THE RFPIO BLOG

Start Responding Like a Pro

The RFPIO blog is full of insights and best practices, giving you the tools you’ll need to streamline your process and respond with confidence.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

RFP management best practices

RFP management best practices

“You have to have a plan, or else you’re just creating a recipe for chaos.” ~ David Brooks What is […]


RFP management best practices

RFP management best practices

“You have to have a plan, or else you’re just creating a recipe for chaos.” ~ David Brooks

What is your first instinct when an RFP lands on your desk? Do you push it aside in favor of more urgent matters? Do you dive right in, or do you already have a strategy in place?

New York Times columnist David Brooks might not have been talking about RFP management, but as with many things, having an RFP management plan, a strategy, can mean the difference between winning your bid and chaos. 

What is RFP management?

At the highest level, RFP management is about managing the process of responding to proposal requests from start (even before receiving the RFP) to finish. Responsibilities vary from organization to organization, but the goals are the same, which is to win new business. 

At their core, RFP response is about answering how you will address a prospect’s requirements, but a good response goes far beyond giving rote answers. Using carefully curated and fresh content, the response should tell a story demonstrating that you understand the customer’s needs and how to best address them. 

RFP management includes leveraging company resources, such as subject matter experts (SMEs), existing data, and of course processes. If you consistently provide quality answers to RFPs, your win rate will increase. Below are the best practices we and our customers use to drive revenue and elevate win rates. 

Bid for RFPs strategically

There’s strength in numbers, right? The more RFPs you answer, the more you’ll win, right? Probably not. Some of the RFPs you receive aren’t a good fit for your company, so why waste time and resources on those? 

Tools such as RFPIO’s AI-powered content library, which answers up to 80% of an RFP’s questions, makes answering an RFP much faster and less resource-intensive. But if you know going in that you won’t win the bid, or you can’t service it, you’re still wasting valuable time and resources. Is the bid winnable? Follow these steps to narrow down which RFPs you should respond to. 

  • Do you have a preexisting relationship with the customer? Did they specifically choose to send it to you, or are they using a buckshot approach? A previous relationship—or when the issuer has done their own research—will dramatically improve your win rate over the RFPs that are automatically sent to everyone in your industry.
  • Is your company a fit? If you can’t service the customer’s needs, there’s no reason to answer their RFP.
  • Can you address all of the challenges presented in the RFP? Or at the very least, the most important ones?
  • Is your pricing within the customer’s budget? No, money isn’t everything, and often, features and ability to meet the RFP’s challenges will win out. However, if your solution is far outside of the customer’s budget, it’s a tough hill to climb and efforts will be best spent elsewhere.
  • Can you meet the prospect’s timeline? Can you meet the submission deadline? What about each deliverable? Can your organization fulfill all of the requirements on time?
  • Do you know why the RFP was issued? This could help determine the customer’s pain points.

First you should identify and consult with your SMEs. If you haven’t won similar bids before, or if you’d have a difficult time fulfilling the requirements, you might be better off passing on that particular opportunity. 

Have a clearly-defined RFP team

Regardless of whether your organization has a proposal management team or proposal management is the purview of the sales team or even a single person, there should always be a person who’s ultimately in charge. 

From there, the team might vary depending on the customer’s needs and your company’s organizational structure. Titles are often used interchangeably and can mean different things to different organizations. 

The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) membership roster includes more than 1,300 different job titles. You might have a dedicated proposal management team, but they may need to involve additional SMEs and stakeholders such as the executive team, legal, HR, information security, training and implementation, sales, customer success, account managers, IT, operations, finance, etc. Each organization is different, but proposal management team roles might include the following: 

  • Bid (or project) manager — The bid manager leads the proposal management team and is involved in every stage of the bid process.
  • Proposal manager — The proposal manager works on a more granular level than the bid manager. Proposal managers oversee the entire process.
  • Proposal writer — The proposal writer is responsible for responding to the customer’s requirements in a persuasive style that includes relevant information such as case studies and other differentiators.
  • Proposal coordinator — The proposal coordinator is responsible for the administrative aspects of the response, including coordinating the internal flow, schedules, security and integrity, and directing submission of final documents.
  • Proposal editor — The proposal editor ensures that the writing is high quality, persuasive, and maintains a consistent voice. They also check grammar, spelling, punctuation, and format consistency.
  • Content manager — The content manager is responsible for adding to, maintaining, and periodically reviewing the content library. 

