You have evaluated the RFP and decided to submit a proposal. The starting point and the end goal is the same—to deliver a winning proposal that leads the client to say, “We choose you.”
Delivering a winning proposal requires a focus on several factors whose importance is sometimes surprisingly overlooked.
The only way to deliver a winning proposal is to understand the client’s or potential client’s (“client’) reasons for undertaking the RFP process. There is the story stated in the RFP and then there’s the back-story. You need to know both to be on the same page with the client. The only way to get to the back-story is to go beyond reading the RFP. It requires research and conversation.
The research is the first step and some of it should have been done when you were evaluating whether to submit the proposal. Some of the important back-story questions include:
The second step is to have a conversation with the client where you ask open-ended questions to clarify, confirm, and expand on the business intelligence you’ve gathered. A face-to-face meeting is always best because the interaction is more personal, open and robust. You also can pick-up nonverbal cues that may help you fill in what is not being said. The second best option is by telephone. Either way, it’s critical that the right people join the conversation.
Who’s going to evaluate your proposal? The answer to the question has a profound impact on how you write the proposal. Don’t assume the audience is only in-house counsel. Increasingly, procurement and operations professionals have a seat on the selection committee. Each of these professionals brings a different lens to the evaluation process and you need to understand what each lens sees. It’s only with this level of understanding that you can prepare a proposal that matters to them.
RFPs are generally designed as a list of questions because the Q&A format permits an apples-to-apples comparison amongst proposals. Clearly, the format needs to be followed and the questions answered. But within these confines is plenty of room for a persuasive narrative that drives home that you are the best choice.
The narrative must always be about the client. It must consistently drive the message that you understand the client’s needs and demonstrate how you will meet those needs. Use language that is specific, direct and conversational.
Delete marketing-speak and instead include, concrete evidence of your approach and results in similar matters.
The Executive Summary
Assume that your proposal will not be read from beginning to end. Some sections may only be scanned. But the section that will set the tone, highlight your key value propositions and present a snapshot of your proposal is the executive summary. Here is where you connect the dots in a compelling, cohesive and persuasive narrative. Here is where you include insights and recommendations that may not have been specifically addressed in the RFP but are salient to the client’s issues. This is where you speak to the audience in a way that makes them want to learn more. It’s where you make the first impression.
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