Writing that winning proposal

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

It’s Monday morning. You open the mail, and there it is: another RFP to answer. You call in your estimator and your sales manager, and the three of you read the request for proposal together.
There are numerous questions to answer, documents to prepare and a deadline to meet.
The owner asks the same question each time an RFP is received, “Do we have a chance to win this proposal?”
The sales manager responds, “We don’t know until we try.”
This scenario is repeated daily in firms across the country. The pressure for lower costs brought on by growing competition has forced procurement professionals to widen their net of vendors by increasing the number of participants in an RFP.
So, let’s address the basic question: “Do we have a chance to win this proposal?” Every firm that receives an RFP can take steps that will narrow the field and increase their chances to win that proposal. Here are some proactive steps you can take to ensure your proposal is read, considered and moved on to the “short list.”
Ask several people to read
the proposal and compare
their interpretations of what
is being requested.
This step is important because different eyes see different things in the proposal. The proposal that best responds to the RFP has the greatest chance for success. You don’t get a second chance if you omit information that is requested in the proposal and the cover letter.
Develop a list of questions that need to be addressed by the writer of the RFP.
After the team has read the RFPs, list any questions that members have regarding timelines, delivery dates, quantities or other critical elements. The team should select one individual to contact the RFP author and pose the questions. Remember, many RFPs state that questions received will be answered, but the answer to your question will be shared with all participants in the RFP process. Be careful what you ask. Don’t give away your competitive edge.
Keep detailed notes on all conversations with the RFP author.
You will want to incorporate the responses you receive from the author. There is nothing better than including his words in your proposal. They will play well when he reads the finished product.
Determine your
response strategy.
You need to decide which sections of the RFP you will emphasize. How do you communicate your strengths to the reader in a way that will be easily understood? Is it your people, your technology, your facilities or your experience that needs to be stressed in your response? Decide how you will design your proposal. You can’t assume that the RFP author totally understands your firm’s capabilities. You need to sell your firm and explain how you can benefit the company that has issued the RFP, through an ongoing business relationship.
Develop the competitive edge.
Many RFPs provide the opportunity for options to the requested service. Sometimes firms are reluctant to suggest options to the requested service, because they don’t want to insult the author. But, I have found that options can be the key to winning the proposal battle and will get you to the short list faster. Communicating to the author that you can save them money or time by being open to a suggested option will peak their curiosity and in many cases generate a personal contact. That is your first leg up on the competition. You are speaking directly to the RFP’s author and making your case.
Ask yourself this question: “What is the best way to present the proposal?”
You may elect to messenger or e-mail your proposal to the RFP author or ask for an appointment to present it. Consider what you are presenting and how best to communicate it to the target audience. Do you send a companion PowerPoint presentation, which incorporates the same information for the visual communicator, or just send in a printed copy? Don’t guess. Ask the RFP author how they want the information presented. We all communicate and process information in different ways.
In summary, let’s point out some things you can do to avoid making common errors when responding to the RFP.
–Follow the RFP instructions completely.
–Be sure your proposal addresses all the evaluative criteria specified in the RFP.
–Submit the proposal on a timely basis.
–Include all the information requested in the RFP.
–Provide the necessary level of detail requested.
–Use tables and charts when necessary.
–Ensure that your proposal is written in a professional manner.
–Don’t forget to include a cover letter with your proposal. This is the finishing touch.
Finally, each RFP should be responded to on an individual basis. Discourage cookie cutter responses to RFPs. They send the wrong message. They say you don’t care enough to take the necessary time to respond in a personalized manner.
These simple steps should increase your chance of submitting a winning proposal that gets the author’s attention.
Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president
and CEO of Fox Point-based Strategic Management Associates LLC. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140.
April 29, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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He was a senior professor at DeVry's Keller Graduate School in Wisconsin. Cary has published articles in periodicals and on the Internet. He recently published first book with Dr. Larry Waldman, "Overcoming Your NegotiaPhobia". Cary holds MBAs from L I U’s Arthur T. Roth School of Business. Cary has a BA from CUNY, Queens College. He has certificates in Negotiation from Harvard’s PON and in Labor and Employment Law from Marquette University.

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