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What does the RFP tell you about how to win?

How to interpret the RFP instructions and evaluation criteria

To write a proposal from the customer’s perspective requires not only responding to the RFP, but also understanding how the customer will evaluate your response. How will they read it? Will they read it, or will they simply score it per their evaluation criteria? And if they do score it, what is their process?

If the customer has a formal RFP evaluation process, like they do with government proposals, the RFP evaluation criteria can give you clues about their process. Are the evaluation criteria objective or subjective? Does the evaluation criteria specify point scoring? Or are they assessing strengths and weaknesses without a numerical score?

These questions are where you start before you ask yourself the really important questions about how the customer will evaluate the RFP responses: 

  • What do they need to see to give a maximum score? 
  • What do they need to justify the score they give you? 
  • What will they put on their evaluation forms? 
  • Where will they find what they need in your proposal?


A sample of commonly used RFP evaluation criteria


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Proposal Software

Too often people fill their proposals with the things about themselves that they think sound good, hoping the customer will take action on them. Only that’s not what the customer needs to complete their RFP evaluation or even what they really care about. Sometimes companies do a little better and fill their proposals with beneficial sounding claims. But not all benefits translate into things that can be scored.

If the customer likes your offer and wants to make an award to you, what words do they need to justify their decision? That is what you need to put in your proposal. And the RFP will give you clues as to what those words are.

You must carefully parse the language of the evaluation criteria. How are the criteria grouped? Will it be treated as one bid item, or a bunch of specific items? How will they be labelled? What will they be giving credit for?

Then ask yourself how can you organize and word your proposal so you can get the maximum score.

Everything that you know about the customer, the opportunity, the competitive environment, and your own company and offering must be aligned with their scoring methods for it to impact whether you win or lose. 

And outside of things necessary to achieve RFP compliance, if it doesn’t impact your score, it’s probably not worth saying. If you want to say something, say it in a way that will make it onto their scoring justification forms. If you put saying things your way ahead of saying things the way the customer needs them said to process their evaluation, you will likely end up with a brilliantly eloquent proposal that loses.


Along the way, you will make many discoveries, which could include things like:

  • Will the customer be able to compare apples to apples? 
  • Will they be more focused on strict RFP compliance or have they given themselves room to use their judgment?
  • What does the customer think is important?
  • Price always matters, but how much in this case?
  • Are they concerned about risk?

You may also be able to detect whether the RFP is wired for someone else, like the incumbent. But don’t fool yourself. All RFPs can look wired and they almost never really are.

Don’t just treat this as an exercise in presentation. There are strategic implications as well. What do you need to emphasize in order to win? What does your offering need to do or be? What strategies do you need to employ in your proposal to outscore your competitors?

For formal evaluations, great proposal writing is not about finding the magic words that will hypnotize the evaluator. Instead, great proposal writing is about translating what you are offering into what the customer needs for their evaluation process in a way that maximizes your score. 

Everything about the pre-RFP phase of pursuit and everything that goes into your proposal needs to be done with achieving this goal in mind.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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