I recently reviewed a number of Request for Qualifications (RFQ) submissions for a client. One of the proposals stood out, but not for the right reasons. They chose to use an odd sized paper format, not the standard letter size everyone else used and is the standard in North America.

In defense of the bidder, the RFQ didn’t specify the size of paper, but just like if you’re trying to be being overly creative with your resume’s paper color, you may not get attention for the reasons you want – your experience and capability – unless you’re trying for a  job that requires visual creativity.

When asked by one of the other evaluators what I thought, my first response was ‘it’s annoying’. The format was a little awkward and how the material was positioned on the papers made it harder to read and absorb. It didn’t even fit propoerly in the box I used to carry the RFQ’s.

The simple question is whether that kind of creativity will get you the attention you want, or if it will be distracting. While a good looking, well presented RFQ or RFP proposal document is important  to convey professionalism and reflect the attention to detail you use when serving the client, being overly creative may not be the best way to approach it. I don’t think it’ll lose you business on it’s own, unless you failed to follow their mandatory format, but in a competitive climate, you need everything to count for you in an evaluation, not against you.

Just like considering the audience when writing  content for your proposal, you need to consider the audience for the look and feel of your submission. If you are submitting a bid for a highly creative service, like advertising or web design and a creative presentation demonstrates your capabilities, go for it. If your audience – the client or evaluators – are a traditional group and fancy, creative presentation of your submission doesn’t have much to do with your service or how the client will evaluate you, don’t do it.

In my book, “Win More Business … Write Better Proposals”, I’ve compiled comments from real buyers and evaluators for one of the chapters. Here are some of the comments, specific to the format of your Request For Proposal submission:

  • When a bidder doesn’t follow the format or the order of the questions in the RFP request, they probably just used boilerplate and didn’t care enough about the business to customize it.
  • When they don’t follow the format, it makes the evaluation very tough – they shouldn’t make evaluators do the work for them.
  • Answer everything that’s asked for in the order it was asked – there may be a reason.
  • I really like to read bids that follow the format given and answers exactly what was asked for.
  • You should reiterate the question briefly and then answer it – tell the reader what the section will contain and then follow it. If you need to provide additional information, tell us what and why.
  • Respond in the format we provide, since that’s usually how we have our analysis set up. Any other response makes more work for us and taints the perception of you as a supplier.
  • We appreciate it when the service provider respects the format we’ve asked them to follow. Every so often they do something different, but it doesn’t usually work.

The bottom line is that everything matters, even if it contributes to your evaluation score in a very limited way. Evaluators are human and seemingly minor things can impact how they score you, even if it’s subconscious. You win more business by paying attention to these things.

Our Book "Win More Business - Write Better Proposals". is now available at Amazon in many countries, including the USA , Canada, UK, Japan, Germany and France. You can also order it directly from the author on this website