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

Do you want to win more RFPs, more consistently?

The secret to winning more of the RFP opportunities you pursue isn’t really that much of a secret. After all, the underlying process is fairly well documented. The biggest question is whether you embrace the process, and whether you’re willing to invest the time and effort to implement the process.

Getting serious about improving your RFP / proposal win rate

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

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

Too many sellers believe the RFP process replaces the selling process. IT DOESN’T.

The RFP process is where you close the deal, not where you make the sale. The actual sale is made long before, in the 12 to 18 months before the RFP is issued.

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

If you wait until an RFP falls in your lap, you’re too late. By this point, the decision has already been made. At the very least, the buyer has already narrowed down their list of eligible vendors to one or two. If you are not on that list–if you haven’t been meeting with buyers and building your credibility before then–your chances of winning are low. Really low. 

If you want to win more RFPs, on a more consistent basis, you must have a robust selling effort in the 12 to 18 months before the RFP is issued. You must identify the decision makers and program managers. You must take your SMEs out to meet their program managers. You must arrange for your IT folks to talk with their IT folks. You must schedule lunch meetings between your senior managers and their senior managers. You must get to know them and give them a chance to know you. You must establish your credibility and your ability to deliver what you promise.

It’s a lot of work, to be sure. But 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 when the RFP does, ultimatley, get published.

2. Customer-focused solutions

One of the biggest frustrations that many buyers 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.” Arghhh.

Yes, it’s true, the buyer issues an RFP because they want to know about you. But understand this: 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-focus. Even when they’re talking about themselves, successful sellers always find a way to make it about the buyer. They find a way to say, “and here, Mr. Customer, is what that means for you.”
  2. Persuasively-structured. 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.

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