The opportunity to send a proposal can be exciting. Maybe you're exploring more work with an existing client. Or, maybe you're responding to a request for proposal (RFP).

If your proposal was requested by a current or potential client, the content of your RFP response is serious business. You're competing for the attention of a customer who's receiving pitches by many other vendors at the same time.

For how time-sucking and frustrating proposal creation can be, your hopes of getting hired by a client are too often met with disappointment. So, what'll make your proposal stick out? What will give your team a creative outlet and make a difference for your own growth goals?

Download Now: Free RFP Templates

Jason Swenk, an entrepreneur and former agency owner, recently discussed his formula for creating proposals that had an 80% close rate and led him to work with brands such as AT&T, Legal Zoom, and Hitachi at HubSpot's Partner Day. Here are his steps for creating a killer proposal.

Table of Contents

  1. How to Respond to an RFP
  2. Free RFP Response Template
  3. Tips for Winning More Proposals

1. Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

Oftentimes, during an informal discussion with a prospective client, the agency owner will hear the words, "Just send me a proposal." The owner thinks this is a sign that the client wants to commit. In fact, many clients just see this as a first date or even a, "sure, just call me sometime."

So, the agency's staff spends hours and hours creating a detailed pitch deck, and the owner emails it within 48 hours.

I'm sure you can guess what comes next: silence.

It’s understandable to get excited when a prospective client expressed interest in your services, and while immediately crafting a proposal shows dedication and speediness, it’s important to not get ahead of yourself. 

Make sure you’re sending over a flawless, thorough RFP response – which may take more time and effort than you were hoping for.

2. Ask the Right Questions 

Before you even get to creating the proposal, you first need to determine if the client is wasting your time. If the client isn’t the right match for your services, why should you even make the investment in creating this document? 

You can quickly avoid situations where you are just sending out proposal after proposal by figuring out the client's BANT.

  • Budget: How much is the client prepared to pay for the need?
  • Authority: Does the person reading your proposal have a say in the decision?
  • Need: What is the client looking for?
  • Timing: How long will the client need to decide?

”When you start taking on clients just because of the money, you are going to have problems later on,” Swenk said.

3. Emphasize Precision, Facts, and Proper Expectations

By switching your response strategy from being the first company to submit a response to being the best agency to submit a response, you set yourself up with a greater chance to close the deal and deliver on clear, feasible, and appropriate expectations for the prospective client. 

This means moving away from generalized responses like “our agency is committed to completing the project on time and within budget every time,” towards hyper focused responses such as “our agency will complete [set tasks] by [desired date] with a budget of [dollars], specifically by completing [action item #1], [action item #2], and [action item #3].

4. Use an RFP Response Template [Outline Below]

Make sure you leave no topic unaddressed that your contact may want information on. Information about your company, the team your client would be working with, and expectations around budget, timeline, and deliverables should be crystal clear. 

This specificity is even more necessary for contacts with whom you have not yet spoken. Using the RFP response to explain to your company, your process, and how you can drive ROI

With all that said, take a look at the six components Swenk says make for a proposal template that clients are more likely to respond to.

Your 6-Part RFP Response Template for Closing More Deals

"It needs to be in a certain order, like a phone number," Swenk said. "You have to have the right order to reach the right person."

Take a look at the six elements you need to create the perfect RFP response, along with some abbreviated examples of the language you might use when drafting each element of your proposal.

1. RFP Response Cover Letter

Don't just dive right into the strategy and the tactics. Set expectations up front and entice the client to read more.

Think of the opening of your proposal or RFP response as the cover letter of a job application. It really is, after all; you want this company to hire your team, but they need a more digestible summary of what you'll offer them and why you think they'll benefit from working with you.

This cover letter gives them the proper context around who you are before reading about the services you intend to offer them. It also gives you the opportunity to remind them that they solicited the proposal they're about to read from you.

Cover Letter Example

Dear [author of RFP]:

Regarding your request for proposal (RFP), [your company] is thrilled about the opportunity to provide you [type of service requested]. Having worked with [brief list of past clients], we believe a partnership with [company you're writing to] would have a tremendous impact on your customer satisfaction and bottom line.

... Don't just stop there. Follow the above introduction with a description of who you are, what qualifies you to work with the RFP's sender, and the benefits your potential client can expect to see as a result.

2. Executive Summary

The executive summary shouldn't just summarize what the proposal says. Instead, it should state what the prospect wants, where they want to go, and what they will need to get there. You will also want to cover the research you did, who you did interviews with, and the steps you took to pull together your recommendations. This document shows why the client should select your firm.