In many organizations however, all of these roles are being filled by only a few individuals or even one, which means those individuals often wear a lot of hats. Be sure to have actionable deliverables to ensure that each person contributing to the response has clear expectations. This applies even if there’s a single contributor. 

Fully understand the customer’s expectations

There’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter RFP or customer. It’s critical to fully understand a customer’s specific wants and expectations before attempting to answer their RFP. For example, don’t mention features that don’t matter to the customer, such as niche certifications that don’t apply.  Start with what interests the issuer and then tailor your responses to those interests.

Read between the lines in trying to understand customer pain points. For example, if a customer asks a software developer if they offer user-based pricing, rather than answer “yes” or “no,” ask yourself why a customer might ask that. Perhaps they’ve reached limitations with other systems, or there’s a competitor that offers a more appealing pricing structure.

Determine how you stand out from your competitors, which of course can include cost, but it can also include product or service quality, expertise, customer service, and overall reputation. 

Manage and organize RFP content

As baseball icon Babe Ruth once said, “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” Similarly, yesterday’s answers don’t win today’s RFPs, even if you’ve won that exact same RFP for the exact same customer in the past. Why? Because as your business changes, so should the content. 

When you search your content library, you might find hundreds or even thousands of relevant Q&A pairs. Weeding through them might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Managing and organizing your content library should be an ongoing process, but there are some things you can do right now to help whittle down your Q&A pairs. The key is to focus on quality rather than quantity. You should regularly audit your content library for:

Accuracy – If, for example, you inadvertently lowball the bid, you could be contractually obligated to honor that pricing. Additionally, if you erroneously claim regulatory compliance, your organization could be held responsible for data breaches, etc. In other words, accuracy is critical, as is regularly auditing your content library to archive outdated information and update as applicable. 

Content availability – RFPs are bulky and time consuming, and most organizations are stretched thin. Finding the correct answer quickly is critical. An updated content library lets you easily find the right information without having to sift through thousands of documents and megabits of data.

Naming and tagging – Establish a standardized naming convention for each project. Not only does that make the content more accessible to each team member, it helps you find customer-specific content for future requests. You can further narrow down the content by tagging. How you want to tag is up to your company. Many choose tagging by industry or general requirements. This can help dramatically narrow down your content.

Keep content up-to-date

The best way to get around content bloat is to avoid it in the first place. Perform regular audits to keep your content fresh. 

  • Is the content still current?
  • Is the content accurate?
  • Are the answers relevant to your customers?
  • Is the content well-written?
  • Does the content match your company’s voice and tone?
  • Is the content easily accessible?

Regularly scheduled audits might not be enough, though, especially if your company goes through pricing, service, or regulatory changes. 

RFPIO response management software is a proven tool to increase RFP win rates and help you keep your content up to date. If you’d like to learn more about how you can win more by doing less, schedule a demo

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Closing a sales deal is a big win. And that’s especially true for businesses selling complex products to other businesses. It takes a lot of work to reach the point where a team of buyers is ready to invest in your product. 

But beyond the point where a prospect says “yes,” a sale could still go wrong. If a new client has trouble making your product work with the technology and systems they already use, then the hard work your salespeople put into landing that deal could be wasted. To avoid that, many companies now have multiple teams involved in the sales process: the traditional sales team we’re all familiar with and presales professionals who play a crucial role. 

But for anyone new to the concept of presales, or still trying to figure out where a presales team would fit in, you may wonder what the difference between sales and presales actually is. 

Sales vs. presales: The short answer

The main difference between sales and presales is that sales is responsible for developing customer relationships. In contrast, presales is involved in helping with the technological side of the sales process. Sales is concerned with the customer fit—ensuring a lead falls within your target audience and is likely to buy. Presales is concerned with the solution fit—ensuring your product is a good solution for the customer’s pain points. 

