From Defeat to Victory: How to Respond to an RFP Letter of Rejection

Kyla Steeves, Content Marketing Manager at Loopio
Kyla Steeves

Did you recently receive an RFP letter of rejection? You’re not alone.

With the average win rate being 44%, most proposal pros are familiar with the sinking feeling of pouring time and effort into an RFP response just to read the dreaded line, “After careful review, we have decided not to proceed with your proposal at this time.” 😨

While a no can be disheartening, there is a silver lining…

Losing an RFP can be a valuable learning opportunity to improve your proposal process (and increase your chance of winning next time). That is—according to Mike Reader, the Director of Work Winning at Mace—if you can take the high road.

Read on to learn Mike’s expert tips for turning this setback into future RFP success:

  1. Understand the real reason behind your loss
  2. Respond to the RFP rejection (example included)
  3. Collect feedback and create an action plan
  4. Avoid common bidding mistakes next time
“Move beyond self-pity and blame, focus on actionable improvements. Successful teams start each new bid with lessons learned from the past.” Mike Reader, Director of Work Winning, Mace
Mike Reader, Director of Work Winning
Mace

Read Between the Lines: Understand the Real Reason Why Your Proposal Lost

According to Loopio’s RFP Trends Report, the most common reasons for losing an RFP are price, product fit, and competitors. And Mike echoes these reasons from what he’s witnessed of other teams.

Top Reasons for Losing RFPs (2021 vs 2022). Price of solution, 55% for 2021, 66% for 2022. Competitor/incumbent, 58% for 2021, 66% for 2022. Product fit, 40% for 2021, 28% for 2022.

However, it’s worth noting that these can often be surface-level explanations from the evaluator (or, your own sales team) and may mask deeper insights. By reading between the lines, you can identify any underlying gaps in your proposal strategy and make necessary adjustments.

Here’s a deeper interpretation if you see one of these reasons in an RFP rejection letter.

  • Reason #1: “You do not meet our budget requirements.”

    Price is undeniably critical in most RFP decisions, particularly in today’s market. However, losing because of a cost conundrum could also mean you failed to effectively communicate your value.

    To ensure your proposal isn’t priced out of the running, focus on crafting strong win themes that clearly show the evaluator why selecting your solution would yield the greatest benefits.

    That said, you can still use price data to test your assumptions and gain insights into where your bid stands in the market. “If you’ve bid on 40 similar projects, you should know where the price should sit,” Mike says. “This can help you understand whether it was a losing factor.”

  • Reason #2: “Your product does not fit our specific needs.”

    Was your proposal rejected due to product fit? It may be a sign you need to amp up the personalization and ditch the cookie-cutter approach.

    That’s because winning an RFP involves crafting a proposal that speaks directly to the client’s unique needs. (Pro tip: don’t skimp on your research and make sure you fully understand the requirements before submitting).

  • Reason #3: “We are moving forward with another vendor.”

    According to Mike, “If an evaluator doesn’t like you, there’s not much you can do to fix that.” While you can’t control subjective biases, reframing bid rejections as a “wrong fit” may help you move on. After all, how can you beat the incumbent when they have history with the client?

    Remember: people buy from people they trust. Since personal preferences heavily influence bid evaluations, fostering a positive relationship from the outset is crucial. To build trust with the client, show genuine interest in their work by asking thoughtful questions, tailor the proposal to their needs, and back up your claims with testimonials from similar customers. 

Follow the Do’s and Don’ts of Responding to an RFP Letter of Rejection

When faced with a rejection letter, it’s essential to handle the situation professionally. Rather than settling for defeat (or seeking vengeance)—the optimal approach is to gain understanding.

How can you do that? Reach out to the evaluator asking for feedback and the factors that led to their decision. When you do, make sure to follow these critical do’s and don’ts.

🚦 Do: Follow the Procurement Legislation

In the UK, where Mike works, there are specific guidelines around which feedback an RFP team can and cannot request after losing a proposal. “You need to understand the procurement framework in which you’re operating and follow that, first and foremost,” says Mike.

🚫 Don’t: Take the Proposal Rejection Personally

It’s pep talk time. Remember, your value as an individual extends far beyond the outcome of a single proposal. While it’s natural to take pride in your work and strive for a win, it’s important to maintain an objective perspective about why the evaluator opted out and avoid tying your self-worth to the success or failure of a single document.

🚦 Do: Be Clear About Your Intentions

Let the evaluator know you value their insights and seek constructive feedback to improve future proposals. Setting this intention will foster a collaborative and open environment, reassuring them you are genuinely interested in their input, not attempting to sway their decision.

Plus, this will help you reflect on your true motivations. Are you looking to soothe the sting of losing the bid or hoping to gather actionable data to drive improvements?

🚫 Don’t: Be Aggressive (Just Assertive) in Your Pursuit for Feedback

The quality of feedback you receive can vary widely, depending on the market and client. Some may provide excessive detail, while others may offer limited insights. “I’ve seen feedback letters that are half a page long and others that are 200 pages long,” Mike says.

It may not always be in the cards to get the analysis you’re hoping for, so take it all in stride. “You could end up burning a bridge if you’re too aggressive in your follow-up, so keep the potential for repeat business in mind.”

🚦 Do: Inspire the Evaluator to Say “Yes”

To increase the likelihood of an evaluator saying yes to a feedback interview, present the opportunity as a chance to contribute to the larger professional community. Emphasize that their expertise will help raise the bar of excellence and innovation in future proposals.

