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RFPs: 4 Tips to Stop Losing

You've prepared an in-depth proposal for a prospect and you're ready to submit it ahead of deadline provided in the RFP.

Within a blink of an eye, you threw in your boilerplate "executive summary" language, added an updated history of your firm, replaced the prospect name throughout your standard proposal template, and added in pages of detailed descriptions of your service process and all the other awards and stuff you want them to know about you and your organization. After a quick spell-check you are confident that you've covered just about everything that the prospect asked for in the RFP. You'll get more specific when they ask for a meeting since they're going to be so impressed by your ability to beat deadlines and educate them on your firm.

Not so fast. You aren't getting that meeting. You're going to lose this one.

While you cannot always find out why a proposal was lost, you can always prepare yourself and your team before that proposal is ever issued. With some strategic advance preparation and thoughtful consideration of more than just meeting a deadline, your win rate will indeed rise. Here are four tips to consider before you seek out or respond to your next RFP.

1. Ask yourself: Should we be in this fight? Are you and your team currently capable of doing what is needed according to the RFP? If, for example, you lack industry experience -- even if you're trying to build that industry experience -- and the RFP asks specific questions about your industry experience, don't B.S. yourself or the prospect.

Instead, spend the time you would have spent on losing this proposal at industry-related events and reconnect with referral sources in that industry to help open doors.

2. Customize, customize, customize. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and asked for a substitution to a side dish you despise (I'm talking to you, carrots) only to be told that the chef will accept no special orders on that $40 meal? Unacceptable, right? Well, put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker who needs to review your proposal in addition to the 20 additional proposals she received from your competitors. Present your responses in the order and format requested in the RFP, and use boilerplate language sparingly. If you still feel inclined to provide extra information, such as an article you recently published on a topic relevant to your prospect, include it as an appendix.

3. Keep it short and sweet. Provide only the information requested in the RFP to help the decision maker compare all the submissions "apples to apples." At the end of the day, after going immediately to the fee page of the proposal, the person or team reviewing your proposal care about your executive summary or letter where you've summarized the unique business impact or return on mission that your services will provide to the prospect. Don't let your most important information -- your value proposition and differentiators -- get lost in pages of superfluous text.

4. Engage in honest introspection: Implementing a formal post-mortem process to interview prospects after they've decided to go with a competitor is a valuable practice, but have a consultant or other third party not directly involved with the sales cycle do the interview. Also keep in mind that, depending on the organization and person you speak with, you may not get the most honest feedback out of his or her fear of hurting feelings -- or just not wanting to waste more of the company's time since you wasted theirs with a sub-par, generic proposal.

Consider these tips the next time you endeavor to respond to an RFP, and you will see how a little extra effort can help increase your proposal win rate. And, as always, don't forget to have your documents proofed by a trusted second set of eyes.

Do you have any other tips to help folks in the proposal process? Tweet them to @bethwaterfall and I will include them in a follow-up post.

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