Cover letters are one of the most important documents you'll write and include in your proposals, although they are often an afterthought to most proposal submittals. A cover letter is the first impression of your proposal. How you tell your story in your cover letter demonstrates you have a critical understanding of all the data you've acquired over the past months prior to the RFP being released. In this post, we'll talk more about how to write a winning cover letter and not bore the selection committee member reading it in the process.
Differentiators and Win Themes
If you've ever gone to a play or participated in theatre, you know that people don't show up to watch a play so that they can listen to actors read the lines. They show up to see the subtext. Audiences are interested in how the lines are said and the actors' choices when delivering these lines. When you write a cover letter, you're trying to give more subtext to the overall proposal. Your client understands their own challenges on the project and what the project basically entails, but how are you going to deliver a solution to your client in a way that sets you apart from your competitors? A win them is developed from your differentiator. Great cover letters introduce a win theme in the cover letter and then carry it out through the rest of the proposal.
Keep it Short and Sweet
RFPs often include a laundry list of requirements to submit. The cover letter is your opportunity to shine and spotlight key areas of concern the client may have brought up during the project discovery period. However, you need to do all of this on one page. Trying to summarize all of the key elements of what your company can bring to a project in one page is by no means easy. As Mark Twain said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Perhaps this explains why most marketing and business development professionals put off writing the cover letter to the very end – it's one of the more challenging elements to write in a proposal despite being one of the shortest. Here is a basic format that will work for most of the cover letters you will write:
- Thank the client for the opportunity to submit by showing them you know something about them!
- Summarize the problem the client is facing and your solution.
- Introduce win themes or three supporting reasons your firm is the best to solve the problem.
- Close the letter by restating your desire to work with the client.
Repeating Your Win Theme Throughout the Proposal
After you delineate your differentiators and win theme in your cover letter, make sure you continue to reiterate them throughout the rest of your proposal. Often, selection committees review certain components of your proposal based on their expertise and may choose to neglect others. If you are consistent and point out your key differentiators throughout your proposal, it will help your proposal stand out from your competitors no matter which selection committee member is reading it.
Interested in learning more about cover letters?
Here are a few more resources for you:
- Check out a recent podcast by Lindsay Diven and Peter J. Kienle, FSMPS, CPSM Episode 57 "Write a Persuasive AEC Proposal Cover Letter."
- Allison Tivon (Middle of Six) in her SMPS SERC session discussed three types of audiences: "Skimmers, swimmers, and deep divers" and the cover letter needs to speak to all three. Sometimes we tend to dwell on the deep divers thinking that our selection committees dive into content the way we do.