By positioning the feedback interview as a valuable knowledge-sharing opportunity, it becomes a mutually beneficial exchange that goes beyond the immediate proposal and empowers both parties to drive positive change and progress in the realm of RFPs.

How Do You Respond to an RFP Rejection? Copy this Example. 📩

Dear [Evaluator’s Name],

Thank you for considering [Your Company Name] for [Project Name]. While we are naturally disappointed that our proposal didn’t move forward, we value your expertise and would appreciate constructive feedback on our submission.

Since we are firm believers in continuous improvement, your insights would be immensely valuable in helping us refine our approach, strengthen our offerings, and better align with the needs of clients like yourself. Plus, raise the bar for the industry as a whole. 

Specifically, we are eager to learn where our proposal fell short and how we can improve in the future. By understanding the reasons behind your decision, we can make the necessary adjustments and enhance our competitiveness in similar opportunities.

Are you available for a feedback interview on [Date and Time]?

Participating in this RFP process has been a true privilege. Thank you once again for your time and consideration. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sincerely, 

[Your Name] 

[Your Company Name]

Turn RFP Losses Into Future Wins With Strategic Briefing

Congratulations. 🎉 You’ve successfully secured the evaluator’s participation in a feedback interview. Make the most of this opportunity by preparing thoughtful questions, debriefing internally, and creating an action plan that propels your response strategy forward.

1. Collect Valuable Feedback From the Evaluator

Whether you’re conducting the feedback interview or an objective third-party from your organization, show up prepared to extract maximum value from the interaction.

With the right set of questions, you can unlock a wealth of information, such as the evaluator’s overall impression of your proposal, their perception of your solution compared to your competitors, and the most significant factors that influenced their decision.

For a deep dive into the RFP evaluator’s mind, ask these questions in your follow-up conversation or email:

  1. What was your impression after reading our proposal?
  2. What did we do in the RFP process that you liked?
  3. How did you feel about our solution overall?
  4. At what point did you know we were (or weren’t) the right fit for you?
  5. Which alternative solution, if any, did you choose over ours?
  6. What was the biggest consideration for your decision?
  7. What’s one thing you’d advise us to change in our proposal?

2. Debrief Internally With Your RFP Team

It’s not just the evaluator who holds valuable insights—your RFP team also has a unique vantage point. With their deep involvement from start to submission, they can provide crucial observations about process efficiency, proposal quality, and overall challenges.

But the secret here is to tap into this collective brainpower before your RFP team knows the outcome of the RFP. “People lose the will to do a postmortem after everything’s said and done,” Mike says. “If you’ve lost the bid, it’s easy to focus on negative feedback; if you’ve won, it may feel like there’s nothing left to learn.”

By rehashing the proposal process before receiving the RFP letter of rejection, your team can be more honest and objective about lessons learned.

3. Track Feedback Through a Win/Loss Analysis

Feedback from evaluators can vary, with one emphasizing the generic nature of your RFP response while another praising your deep understanding of their needs. Similarly, there may be rare instances where your team rushed the proposal because of competing priorities.

To effectively act upon feedback, consider its frequency. By tracking feedback over time through an in-depth win/loss analysis, you can identify recurring themes in areas that require improvement, ensuring you don’t take unnecessary action on isolated incidents.

4. Own the Learnings With a Clear Action Plan

The best shot you have at increasing your win rate is to translate your learnings into actionable steps. “Focus on how to take this information to improve on the next RFP,” says Mike. “Consider a) what action are we going to take, and b) who will take responsibility?”

Once your team understands which measures to implement, assign ownership to ensure accountability and progress toward future wins. (Psst…you can start on the right foot for the next RFP by looking back at lessons learned from previous bids during the kick-off meeting.)

Break the Cycle: Steer Clear of Common Bidding Mistakes

Even the most experienced RFP teams are susceptible to repeat common bidding mistakes. That’s because it’s all too easy to become complacent in your proposal process, to fall into patterns that hinder success (you might not even know you’re doing them).

By proactively avoiding the following pitfalls (which Mike has witnessed far too often), you can break free from the cycle and pave the way for triumph.

  • Not Spending Enough Time Planning Content

    “It pays dividends to spend time workshopping your content library,” says Mike. “Some teams rush straight into writing. But the more planning you do upfront, in terms of storyboarding, analyzing the client, and doing proper reviews, the better your outcome will be.”

  • Taking a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Proposals

    Reusing past RFP answers can save you time on the first pass, but there’s a danger of using this tactic as a shortcut to deliver a boilerplate proposal. Remember, if you’re not investing the time and effort to tailor your response to each unique opportunity, a competitor will.

  • Bidding Just to Get In Front of the Evaluator

    Some RFP teams pursue bids even when they think that winning is unlikely. Like hoping for a lottery jackpot, it’s as if there’s a misguided belief that any response is better than none at all. But here’s the truth: “All that results is the evaluator realizes you’re not as good as competitors.”

    Instead of putting your company’s name and reputation on the line, “You should only bid if you believe you can win it—if you’ve got a strong position and a strategy to win,” Mike says.

Losing an RFP Can Always Lead to a Future Win

If there’s one message you can walk away with after receiving an RFP letter of rejection, it’s this: losing an RFP presents a golden opportunity for growth and improvement.

Embrace the loss as a chance to initiate meaningful conversations, improve your response strategy, and make a long-lasting impression on the evaluator. After all, they may eventually reopen the bid or join the procurement team at another organization looking for the same solution. And your company will be top of mind. 😇

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