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  • Writer's pictureBen Paul

The 12 steps to writing a winning bid. Proposal success made easy.

The 12 steps to writing a winning bid.

Writing RFP responses isn’t easy. Turning an adequate response into a winning bid, takes time, effort and a great deal of considered thought. It’s no surprise that the last few years have seen an increase in roles for bid writers, bid managers and even bids and pursuits managers. There’s even a global association APMP, that provides training and accreditation for these professionals. This is all aimed to create processes to help you respond effectively. In the article below, we have proved 12 steps to writing a winning bid, to give you all the information you need, in one place.

However, not every firm, business or organisation has access to these experts. But most companies will have to respond to RFPs at some point, and with the likelihood of government money funding much of our current economic revival, the need to write winning bids is in higher demand than ever.

The 12 steps to follow to write a winning bid response.

To assist with this, below are 12 steps for you to follow. Whether you are part of a team managing a large bid response or if you are a small business tasked with doing the RFP on your own, the below steps will help you. As an example, a bid response plan for a 6-month tender response will most likely be heavy in detail, with tasks allocated to multiple individuals and may go on for several pages. For a one week turn around and for a smaller firm responding, it may just be bullet points in excel or even in an email to the team, to keep everything in order.

With that in mind, below are the 12 steps to help you in writing a winning bid.

1. Read and analyse the RFP thoroughly

It is pretty obvious that you have to do this. However, it can be overlooked. The first task that everyone involved in the bid response should do is download all the instructions and read the RFP thoroughly.  It also pays to have the person responsible for managing the bid to prepare a short summary document. This will vary from RFP to RFP, but it will typically include information such as: who the key decision makers are; when the response is due; how the bid will be scored; any restrictions e.g. page length; and finally which of your competitors are responding or likely to be responding.

2. Run your wining Bid/No Bid Process

That’s right, you shouldn’t as a rule respond to every RFP you come across. That’s a recipe for wasting both time and money. It really is important to know from the outset what your chances of success are. It is also vitally important to understand what your areas of weakness are, as this gives you a chance to address them in your response and any interactions with the issuer, if allowed. If you don’t have a go/no go process in place, then download our Bid/No Bid Tool, which will give you what you need to get started.

As an added bonus, recording your bid/no bid results alongside your bid win/rate will help you analyse which RFPs going forward you are likely to win, and which ones you won’t. If you keep losing tenders that are an important part of your business strategy, then you’ll need to understand why and then start to address those areas of weakness.

Should you decide not to respond and if you’ve been formally invited by the issuer, then you’ll need to let them know you are not responding. Doing this in the correct way is vitally important and takes a lot of thought. If this is an option you pick then I’d recommend you read this article, “How to say no to an RFP without annoying your prospective client.”

3. Bring the winningbid/response team together

If this is just you, then it’s quite simple, but you still need to book in some time early on to plan your response. You’re having to take on the role of bid manager, bid lead, pricing strategist and proof-reader! That’s a lot to take on so plan your time well.

For those with a bid team, you’ll need to meet and agree and allocate your tasks and deadlines. However, that’s your housekeeping. Important to get right of course, but there needs to be another clear purpose in your meeting. That is to workshop your winning bid messages. This means the team will have to share their understanding of the issuer’s goals and objectives (assuming you’ve met with them ahead of the RFP). It is also a good idea to understand who else is potentially responding and where you sit against them. In short, a simple Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis will really help you. You can also run a PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social and Technology) to understand the issuer’s drivers and how they fit in with their organisation’s wider goals.

From this analysis, you can understand what the client’s needs are and then how you will address them. In a nutshell, this will give you your winning bid strategy. It should help you be able to clearly articulate your client value proposition.

4. Know your deadlines and write a draft bid response plan.

A late response is very rarely accepted and, even if it is, it isn’t looked on favourably. For service providers, your formal response document is a prelude to the issuer of what it will be like to work with you. If the response is late, they will assume that any work you deliver is also likely to be.

A good way to simply plan a bid is to start from the end and work back. If it is due at 5pm on a Friday, then set yourself a deadline of completion either the day before or at least 1pm on the Friday. It pays to have some spare time.

