5 Common RFP Response Mistakes to Avoid

When it comes to the sales process, responding to RFPs can be the make or break moment. It’s also a complicated process that isn’t helped by ever-shrinking deadlines and increased competition. 

There are some common RFP response mistakes that crop up, whether it’s in a small bid team or a major corporate sales response department. The good news? These can be easily fixed and smooth the way for a more successful proposal development process and end result.

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Mistake #1: “Sales-y” RFP Responses

According to Strategic Proposal’s “Buyer’s Views of Bidders” survey, 75 percent of buyers think proposals are too salesy. That might seem like a frustrating statistic—especially when an RFP is all about sales and winning business!

So how do you avoid falling into that trap? Do the homework and collaborate with the sales team and subject matter experts. Make it less about you and more about the customer. Research and tailor the RFP response to how your products or services solve their problems. A laundry list of features or statistics won’t always work—make it believable from the customer’s perspective. At the same time, you will still want to differentiate your offering from the competition. Highlighting a competitive advantage will always be an important aspect for a winning RFP.

At the same time, as Diane Hallock, CF APMP, notes in a recent post on the APMP blog, buyers’ emotions as part of the decision-making process shouldn’t be ignored. Noting factors like your brand strength or security statistics can build trust or ease fears in the buyers’ mind, adding to the differentiation you’ve created with your more strategic approach to writing the proposal.

Mistake #2: Lack of Sales Collaboration

So you’re ready to avoid that first mistake of the overly “salesy” proposal. And, as discussed, a successful RFP response is one that happens with the right number of stakeholders—not in a vacuum. Content can’t be driven by a proposal team on its own. 

As most RFP professionals know far too well, they are often brought in at the last minute and scramble to meet the deadline. Instead, the RFP team should be involved much earlier in the sales cycle. The sales team must also be included in the actual RFP process to craft the most compelling bid. There are a lot of moving parts for collaboration and insight sharing, but it must be a mutual relationship.

Mistake #3: Lack of Subject Matter Expert Discovery and Collaboration

Beyond all of the opportunities for collaboration with sales, there’s also the need to work even more broadly across the organization with other subject matter experts—from start to finish. There’s so much internal knowledge that can (and should) be tapped, from legal to the product team.

Taking a new path to discovery in finding the right subject matter experts—and including them in the process the entire time—is incredibly important to differentiate a proposal from the rest of the competition. 

Download the Ultimate RFP Response Process Guide to learn how your team can win  proposals in less time.

To facilitate this early engagement beyond the traditional Bid and Sales teams, adopting an RFP platform with better content management, workflow, scheduling, and collaboration functionality alleviates the headaches and eases the process of gathering input and critical information across the organization. Imagine having the capability to simply assign someone a question, it’s answered, and the proposal is automatically updated. You can work with these varied inputs in a unified environment, adding in the content suggestions early, then smoothing the text in subsequent editing to create a robust, unified document.

Mistake #4: Unorganized Content Library

Organization of content—both past and present—is crucial throughout the process of creating a stand-out bid. Common tactics still include shared folders and Google docs. While these are functional techniques, they certainly aren’t very efficient and can make for a messy—and inefficient—process. 

Keeping every proposal and piece of content ever produced in one central repository remedies several different issues. With today’s technology, uploading a new RFP will automatically provide options and suggestions from previous RFP responses. And, if that doesn’t get what you want, you can do even more comprehensive text searches. This not only saves time on writing, but also on finding the content to begin with. As most RFP professionals can attest, the hunting and gathering of past content is often one of the most time-consuming chores in the entire response process. With an organized content library and technology to support it, you can finally keep track of it all and use it to your benefit.

Mistake #5: Order and Timing of Reviews

With the reviews of RFP responses, there are several typical pitfalls. 

A typical pitfall is beginning reviews when the proposal is finished and customer-ready. Nothing is worse than running a review process only to have an important stakeholder request major changes and revisions or add input that should have been there before. It happens far too often.

While not every organization or proposal requires the rigorous process of full color team reviews, all organizations would benefit from uniformly using a review when their proposal content is 65-70% complete. The keys to adding this review to your process successfully are to first set a deadline for when this should be achieved within the overall response schedule, then managing your writers to this goal. The most efficient way to communicate this to the team is if your content collaboration environment also supports project management so that all participants are working in one tool that provides visibility to both the content and the timeline.

RFP Responses: The 4 Remedies to the 5 Mistakes

Each of the above mistakes may seem easy to avoid if you’re focused on that single issue, but what about addressing all five? There are really 4 strategies to increase the likelihood of avoiding these pitfalls, and they build on one another:

  1. Start the process by adopting the customer’s mindset, taking into account their needs, business goals, and also emotions.
  2. Foster end-to-end collaboration throughout the organization, definitely between the Sales and Proposal teams, but also including your full array of SMEs, whether technical, legal, or financial experts.
  3. Organize your content centrally, and provide access to all your writers.
  4. Set your timeline and manage to it, while also making the dates and deadlines clear to the team, preferably in one unified tool to minimize confusion.