Responding to an RFx is really an attempt to communicate your unique value proposition to the client. A combination of price, use cases, benefits and painkillers that actually meet your client’s needs. The copy you use is extremely important, but in this blog, we will talk about the format for presenting your information. Specifically, we are going to discuss the benefits of mirroring and the way you go about doing it.
Mirroring is a method of formatting where you pull out the questions and concerns of your client’s RFP and put the client’s text directly into your response. There are several reasons this can be effective for your proposal, including readability, completeness, and simplicity.
The primary reason for doing so is to improve readability. As we have discussed in another blog your document will rarely be read from cover to synopsis. Mirroring allows the reader to section off the areas that they will find valuable in making their choice. This saves them considerable time and since they recognize the text they put in, they can easily judge if you, in fact, fulfilled the requirement.
A secondary reason is that it provides an abridged checklist against the requirements of the RFP. By placing the questions in your text, you can quickly review if you have addressed all the requirements. This also allows stakeholders to easily view the overall completion of the document in between project updates.
A final reason for mirroring is the ease it creates. You should never use a standardized response to an RFP. Mirroring allows you to create a quick unique layout for the document without needing to create a brand-new format each time. An additional benefit that goes along with customization is that by mirroring you demonstrate that you read and understood the client’s request.
So now that we have established the value of mirroring, how do we go about it? What should be mirrored and how do we do it?
The first step is always to review the layout/format requirements set out in the RFP. Those items need to be identified and placed in the document first. Once that is done, the next step is to mark additional layout items in the primary review.
In the primary review phase, the proposal manager (PM) responsible for the assembly of the document should mark any questions, requirements, concerns or items of note in the document. Examples include any questions asked in the RFP (explicit or implicit), any requirements for specific business factors (insurance, legal, permitting, size, ownership, etc.), terms and conditions which must be met, and any requirements for the product/service being requested.
Once an item is marked, the PM will examine it again and pull out the MINIMUM text needed to fully understand the question or issue. This can result in a few words to a full paragraph. If more than a paragraph is being pulled you can look at summarization.
Chapters, headings and sections should be mirrored as well. If for example, an RFP has sections 1 to 4 and 1 is the Scope of Work, sections 2, and 3, are background information and RFP submission guidelines and four is the technical requirements. I would create a document with a Cover Letter, Index, and Executive Summary, then Section 1 which responded to the Scope of Work (perhaps with just a Read and Understood), A Section 3 which highlights any Submission guideline questions and then Section 4 which highlights the technical requirements. Then follow that with any additional sections I wish to add to highlight my value in delivering a solution. Some people will feel odd skipping section 2 but in general, I find that outside of the index this method rarely impacts readability and in fact improves retention by parties when we are in the contracting phase.
One caveat is poorly designed RFXs. RFXs that have extremely odd layouts, have been cobbled together from several different companies, or are cut and pasted from previous RFXs fall into this category. If mirroring these closely will create reader fatigue or confusion, it is important to take a moment and group them together effectively. You can still pull direct text for each section. What I often do is use a generic heading for the section that closely resembles their headings but then I make a point in the smaller text to identify which sections of the RFP I have created this section from (often using a subheading so it can be read from the index if appropriate).
Mirroring is an incredibly powerful way of presenting information to maximize readability. While initially, it can seem clunky over time you will be surprised at how much easier it makes the RFP formatting, while improving the quality of your response.