Writing a Convincing Request for Proposal II: The Cover Letter

Once you have your Request for Proposal (RFP) in good shape, you need to add a good cover letter. This serves to create a connection between you with your potential vendor and it also “sells” the idea that doing business with you is a good idea by generating some excitement about what you do and by showing that you are professional and someone worth doing business with.

Writing a Solid Cover Letter

A good cover letter will introduce you and your business to a potential vendor in a way that will make them interested in at least learning more about what you are doing. It creates a personal connection between you and your correspondent and establishes the name recognition that will be important later in the process of building a business relationship. On a more pragmatic level, your cover letter is a formal invitation to submit a proposal as well as an opportunity to show the timeline of your selection process and highlight the dates on which different documents are due. 

As with a Request for Proposal itself, building your cover letter as formally as possible will help you, since it will keep you on track and help you make certain that all the information you need is there. A formally written cover letter will also help your reader since it makes sure that everything they expect to see will be there. Those considering doing business with you don’t like surprises—unless it is the pleasant surprise of how good it will be to do business with you—or omissions, so make sure that you include everything you need.

·        An invitation to submit a proposal. This should be based on the terms and requirements outlined in your RFP documents.

·        Introduce your company. This is a brief introduction and it should include a description of your business, your objectives, location(s) and a link to your web site.

·        Describe your project or need. Include size, budget, scope and other particulars about your project and discuss how it aligns with your stated objectives.

·        Present your timeline. Making sure that the critical steps needed to go from concept to completion happen is vitally important and your timeline is a way to plan for that. Make sure that you include all necessary deadlines.

o       There is often some confusion when it comes to deadlines. Remember, the word “submit” does not mean the same thing as the word, “receive.” When you say that a given document should be “submitted” by a given date, remember that the stated date is not the date you will receive that document. Forgetting this can lead to unnecessary protests, proposal disqualifications and delays.

·        Document submission. Finally, make sure that your prospective vendors understand what documents they need to submit, when you want them and in what format you want them. By doing this you will make the process easier for them since they will know what to do and for you as well since the RFPs you receive will be uniform and so easier to evaluate. The primary documents you will want to see returned in any answer to your RFP include:

o       Proposal Cover Letter. The cover letter you receive should focus on the benefits you will receive rather than the features of the solution being proposed by converting your vision into quantified benefits. The letter should also include material from the proposal itself as well as the time period during which the proposal is valid. Finally, you should also see a brief summary of client references and complete contact information for future correspondence.

o       Executive Summary. A well-crafted executive summary is, first and foremost, a sales pitch. It is a chance to catch the interest of decision-makers quickly so it has to be both informative and persuasive without shifting emphasis from the prospective client to the vendor sending the proposal. That said, executive summaries contain the same three things:

§         A discussion of the problem that makes the reader feel as if the problem is something that needs to be dealt with.

§         A recommended solution and an explanation of its value to the reader that describes how this vendor can solve the reader’s problem and why it is the best solution.

§         Substantiation for that solution gives the reader the reason(s) to go with the vendor’s company for this particular solution. This is where the vendor can really set himself apart from his competition by highlighting unique things like methods or technology, or by offering a short case study or past-client testimonial.

o       Proposal. You have a problem and this is your solution. The key things to remember are that the proposed solution must deal with the entirety of your need, not just bits and pieces; work within your timetable; and work within your cost structure. It should discuss the length of time that the proposal is valid, what the vendor will do if they fail to provide goods and services as agreed and what other terms and conditions they would like to see in the contract. This is a nuts-and-bolts document and should discuss all relevant issues from manufacturing and marketing to legal and regulatory to distribution and operations.

For more information on writing a solid Request for Proposal, see my previous article, “Writing a Convincing Request for Proposal.”