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How to Avoid These 5 Pitfalls When Responding to RFPs

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Kris Sæther



4 min

It can take you hours, days, or even weeks to prepare a response to an RFP, depending on its size. Your response is meticulously compared with all the other RFP responses from your competitors.

Making a big mistake (or several) in your RFP response can end up costing you the deal.

In this article, we discuss five big mistakes to avoid when answering questions in an RFP response. We'll show you how to avoid them and answer RFP questions the way bid reviewers expect.

1. You Don’t Follow the RFP Structure 

When writing a proposal, it's tempting to structure it the way you think it should be structured or because your boilerplate material is structured like that. But that's not what your client expects. 

Your proposal will be harder to evaluate if you do not follow the RFP structure. Most likely, the evaluators have structured their questions and sections to match their evaluation or even so that different people can evaluate different parts of the response. Not following their format will not only give them the impression that you know better than they do, but it will also make it harder for them to find the information they need to evaluate you. They may miss crucial details that give you an edge. 

Here's what you need to do: Always repeat the RFP question at the top of your response, paraphrasing it if necessary, so they can easily find your answer and give you a good score. Format your text in line with the evaluation matrix and criteria, and arrange your information in the same order they will be evaluating it. Separate out any information that directly supports the criteria they use to evaluate you, and use headings to make it easier for the evaluators to find.

2. You Don’t Reference the RFP Requirements and Specifications 

It is too common for proposal responses to be boilerplate and not to refer to the specifications or any other RFP requirements, even if certain elements of the specifications are explicitly referenced in the question. 

If you do this, you'll make the evaluators think you didn't read or understand the specifications, so it won't be clear you understood their specific needs. It may be hard for them to match your response to their specific requirements, so it could hurt the evaluation scoring.

Here's what you need to do: Refer to the specifications for each question, but don’t simply make reference. Incorporate the requirements of the specification into your text and your solution, acknowledging the requirements and demonstrating how you meet them.

3. You Fail to Provide Details and Evidence 

In this evaluation process, the evaluators try to understand what you offer and what makes you different from your competition. It is easy to respond to a proposal using boilerplate material and typical sales fluff. Typically, this happens when proposal writers don’t get the input and details they need from the subject matter experts. Then the proposal comes across as generic and theoretical instead of showcasing your company’s experience, capabilities, and expertise. 

Without details and evidence, it’s impossible for them to evaluate you. A general, fluff-filled response could make the evaluators think you don't really have a solid approach or solution. The worst part is that they may wonder if you care about their business and challenges if it doesn't look like you worked hard on the proposal. 

Here's what you need to do: For each question, decide what kind of facts, examples, and experiences you should include to demonstrate you can deliver what you promise. Your subject matter experts and your field staff who actually perform the work covered in the RFP should provide you with this information. Build it into the answers.

Consider headings such as "Facts That Support Our Solution" and organize your information in a way that can be easily understood by the client. Finally, don't oversell yourself. Be specific and accurate, and focus on details, facts, and evidence. Unless backed by facts, empty praise for your company or claims that your company is superior to your competition are typically understood for what they really are: sales fluff.

4. You Don’t Use Headings and Subheadings 

Your proposal will be harder to evaluate if you write large blocks of text without anything to break it up or to explain what the information is about. Most often, this happens when there's no strategy or organization when developing the proposal. 

If your material is dense and hard to read, the evaluator will likely score you lower than someone who has made it easy for them to see why they should be selected. They have to search and hunt for what they need to match your submission with their evaluation criteria. 

Here's what you need to do: Start with a strategy or outline, identifying the things you want to say or even based on what the questions are. Adding subheadings is necessary even if you follow the format and structure of the questions they ask. Include subheadings for each of the key issues or evaluation criteria to make sure the evaluator sees it. Add headings whenever you discuss a new topic that is relevant to the evaluation. Using headings and subheadings will make it easier for the evaluators to navigate the document and understand what they are about to read. 

5. You Talk More About Yourself Than About What You Do for Your Clients

In your proposal, do you constantly refer to your own company to emphasize your capabilities and possibly to 'advertise' your brand? Are you referring to the client in the third person or by their company name?

If so, stop it. Your response should be centered on the client and their needs. 

Here's what you need to do: Use ‘you' and 'we'. A personal and direct approach like this will have a greater positive impact on the evaluators. Furthermore, instead of talking about what you can do, explain what the client gets and how your skills and capabilities translate into benefits and results for them. Those are the words they need to see to score you higher than your competitors.


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Kris Sæther

Kris Sæther is Chief Commercial Officer of Xait. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Media Studies, and has worked in financial communication in London and Frankfurt prior to joining Xait. He has 20+ years experience from the information management industry. Kris is an avid runner and skier, and a passionate fan of the world’s coolest soccer team, Tottenham. If he is not working or running you will find him cheering for his two daughters on the handball court.

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