Reputation Driven RFPs – Mirroring is Mandatory

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Reflect the prospect’s interests to build rapport

Often, people writing RFPs lose sight of what’s important to the prospect. They focus on their firm’s strengths, but that is not what a prospect wants to hear, at least not at first. Remember, an RFP is like a first date. It’s the stage where you show that you’re interested in the other party.  In terms of RFP content, that means you should talk about the customer, not about yourself. Boilerplates of your accomplishments, your partner bios, and other you-centric content are supporting material; they are not the main event.

Your first goal is to demonstrate how well you understand the prospect’s problem. If the RFP is well-written, the problem will be clear. If it’s poorly written, and many fall into that category, you have some work to do. Refer back to your due diligence to find the company’s strategy. Everything in your RFP should be presented through that strategic lens. If you can tie their stated problem to their big picture, you will stand apart from almost all the other candidates and be remembered as that savvy firm that really understands the business. 

Your solution should reflect the prospect’s values. If they say they care about innovation, you care about innovation, and you include some evidence to support your statement. If they mention diversity, your bios highlight women and minorities among your partners. Find common ground and draw attention to it. Every candidate is going to be describing how they’re a good fit to solve the problem in the RFP; if you can show you’re a good fit for the company as a whole, your RFP response will shine. 

Your solution should be easy to understand. Emotion is the greatest factor in buying decisions; no matter how good a firm appears on paper, the competitor who inspires the most confidence is the one who wins. If you use legal vocabulary, non-legal readers will not have confidence in you because they won’t understand your plan, so be sure to explain your plan in a way that people without legal expertise can understand. Lay it out simply and illustrate your points with lively success stories and vivid examples. 

Be nice. Don’t discuss the competition. Don’t compare yourself to others at all. There is no upside to planting a competitor’s name in the prospect’s mind, but there’s a big risk in coming across as a bad sport. If you’re really eager to make a head-to-head comparison between your firm and another, don’t name the firm but describe it in general terms that could apply to many companies; for instance, if you’re a small firm, you can state the benefits of a small firm over a large one, but that’s as close as you should get to a direct comparison. 

Separate your accolades from the core of the document. If you’ve successfully focused on the prospect’s problem throughout your RFP, you may be wondering where to put all the great facts about your firm. How do you build credibility without mentioning your wins or your heavyweight partners? You put them at the end of the document. Those items are supporting material only, used to build credibility in the prospect’s mind after the proposed solution has already been favorably received.

All of these suggestions can be boiled down to one directive: Look at your RFP content through the prospect’s eyes. They are the lens through which all of your content must be focused if you want to get their attention and leave a lasting impression on the RFP committee. 

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