5 Steps to Winning Business with RFPs

If you are working towards generating new business for your organization, there are opportunities within the world of Request for Proposals (RFP) just waiting to transform your firm’s growth trajectory. RFPs can seem demanding, technical, and competitive, but with the right preparation, there are game-changing wins that can truly transform your organization. 

Question mark for how to start winning business

Step 1: Understand the basics

When governments, public institutions, and private businesses need outside support, an RFP offers an efficient path to identifying, reviewing, and procuring services from an outside organization. 

If a city agency needs its website updated or redesigned, for example, the city may publish an RFP outlining its website needs and budget specifications. Oftentimes, it will then invite web design firms to submit a proposal (or “bid”) for the project.

There are digital tools you can use to find out about these open call opportunities, and even use keywords and other sophisticated search methods to find the most relevant ones possible. At The Bid Lab, we host a Learning Center with everything from cover letter advice, to effective pricing strategies to demystify the RFP process from start to finish. 

Social media too, can be more helpful in bidding than you may realize. Many social feeds – like ours, @thebidlab – share RFP opening announcements, webinars on proposal related topics, and other helpful connections using social media. 

In short, the RFP process is designed to illuminate new ideas and plans for an organization to accomplish its desired task(s). An organization utilizing an RFP knows where they want to go, and is looking for someone to help get them there. Making your own company the one who navigates them can be a very lucrative achievement.

a man looking through binoculars

Step 2: Step up your search game

To find the perfect RFP opportunity to pioneer your (hopefully) newfound interest in proposal bidding, it’s important to cast a wide net. We mentioned social media strategies above, but there are also curated databases that compile thousands of RFP bid opportunities into a centralized location, allowing you to browse opportunities quickly and efficiently. 

While it is true many of these tools require a membership, many of them also offer free trial periods, incredibly helpful search criteria to help you narrow results, and automatic notifications that send you opportunities based on specified keywords. Some databases do not require payment to use them and can break down search results into helpful industry categories like Graphic Design, Building Materials, Data Management, and many more.

Another way to make the search process less arduous is to make better use of the array of tools Google offers in its platform. For example, narrow your search to easy-to-access PDF files by adding “filetype:pdf” to your search string in the Google search bar, or use time-based filters to return only recent results. 

If you want to step up your ability to search and identify these RFP opportunities in larger numbers than your team can currently manage, consider partnering with an outside expert. Teams like The Bid Lab’s can help, and working with a real expert will allow you to provide high-level review while delegating the time-consuming work of reading through contracts and searching through databases. By investing early in high-quality leads, you’ll be able to translate a wider RFP net into the real big fish you’ve been hunting.

a series of bottles with one standing out from the rest of the pack to show how to stand out to win business

Step 3: How to stand out (and why you want to)

Once you’ve identified a proposal opportunity that your team is well-suited for, it’s time to start strategizing. Ensure your proposal reflects your team’s full capabilities in a package that is clear, compelling, and unique. 

Take the time to include a focus on not only your proposal’s structural format, but it’s visual appearance as well. Speaking from experience, a beautifully-designed RFP tells the reviewer that you put thought and effort into your proposal. An attractive bid helps engage your prospective client and elevate your proposal above its competition. 

Remember, user-experience-based-design isn’t only for websites. Successful proposals consider how the reader will consume the document and add design elements accordingly to promote readability and comprehension. This translates to effectively anticipating potential evaluators’ pain points. 

Just put yourself in the shoes of someone reading your bid. Think about how you would feel after going through a big pile of black and white, standard proposal responses, and then finding one with great content as well as a splash of color and compelling imagery. Standing out with an eye-catching design template will not win a bid on its own, but it very well may be the final push you need to get your organization to the top of the list.

a man typing at his laptop with other work accessories around him 
winning business

Step 4: Technology and tools that can help

Automated RFP tools almost always promise to empower in-house employees to complete RFPs faster than doing so in Microsoft Word or Powerpoint. In my experience, while bid software can be incredibly helpful as a timesaver, even the most intelligent systems need a person to drive proposals most of the way to the finish line. A hybrid approach that blends AI-enabled time-saving tools with expert-driven, detailed responsiveness is the best path forward – more Ironman and less Robocop! 

Intuitive advancements to proposal templates make inputting a pre-written response more seamless, but RFP language is still far too divergent for software to identify the correct response. Still, while pre-written responses should not be automatically added to a response without personal review, they can save time and money when used strategically. 

Additionally, automatic tracking of metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and other information relevant to your industry and organization are an important tool to keep your bids informed and up-to-date with the latest information for a winning business.

a stairwell going around and around 
winning business continuously

Step 5: Don’t stop, keep winning business

With the previous four steps in mind, anyone can create meaningful efficiencies and identify strategic opportunities in their RFP-driven approach to winning business. It won’t happen overnight, but getting the fundamentals right will deliver results.

After submitting a winning bid for an RFP, it’s important to hit the ground running. First, review your proposal and the original RFP document extremely carefully. Consider designating an internal negotiation team to communicate with your own major stakeholders and develop a checklist of negotiation ranges and non-negotiables. This could include a timeline from your manufacturing team or a lowest-possible price range from your finance department.

If there are any areas of uncertainty remaining, now is the time to address them. Communicate as much as possible with your new client to secure specific, written agreements about the project’s scope, reporting requirements and deliverables. This is vital to preventing “scope-creep” later on in the process.

Give this new relationship the attention it deserves from the get-go, dedicating resources to ensure the transition is smooth and timely. If possible, schedule a site visit so you can assess your new client’s needs and operation in person. Developing a face-to-face connection now will pay dividends down the line.

A forward-looking organization does not rest on its laurels. As soon as you begin working on a new contract, task a part of your team with identifying opportunities for additional engagements. Are you providing services at three of your new client’s locations? Start exploring options for providing services at an additional five of their locations as well as possible discount bundling options.

If you start formulating these plans from the beginning, your team will be better able to track relevant metrics, identify possible sticking points and lay the groundwork for future expansion as the project progresses.

a sign that reads "do something great" winning business

A new take on winning new business

Whether you are only just beginning to focus on RFP opportunities, or you are aiming to raise your proposal prowess, take these steps to heart to create a meaningful difference in your approach to new business. RFP opportunities decide billions of dollars in funding across all industries, and your business could be the exact one a new RFP issuer needs. But if you want to make a meaningful impact on your business through grants and proposals, you need to invest accordingly. Take the time to search for new opportunities in a variety of ways, and make sure your proposals have what they need to stand apart from your competitors. Leverage technology where you can, but ensure your pitch is improving with every new bid. 

If there are areas of the process for which you need external support, finding the right partner can help your proposals reach a new level. At The Bid Lab, we are committed to improving this field with the inclusion of dynamic new participants. If you’d like to discuss ways your organization could thrive through RFPs, reach out to The Bid Lab for a quick conversation today!

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