5 Ways to Position Proactive Proposals Before an RFP

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We have all witnessed this scenario: The sales/capture team spends countless hours building relationships and learning about a key prospective organization’s needs, but then stops all activity and waits for an RFP to be issued because the customer point of contact said they “have to go out to bid.”

However, that means they are giving away the advantage to your competition. Think of it this way: Your team gets a head start in a marathon, only to stop at the halfway mark and wait for the other runners to catch up. All that preparation is irrelevant if you don’t put everything you have into those early miles and get as far ahead as possible — or even finish the race — before anyone else has a chance to begin.

In the world of proposals, the RFP seems to drive so much of our work. And in many cases, organizations really do have to go out to bid because of industry or internal compliance requirements. Conversely, and especially for the key accounts you want to acquire, what if you could break up the procedures and proactively propose what you know the customer wants and needs? What if you could use proactive proposals to drive those required RFP processes and position your organization as the industry leader?

The following are five ways you can use proactive proposals to keep the advantage and ultimately win the business.

  1. Get sales buy-in and input. They have done all the preparation to gather customer intelligence, but have they shared that information with you for a proposal? Are they prepared to take the next step and propose a solution without a formal request? Gather as much information as possible about the customer and the sales process that has taken place to date, as those pieces will drive the content of the proposal.
  2. Reflect the customer with specific and responsive content. Key accounts want to be acknowledged as important. They do not want some standard template of content that is generic enough to be relevant to any customer. They want to know your team listened to them and understands their exact issues. They want to read words and see images that reflect them (not you) and information about how your solution or product will solve their problems.
  3. Eliminate the marketing and sales jargon. The customer has met with your sales team already. They have heard the marketing and sales pitches. They have probably been given brochures and specific data points about your company. Eliminate the jargon and get to the point through clear benefits statements aligned to the customer’s specific needs.
  4. Bring in the experts. You have experts in your organization who drive your product and service offering. Key accounts want to hear from them about how your solution or product can be used in various cases aligned to their industry. This will give the customer a feeling that they have a direct line of communication should they ever need further insights from your experts.
  5. Be prepared with a differentiating RFP template. Again, many organizations cannot get out of issuing an RFP at times. A true industry leader is prepared to provide the customer with a templated RFP that offers requirements that truly set your solution or product apart from your competition.

There are a few ways you can present a proactive proposal to the customer based on how they want to move forward:

  • For the traditional buyer looking to have all the information in once place: Provide a PDF or Word document with an executive summary and detailed explanations about your solution or product with customer-relevant imagery.
  • For the buyer looking to champion the purchase within the customer organization: Provide a PowerPoint deck that outlines the same information as the traditional PDF/Word document, but in easy to digest bite-size pieces that the point of contact can share electronically or as a presentation. This also should include customer-relevant imagery.
  • For the “just-send-me-a-price-quote” buyer: Provide a pared down version of the PDF/Word document with the main points outlined into an executive summary, followed by the pricing information requested.

Don’t let your sales team wait around while your competition catches up when you already have an advantage. Use proactive proposals to drive any required formal process or, better yet, to drive the customer to a buying decision.


Gina Kutsch, CP APMP, is senior director, proposal development for OnSolve, which provides leading critical event management solutions worldwide. She is Shipley Certified and has been directing proposal development efforts for more than a decade, focusing on leadership and process innovations.

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