While the two roles are distinct, they’re both important. 

What is presales?

The B2B sales process is long, complicated, and often too much for a salesperson to handle alone. A presales team takes on a number of steps to allow the sales team more time to focus on building the relationship with prospective customers. 

In particular, presales engineers handle parts of the sales process that involve advanced technical knowledge. It’s their job to understand the product well enough to grasp precisely where it will fit into a customer’s tech stack and answer any technical features and implementation questions. Your typical sales representative doesn’t necessarily have the specialized training for that. Presales enables them to do their jobs more effectively and ensures they don’t inadvertently mislead customers about technological features they may not understand. 

Common presales responsibilities

Each company can work out how to break down responsibilities between sales and presales. There’s no one right answer here. But to give you an idea of the kind of work presales professionals typically take on, some common responsibilities include:

  • Sending discovery emails
  • Setting up and/or joining discovery calls
  • Hosting demos
  • Providing proof of concept
  • Drafting sales proposals
  • Working on RFPs (requests for proposals)
  • Completing security questionnaires
  • Helping with instance configuration and setup
  • Building documents for sales and other teams that support a seamless transition

Presales may work alongside a sales representative on some of these tasks, and take on others independently. You’ll want to create a clearly defined presales process that outlines their responsibilities and priorities. 

What is sales?

Sales is responsible for gaining a lead’s trust and convincing them that they’re in good hands if they choose your product. They’re in charge of the process’s more persuasive and personality-driven parts. The work presales does leaves the sales team with more time to focus on their primary job: building relationships with prospects and convincing them to buy.

Common sales responsibilities

In some companies, sales representatives may be involved or in charge of some of the tasks listed above. But generally, their most important responsibilities are:

  • Performing prospecting work to identify clients who are a good fit for your product based on factors like budget, size, and need
  • Deploying negotiation tactics to prime prospects for a sale
  • Closing deals
  • Providing ongoing support to customers to keep them happy after purchase (and drive retention)

That list may look short at a glance, but each responsibility is a big one that takes a lot of time and work. By taking on a portion of the sales process, presales ensures sales representatives have the time they need to successfully tackle each step. 

Defining the rules of engagement for presales and sales

Collaboration between sales and presales is key to both teams accomplishing their goals. But you must ensure both teams understand when and how to work together. For that, define clear rules of engagement to avoid any confusion around who’s responsible for what. 

Think through every step in the sales process. Then create clear guidelines for who should be involved in each step, along with instructions on when and how to bring others into the process to fulfill their roles. You can break this down based on the stage in the sales process, the type of customer involved, and/or specific types of sales tasks. Make it clear to sales when they should be reaching out to presales to help with something and vice versa. 

Clarity here ensures people are in charge of the tasks they’re best suited for. And it helps you avoid conflict that can arise when there’s confusion around who’s responsible for what. Both teams depend on each other for success, so you want a system that makes cooperation seamless.

Technology enables sales and presales collaboration

A strong, well-defined process is the best way to ensure sales and presales work together effectively. But the right technology can make collaboration easier. RFPIO provides software that helps sales and presales teams work better together. The content library lets you track common questions you receive from prospects, then easily save and access the best answer to each one. The internal communication features enable natural handoffs between team members and helps you keep customers from falling through the cracks. And automation features cut down on hours of work spent on proposals and answering questions.  

Are you ready to build a better process for aligning sales and presales on content and engagement? Schedule a demo to see how RFPIO can help.

 

Get started on your RFP solution journey with this ROI calculator

Get started on your RFP solution journey with this ROI calculator

Even with the growing amount of technology options, the majority of companies are still using manual processes to respond to RFPs. The time-consuming process of hunting through documents and spreadsheets for past responses when a deadline is looming can be a lot of pressure for any team.

Improve your win ratio with RFP automation

With fluctuating costs and increasing regulations, RFPs are longer and more complex. Answering them requires someone to lead the way and to collaborate with multiple subject matter experts (SMEs) to capture the responses. Most of us know that a well-executed response has a higher chance of winning than a hasty proposal that is rushed out the door.

