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Spending too much time on the wrong part of the RFP response? Where should you be focusing instead?

How might you be making mistakes with your RFP Response?

Based on Don Carmichael’s post on LinkedIn.

What mistakes are you making in your RFP response? We’re exploring this as part of our RFP Revolution series. We’re changing the RFP landscape and want you to join us on the journey.

As a technology PreSales leader, coach, and trainer Don Carmichael has a lot of thoughts to offer the proposal and bid writing community from his years of experience. If you aren’t already following #PreSalesByDonCarmichael on LinkedIn, I highly recommend that you do.

We’re fortunate to have a highly experienced Global Bid Manager on Avnio’s team, Melissa Peel. It’s been her experience that has guided this post, and the conversations that she’s been a part of.

We know from experience and talking with current bid teams that the biggest time sink on an RFP response is answering the questions you’ve been asked. This gargantuan task often requires a lot of focus, subject matter expert (SME) attention, and increases frustration in the team.

However, when Don and Melissa were speaking with proposal managers recently for research, there was a strong recurring theme in their conversations; proposals appear to be  judged on similar criteria every time. So, to make sure you aren’t spending too much time on the wrong part of the RFP response, here are some tips for focusing your RFP response:

Criteria for Judging Proposals

1. Format and Deadline

Did the RFP response comply fully with the requested format, styling & template, and did they meet the deadline?

If the company didn’t follow instructions here, it’s an easy opportunity to pass on to others that did. Missing the deadline is obviously a big red flag, too, for completing a project on time.

Hitting the deadline and formatting requirements is the easiest thing you can do to give yourself a chance of winning. This sounds obvious, but sometimes this requires careful planning for your RFP or bid writing team when there are multiple deadlines to be aware of. It’s an easy mistake to make with your response, but don’t let it happen by planning properly.

2. Executive Summary

Has the response shown that the client’s key business requirements, desired outcomes, and value have all been fully understood?

If you don’t wow with your exec summary, then there’s not much reason to go through the rest of your proposal; especially if you aren’t communicating how well you understand the issuers’ needs.

The exec summary is one of the first things a client will look for when they open your RFP response. Make sure it is the best it can be.

It would take too much space to talk about the best ways to improve your executive summaries in this post, but we have

And if you’re looking for advice on your executive summaries, stay tuned! We’ll be releasing our top tips for executive summaries in the next couple of weeks.

3. Win Theme

A major mistake is when your win theme — you do have one, right? — doesn’t answer the key question: “why us, why now?”

The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) boils down win themes into “a feature, a benefit and a corresponding proof point”.

Or, put another way, are you ensuring you’re giving a clear, concise idea of the value proposition and outcomes of doing business with your company instead of someone else’s?

To be effective here, choose one or two win themes that you can discuss strongly rather than a slew of lots of benefits that you spread yourself thin over.

Focus on what the client reading the RFP response really wants. Is it a low cost solution? Low risk? A proven solution that many clients are already using?

If you can’t communicate this clearly, the client may pass onto someone who does provide clear reasoning for how they will benefit from going with that RFP response.

4. Pricing

When looking at a response, the client will check the pricing very early on because if it’s too far out of the ballpark, there’s no reason to go further.

There’s not much to say here other than ensure that you are competitive with pricing and that you know what value you bring to the table for the cost you’re asking clients to pay. But, needless to say that the pricing can be one of the most important aspects of your RFP response for the client. If you make an error of judgement here, you won’t be taken further.

5. Responses to Questions

And, lastly, only if you pass points 1, 2, 3, and 4 will the client look at the answers to the questions you have provided. 

Make sure you didn’t answer “not applicable” to anything. If the question is there, it’s applicable to the project from the client’s point of view, if nothing else.

We know that a lot of bid writers take pride in their answers for RFP responses and whilst it’s important to do so, we need to be aware that in the list of things the client looks for, it’s near the bottom.

Following the 80 / 20 rule, the responses will take 80 percent of your time, and contribute to 20 percent of the chance of you winning the bid. Think of ways that you can reduce the time you put into the questions, and put that time elsewhere.


We hope that this list has been useful for making sure you aren’t spending too much time on the wrong part of the RFP response. As a caveat, there will always be times and people where this list won’t apply neatly. Take it as a guideline for refocusing your efforts if you feel overwhelmed with your RFP responses, perhaps.

As mentioned earlier, stay tuned for advice on how to craft a winning executive summary. We’ll be diving into Melissa’s experience as a Global Bid Manager to distill some of the best ideas for executive summaries into a single post.

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