By: Anne Farro and Ellen Jones
PAICR Board Members and 2018 RFP Symposium co-chairs.
We’re crazy about RFPs. Well, maybe just crazy? We guess that’s up for debate! However, between the two of us, we’ve got around 50 years’ experience with writing and proposals.
We’ve seen it all – from desktop printing to PDFing. So we thought it would be valuable to at least document and pass down random observations that we wish someone had shared with us as we were coming along in our careers. We presented these at our recent RFP Symposium where audience participation was amazing and feedback was lively and positive. We laughed, commiserated and debated. Most of all, we enjoyed professional companionship, shared experiences and valuable insights.
For those of you who missed out on the “party”, or would simply welcome a refresh of what was discussed, we’ve set out below the first half of what we rolled out during our Symposium presentation. Stay tuned for installment #2, which will be coming soon.
RFP 101: Random Observations
Professional Technical Writers
As an RFP writer, you’re on the hook for communication, punctuation and grammar.
- Aim for a Flesch-Kincaid grade-level score of about 11th
- Use active voice, ensure verb tense consistency and be precise with your word usage.
- Writers read what they are producing. Do not just cut and paste. Read what you are working on and improve for the purpose (edit, emphasize and rearrange).
Document Process and Procedures
You should have written step-by-step instructions for every team process:
- Completing questionnaires
- Quality checks
- Final reviews and approvals, and
- Content management.
And, make sure everyone follows them to the letter. This helps protect you and the team in all audits (internal and regulatory).
Also, do you publish timelines at the beginning of each document/project? For example, include when a draft is due to sales/compliance and when comments are due back to the team. And hardcopy RFP responses should be mailed two days ahead of the due date.
RFPs are one of the first client-facing interactions with your firm. Make sure you follow brand guidelines. Use the voice of your brand, color palette and approved imagery. This is especially important when you have many SMEs contributing to the document. Sales may own the pitch, but the RFP team should own the wordsmithing.
RFPs are the first customer service test. So:
- Answer the questions asked. If you are hoping some long answer has the answer to the question in it somewhere, you have missed the mark!
- Use the questionnaire’s words and terminology wherever you can. This means use words and terms from the question asked. Swap out terms even if you think the client will understand what you are saying anyway.
- And answer multiple question sets in the order that they are asked. Do not make your readers hunt around.
Be Evaluator Friendly
Newsflash! No one reads an RFP word for word. They scan for anticipated information. So how can you help direct the reader’s attention?
- Be aware of RFP goals and evaluation criteria.
- Use headings and sub-headings to direct your reader’s eye.
- Also you may want to consider pulling out key information into a call out box, or bold the information to make it stand out (do not use italics for this purpose).
Stay tuned for the next installment …