Proposal and contract

Writing a winning proposal takes some planning, time and skill.

Over the years we’ve worked with clients on hundreds of responses.

We’ve worked with large organizations and small ones. Regardless of size, there are some clear ways to succeed.

Stepping back a little, here’s our list of the top twelve tips for writing a winning proposal.


1.    Read the ENTIRE document to determine what the Issuer is asking for.

Faced with full agendas and other timelines it is very tempting to short circuit the RFP process by skimming the bidders request. This is particularly tempting for teams not usually dedicated to the RFP task. Don’t succumb to temptation. The fastest way to disqualify your bid is to miss something the issuer is looking for. Reading the entire document is vital.

2.    Ensure that you meet EVERY mandatory requirement.

Faced with multiple bidders, an issuer’s first task is to narrow the field. Doing that is simple. Find reasons to disqualify a bidder. Unfortunately, too many bidders happily oblige by failing to meet the even the most basic mandatory requirements. Those requirements can include everything from the specs of the product or service to the size of a logo on the cover page. Meeting the mandatory requirements is critical if you want to be considered as a successful bidder.

3.    Respond WITHIN the timeline stipulated.

On every bid there’s a response that’s late and a bidder hoping the deadline wasn’t set in stone. The excuses for missing a deadline can range from heartbreaking (‘someone stole my computer’) to silly (‘just one more edit’). However, for the issuer there is no simpler way of narrowing the field of bidders than to eliminate those bids that are submitted past the deadline.

4.    Base your response on the evaluation CRITERIA.

It is stunning how ingrained the desire of many organizations is to tell their story, their way. Unfortunately, that is not what issuers are looking for. Issuers know what they want, and all they care about is whether the bidder can provide it. Therefore, writing a response that is tailored to the issuers specific criteria builds trust that the responder can meet the issuers needs.

5.    COMMIT the resources required and eliminate distractions.

Writing a successful RFP response requires attention to detail, strong business development acumen and critical writing skills. The most successful organizations hire and dedicate specific resources to the RFP response process. Those without dedicated resources can significantly increase chances of success by minimizing other demands on the response team and providing missing expertise like writing and design that can be filled by outside contractors.

6.    Avoid CUT AND PASTE syndrome.

How can cut and paste go wrong? Let us count the ways. However, the greatest problem with cut and paste responses is that they gloss over the specific needs of the issuer. Yes, there are standard elements of any RFP response that can be re-used – like team profiles. But lifting whole sections is dangerous. It risks accuracy, voice and adherence to the issuer’s specifications and requirements. Avoiding cut and paste trap ensures every response is treated individually.

7.    Don’t use marketing FLUFF.

The problem with marketing fluff is that it doesn’t do anything to build confidence with the issuer. If there’s a place for marketing fluff, it’s at the top of the sales funnel when a potential customer is looking for supplier options – not deciding between them.  The use of unsubstantiated and irrelevant claims, industry and company jargon, taglines and positioning statements are signs of a bidder focused on their own story, not the issuers needs.

8.    Demonstrate that you understand what the ISSUER’S needs are.

It’s not always possible to read an RFP and fully understand what an issuer is looking for. Requirements can be confusing and questions can be repetitive, leaving the bidder to ask – what is the issuer looking for here? Successful bidders master the art of sorting through this confusion to paint a clear picture for the issuer of what their needs are. This clarity provides a critical competitive advantage – both in convincing the issuer that the bidder understands them and therefore, that their solutions will best meet the issuers needs. How to develop this clarity? Knowledge. Of the bidder, their people and their business. Build that relationship!

9.    Respond in ONE voice – the Issuer’s.

Think of the internal teams who’s input is required on most bids – marketing, finance, sales, technology, professional services, customer service and others. Now think of the mish mash of styles and perspectives each will contribute unless there is a formal approach for turning all of that input into a single voice. How to create that single voice? First, start by impressing on everyone involved what the need is to write from the issuers perspective. That means focusing on what the issuer is looking for, then on the solution. Second, get the help of a professional writer, not a company technician, to stand back from the document and pull it into one, consistent document.

10. Substantiate all metrics and claims with PROOF.

For issuers, claims don’t mean anything without proof. So don’t make a claim on performance or anything else without facts proving that the claims are real. These facts can come from performance testing, customer surveys, financial and other audits, respected industry and other sources.  Never lie with respect to a claim. If it’s important enough to include, the likelihood of it being proven false is overwhelming.

11. Define ROLES and TIMELINES for each person on your Response Team.

Managing an RFP response is no different from managing any important project. You need a team with the right expertise and a plan for bringing together the required outputs on time. Bids fail when teams are under or overstaffed, poorly co-ordinated and uncommitted to timelines. Someone with project management skills needs to be in charge. The rest of the team needs to understand their role, what they will be contributing to the project and what the timelines are.

12. Go beyond just meeting the Issuer’s needs – wow them with ADDITIONAL value.

Remember, Job 1 is to prove to the issuer that you understand their needs and provide confidence your solution can meet those needs. However, when Job 1  is successfully completed, every bidder has the opportunity to differentiate their bid by highlighting features and benefits that go beyond the issuers needs to provide additional, unexpected levels of value. Think hard. What other value does your solution provide? What other solutions do you provide? What else do you know about the client’s business and their needs? How can your solution or solutions make your client even more successful. Wow them with your insight and capability.

If you’ve got the technical expertise but could use helping pulling together and writing your response, Boardroom Metrics can help. Our team is comprised of experienced business writers from around the world who have responded to and won government and commercial bids of all sizes.

For more information, call us at 1-416-994-6552 or email [email protected]

Here is the link to our RFP Consulting Services page.

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