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Writing Proposals? – Don’t Do it With a Boring Cover Letter

Writing Proposals? – Don’t Do it With a Boring Cover Letter

It’s important to avoid boilerplate for your proposal and the same advice applies for your cover letter.

Unfortunately, too many cover letters lack impact and are ineffective because they are written using the same old tired formula or template that was used before. It’s often either written as an afterthought or based on platitudes for the client and general sales fluff about why you are the best.

Doing it this way is easy and may feel safe because the purpose of the cover letter isn’t well understood. It’s not to repeat information from their RFP document or tell them you acknowledge and will follow the specifications and contracts. Even if you are asked for this type of endorsement, do it in a separate attached letter if possible and leave your cover letter as a tool to win more business.

Don’t waste another opportunity to sell your services. The best reason for a well-structured and well written cover letter is to contribute to your overall proposal strategy, give the right impression and highlight your benefits over the competition.

Regardless of whether the proposal format allows you to include an executive summary, your cover letter should be an even more concise summary of why the client and their evaluators should select you as the winner. Instead of simply being a formality, it should be used as a tool to both sell your company and tell them what you will prove in your proposal about your capabilities and benefits.

While your written proposal response may address everything it needs to, is written to address the needs of the reviewers, matches the evaluation criteria and has enough evidence and examples to demonstrate your abilities, you must set the stage with your cover letter.

Here are seven key tips to consider when writing your cover letters:

  1. Write your cover letter last. Some companies write it first and use it as a guide to the things they want to talk about in the proposal, but if you do that, it’s because you didn’t do a thorough job developing your proposal strategy in the first place. The cover letter isn’t a substitute – first develop your winning strategy, then write your proposal to reflect the strategy and then write your cover letter based on the content and points in your finished proposal.
  2. Don't start your cover letter with platitudes, how happy you are to submit the proposal or a long-winded repetition of the RFP’s objectives or other RFP information such as the purpose and objectives of the RPF exercise. They know all this. What you need to tell them is what they don’t know – about your proposal and why it’s the best. The reviewers want to see what you have to say, not get a repeat of what they've told you.
  3. Cover your key message and their hot buttons. By developing a strategy to win the bid, you will have identified the most important things for your client and identified how you will address the key evaluation criteria. Make sure you mention these in your cover letter.
  4. Be bold but don’t be arrogant. It can be a fine line, but this is your chance to tell the client exactly why your bid is the best. When you outline these attributes, you are actually telling them in advance what they will read – and find evidence for – in your proposal. Giving them this information up-front, instead of making them read through your proposal to hopefully reach the same conclusion, is more effective.
  5. Tell them what to expect from your proposal. If you’ve covered specific things that are important to them, mention it. If you followed the evaluation criteria exactly, tell them that, so they know how easy it will be to score. If you’ve included specific examples of your experience that relate and used real examples of forms, processes, documents, etc., from other clients, let them know.
  6. Use the same techniques you use to write your proposal to guide the reader to the information you want them to see and make it easy for them to read. Even in the cover letter, you should use headings and bullet points instead of a long block of text. While it may not seem like a traditional ‘letter’, it’s more important to be effective than traditional.
  7. Keep it to one page if possible with a 2 page maximum if it’s a very large proposal and you need to cover a broader range of points. To keep it short, you need tight, snappy writing that gets to the point and advances your message instead of fluffy sales language.

By writing your cover letter as a strategic part of your overall proposal instead of something to do because it’s expected, your proposal will have more impact, your message will start with the first thing they read and you will set the tone for their evaluation process.


About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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