In professional services firms and beyond, any point of contact between your firm and your audience represents your brand: a magnet, a website, a proposal, anything. The sum of these experiences will define your identity in the eyes of prospects and clients.

Lately, we’ve noticed a trend among some professional services organizations. Even when many of their most important marketing channels and touchpoints are spot on, there’s an important piece of the brand-building puzzle missing: the RFP response.

The Lost Bid

When you prepare an RFP response, you spend countless hours working out estimates, compiling a team, assembling the most relevant items in your portfolio, and more. Even if you have all the pieces you need to win, you might as well still lose the bid. Often, it’s not because of anything wrong with your estimate or experience. Instead, you might hear something like this:

“Well, your proposal/RFP presentation pieces make your firm look dated. That makes us wonder whether your work and your industry perspective might be dated too.”

Faced with such a critique, you might feel incredulous. (A few choice, but ill-advised, words may also come to mind.) You know you’ve done great work – it’s right there in the presentation. Shouldn’t it speak for itself?

The Determining Factor and Differentiation

The fact is, great AEC firms lose out all too often because of “three-ring binder style” RFP responses and presentations. These kinds of materials may feel standard-issue to the firms that use them, but they increasingly come off as unprofessional to prospects. In a competitive landscape where every detail counts, this one factor can make all the difference.

You can’t walk into a room and sell your firm—nine times out of ten you are simply delivering documentation of your proposal and RFP response. That’s it. Which means your material has to sell your firm and its specialties, communicating your differentiators in a way that is strategically aligned with all of your other branding efforts.

AEC firms have an advantage in RFP and proposal responses, since their amazing work can speak for itself – and often clearly and powerfully illustrate their specialties.

4 Tips for Putting Together Your Proposals

  1. Update your look. Does the way you convey your brand align with other materials such as your website (which has hopefully been updated relatively recently)?
  2. Hire a photographer. Not only can you use the photos for your website, but for marketing collateral. Furthermore, it’ll help set your proposal apart and make it more captivating.
  3. Design templates. Make sure everyone at your firm is using the same style by creating a proposal template toolkit. Typically, we notice that different people at a single firm use their own style, then copy and paste from past proposals and RFP responses when they’re in a rush.
  4. Do not copy old proposal or RFP responses. Apart from any other problems with this, you will leave another prospect’s name somewhere in that documentation.

Take the time to properly target the proposal-building process if you think it is a weakness at your firm. Don’t spend countless hours of prep for a proposal and RFP response just to have someone say your document is not professional. Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to communicate your thoroughness and freshness, impressing on prospects exactly who you are – and why you’re the best firm for the job.

Check out Inside the Buyer's Brain (it's free!) for more tips on knowing your buyers and prospects.

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Megan Yaroch