client holds a kickoff meeting for the project, attend it. Meeting the decision-makers will help you figure out what qualities the client’s looking for in their contractors.
Ask questions after the briefing. If nothing else, ask them what this project will help them achieve. If you don’t have questions, take a few minutes to thank the client for the conference personally.
Make your company profile result-oriented
This is where you distinguish yourself from the competition so include everything that makes you great. Remember, it isn’t bragging if you’ve got the data to back up your claims.
Talk about the times you solved similar problems for your clients. List the results you helped them achieve and include testimonials too. Did you or a client receive an award or some other form of recognition after working together? This is where you mention it. The more results you include, the more your company will stand out.
Showcase your understanding of the client’s problem
It may feel like you’re repeating information the client’s already given you but doing so reassures clients that you understand their problem.
An easy way to highlight your understanding of the client’s problem is to talk about its consequences. Show them that you recognize what’s at stake.
Include more than one solution or plan-of-action
Unless the request specifically asks for a single solution or plan-of-action, nothing is stopping you from giving more than one.
Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile.
Dedicate most of the proposal to the best-suited solution but also include a brief plan B in case the client doesn’t like your approach.
Doing so shows the client that you can approach the issue from different angles and come up with various solutions.
Don’t compete on pricing
Your first instinct might be to price as low as possible to beat the competition, but that would be a mistake. Position yourself as the right choice because of your high price point.
Focus on the value (and not the number)
Instead of trying to win the deal based on low cost, win it because of the value no one else can provide. What can you do to take this project to the next level? How can you make the client’s life easier? Find a way to amp up the value and peace of mind the client will get if they award the project you.
Plan for hidden costs
Projects always have hidden costs. There can be unforeseen delays, material cost may end up being more than you budgeted for, or the work may go on for longer than you projected. Make sure your quote has room for hidden or unexpected costs.
Give pricing options
Instead of quoting one number, give the client options. You can offer packages with different pricing for the client to choose from. The lowest priced package could meet all the requirements of the original spec, while the higher priced packages can have bells and whistles that would take this project to another level.
Outline your process for handling problems
Most proposals don’t talk about potential problems. But problems are part and parcel of any project — big or small. It’s not a matter of if a problem will arise but a matter of when.
Highlight your problem-solving skills as a strength worth having. Give an example of a time you dealt with an unexpected problem professionally, timely, and efficiently for a client.
Outline your problem-solving process in the response and show the client how well prepared you are to deal with them. Set yourself apart by anticipating potential problems and preparing a plan of action for dealing with them.
Anticipate and address client objections
Clients need to pick a winner which means they’re actively looking for reasons to reject submissions. To avoid getting rejected, anticipate client objections and address them.
To figure out what objections the client may have with your response, put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they don’t think you’re experienced enough. Maybe they’re worried you can’t handle a big project like theirs. Or maybe they feel like they don’t know you or your company well enough to trust you with their problem.
Think of as many objections as you can. What reservations could the client have about working with you, specifically? Acknowledge their concerns and take away their objections. Give examples and client testimonials to back up your claims.
Don’t shy away from selling yourself.
Putting together the final draft
When it comes to responding to the request for proposal, the presentation matters as much as the content. Don’t send off a proposal that looks like it was put together in a hurry or worse, by an amateur.
Give your proposal the VIP treatment. Need a template? Here’s one you can use.
Use your company’s branding throughout the document, design the cover page, and include a table of contents. Use charts, figures, and images to present data. Proofread the final draft and format it for a comfortable reading experience.
Remember, nobody likes reading chunks of text or squinting through hard to read font. Use plenty of white space and increase the font size by one or two points.
If you’re printing the document, use serif fonts for easier reading. If you’re sending it over online, use a sans-serif font.
Ultimately, your proposal should reflect the hard work you put into creating it.
Winning the deal with an exceptional proposal
If you’re new to responding to RFPs, have some patience and persistence. It might take some trial and error before you create a response that will win you the deal. Until then, take every RFP as a learning opportunity to sell yourself and your business.
If you find yourself stressing, remember: responding is just the first step. The ultimate aim of an outstanding response is to get you shortlisted and invited for a formal presentation and Q&A with the client.
Use these tips to give your proposal the oomph it needs to catch the client’s attention and get called for a formal meeting with them.