5 Winning RFP Responses and Why They Worked – Part Three

If you read Winning RFP Responses and Why They Worked parts one and two, then your understanding of the RFP process is nearly complete. Due to your efforts, your next proposal is likely to be a comprehensive and compelling masterpiece of creativity. 

Consequently, your team feels confident. After all, your firm is the most qualified to win the project. The only thing left to do is slap a cover letter on top of your proposal and send it in for submission… right? 

Wrong. The last thing you want to do is staple an outdated cover letter to the proposal that your team has labored over for days, weeks, even months. Fortunately, this third installment of 5 Winning RFP Responses and Why They Worked explores proposal cover letters in detail, including tips for writing a winning cover letter and several sample RFP cover letter examples. 

AEC Project Proposal Examples, RFP Cover Letters and Writing Tips for Proposal Writers 

Before we delve into the specific details of your cover letter, we need to clarify some things about the subject of your proposal, i.e. the client. Contrary to popular belief, your proposal is not a sales pitch and your firm should not be the subject. 

Rather, the subject of your proposal should be the client, specifically their problem/challenge and how your firm plans to solve it. Thus, every section of your proposal should be focused, free of fluff and formatted in a way that is easy for the client to read and understand. 

  • Stay Focused – Avoid tangents that divert from the customer’s problem and the solution you deliver.
  • Keep it Short and Free of Filler ⁠- Remember that the client is on a fact-finding mission to find the best vendor for their project. They are not interested in your sales pitch. 
  • Stick to the Project Scope – Remove any information that isn’t immediately relevant; save the upsell for later, and stick to the specific scope of the project so you don’t confuse the reader. 

What is a Proposal Cover Letter

More often than not, the bid for a highly coveted building project boils down to two firms with nearly identical credentials, experience and track record. The winning firm is ultimately chosen due to a single factor – they submitted a better proposal than everyone else. 

So it goes in the ultra-competitive world of AEC projects, where firms that consistently produce outstanding proposals have a clear edge in winning new business. But what makes one proposal superior to another? 


Definition: A proposal cover letter is a single page document that precedes the accompanying RFP response or business proposal. Addressed to the prospective customer, the cover letter is designed to introduce your firm and its services to the potential client. More than a formality, proposal cover letters are a powerful tool to amplify your message and guide the client closer to choosing your firm for the project. 


It isn’t the subject matter, or the design of the proposal that wins over a potential client. It’s the concise and compelling nature of the cover letter that persuades the reader to continue with the rest of the proposal.

What Does an RFP Cover Letter Do

The goal of an AEC proposal cover letter is to make a good first impression, create a human connection and let the customer know you truly understand their problem. The best way to do that is to imbue your cover letter with enthusiasm, understanding and creativity. 

  • Share Your Enthusiasm – Show the client that your firm is excited about the prospect of being a part of their future success.
  • Restate the project’s known objectives – Show the client that your firm understands the goals of the project and the vision of the client.
  • Paint a Picture of Your Solution – Show the client how your service/solution solves their problem and makes their job easier. Make it all about them.

The key to writing a compelling cover letter is to introduce the client to how you work, outline the structure of your offer and instill the client with a sense of your process. The best way to do this is to guide the reader through your processes with a series of next steps. 

Proposal Writing Tip: Never leave it up to chance. Always tell the reader exactly what they should do next if they want to move forward with your proposal. This article on How to Provide a Frictionless User Experience has everything you need to create a smooth, bump-free user journey for their customer.

Cover Letter Components

As the first section of your proposal, your cover letter is likely to be seen – not read – by a lot of different people, anyone of which might toss your proposal in the trash for seemingly insignificant reasons, like formatting errors, misspellings and the overall length of the proposal. 

It is, therefore, essential that every part of your proposal illustrate the best possible representation of your firm. This can be a challenge, considering the brief and concise nature of the single page cover letter. 

The best way to overcome this challenge is to fall back on your writing skills, utilizing brevity and creativity to make your letter resonate with the reader in a way that compels them to move to the next section of your proposal. Start with the addresses. 

