Often issued by large organizations and government agencies, RFPs are usually created for substantial projects that could generate significant revenue for your business for years to come.
But winning them isn’t easy. In fact, it’s much harder to win an RFP bid than it is to win a regular deal – the stakes are higher, there are far more companies competing for the contract, and there are often many technical requirements that require additional expertise.
While an RFP response is pretty much a glorified business proposal, there are other factors you need to consider if you actually want to win. Here’s how to write a winning RFP response that makes you stand out from the competition:
Step 1: Qualify the deal
Before you even think about booting up your favorite proposal software and looping in all of your subject matter experts, take a step back.
Just like you would before deciding whether or not to send a proposal to an unqualified lead.
As you know, not every deal is worth pursuing. Sometimes the budgets don’t line up, other times there’s just not a good fit. To avoid wasting your team’s time on an RFP response that was doomed before you even submit your bid, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is it a real opportunity? Check the date to make sure it’s still available, make sure you’re eligible to bid, and confirm that it’s a legitimate opportunity.
2. Do you want it? Does the opportunity align with your company’s short and long term business goals?
3. Can you win it? Is there a real possibility of you winning the contract? Consider the opportunity, your bid, and how you measure up to your competition.
4. Can you do it? Review your team’s internal capacity. Would your organization be able to take on this project and pull it off in a way that you would be proud of?
If you answered yes to all of those questions, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Step 2: Pay attention to detail
Unlike traditional proposals, RFP responses can be pretty technical. Before you jump in and start filling out your proposal, it's important to understand the requirements. Whether there are specific instructions regarding formatting, submission, information to include, or anything else, make sure to cross every T and dot every I. After all, you don't want your RFP response to get rejected or disqualified on a technicality.
Plus, by paying attention to the little details, you might be able to gain some additional insight into what the organization is looking for or what they value.
Step 3: Build your RFP response
Unless the organization requesting proposals has specific requirements about format/structure, you can use a proposal template to get a jump start on your proposal process or follow our tried-and-true proposal structure:
Terms and conditions
Once you’ve got your format down pat, it’s time to start filling in some information. If you’re using proposal software, now is the time to dive into your content library. This will allow you to repurpose bits of information that you’ve used in past proposals and pull in important details like pricing, team bios, and so on. And of course: make sure to tailor your proposal to the opportunity that you're bidding for.
If you don’t have proposal software, or you just want to start from a blank slate, that works too. But if you’re starting from scratch, you’d better have a firm grasp on how to write a winning business proposal, because every word counts.
Step 4: Pull in SMEs
Now that you’ve built up some momentum behind your proposal and started moving it forward, it’s time to bring in the heavy hitters. Remember those SMEs we mentioned earlier? Now’s the time to reach out to them. Their technical expertise will elevate your proposal from good to great and give you a standing chance at bringing the deal home. Having trouble wrangling them all together? Try this:
Build a team. You don’t need to bring in every SME in your company, just a few key individuals. If possible, try to hand pick members from each relevant department that are easy to get a hold of and willing/able to contribute.
Create a timeline. The proposal process can already be lengthy without SMEs involved, so it’s important to plan ahead. Map out a timeline for the RFP response that clearly indicates when internal expertise is needed.
Host a kickoff. Pull all of your SMEs together to present your timeline and identify responsibilities so that expectations are clear ahead of time.
Step 5: Review and polish
Once you’ve checked all of the technical boxes, reached the back of your content library, and wrangled all your SMEs, you should have something resembling a proposal. But even if you’re tired of seeing and hearing about it, there’s still one final step before you can submit your RFP response: review.
If you were using proposal software, you probably have some sort of approval workflow for your proposals, so there’s a good chance that your proposal is already in good shape. But now is the time to really dig into the document to make sure it’s a winner. If you haven’t already, you’ll want to brush up on your proposal writing best practices and learn how to leverage tone, language, and style to win more business.
Once you’ve ironed out all of the details, you can take a step back and pass it off to the next stakeholder. We’re not going to tell you how to structure your review process, but you’ll want to make sure that anyone involved in the deal has a chance to review the RFP response before it goes out the door.
With the potential to reshape your business’ trajectory and push your revenue to new heights, it’s no wonder why winning an RFP bid is like winning the lottery. And while your chances may be slim when you’re up against so many competitors, a perfectly-crafted RFP response gives you a good shot at taking it home. Still struggling to get started? Proposal software can help.