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'How to Write a Winning Response to RFI/RFP Invites'

“My latest client is a UK/US business with thousands of employees (and a specialist unit dedicated to producing RFI/RFP responses) but who, quite honestly, is producing poor materials that fail to convince the reader. This is not unusual and reflects a general malaise and lack of skill in this arena."


Having written bids for clients for over two decades, Eddie explained that not a lot has changed in terms of the quality of outputs. Whilst some things may have changed slightly over the years, the way in which bids are written, presented and sold has remained very much the same.


RFI/RFP invites tend to be a little more complicated. However there are a few key principles which can be used to write these. These principles can be applied to anything from a one page proposal to a much larger one.


Creating a winning tender


What is the purpose of an RFI?


  • To rule people in or out

  • To enrich the requesting companies understanding of the marketplace

  • To provide a fair method of assessment (for the procurer)

  • To sell yourself

  • To provide an overview of capabilities

  • To build trust

  • To prove that you can do what is asked

  • To get on the RFP list

The purpose of an RFI from the first step that you take is to win


A Lot of time and effort goes into these things, and there is a lot of competition, so you need to be in it to win it. Being requested for an RFI gets you to the starting line, but the purpose of an RFI from your point of view is to win.


Examples


Eddie illustrated his point through a few examples. During this exercise, we looked at various examples to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each.


Looking at the first example, attendees identified that:


  • It was too long

  • It had not answered the question

  • It was not value led

  • There was too much business jargon


This was the winning submission!


We identified weaknesses within the answer, however this was the winning answer from the company for a two million pound contract. This shows that the stuff which is currently out there in the marketplace isn't very good.


Looking at the second example, we identified that it was:


  • Shorter

  • Answered the question


However:


  • Was okay but not brilliant

  • They needed to understand who they were selling to. There are some people who will read the bid who you will never meet and these people may not understand technical language.

  • Some elements the client has not asked for, so why offer it?

  • It was very wordy

  • They do not directly answer parts of the question

  • There was too much waffle

  • It missed the basics


Looking at the final example, we identified that:


  • There were a lot of key facts and justifications

  • It felt less like a marketing document and more like a proper response

  • There was a clear format/answer

  • You don't need a technical understanding to understand the content

  • It was data driven

  • Psychologically it's good to answer questions in three bullets and a list format


The plot twist - it was never written!


Eddie had written this in the morning, to illustrate his point about what can happen if you follow the basic rules. First impressions are incredibly important, therefore you need to present yourself properly. Not all questions are weighted equally, so it’s vital to answer the most important questions first. Many fall short on scoring mechanisms and by not answering the questions clearly enough.


The number one differentiating factor between bids is price. The reason the buyer has to use price, is because there's often nothing else for them to go on. There's no other reason for them to choose you. It's not their job to read through nonsense, it's a sellers job to sell to the reader. So make it easy!





A few rules of the game


  1. Answer the question within the first line or paragraph. The first thing you should write is what the reader most wants to see. So get the big answers right at the beginning.


  1. Simply describing what you do does not convey a benefit or what something means to the reader. Most audiences don't go looking for benefits, they have to be told. Evidence the benefits wherever you can.


  1. Differentiate yourself. There are only certain ways in which you can do this.


  1. Address the real issues. Are there hidden fears which are worth addressing? What can you be doing to help them fulfill lots of different things?


  1. Have a key message! If you've got something to say, get it in as many answers as possible. A lot of people just skim read, so you need to make sure that you are getting your key message across.


  1. Who exactly are you trying to satisfy? Who are the customers? Who are the stakeholders? What are the different interests you need to satisfy?


  1. Whatever you write, delete 50% of the words and write it again. Aim for 14-20 words per sentence. Not everyone will comprehend long sentences.


Bonus rule: The front page of the bid needs to be imaginative and tell you something about the bidder. On the cover alone, it needs to show the reader why they should go with you.


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