How to Write a Winning RFP Response

For many B2B companies, a request for proposal (RFP) response seems like simply one step of many to be checked off during the long march of a complex sales journey. For others drowning in an avalanche of complex RFPs, it can feel like a constant struggle to keep up, even if they’ve resorted to cutting and pasting from existing proposals. No matter the level, one thing is clear: it’s time to treat the RFP response with the respect it deserves.

If you’re asked to write an RFP response, you’re likely on a shortlist of vendors, not the last one standing. How well you respond may well be the difference between winning or losing the deal. According to State of the RFP 2019, the average RFP received four submissions in 2018.

Don’t let that idea scare you. Instead, think of it as one last opportunity to stand out from the competition.

Here’s how to make sure your RFP responses help you seal the deal:

What is an RFP Response?

An RFP (request for proposal) response is a vendor’s answers to a set of questions posed by a prospective buyer. In a complex, competitive purchasing process, customers demand a compelling argument from vendors before they’re willing to sign off. Often, a committee (rather than an individual) will make the final call after evaluating all proposals.

Some sellers fall into the trap of believing that, as long as they’ve sold their deal effectively, a proposal is more or less a formality, not an important sales tool. But submitting an RFP response is about much more than getting a rubber-stamp from a client who’s already made up their mind: While a great proposal can’t often revive a flagging deal, a poor proposal can flush a strong one down the drain.

7 Steps to a Successful Proposal

1. Qualify the deal.

“The fastest way to improve a win ratio is to stop bidding on things you can’t win.” — Tom Amrhein

It seems obvious, but salespeople waste thousands of hours every year writing proposals for opportunities that never had a chance. Trying to close a deal is an investment, and it should be treated as such. If an RFP arrives in your inbox unannounced, for example, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll end up winning the business.

Focus on the opportunities that you know a lot about, that you feel well-positioned to win, and that comes from prospects that seem serious about pulling the trigger.

This is the perfect time to read our resource 4 Questions to Ask *Before* Responding to an RFP.

2. Focus on the customer’s priorities.

The fastest way to lose the interest of a prospect is to talk about yourself. This is true most of all in the first impression: the executive summary.

Instead of wasting time talking about your company, its products, and its history in your executive summary, use that precious real estate to zero-in on the problems the customer cares about solving—and how you’ll help solve them. Show the prospect that you understand them and lay out the gains they’ll see with you as a partner. Winning proposals are client-centered.

3. Structure the document persuasively.

The way we write RFP responses must be intentional; proposals should answer key questions prospects will have as they try to make a choice. To do so, you should:

  • Summarize the customer’s needs
  • Outline probable outcomes that make a purchase worth making
  • Recommend a solution that addresses the customer’s needs and helps them reach their goals
  • Provide evidence that your organization is the one for the job

4. Differentiate your offer and your company.

To avoid doing battle solely on price, make it clear how you add unique value a customer cannot and will not find elsewhere.

Consider highlighting your long-term impact via the way your company approaches its work: What is your unique methodology? Your best practices? Your systems and processes?

5. Outline a compelling value proposition.

Your value proposition is the promise you make to your customers that they will achieve more of the results they’re after if they partner with you. But that simple promise is missing form the vast majority of proposals. Identify what it is your prospect is after, and tie your differentiators explicitly to that goal.

Read Effective RFP Responses Aren’t Just Informative: They’re Persuasive for tips on how to write a persuasive proposal.

6. Make it easy to understand.

Making a complex purchase decision is hard—the last thing we want to do in an RFP response is make it harder.

Work to clarify your argument by getting rid of unnecessary jargon, acronyms, and big words. Slash your complex sentences so they’re easy to read. Make sure your proposal is skimmable; an executive budget holder isn’t going to read every word, so make sure that your key points jump off the page and that your readers’ eyes are drawn to the points you’d most like them to remember.

Keep in mind: Not everything can be important. Be selective about what you make the most visible. If a key stakeholder walks away with three key points, what will they be?

7. Edit, then edit again.

Carelessness is in many ways the worst way to lose business. But it doesn’t matter how good your points are if your proposal is littered with spelling, grammar, and formatting mistakes. Automating repeated elements and building proposal processes that involve reviews is a great first step.

Don’t give your readers and excuse to discredit your argument.

RFP Response Takeaways

A great RFP response isn’t a bonus: it’s an essential part of the sales process. Your proposal should be the closing argument of a hard-fought, skillfully-executed sale.

By staying focused on the customer and building a thoughtful, repeatable process to addressing RFPs, you’ll drive your win percentage up and make more efficient use of your sales resources.

Want more insight into how to avoid common RFP response mistakes? Grab a free copy of The 7 Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing.

Narrowing the decision down? Check out why Qvidian is the best RFPio Alternative.

Ready to take the next step? See 10 ways Qvidian RFP and Proposal Automation can clean up your calendar, and reclaim your FREE time.

View All Resources »