The first step to improving your RFP/proposal win rate is figuring out what needs fixing.
Many sellers who want to improve their proposal win rate assume the problem is somehow related to their proposals. They reason that if they write better proposals, they’ll start winning more opportunities. Though this thinking is not unreasonable, your win rate is dependent on more than just your proposals.
Five things that impact your win rate
If you want to improve your RFP/Proposal win rate, begin your effort by assessing your performance in each of these five areas:
- Pre-RFP selling efforts
- Solution effectiveness
- Messaging effectiveness
- Proposal effectiveness
- Post-proposal selling
A thorough assessment of these five areas will help you figure out where to invest your resources to modify and improve your internal processes and, ultimately, your win rate.
1. Pre-RFP selling efforts
There is a high correlation between your RFP/proposal win rate and the effectiveness of your selling effort before the RFP is released.
- If your salespeople have been out there meeting people, building relationships, discussing the buyer’s challenges and your solutions, and in general trying to make the sale before the RFP is issued, your win rate will go up. If they aren’t, it’s going to be low.
- If your salespeople are out there doing all of the networking and relationship building tasks but they’re also bringing along your subject matter experts so they can meet one-on-one with buyers, your win rate will go up even more. If they aren’t, it’s going to be low.
If you want to improve your RFP/proposal win rate, begin by asking yourself, “Are we making the sale before the RFP is issued?” If you are, great. If you aren’t, this is where you begin.
2. Solution effectiveness
Too many companies are selling products and services, not solutions. If you want to improve your win rate, this may be one of your problems. OK, I get it, this is Sales 101, but let’s review anyway.
People don’t buy products or services, they buy solutions to their problems. You may sell pickup trucks, but you don’t sell the same truck to everyone who comes in the door. A guy that owns a construction company and hauls work crews and heavy trailers needs a different truck than a dad that hauls a small boat and three kids. The construction guy needs a heavy duty truck that can haul big loads and a bunch of dirty, muddy workers. The dad needs a big, comfy cab with just enough towing capacity for the small boat. Different needs, different truck.
The problem with many sellers who respond to RFPs is they don’t take the time to configure their solution before they start writing answers to questions. All they do is cut and paste previously configured content in response to RFP questions and call it a solution. Cutting and pasting may be more efficient because it allows you to do more work in less time, but it certainly isn’t effective. It’s not effective because it’s nothing more than a generic description of your product or service, but it’s not a solution.
When you write a proposal, are you proposing a unique solution to a buyer’s unique problem? If you are, great. If you aren’t, this is one of the topics you should address in your efforts to improve your win rate.
3. Messaging effectiveness
There’s a difference between the solution you are proposing and the messaging you use to promote it. You may sell the same office copier to three different buyers, but your messaging to each should vary. If Sally is more interested in reliability, your messaging should emphasize copier reliability, talking about the reliability awards you’ve won, etc. Bob, on the other hand, is interested in a high volume of copies per minute. In that case, your messaging is built around how your copier is one of the fastest in its class. You’re selling the exact same copier to both Sally and Bob, but because they have different needs, you have different messaging.
Does your team spend sufficient time, before anybody puts pen to paper, in a sales strategy session to figure out what your sales message should be? If they do, great. If they don’t, why not? If you want to improve your proposal win rate, you need to spend time on sales strategy and messaging. Moreover, you need to make sure you have a good process in place to build your message.
4. Proposal effectiveness
Are your proposals effective? When sellers want to improve their proposal win rate, they tend to focus almost exclusively on their proposals: “What can we do with our proposals,” they ask, “so we win more of the RFPs we respond to?”
So far in this article, I hope it’s become clear there are many things you should consider doing to improve your proposal win rate, not just improving your proposals. Still, it’s important to evaluate your proposals to make certain they are helping your sales effort. Begin by asking these questions.
- Are your proposals more about you or about your buyer?
- Are your proposals informational or persuasive? Are you providing information to be compliant with their RFP, or are you trying to convince them to buy what you’re selling?
- Do you articulate clearly what makes your solution both different and better than the solutions being offered by the competition? Or does your solution blend in with the rest?
Here’s the question you have to answer. Do your proposals explain clearly how you are going to help your customers solve their problems and get the outcomes they want? If they do, great. If they don’t, you need to spend some time figuring out how to make them better.
5. Post-proposal selling
I once worked for an organization who wanted proposal training because they weren’t winning enough of the RFPs they were responding to. After a closer look, though, their proposals were great. In fact, the seller was being invited onsite to present almost every time they submitted a proposal. The problem wasn’t their proposals, it was their post-proposal, onsite presentations that were hurting them. Instead of being buyer-focused and aligned with the sales message presented in the proposal, their presentations were entirely seller-focused.
If you want to improve your proposal win rate, you can’t just look at your proposals. You must also consider all of the other interactions you have with potential buyers. If your proposals are doing a great job getting you an invitation to present, but your presenters and presentations are falling flat, you need to reconsider your approach.
If you want to improve your RFP/proposal win rate, you can. It’s completely up to you because almost everything that influences your win rate is within your control. You just have to want to do it.
David Seibert is a professional salesperson, proposal trainer, author, writer, and business development consultant. He is the founder and president of The Seibert Group, a proposal consulting and training organization serving businesses that sell to other businesses, schools, and to state and local governments. You can contact him at David.Seibert@ProposalBestPractices.com.