Poorly executed RFP responses result in low close rates—typically less than 5%—an investment that is off-balance when you calculate the required time and resources. And though the right RFP response at the right time has the power to win new business, when team members are aware of the low probability of a win, they often push RFPs aside in favor of other more realistic priorities.

It’s an understandable dilemma, but one that is possible to overcome. One of the best ways to increase efficiency of the process and improve your win ratio is to invest in RFP automation.

Make a case for a new addition to your sales stack

As technology stacks grow, proving the case for adding another tool is a necessary step. A good place to start gathering the numbers is to calculate the return on investment, and see how much the manual process is costing your team.

Crownpeak, a digital experience management platform, spent a lot of time spinning their wheels with long and complicated RFPs–and two-thirds of their enterprise deals started with an RFP. Crownpeak didn’t have a single repository for their information, so their response specialists had to search scattered sources, including their executives’ heads, to find the intelligence they needed.

RFPs, especially in tech, are getting longer all the time, thanks to increasing regulation and complex compliance requests. In short, RFPs were taking too long to fill out and they were losing deals because of it.

That’s when Paul Taylor, Crownpeak’s VP of Solutions Engineering, knew it was time to automate their processes, but first he needed to justify the cost. Using our ROI calculator, Taylor calculated impressive returns, but was blown away by the actual results. Today they are enjoying a spectacular 6x ROI!

We know time is at a premium for most people in business these days—and pulling together the data to back up your story can be stressful to think about—so we created a handy ROI calculator to help get you started!

CALCULATE YOUR ROI

Ready to start increasing your ROI?

Schedule a Demo

 

How to build a presales process

How to build a presales process

In most companies, no one questions the importance of the sales team. The entire company depends on new sales to keep running, so the people closing the deals are (rightly) valued. But what about the people that help the sales team get prospects to that point? 

The role may not be as flashy, but many of those deals would never get off the ground without the work of a presales professional. And a good presales team doesn’t just need the right skills and knowledge to work effectively; they also need a presales process that sets them up for success. 

What is presales?

In the B2B (business-to-business) world, the sales process is slow and involves complexity. Reaching the point of purchase requires a lot of steps, and some of them involve work that the sales team lacks either the time or the knowledge to manage on their own. That’s where presales comes in.

Presales professionals take on some of the most important steps of finding and nurturing prospects leading up to the close of a sale. The presales process involves learning the details and needs of each opportunity and providing the sales team with the information they need to do their jobs effectively. Responsibilities range from answering complicated product questions to joining or running sales demos to helping with proposals. 

4 Benefits of a presales strategy

The more complicated a sales process is, the more valuable a presales strategy is. Creating one leads to a few notable benefits.  

  1. A presales strategy produces higher conversion rates in the early funnel stages – Most salespeople report that fewer than 50% of their leads are a good fit. If they devote time to every one of those leads, that’s a lot of wasted time that they could spend pitching relevant prospects. They’ll close more of them when they have more time to spend on quality leads.
  2. Presales provides important sales enablement – A presales support team enables the sales team to work smarter rather than harder. They possess the product knowledge needed to provide personalized, accurate information to every prospect. When customers have a technical question, presales helps sales find the correct answer faster. Shorter response times translate to a faster sales process, and happier leads are more likely to turn into customers.  
  3. A presales strategy contributes to an improved customer experience – “Presales” can be a bit of a misnomer. While most of the presales process occurs before a prospect becomes a customer, presales is also frequently involved in helping clients set up and use the product after purchase. That leads to a better customer experience, which is essential for ongoing retention. 
  4. Presales leads to higher profits –  By helping sales close more deals and keeping customers happy enough for improved retention, presales contributes to the most important goal of all: higher profits. Put simply, presales is good for the bottom line.

How to build a presales process

The benefits of a presales strategy only come about if you manage to build an effective presales process. 

