How to Improve Your RFP/ Proposal Win Rate

Win more business, more consistently, when writing proposals to other businesses or to state and local governments

Hint: It’s not about luck

We often hear from managers who want help writing better proposals. They call us because they aren’t winning enough RFPs, and they surmise their proposals are lacking. Often they’re correct, their proposals do need help. But success in the world of formal procurements requires far more than just effective proposals.

If you’re serious about improving your RFP/proposal win rate, you must do three things well:

  1. Pre-RFP Selling. Your business development and SME staff must be actively selling to the buyer in the 12 to 18 months before the RFP is released.
  2. Customer-specific solutions. You must configure a solution that matches well with what the buyer really needs.
  3. Effective proposals. You must draft proposals that are persuasive, compelling, and that differentiate your solution from competing solutions.


Pre-RFP Discovery and Selling


Customer-specific Solutions


Effective Proposals


Luck / Hope

Getting serious about improving your win rate

The percentages above are for illustration purposes. In practice, the relative importance of each component varies with each procurement.

The real purpose of the above graphic is to highlight the three components that must be part of your overall RFP selling strategy. If you want to close more business, more consistently, then you need to focus on three things; pre-RFP sales and discovery, the quality of the solution you configure, and the effectiveness of the proposal you draft.

Luck too. But just a little bit.

1. Pre-RFP Sales and Discovery

Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of a buyer. You’ve just been tasked with choosing a payroll service for your company and all of its 1000 employees. A lot is riding on your decision. You already know and have a comfort level with your current payroll vendor, and you’ve met a few times with another qualified competitor.

After sending out your RFP, you receive five proposals in response; two from the companies you know, and three from companies that you’ve never really interacted with aside from a random phone call or brochure.

Now ask yourself this question:

Do the three “unknown” vendors have a realistic shot at winning your business? As a senior manager with a fiduciary obligation to your organization, would you ever seriously consider choosing a vendor to handle your company’s payroll if you’ve never met their principals? If you’ve never met their operations staff? If almost everything you know about them is written on the paper in front of you, buried deep in the pages and promises of the proposal you just received?

In truth, most people would never consider selecting one of these “unknown” companies. It’s just too risky, both to the company and your reputation.

As professional sellers, we must understand and even embrace that when we receive and respond to an RFP, but don’t have an established relationship with the buyer beforehand, then we are one of these “unknown” companies. We represent a risk that most decision makers are unwilling to assume.

Sales are made in the 12 to 18 months before the RFP is issued

One of the best ways to improve our chances of winning RFPs is to go out and meet buyers in the 12 to 18 months before the RFP is issued. Take your SMEs out to meet their program managers. Arrange for your IT folks to talk with their IT folks. Schedule a lunch meeting between your senior managers and their senior managers.

By building these relationships beforehand, by fostering familiarity among key people, by giving your SMEs an opportunity to establish their individual credibility with each decision maker, you dramatically improve your chances of making a sale.

2. Customer-focused solutions

One of the biggest frustrations that many customers articulate is that too many vendors don’t seem to configure their solutions to the buyer’s actual needs. Said one buyer: “It’s like they plug-in the same boilerplate content for every proposal, regardless of what we’re asking for in our RFP.”

Successful sellers don’t just sell the same thing to everyone. When configuring solutions, the successful sellers do three things:

  1. They consider everything they’ve learned about the customer and their needs.
  2. They evaluate how their products and services will fit the customer’s needs, including how they’re going to address the things the buyer wants but they don’t currently offer.
  3. They package those products or services into a program or solution that fulfills what the customer wants.

If you build customer-specific solutions, each one unique to each customer, you will improve your odds of winning more of the RFP opportunities you pursue.

3. Effective proposals

Most of the proposals we review share the same serious flaw; they’re all about the seller. They’re typically a whole bunch of “here’s who we are,”here’s what we do,” “here’s why we think we’re so great.”

Yes, it’s true, the buyer issues an RFP because they want to know about you. But understand they only want to know about you within the context of how it’s going to help them get what they want. It’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about how you can use your skills and experience and expertise to help them accomplish their goals.

Successful sellers draft proposals that accomplish three things:

  1. Customer-focused proposals. Even when they’re talking about themselves, successful sellers always find a way to say, “and here, Mr. Customer, is what this means for you.”
  2. Persuasively-structured. They write persuasive proposals. Successful sellers don’t just share information, they make recommendations, build persuasive arguments, and then use the information as evidence to support the persuasive argument.
  3. Differentiation. Successful sellers effectively differentiate their solution from competitive solutions by citing their own advantages that are ALSO benefits to the buyer.

Sellers that draft customer-focused and persuasively-structured proposals that differentiate their solution from competing solutions improve the effectiveness of their proposals and the likelihood they’re going to win more of the RFP’s they pursue.

4. Luck

Everyone in the sales business gets lucky every now and again. They happen to be in the right place at the right time with the right product and BOOM!–a big sale lands in their lap. Deserve it or not, expect it or not, it’s always awesome when this happens.

Despite this, luck is not an effective, predictable, or sustainable way to grow your business, and hope is not a great methodology for choosing which opportunities should be listed on your sales forecast.

So while we hope you get lucky now and again, we still subscribe to the old adage that ‘good luck comes to those who work hard while they wait.’

Good luck!

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