I hate RFPs — but for a different reason than most people.
It’s not that they’re cumbersome (they are); it’s that they don’t allow me to clearly articulate and demonstrate my competitive advantages. Most RFPs are so formalized that they become about as interesting to read as the white pages (you remember those, don’t you?).
That’s a problem — and it’s a problem because the response to an RFP is a sale. And making a sale is about more than providing a listing of costs and services. You have to actually sell to make the sale.
That’s the way I approach an RFP — not as a response document, but as a sales tool. In that approach, I address the three things we don’t do often enough:
- We don’t think about the reader enough.
- We don’t understand or promote a perspective.
- We make it too hard to read.
We don’t think about the reader enough.
Selling means understanding your buyer. It’s not about what you sell, it’s about how they buy. Understand who is making the decision, and work to know what’s important to that person (or if not that person, at least the position they occupy). A simple element to consider: Are they a visual, auditory or kinesthetic thinker? Knowing that they’re visual, for example, means you’ll need more images or graphs inside the document.
We don’t understand or promote a perspective.
“Why should we choose you?” Can you answer this question in less than 15 seconds? Too many RFP responses throw the kitchen sink at the reader, effectively saying “we do everywhere, are everything and can be everything!!!!!!” Your organization is in business for a reason that’s different than your competitors. Ensure that your RFP promotes that advantage. Do you have a culture that aligns well with the client? Are you known for absolute details? Do you own a specific platform that makes you stand out? Promote, promote, promote.
We make it too hard to read.
Paragraph after paragraph after mind-numbing paragraph. It seems like RFP responses are ignoring the way people want to connect with content — visually and in short segments. Drop the paragraphs in favor of bullets that list advantages. Use headlines and subheadlines to reinforce content and context (like I’ve done for this article). Add checklists at the end of each section that visually show how you fulfilled the specific requirements of the sale.
As a seasoned proposal writer, I know that your RFP response doesn’t have to look and sound like everybody else’s RFP response — which is important if you want to stand out in the selection process. Follow these three rules and make it easy for your client to say “yes.”