Part of writing a proposal from the customer’s perspective involves not simply responding to the RFP, but understanding what the customer will do with your response when they get it. How will they read it? Will they read it, or will they simply score it? And if they score it, how will they go about doing that?
If the customer has a formal evaluation process, like they do with government proposals, the evaluation criteria can give you clues about that process. Are the evaluation criteria objective or subjective? If they are scoring, how are they awarding the points? Or are they accumulating strengths and weaknesses without a numerical score?
These questions are where you start before you ask yourself the really important questions:
- 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
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 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.
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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.
The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
Carl can be reached at email@example.com
To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.
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