Going after new business is often an arduous process. Here’s some advice for writing proposals that get noticed.
"Government business is really great," says RFP expert and consultant Michael Asner, but obtaining it can be a complex and even intimidating task for vendors, both large and small. That’s because there’s a learning curve when it comes to successfully responding to a request for proposal, according to Asner. "It’s a formal discipline, an acknowledged skill set."
Developing the skills needed to write proposals that garner positive attention from a company or government entity is easier and more straightforward than you may think. So says Asner, who recently shared—along with author, consultant, and speaker Michel Theriault--the following five pieces of advice on how to produce winning RFP responses.
1. Seek out opportunities that fit with your business’ focus, goals and values.
Those words, which are the first to come out of Asner’s mouth when asked to share a few words of RFP wisdom, may seem basic, but they’re also a big deal. That’s because, "if [the opportunities] don’t fit, you won’t win."
2. Look the part.
That means what you write has to be polished and free of mistakes, of course, but it also means how you format and even package that writing has to be polished, too, according to Theriault. “It’s not expensive these days to get a cover printed and bound,” he says, pointing to places like The UPS Store and FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s). Such efforts “don’t have to be and shouldn’t be overly fancy,” he adds, “but they do have to look professional.”
3. Do what you’re told.
"There is a rigid, prescribed process that you must follow" when it comes to responding to RFPs, Asner warns. "If you don’t answer the questions, and if you don’t do everything the evaluators ask you to do, you’re going to end up out of the game."
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
That’s a mistake a lot of companies make when responding to RFPs, asserts Theriault. "They don’t want to ask questions, even though in many cases it’s allowed." That’s often because they’re afraid that the answers they receive will reveal things that will give their competitors an advantage. Theriault isn’t a fan of that line of thinking and counters it by suggesting small businesses "should always ask for clarification if something is uncertain." Correctly replying to the potential client’s questions is "much better than writing a response that causes them to think, 'That’s not what we asked,' or, 'That’s not what we expected.'"
5. A little homework can be a lot of help.
"The traditional marketing approach of learning about a potential client, finding out what’s going on with them, asking what they’re planning to buy over the next 12 months ... all of that works when it comes to RFPs, too," offers Asner. As such, he suggests going in and talking with the agency in question "so when they issue an RFP, you’ll be in a good position to win their business because you already know a lot about them."