Winning the Business

Spin It to Win It

Planning a continuous proposal-improvement cycle

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Six percent. (No, not 60%.) Six percent was my company’s RFP close ratio in 2014 when I began leading the RFP response team. With anecdotal industry data pegging a “successful” close ratio at more than 10%, I knew I needed to chart a path to greater things for my team. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, right? So, I was off in a sprint toward some intangible finish line—or so I thought.

There’s no way I could list all the tips, tricks, and best practices that have guided my team down the path to success. But thanks to APMP, conferences like Bid & Proposal Con, and some good old-fashioned trial and error, these five strategies have earned my team better job security—via significantly improved close ratios.

1. Track It!

First thing’s first: You’ll never know just how far you’ve come unless you know exactly where you started. Take the time to assess your key performance indicators (KPIs). Note where they rank today and regularly track your progress so that you can continue doing what works and discontinue what doesn’t.

Focusing your pursuit on the proposals you actually have a shot at winning does wonders for your close ratio.

2. Content Is King

You can make your proposal pretty and use all the right jargon, but if your content is outdated or incorrect, your response is just fluff. Once a potential client figures that out, your win could be in jeopardy. Create a reliable network of subject matter experts and build those relationships to foster good content development. Then, learn all you can about content library maintenance and put that knowledge to long-term, consistent use.

3. Show ’Em What You’re Working With

Translation: Create competitive advantage. Following directions, correcting typos, and submitting on time aren’t enough to win business. Take your proposals to the next level by:

  • Customizing your content to the prospect’s unique culture.
  • Clearly demonstrating a desire for the prospect’s business.
  • Appealing to the prospect visually.
  • Conveying how well you understand the prospect’s need(s).
  • Committing to providing the customer experience the prospect desires.

If you can’t do those things, take a long hard look at whether or not you should be responding to the RFP at all. Implement a bid/no-bid strategy to help your company decide what’s worth pursuing and what isn’t. Focusing your pursuit on the proposals you actually have a shot at winning does wonders for your close ratio.

4. Don’t Stop Believing

Trust me, I know that a bit of burnout at some point is inevitable, but Journey had the right idea here. Turn up the radio, take a long drive, take whatever you consider to be a mental breather between proposals if necessary, but resist the urge to take a midnight train going anywhere. Take your process for a spin instead. The key to continued success lies in creating a process that is both flexible and repeatable.

5. Spin It to Win It

The path to continued success isn’t a straight line—it’s a cycle. Throw out the idea of chasing the figurative finish line and build on top of your last RFP cycle’s momentum. Develop a lessons-learned plan that produces simple to-do’s based on the KISS principle: What should we keep doing, improve, start doing, and stop doing? Log those findings and work them into your process for the next go-round.

These five best practices helped pave the way to a 25% close ratio for my team by the end of 2018. With the imaginary finish line now in the rearview mirror, I know that if we remain dedicated to keeping this cycle spinning, incremental improvement will stay on our road map. And that’s a journey worth continuing.


Dana Kovaleski, CF APMP, is manager of RFP and sales support for USAble Life, a Little Rock, Arkansas-based life insurance provider. She can be reached at dana.kovaleski@usablelife.com.

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