Define your target customer – B2B products tend to have a very specific customer base. Salespeople waste their time focusing on prospects outside their ideal base. To enable sales to focus on the right prospects, clearly define your ideal customer. Look at current customer data to understand which companies most need and value your product. Pay attention to your most valuable customers (those who spend the most and consistently re-subscribe). Note what they have in common for insights on what makes for a valuable lead.

Use that information to create a detailed customer persona to guide your marketing and sales efforts. Then also apply your analysis, along with input from the sales team, toward creating clear criteria for qualifying leads. If you prioritize attracting the right leads, and consistently weed out those that aren’t a good fit, your sales team will be able to focus their time on those most likely to convert.

Clarify presales priorities – Presales can get chaotic. Part of what a good presales process accomplishes is bringing order to the chaos and making sure the presales team spends their time wisely. To achieve that, start by thinking through the various tasks that make up a typical presales process and assigning priority value to each. If a presales engineer is torn between multiple competing priorities, they need a way to determine which should take precedence. Should that proposal be the top priority, or can it wait until after their scheduled sales demo?

This process should involve all the departments that depend on presales, so they can weigh in on the relevant importance of various tasks. But you should also look at your data: what does it tell you about which tasks are most likely to lead to successful outcomes like sales and retention?

Analyze and define process steps for each priority task – Now we reach the inception stage of building a presales process (processeption?), where you want to define all the smaller processes that make up your larger process. Defining process steps ensures everyone involved is on the same page and understands their role in the broader sales process.

For every priority task on your list, sit down and work out the ideal approach. Include:

  • Documenting typical steps and timelines – What does the process of completing each task look like? What steps have to occur, and in what order? How long does each one typically take? 
  • Defining the roles and responsibilities – Who’s in charge of what? What does the presales team need from other contacts to do their part well? And what will they need to provide to others to adequately support them? 
  • Establishing communication methods – A lot of presales work requires collaboration, and finding the right communication channels can be vital to keeping the lines of communication open. What’s the preferred channel for each team and contact? Should presales communicate with sales within a project management tool, email, or meetings?

Use tech to make the process smoother– Clarifying these steps can also make it easier to see how tech can improve your processes. Are there tasks presales spends hours on now that could be automated by technology? Are your current communication channels working, or do you need a better tool for collaboration? Do you have a solid process in place for recording and reusing knowledge, or is presales having to answer every question anew each time it comes up?

Matching the right tech to your processes can cut down on the time spent on each task while also increasing success rates. 

Analyze and improve over time – Another benefit to establishing a transparent process is that it helps you spot opportunities to improve. Some of the technology you use to facilitate your presales process will also collect data on your typical actions and results. Use that information to strengthen your process over time.

Building a pre-sales process has never been easier with tools like RFPIO. By recognizing and addressing all stages of your customer journey, your business will be able to become more efficient while wasting less money and time.

RFPIO provides features that help presales teams:

  • Capture knowledge and share it with the right internal contacts
  • Make answers easy to find to cut down on answering the same questions on repeat
  • Automate much of the process of responding to RFP’s, RFI’s, and Security Questionnaires.
  • Simplify collaboration between individuals and departments
  • Track data on the presales process to better understand how well it’s working and how to make it better.

Set up a demo to learn more. 

 

The proposal management plan for a one-person team

The proposal management plan for a one-person team

An effective proposal management process is like a jigsaw puzzle; it takes multiple pieces, and they have to fit together just right. If you’re a one-person team, putting all the pieces together can be a challenge, but it’s manageable, at least if the right processes are in place. 

With small and medium-sized businesses, it’s common for one-person teams to manage the entire proposal management process. However, they can hopefully count on support from collaborators, such as the sales team and subject matter experts (SMEs).

If you’re a one-person team, you might have other job responsibilities on top of responding to RFPs. In addition, a proposal manager can oversee many different aspects of the RFP process. 

If that’s you, we’re here to help you bring order to the chaos, starting with incorporating these factors into your proposal management plan—powered by collaboration and automation.

How a proposal team of one can optimize the proposal process

A proposal manager is in charge of the proposal management process. Whether they are a one-person team or the head of an entire department, an effective proposal management process incorporates three essential factors: 

  1. Saying “no” as part of your proposal management plan
  2. Engage your sales team
  3. Leverage subject matter experts

There are many aspects to the proposal management process. Let’s dig into three of the most critical and why they matter.