Then work from there making sure that all the inputs and stages have enough time to be completed. Allow time for any external tasks, should they be required. Be fair to your graphic designers, however fast they are, it is likely to take them longer than you anticipate. So, build this time in and talk to them early. Same with your colleagues, a plan on paper which you haven’t consulted with anyone in the process might look fantastic, but will have no buy-in and will most likely crumble all around you.

Once you have this all planned and everyone on board, manage your bid in accordance with the stages and you should deliver ahead of time.

A bonus tip

One final tip here, the key decision makers for an RFP are most likely to read two pages first. The first one is obvious, they’ll read your fees page. Everyone wants to know how much something will cost them. The second one is your Executive Summary. This needs to explain clearly how you intimately understand their needs, and how you are the best placed option to meet those needs. Which leads me nicely to step 5.

5. Start writing your Executive Summary first.

A great novel starts with a great introduction. It is the art of storytelling. Without an introduction a story has no clear structure or purpose. The art of creating a winning bid response is to tell a great story to the issuer from the first page to the last.

This means you need to invest time up front in writing the Executive Summary. Articulate the big picture of what the client needs and how you are uniquely placed to help them. Next, on this first page, give them comfort by telling them where you have successfully delivered similar services before. Finally, conclude the page by neatly summarising the clear benefits they will get from selecting you.

Now circulate this draft to your team, so they can link the sections they are writing to the main overall bid message. Each section should be consistent and re-emphasise your unique value proposition to the client.

6. Think about your questions to the issuer

Now is the time to really plan what questions you need to ask the issuer. Depending on what’s in the RFP, you’ll either be able to ask them informally or formally. If you can pick up the phone or have a meeting, then make sure you do. If there’s an opportunity to have a meaningful client interaction during the process, always take it.

Most often though, questions have to be submitted in writing and the questions and answers are shared amongst all tenderers. This means you’ll need to have a strategy. Divide your questions into categories, something like: RFP clarification; Technical questions; Commercially sensitive.

The two areas to focus on.

The first one is simply housekeeping, lots of RFPs are cut and pasted from previous RFPs and have mistakes or are unclear, so getting clarity on what the issuer actually wants is a good idea. It’s of no competitive advantage, so ask away. 

The second area, technical questions, it pays to think these through. Some will need to be asked, however, if they give away your unique solution, perhaps consider not asking them or seeing if you can rephrase. Commercially sensitive ones, you’ll need to consider carefully. If the risk of asking them are too great, then don’t. You can always ask if you can ask a commercially sensitive question to the issuer and if they will respond back only to you, or not.  They may well say no to this, which is perfectly fine. You have not transgressed any rules. If they say yes, then all well and good.

7. Plan your pricing strategies early

The issuer will certainly read your pricing page with great interest. It is a key part of delivering a winning bid.

Hourly rates, fixed fees, capped fees, staged pricing or pricing based on project success, there are plenty of options here. It can be tempting to build an entire solution and leave the pricing to last. After all, in terms of the response you just need to type some numbers in. That is a recipe for unclear or not well thought out pricing.

Work through your options and how many of these you want to present to the client. Yes, you can give them two or three options on how to purchase from you. It gives them a frame of reference and the ability to choose the method that fits best with them. Doing this early also allows you to get internal signoffs needed without a panic at the end.

8. In the modern world, delivering wider value counts.

The CSR page on your website is all well and good, but you need to bring these stories to life. People like to work with other people and organisations that have a wider purpose and contribute to our communities. You’ll need to bring this to life. Stories are an integral part of a winning bid.

Sharing an environmental policy is pretty dull and, in most cases, it talks about reducing printing paper etc. Can you instead share how your company encourages people to ride-share, bike to work or has provided everyone with a sustainable coffee cup etc? Use photos to show it working. The same with volunteering time in your community. Tell the story of those who do it. This is particularly relevant if some of the bid response team are featured in these stories.

The power of this is two-fold. Firstly, it shows that your organisation does have a wider purpose and commitment to society. Secondly, it gives the issuer an insight into your company culture and what it will feel like to work with you.

9. Examples beat fluff, so use them.

Here’s an example. “Brazil are the greatest soccer nation in the world” Is, on its own, just fluff.

Whereas: “Brazil are the greatest soccer nation in the world, as they are the only nation to have qualified for all 21 of the men’s and all 8 of the women’s tournaments. They have also won the greatest number of men’s tournaments, with 5 victories.”

Here’s an example. “Brazil are the greatest soccer nation in the world” Is, on its own, just fluff.