  1. Addressees – Often overlooked, the addresses of your cover letter are the ones who will inevitably choose whether to move forward with your form or not. It is, therefore, essential that your cover letter is addressed to the right people. 
  1. Greeting and Introduction – This section should introduce your company to the buyer’s key decision makers and any others reviewing or scoring your bid. Be conversational, genuine and confident ⁠— but not salesy. 
  1. Summary of RFP Needs – This section should offer an overview of your understanding of the company’s needs.
  1. Qualifications and Differentiators – Clearly state why your business is uniquely qualified to win the RFP opportunity.  
  1. Thank You and Closing – If possible, express your vision for the future partnership and how you can help the business reach its goals. Don’t forget to follow the customer’s instructions if they ask you to include specific information in the cover letter.

Sample RFP Cover Letter Sections and Explanations

The following sections delve into the individual components of your proposal cover letter, with examples taken from real-life proposals. 

Addresses 

Make a positive first impression by addressing your cover letter to the right person/s. If you don’t know to whom you should address your cover letter, get in touch with the RFP contact and ask for the names of the key contacts who will weigh in on the decision. This may be a committee of people or a combination of procurement professionals, stakeholders and executives. 

By specifically addressing the proposal cover letter to the key contacts, you make a quick connection and instantly improve the chances that they’ll actually read the bid proposal cover letter and your subsequent proposal. 

This attention to detail reinforces the idea that not only are you a good fit based on your qualifications, but you’re also invested in developing deeper relationships. You’re in it to be a strategic partner, not just another vendor. 

Greeting

An appropriate salutation is specific and sets the tone for the rest of your cover letter, demonstrating your attention to detail and making your proposal stand out. Try to establish a personal connection by addressing the RFP contact directly. 

If you have their full name but aren’t sure of their gender, begin with “Dear” followed by their first and last name. Even if you know their gender, this is always a safe option.

Proposal Writing Tip: Avoid using impersonal greetings like “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”, as they are outdated, overly formal and impersonal. 

Introduction

Once the letter has been addressed, it’s time to move on to the introduction and greeting, where you introduce your team.

Summary

Here is a place where it is beneficial to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Chances are, they are extremely busy. They’re likely to skim your proposal cover letter—which is why you should focus on making it memorable. Use it to create a connection to your prospect and capture their attention early in the proposal.

Try to capture the reader early by relating to them in some way. If they are a current client, leverage your relationship. If not, demonstrate a clear understanding of what they need with a summary of the RFP needs. It’s also beneficial to include something specific and complimentary about the business. 

Qualifications

Your cover letter should also include a brief section describing the experience and qualifications of your team to prove that your proposal deserves the readers full attention and consideration. 

The best cover letters also include a success story with a similar client, or team member to boost credibility. Be warned, a great success story is not an excuse to forgo brevity. Keep it short and concise. 

Share how the partnership has been mutually rewarding, how you’ve delivered a great customer experience and/ or how you’ve been able to proactively solve problems. By doing so you reinforce your understanding of their business and their goals.

Conclusion

Though the cover letter should be friendly, relatable and genuine; it should also be closing. In other words, your cover letter should conclude with a call to action, wherein you state the action that the reader should take next, and who they can contact to follow up. 

With its structure and specific components, the cover letter shown above is a great example of a standard cover letter. It meets all of the basic requirements and even includes a small story about a team member, but that’s it. 

Cover Letter Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Whether or not the above mentioned cover letter led to a successful proposal remains a mystery, but lacking creativity and personalization, we can assume that a firm with a better, more compelling cover letter won the day. 

How can we make that assumption? We can assume that this cover letter did not lead to a winning proposal because it lacks:

  1. Originality and Creativity, 
  2. Eye-catching Formatting,
  3. Powerful Messaging, 
  4. Recognizable Branding, and 
  5. A Compelling Call to Action. 

Absent these elements, the above cover letter is little more than a dust jacket for the subsequent proposal, which is, in all likelihood, bound for the reject pile with all of the other forgettable proposals. Here is the above cover letter in its entirety. 

