Written proposals. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: if only prospective clients knew how much time and effort agencies put into these babies. The sad truth; they have no idea. And, honestly, many clients don’t read them all the way through. At the same time, however, a written proposal or written RFI response can be an opportunity to make a great first impression.
So, how do you stand out? How do you grab your prospect’s attention, and keep it, when they open your proposal? A thoughtful, prospect-centric approach that answers the questions the client asked (all of them) will differentiate your firm and get you to the next step in the process.
Both the Content AND the Order are Critical
We believe the order can completely change the effectiveness of your written proposal or RFI response. To that end, we’ve developed a Mercer Island Group approach to writing proposals. It is unique, it differentiates your agency, and it gets your agency to the next round. It’s designed to focus more on the prospect and deliver your content in a more thoughtful and customized way than most agencies will.
Our Recommended Format
In our experience, these are the most impactful points agencies should include in their written responses:
- Cover Letter: Express enthusiasm and appreciation for the consideration. Recap the business issues and implications the client outlined in the email, RFP, RFI, or initial conversation. We define a business issue as the key challenges or opportunities a company is facing. They are not “nice to haves.” They are clear and present dangers and prominent opportunities. (i.e. revenue, market share, increased competition, store traffic, etc.) Lastly, in one sentence mention how you have addressed similar issues for clients in the past. (Read more on how to win with your cover letter here)
- Business Issues & Implications: Dedicate this section to outlining what you’ve heard from the client. Identify the issues and/or opportunities that the client is looking to solve. This immediately demonstrates to the client that you’ve listened to them and really “get” them.
- Analysis & Strategy: Provide your agency’s analysis of the situation. Make sure that it adds value and clearly communicates what it means to the client. Do this by laying out your key learnings and opportunities you uncovered after diving into data and research. Include a review of the consumer/customer, competition/industry, and brand. Highlight the key insights you’ve identified and developed.
- Recommended Solutions: Present recommended solutions using your agency’s strategic process framework. Explain how your process works. And position your solution relative to the business issues and the strategic insights you uncovered.
- Case Studies: Most requests will include an ask for case studies. Carefully select your case studies and customize each one:
- State how the case study is relevant to the prospect’s business issue and what learning applies to the prospect
- Include an overview of the objectives, goals, work and results (a guide on the elements of a great case study can be found here)
- Explain why the approach was taken and how it exemplifies your unique agency philosophy (read more on nailing your agency philosophy)
- Relevant Experience: This is the place to showcase your amazing agency team. It is also where you communicate that your team is the right team. Include bios of key agency executives AND day-to-day team members. In the bios make sure to answer, “why is this person on my business?” (experience, skill set, other). Lastly, include what we refer to as your interaction process. This includes proven examples, processes, and tools for working successfully with clients (and, perhaps, other agencies).
- Agency Background: Keep this section short and sweet. Cover the basics about your agency, your agency capabilities (as relevant to the client’s issues), and your current/past client experience (as relevant to the client’s issues).
- Next Steps: Express your thanks and enthusiasm once again, and suggest a next step (a more detailed proposal, an office visit or video conference, etc.).
- Appendices: This is the spot to include all of the additional client-specific requests that you need to cover but don’t want the client to dwell on (i.e. estimate, SOW, staffing plan, etc.). You should always make sure you include every item your prospect has asked of you. However, you don’t need to put these items at the front of your submission.
If you hit each of these items in this order, you will have written a response that demonstrates your capabilities and holds their attention. You will also prove that you understand their business issues and know how to create solutions.
Sometimes it is unclear if the order of the written proposal matters to the client. Often times, clients do not have a preference as long as all of the items they request are included. However, in cases where you are not sure, it is good practice to ask the client. If they respond that the order isn’t important to them, be sure to follow our recommended format. Be sure to clearly identify where in your response you are addressing any specific RFI requests. A table of contents with page numbers is always a good practice.
There are many key elements of a solid written response, and the formatting is one of them. It can provide you an opportunity to differentiate your firm and get to the heart of what the client cares about most. Your written submission may be your first impression with your prospect and, when written well, can set the right tone for a future relationship.
Lindsay O’Neil, a Senior Consultant at Mercer Island Group, has participated in extensive research across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising, and Social. She has led and participated in numerous agency searches for clients like Envestnet, Zillow, Barre3, TrueCar, Brooks Running and Hitachi Vantara. One of her key strengths as a consultant is her deep understanding of marketing strategy and agency new business development practices.