Whereas: “Brazil are the greatest soccer nation in the world, as they are the only nation to have qualified for all 21 of the men’s and all 8 of the Women’s tournaments. They have also won the greatest number of men’s tournaments, with 5 victories.”

10. Make your CVs and bios engaging

For service providers these are key. Your people and team are a key ingredient in a winning bid. If you’re the individuals and the team, who the issuer will be working with, then they’ll want to understand how you will help them. And that should absolutely be the first statement in your CV/bio. “I will help you by…” Obviously each person’s won’t be the same, but explain what you will be doing on this project. Then talk about how your experience (which is the evidence) demonstrates to the reader that you have the required skills to do the job.

Finally, look to bring client quotes and testimonials into your CVs. You telling me that you are awesome is one thing, a credible independent client you have worked with telling me that you are amazing, now that’s far more compelling.

11. Pictures tell a thousand words.

Or at the very least break up the text! Try to use images or even icons at the very least to break up heavy text responses. As an example, I have used numbers and other embedded images in this article. Make sure you include photos of your main project delivery team; this is obvious but done well it does make the response much more personal.

If you are delivering a project, use a GANNT chart or project delivery chart. For any process, draw a relevant diagram. You can do these in PowerPoint or use online tools like Canva. Best of all, if you can afford it or you have access to them internally, use a graphic designer. Put simply, they deliver sharper images in a much quicker time.

The last point here is to create a front cover that will make your response stand out. If you’re pitching to an organisation to deliver services at their head office, try and avoid putting a picture of their head office on the front cover. They will likely get 8 other responses with the same image! Instead, think of your key messages and pick an image that relates to that. Then from page one, the reader immediately sees how you, more than the competition, stand out and the unique benefit you will provide them with.

12. Check your winning bid response - two ways.

The first is obvious, proof-read your document, look for typos, grammatical and spelling errors. A winning bid is not full of typos and errors. You can use Word’s spell check facilities or on-line tools like Grammarly or the Hemmingway app. It really pays to do this as the less mistakes in your final piece, the better it looks. Which is why you need to build this into your delivery plan. The closer to the end you spend producing material, the less time and less accurate you will be in proofing it.

The second, if you have the resources, get someone independent of the bid team to read your response and double check that you have answered all the questions. When I’ve implemented this, pretty much every time there is at least one answer that doesn’t fully relate to the question asked. It is usually a simple fix once picked up, and it has a huge impact on your overall score from the issuer.

Conclusion – now you’re ready to write a winning bid.

The 12 steps above are in no way exhaustive. You could add multiple steps in. They do though, cover off all the basics you need to address, and in a sensible order. If you follow them and put the advice into practice, I’ve no doubt, you will be well on the way to writing more winning bids.


What are RFP responses?

An RFP response is submitted by a business or service provider in response to a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) that has been issued by another business that is looking to purchase that service. RFP responses have to answer the questions and provide the information asked for in the RFP, which typically includes how you, the potential provider, will deliver the requested service, including details of how much it will cost.

What is the format of a proposal?

The format of a proposal is determined by the RFP or RFI (Request for Information) issued. However, they typically will include: 1. An Executive Summary – A one-page summary articulating the key benefits the RFP issuer will get from choosing this potential supplier.  2. Methodology – How the services or product will be delivered. 3. Case studies – Where the potential supplier has done this successfully before. 4. Key people – The people in the supplier who will deliver or manage the service/product delivery. 5. Price 6. Conflicts and policies – Typically this can include H&S policies, Business Continuity Plans and business insurances.

How do I make my RFP response stand out?

Through great content tied with great design. To achieve this, your key messages that you want to convey to the RFP issuer need to be succinct, easily understood by the reader, and tied to providing business outcomes or benefits. Your front cover and imagery should be tied to these themes, and be creative. If possible, embrace media or video.

How do you write a cover letter for an RFP response?

Talk to the big picture of why the RFP issuer is requesting this service or product. Then talk explicitly about their need, and summarize how you can effectively meet it. Do not start the letter with “Thank you for the opportunity…” Make sure the second half of the letter explains clearly how your response has been laid out, and has a natural lead-in to your main proposal document. Cover letters are very similar to executive summaries, and in both cases they are usually the first thing read by the issuer, so it pays to invest a lot of time and thought into them.


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