Crush Your Cover Letter on Every Request for Proposal

Note: This is a guest post from one of our proposal consultants, Chris!

Anyone who has ever applied for a job is familiar with the formal cover letter. Or at least we hope so. A quality cover letter can help you stand out from a field of candidates for any given job. But did you know cover letters matter just as much for winning business through RFPs? That’s right—and we’ve touched on the topic before, but here is a deeper dive as to why cover letters mean so much for your prospects. Consider what most prospects see when they open an RFP response:

“Dear Mr. Smith, attached is our proposal. We look forward to hearing from you.”

That’s a missed selling and positioning opportunity. 

Much like an executive summary, a cover letter is one of the first things prospects will read. The good and bad part is that you have a lot of freedom of what goes into that intro. This means, as a bidder, you can include whatever you want. Cover letters are rarely required in an RFP but should always be sent unless the RFP specifically says not to send one. 

What to Include in an RFP Cover Letter

Don’t worry about including much technical language in your RFP cover letter. In fact, don’t include much about your overall solution—that’s what the RFP response itself is for.

In your cover letter, think about what the prospect is buying. The prospect is buying the benefit, not the solution itself. So speak to how the technical solution provides tangible benefits to the prospect. If you really need to speak “technically” then keep it very high-level. This could be a graphic or a couple of bullet points, but keep it as high-level as possible and have a reference to it in the proposal. (i.e. “More information on our network architecture is provided on page XX.”). Make the language very easy to understand, and accentuate the benefits while also enticing the reader to actually open the proposal.

Stand Apart from the Rest

Many bidders merely use the basic cover letter as discussed earlier, so a cover letter that actually has a benefit statement, proof points, testimonial, etc. will stand out from the others simply by inclusion. A basic, lackluster introduction could give the wrong impression to any reader:

  • “This is so boring. They clearly didn’t put in any effort here, and they didn’t think highly enough of us to customize this to us.”
  • “I see these competitors’ cover letters talk about benefits and what they can do for me, so now I have to wonder if this company can also provide this benefit. Before I read the proposal, I already had some doubts.”

Finally, just like a proposal itself, a cover letter will help you stand out if you harp on differentiators. What can you offer that no one else can? How can you mirror competitor’s weaknesses with grace and style? When done right, a cover letter will set you apart.

Thoughts to Consider

Consider the following points as you and your team approach any given cover letter in the months and years ahead.

  • Avoid introductions such as “we’re pleased to provide” or “we thank you.” Cliched phrases convey emptiness and lack of effort on your part.
  • A cover letter can highlight an outline or table of contents (TOC) for the ensuing RFP. Many proposals have separate files or binders and need a central place that outlines where the reader can review certain information. If there is no master TOC elsewhere in the proposal, the cover letter is a good place to have a high-level TOC.
  • Bonus points if you have a high-ranking individual sign the bottom of your cover letter. A proposal signed by an executive communicates the proposal is important to the bidder. It also provides the prospect with the knowledge they can reach out to someone in authority—someone who can act on behalf of the bidder, sign a contract, etc. It demonstrates the bidder is 100% ready and dedicated to winning the business.

Lastly, be sure to NAIL that subject line at the beginning. It’s the first thing they’ll read and you know how we feel about first impressions. Happy cover letter writing!