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  • Writer's pictureBen Paul

Submitting an RFP response? 5 common mistakes to avoid

Submitting an RFP response? 5 common mistakes to avoid

Many professional services firms and other organisations that find themselves having to formally respond to Request for Proposals (RFPs), will try to create simple templates and banks of material to make the process of responding a lot easier and smoother. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this, if it’s used correctly. However, if misused, it can lead to you providing a generic RFP response which doesn’t really speak to your intended customer. This is just one of the many traps that those bidding for work can fall into, a few other common ones are listed below.  

1.Don’t respond to every RFP. Put simply they aren’t all ‘genuine’ opportunities.

Don’t Blind Bid.

You may have wanted to do work for a certain ‘dream’ organisation for some time.  You may be experiencing difficult market conditions and really want to do the work you have been sent the RFP for. However, did you know the RFP was coming? Have you had any conversations with the issuers of the RFP ahead of it being sent to market? If you just picked it up on a tender portal (In NZ for government work this would be GETS), then your chances of success are slim.

If you don’t have a realistic chance of winning, don’t bid. Is there an incumbent provider who knows them well? A blind bid from someone else won’t unseat them. If some of your competitors have been actively speaking to them ahead of the RFP coming to market, then you really are at the bottom of the queue.

I can’t urge you strongly enough, don’t bid for the work. Losing bids don’t show your credentials in a positive way. It isn’t strategic to submit an RFP response, do a debrief and then not actively speak to the organisation until they issue the next RFP. That is just setting yourself up for a cycle of failure. Save yourself time, and in many cases, a great deal of money, and don’t submit a response.

Do send an active ‘not responding to RFP message.

Just saying no because you can’t win won’t go down well with the person who invited you to respond. They’ll possibly just assume you don’t have the ability to do the work. Or worse, that you don’t want to do work for them. So explain it, be honest, let them know you don’t think you have enough understanding of them and will spend time getting to know them. You could even offer to help the organisation analyse the responses they receive. Maybe you could give them a free workshop and give them some ideas on what they need to do to make their project successful. 

You don’t currently have the right relationships to win work at this stage, so start building them for the next RFP, so that it becomes a real ‘opportunity’ for you. To get more in depth advice on how to say no to an RFP, read this article.

2. Please don’t start every response, “Thank you for the opportunity…”

Don’t waste your first line.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” J.K. Rowling, didn’t waste the first line of Harry Potter & the Philsopher’s Stone, thanking you for the opportunity to spend years writing a book that may never have sold.

Your RFP response should not start with “Thank you for the opportunity……” Yes it’s polite but is it genuine? Are you really looking forward to spending hours writing a response that may not win the work? Of course you aren’t, most people outside of bid professionals don’t enjoy writing bid responses. They’d rather do the work they are experts in. Lastly, it is boring for the reader. Imagine receiving multiple responses all with the same first line, it may well make you assume that all your suppliers are the same.

Do put your client in the first sentence.

Get to the heart of why this important to the organisation and people who issued the RFP, straight away. What is the overall aim of the project or piece of work, and can you articulate it? Get this right in the first paragraph and your reader will be hooked. You’ll show them that you understand them.

3. Continually using your company name isn’t great branding.

Don’t overuse “we”, “us” or your company name.

A quick word-search will tell you how many “we’s” you have, compared to “you’s” in your RFP response. If it is predominately filled with “we” statements, your document is a long way off being client-centric. In fact, you read like an organisation that is obsessed with only one thing, yourselves.

Re-read it out loud, if you continually refer to your company name, and what your company will do, then re-write it, it’s impersonal. Are they really working with an organisation or with individuals, you and your team? Refer to your team by your individual names, bring your response to life.

Do talk about them.

Obvious, but often missed. You should use “you” more than “us” and talk to them, their aims and how you’ll work together to help them achieve them. Assuming you know the people who sent the RFP then refer to them by name as well. Done well, this can make the reader understand how you will work with them.

4. People and examples captivate not generic facts.

Don’t write like the “about us” section of your website.

Here are phrases that will make your client cringe: Our team has strength in depth; We have 50,000 people; We are global; Our team contains the leading experts, We have the best team etc. etc. Your client’s either thinking that sounds expensive, or more likely, “so what?”.

Do talk to them and their needs.

Articulate the requirement and then make it clear how you and your team will help them. Give specific reference/examples of where your organisation, and your team, have delivered similar projects before. Don’t miss out the last part. Tell them what the result of this finished project was.  Then make it clear why this work is relevant to them, and which parts of this experience you will actively be bringing to their project.

5. Books are judged by their covers. (So are proposal responses)

Don’t be bland or obvious.

Content informs design. Therefore, make  sure your heading isn’t just “Response to Request for Proposal”. We live in a social media world where clear messaging has never been more important. Try and give it a heading that links to the outcome you will deliver for them.

On the cover itself, a generic photo isn’t great. Proposing to an organisation showing a photo of their office tells them you can use google images, not that you understand what they are trying to achieve.

Do articulate the main message.

Can you articulate the main benefit that your client will get from your proposal? Tie the front cover image into this. If your image links to what the outcome you will deliver them are, fantastic! Does it links to your key ‘sales message?’ If you’ve managed that, that is awesome. Straight away, you have differentiated your proposal, and the reader will remember you.


The above is just a short summary of some of the basic mistakes many organisations make when submitting an RFP response.

To get practical advice on how to write a response, read “The 12 steps to write a winning bid. Proposal success made easy.”

We’ll be sharing more tips and hints on how to respond more effectively. If you have any specific questions, then please get in touch. It can feel daunting but more often than not a few simple improvements will save you time and help increase your win rates.

Need help writing a bid or RFP response? Find out more about how The BD Ladder team can assist.


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