In our last blog, we covered a hard truth: no one enjoys writing request for proposal (RFP) responses. But, we also shared the reality that submitting thoughtfully crafted RFP responses is critical to the public sector sales process. With this in mind, how do you go about making the most of the RFP tool and achieving your desired outcomes? By adhering to the following five principles.
Make it Clear
The folks reading your RFP responses have full-time jobs and are often pressed for time. So, your response must be clearly written. Have you ever read a fourth grader’s essay? Forget about the cute spelling and grammatical errors; it meanders and you’re not sure where the topic starts or ends. Or, maybe it is so short that you aren’t sure what the essay means.
I’ve read hundreds of RFP responses and even the best response writers face these same challenges. Once, I read a company’s slide deck that was submitted as an RFP response. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t win. I was actually offended for the evaluation team who naturally would’ve expected the company to take the response task more seriously. The takeaway here is this: aim for clarity and a logical sequence of information that is easy to follow while offering enough information to make a clear point.
Check Your Spelling & Grammar
I wish I didn’t need to include this, but even very accomplished, smart people are busy and tend to rush things as a result. This means, of course, that poor spelling and grammar make their way into RFP responses all the time. These types of mistakes will not only hurt your credibility, but also make your response harder to read. When your document includes such errors, it will look sloppy and like it wasn’t worth your time or attention.
Make it a practice to ask someone on your team (who has strong writing skills) to review your RFP response – or, better yet, two someones. Our brains can actually fill in the gaps of missing or misspelled words, especially if we’re the one who wrote something, so it’s important to get multiple sets of eyes on each document. If you don’t have someone on your team qualified to be a proofreader, ask a third-party professional. It’s worth paying someone to get this right.
Take Great Care to be Fully Compliant
Your response must check all of the necessary boxes to be compliant. Earlier this year, I learned of a company that had worked closely with an agency to identify the challenge and ways to solve it. The agency prepared an RFP and released it so that it could have a fair and open procurement process.
The company who had put in all of the pre-work with the agency forgot to submit its pricing sheet. This was an honest mistake, but guess what? They lost the RFP. Even honest mistakes cannot be made in this process, or you’ll lose out on all you’re working toward.
If you are an experienced public sector sales executive, you may think that the response doesn’t have to be perfect because you can clarify mistakes or negotiate during the procurement process. And while sometimes that is true, it is not guaranteed. I have seen a number of companies poised to win a contract fall out of favor and get replaced by another company who took the time to do it right the first time.
Connect With Your Audience
Most important of all, understand your audience and optimize your content to best serve them. Taking time to structure your response to fit the RFP template and using proper grammar certainly helps the evaluation team members make best use of their limited time and sets you up to be easily scored.
It’s also critical to choose language that is personable to the agency and tailor your approach to the agency’s needs. This is what separates the good from the great. How fun would it be to read a scientific report on astrophysics when you aren’t an astrophysicist? Using technical jargon, focusing on your product or service specifications, and what the agency must do, don’t encourage a reader to pay attention to your response.
Instead, use a narrative to acknowledge and appreciate the reason why the agency has issued the RFP and then carry that through the response seamlessly to keep them interested. Articulate how you can solve the problem they face. Don’t write for an audience, write for YOUR audience.
Don’t Make This Plug & Play
This is where the team of RFP response writers simply fall flat. The writers haven’t met with the government officials. They haven’t heard the voice of the customer, instead using boilerplate language as the default. These writers have likely read numerous RFPs and pull verbiage from a library of canned responses. It becomes a plug and play exercise.
Having suffered through quite a few Google Doc comment wars with response writing teams, I’m all too aware that these teams don’t know your customer. What’s more, pushing them to think outside the box or add market-specific language doesn’t go over well. It doesn’t fit the box. So what do you get from your team? A bland RFP response that doesn’t speak to the customer. And when you have an audience that doesn’t know you, a bland response makes them lose interest.
When you write an RFP response, don’t just go through the motions. Write your response with intentionality. Write it to win. Implementing these tips can help you do just that. Interested in more strategic guidance? Request a consultation!