Notice how quickly your eyes begin to skim sentences, bouncing over the symbol-filled text to land on the parts that are seemingly easier to read. 

The formatting is also extra-wide, which has the effect of drawing the eye to the far reaches of the page with no imagery or visual elements to break up the monotony. The result is a cover letter and proposal that is quickly forgotten.

If you don’t believe us, we challenge you to recall the subject of the letter submitted above without giving it a second read through. 

How to Write a Better RFP Cover Letter Than the Competition

So, how do you write a cover letter that is better than all of the others? The trick to writing a a memorable cover letter is to imbue it with a sense of originality, creativity and a powerful message that not only compels the reader, but enthralls them to the following sections of your proposal. 

It’s a tall order, but with some basic writing skills and the following best practices, you can write a powerful cover letter that embeds your firm in the mind of the client and drives your proposal to the top of the pile.  

Read the Entire RFP Before You Start

Baking a cake and writing a cover letter are similar in that a simple omission can lead to failure. That’s why quality bakers and quality proposal writers read the instructions carefully from start to finish before they begin. 

While reading the RFP, take note of any recurring themes, like “quality of design” and “ease of use” or the emphasis of certain features and functionalities.

  • Why is the client investing in the project? (revitalization, aging infrastructure, etc.)
  • Who is sponsoring the project, i.e. ​where is the funding coming from? 
  • What are the hot-button issues regarding the project?
  • What is the desired end-result?
  • How can you appeal to the client? (green initiatives, aesthetics, budget, etc.)

Capture the Client’s Attention Early

Odds are, your client is extremely busy. Most are likely to skim your proposal cover letter, which is why you should make it as memorable and original as possible. The goal is to create a connection with the client and capture their attention early in the proposal.

This cover letter does a terrific job of not only capturing the reader’s attention, but also highlighting the world’s focus on the environmental challenges faced by the client’s county and the significant financial loss that is at stake if they were to delay. 

Utilize Eye-Catching Formatting and Design

The effect of the climate narrative/warning applied so early in the letter is amplified by the focus-grabbing formatting and visual elements. Notice how the eye is drawn directly to the brightly-colored pending threat of sea level rise without leaving the body of the text.

This effect is repeated throughout the document, drawing the reader’s attention to the areas of the text that the writer deems most important. 

Never Combine Different Sections

Unfortunately, this cover letter fails the remainder of the formatting test, as it far exceeds the maximum one page limit for proposal cover letters. 

With three pages of densely formatted text, this proposal also falls prey to a common issue – it combines sections of the proposal that should be independent, in this case the cover letter, executive summary and project approach. 

Use Clear, Competitive Win Themes

Fortunately, the following sample cover letter not only exemplifies brevity, it also uses clear and competitive win themes to instill the reader with confidence in the firm’s ability to successfully implement their proposed solution. 

Notice the use of positive keywords and phrases like “opportunity”, “exceptional”, and “giving back”, all of which invoke a sense of shared purpose and highlight their commitment to improving the local community. 

Capitalize on Each Section

The above sample cover letter also does a terrific job of capitalizing on each section, using formatting and keywords to draw the reader to the middle of the document where they showcase all the reasons the client should choose them for the project. 

Close With a Strong Call to Action

Last but not least, the above sample cover letter closes with a strong call to action, wherein they not only inform the reader of next steps, but also remind them of the firm’s ability to exceed expectations in terms of cost, schedule and quality.

Resources for AEC Marketers and Proposal Writers

This guide on how to create a winning cover letter concludes our series on how to craft a winning RFP response. Armed with the information and examples provided above, AND the resources provided below, you have everything you need to:

Unfortunately, this guide can’t help you find, share and utilize the digital assets you need to create a winning AEC proposal. For that, you need OpenAsset. Designed specifically for firms in the built world, OpenAsset makes it easier to share and manage the multitude of digital assets needed to create winning proposals like the ones featured here. 

Don’t forget to contact OpenAsset today to schedule a demo of the only martech solution designed specifically for firms in the built world.

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