The Secret To a Winning RFP Response

Everyone wants a winning bid. But, of course, the reality is often very different. What really sets apart a winning bid versus a losing one? We sat down with Abhijit Majumdar, member of the APMP India governing board, APMP Professional Level certified, sales enablement consultant, coach, and product evangelist, to discuss the secret of producing winning proposals with greater return on investment. Hint: It’s all about the customer experience.

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Q: From a customer’s perspective, what are they really looking for in a proposal?

Abhijit Majumdar: When a customer receives a proposal to evaluate, they immediately look at the executive summary. Their eyes are on whether you understand their problem and what they need to solve. This is your opportunity to get across how you are connected with them and their needs. You need to think about the customer first and foremost.

If you’re just answering the RFP questions without much perspective on their pain points and challenges, then it won’t make an impact. Personalization and expressing your expertise are crucial. After a customer reads your proposal, they should think, “This company truly understands my problems and what I need to do in order to fix it.” That’s a winning customer experience.

Q: How does a proposal team even figure out these customer challenges?

Abhijit Majumdar: There are a few different ways to identify the customer’s challenges. In some cases, the RFP may state what they are doing right now and the challenges that need to be solved. That’s an easy one to address! If it’s a pre-bid query, you can ask direct questions if the vendor has provided the option. Who is the incumbent vendor? What is the current solution and what are the challenges? What are the expectations? This is another easy way to get information directly.

But sometimes you just need to start from scratch. That means Googling and digging into the company and the industry. Follow key contacts and leaders on LinkedIn. Set up alerts for news articles. Read industry analyst reports. You want to know the customer’s customers and get a robust picture of their business. This, in turn, provides the insights you need to really tailor your proposal messages.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a “one and done” exercise. If you know you will be submitting repeatedly to a vendor or it’s a current customer, this should be an ongoing part of the team’s practice as well as tapping into insights from other parts of the organization.

Q: Who else should be involved in this knowledge-sharing of a customer?

Abhijit Majumdar: You definitely want to tap into any subject matter experts within the company. Connecting with the sales and account management teams of existing customers helps to provide a treasure trove of information. By gathering as many insights, intelligence, and research as possible, you will have a more holistic picture of a customer’s particular situation or challenge to address in your proposal.  

Integration of the proposal team with CRM systems can also help with sharing this information and identifying where you can source the best person to help with researching and delivering the ideal content.

Q: Even if you’re thinking about the customer experience and “putting yourself in their shoes,” doesn’t it still come down to price in winning a bid?

Abhijit Majumdar: Everyone gets hung up on price. But it’s all about delivering a better value proposition. Knowing the customer’s problems and demonstrating how you can solve them is a key differentiator. Too often, proposal teams just provide their standard value proposition. So a customer receives multiple bids that just reveal what the bidding company wants to express about themselves—not about the customer’s challenges. And everyone is doing the same exact thing!

Of course, a customer will just move on to price because it’s the only differentiator. But if you are actually delivering the real value and proving it to the customer, then your chances of winning are much higher compared to your competitor, regardless of where your price falls along the spectrum of bids.

Q: As we all know, proposal teams are under more time and resource constraints than ever. How can they find the capacity to focus on the customer experience?

Abhijit Majumdar: The technology for RFPs and the bid process is becoming much more automated. Getting to fast decisions about bid or no bid is easier. And when a team decides to pursue a bid, they can ramp up extremely quickly. That’s the great thing about embracing artificial intelligence (AI). The actual bid process and collaboration becomes much easier and more fluid. It frees up the proposal team to focus on what matters, which is tailoring and creating an incredible empathy for customers and solving their problems—all in one winning RFP response.

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