I’ve spent most of my career in what seems to be an ongoing request-for-proposal process; first on the provider side, and now as a buyer. Regardless of which side of the table you sit, I think we all agree that the RFP process is expensive and time consuming. But it’s one that we’re fully invested in, at least until we can find a better way of ensuring a fair and transparent selection process that results in the best decision.

Given the investment made, it’s critical that your RFP response reflects everything you can deliver, but more important, portrays why this capability and experience is important to the potential client. Unfortunately, I’m often disappointed that all the great discussions we’ve had with potential providers pre-RFP are lost in translation, or not referenced in the written RFP response.

From my personal experience, here are some areas to keep in mind when you’re crafting your RFP response.

Speak in the client’s language. Nothing says, “I’ve been listening to you,” more than using the client’s language in the RFP response. Where appropriate, use our acronyms, our naming conventions, our phrasing. It makes it easier for us to read and demonstrates a “connection” with us. On the flip side, make sure the language you use is relevant to our industry, and avoid staffing industry acronyms or jargon.

Be consistent, and be careful with data. Focus on weaving a story throughout your response. Using consistent language, reiterating key themes and connecting the different parts of the response together makes it easier to read and indicates you can take somewhat disparate ideas and create a compelling, holistic story, which gives us comfort that we’ll see the same in your solution and operational delivery. This is where a great bid manager shines. Also, ensure that any data used is consistent. We know you’ll use a library of pre-written responses to certain questions; that’s just the most efficient way to respond to RFPs. But you should ensure that data, particularly numbers, are up to date. Focus on data quality is a key element in any RPO or MSP program.

Answer the unasked question, or highlight questions we should have asked. We often ask open-ended questions, or what seems like a closed question. Sometimes that’s because the question hasn’t been well thought through, but it could also be intentional. If we were in a discussion and your response to my question would likely lead me to ask a follow-up question, feel free to answer that question in an RFP or provide an example for emphasis.

Tell us more about your unique culture and values. The most successful partnerships are between organizations that are aligned. This is critical to us; many providers could deliver the services, but we want providers we enjoy working with and who can push us to improve. Use your responses to help us understand how close that fit is. For example, if the question asks about diversity or internal mobility — because they’re important to us — tell us about practices at your company, not just about what you do for clients. Client examples are great, but your own examples are often better.

Inject your company’s DNA into the language and tone. Beyond culture and values, to differentiate yourself you need to use your company’s unique voice. I’ve seen some fantastic examples where providers have written in such a way that I can tell who wrote the response, even when I covered up any identifying brand names, logos or other overt company references.

Buyers don’t always write the best RFP documents; we’re often so prescriptive that we don’t allow you the flexibility to position your unique strengths and experience in the best light. But we are trying to improve, and much of that improvement comes through feedback after the process, from those of you on the other side of it. I can’t promise we’ll change the age-old RFP process anytime soon, but I can promise that we’ll listen to you.