One important piece of advice from Swenk on the summary: State two obvious facts about the requester or the requester's needs up front. These should be things that the client knows are true. By doing this first, the reader will be more receptive to the remaining points. This isn't about tricking someone. It's about presenting the information in a way that prevents the client from becoming defensive when reading your recommendations.

Executive Summary Example

As one of [client's industry] leading providers of [client's main service], you know just how critical this time of year can be for your customers. On average, the cost to deliver is $[xxxx.xx], and [client name] is committed to "[client's mission statement]."

As these challenges become more common, it is increasingly important to provide customers with a solution that's driven by [your industry]'s latest knowledge and expertise. With this in mind, [your company] intends to help [client's name]:

  • [Client benefit #1]
  • [Client benefit #2]
  • [Client benefit #3]

3. Deliverables and Strategy

This is the heart of your proposal document.

Categorize the proposal into different sections, such as creative, technology, etc. This will make it easy for the prospect to understand the different parts of the proposal and the different activities being recommended. In each section, you should list out the specific deliverables and also indicate what is not included. This last part helps to prevent scope creep from the beginning, and it also serves as an inspiration for clients who may want more.

Finally, don't include pricing in this section. It will stop people from absorbing the information, and it will prevent the reader from getting excited by the work you can do together. Instead, they'll just be thinking about dollar signs and their dwindling budget. Also, putting a price immediately prompts a person to begin comparing your pricing to another firm's price, no matter what the solution you are recommending actually includes.

Deliverables and Strategy Example

As stated in the executive summary, [your company] intends to help [client's name] [brief allusion to client benefits outlined in executive summary]. To do this, our team has outlined a proposed set of deliverables, an order of operations, division of labor, and expected dates of completion to ensure the partnership between [your company] and [client's name] is successful.

Deliverable Team Members Start Date Completion Date
xx xx, xx, and xx xx/xx/xxxx xx/xx/xxxx
xx xx, xx, xx, and xx xx/xx/xxxx xx/xx/xxxx
xx xx and xx xx/xx/xxxx xx/xx/xxxx

Throughout these operations, we expect your team to see heightened efficiency across your organization and progressively higher customer satisfaction over our [length of project or proposed contract] project. It's important to note, however, that the deliverables outlined below do not include:

  • [Product/service not included]
  • [Product/service not included]
  • [Product/service not included]

4. Project Summary

After the Deliverables and Strategy document, you can then add an itemized list of all the deliverables and a price for each.

This isn't to give your client an option, where they cherry pick this and that and that and not this. The client wants a recommendation. You can't put the weight of the decision on her shoulders by asking her to choose between this package and that package. Give her a solid plan for what needs to be done and what it will cost her. Then, tailor the solution during a conversation.

Project Summary Example

[Your company] can't wait to work with you to help [client's name] in addressing [client's challenges described in Executive Summary]. To recap, please see below a brief overview of the services included in this partnership:

Service Deliverables Included Total Cost of Service
xx xx and xx $xxx.xx
xx xx, xx, and xx $xxx.xx
xx xx $xxx.xx

5. About Us

Save this part until the end. The client won't care about you until they know what you can do for her and her company.

The About Us section of your RFP response can be identical to the company description you likely created when starting your venture. As a general guideline, always open your About Us section with the name of your company. In the case of an RFP, keep in mind your potential client is receiving many responses at once, and it can be difficult to remember all the companies pitching to them.

6. Agreement

Lastly, include an agreement or contract in the proposal so that the client can sign as soon as possible. Don't make them ask you: where do I sign?

Oftentimes clients will flip directly to the agreement or contract section of your proposal, so make sure it's clearly labeled and the signature lines are visible at the bottom. After all, the signature of your client is some valuable ink to have ... you want to make their ability to provide it no less clear than the services you're offering them.

2 Essential Tips for Winning More Proposals

Finally, there are two important things you can do to make your closing rates increase.

Review the proposal with the prospective client. Don't just send it over and hope for a response. And state that this is a mandatory requirement. When a client requests a proposal, schedule a meeting to review the information. If she can't commit to this, you shouldn't be spending your time crafting this in-depth document.

“Be able to walk away," Swenk said. "They are just shopping, and they are going to waste your time.”

Build your proposal template. Once you have the ideal structure in place, build a template you can use with every prospect. There's no need to start from the beginning each time. This will save you time and will lead to higher conversions as the prospect won't have enough time for buyer's remorse to sink in.

A proposal should be the result of numerous discussions with the prospective client. There should be no surprises -- either in price or the strategy that you are suggesting -- and it should be seen as a written review of your processes and the conversations with your client.

rfp templates

 rfp templates for free

Originally published Nov 30, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated August 25 2021