Saying “no” as part of your proposal management plan

RFPs are a great opportunity—and maybe your CEO has the impulse to throw a hat in the ring for each one. That might sound like a great strategy, but it’s also a way to rack up a lot of losses. 

Sometimes your product or service isn’t what the customer is looking for. Responding to poorly-qualified opportunities can put well-qualified prospects at risk because they pull resources from winnable bids.

Establish a go/no-go process to focus your organization’s efforts on suitable proposals.

Work with sales and executives to perform a win-loss analysis on past bids. Understand the likelihood of winning business when new deals are on the table by researching the requirements before writing a single sentence of an RFP response.

A viable proposal management plan is based on data and research. Rather than reactively pressing “go” every time an RFP arrives, pause and analyze to ensure the opportunity is the right fit. Taking this extra time will ensure your time is optimally spent.

Engage your sales team

Salespeople are motivated to sell, and they have a lot to keep up with, so responding to an RFP may not be topmost on their list of selling activities. Yes, you need their support with response content, but what level of support are you offering them in exchange?

Proposal managers can provide a lot of value to their sales teams.They can help sales with time management, content management, and seamless collaboration. With proposal automation in place, you’ll enable your sales colleagues to respond to RFPs faster and more effectively.

Your response process will run smoothly when salespeople have instant access to high-quality content in the Answer Library. Since RFPIO® LookUp is accessible via a web browser or CRM, the same content library will come in handy for them on discovery calls and prospecting.

Using proposal automation software, your sales team will collaborate using the same communication tools they’re comfortable with, including CRMs such as Salesforce and HubSpot, and communication solutions such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.

By showing sales teams the value you can provide, they’ll be more willing to help you out, so get sales on board early and use RFPIO proposal automation software as their support system. Show them how they’ll save time and improve client-facing communication.

Leverage subject matter experts

Many subject matter experts are a one-person show, just like you. Proposal automation makes their lives easier by reducing time spent responding to RFPs and other internal queries. An important aspect of your role as a proposal manager is to continue improving your process to minimize unnecessary SME involvement and protect their time by bringing them in only when necessary.

SMEs are process-driven individuals; they expect clean processes and clearly defined responsibilities, tasks, and deadlines. Your response process will be most effective when your subject matter experts’ time is protected and valued. Proposal automation offers a more intelligent approach to response management, allowing SMEs to contribute and move on with their day.

The first step to transforming your proposal management process into a well-oiled machine is to consolidate all of your organization’s content in one place. Whether you are an enterprise or a small business, proposal software is key to a well-run process. 

The Answer Library offers standardized and curated content, effectively breaking down information silos and saving time. You can automatically fill in most of the RFP responses with help from the Answer Library and save SME contributions for any revisions or customizations.

Once an SME has provided expertise on one RFP, the proposal manager can seamlessly update the Answer Library with the new answer. 

The next time you have an RFP that includes similar queries, RFPIO’s AI-driven content management system and answer recommendation engine will automatically present the responses for your approval, further reducing the time SMEs spend responding.

Successful response management revolves around processes and people. As a team of one, you lead the charge by creating a viable proposal management plan and providing value to colleagues that support you. How can you make collaboration easier? What steps can be automated? Stay focused on plan improvements to keep your team happy, supported, and productive.

The next step in your new and improved proposal management plan is bringing on RFPIO. See how proposal automation allows you to thrive as a team of one. RFPIO can help proposal managers thrive, no matter the resources. 

 

5 simplified RFP response examples that will help you nail it

5 simplified RFP response examples that will help you nail it

You lose every RFP you don’t submit, but that doesn’t mean that proposal response is a numbers game. Without quality responses, your team is just spinning their wheels, which is even worse than failing to submit at all. 

Instead, to win more bids, you need to manage a difficult feat: submit a high number of responses and make sure all of them are good enough to be competitive. 

We’ve provided a lot of resources on how to increase your RFP response rates, even if your team is small. But even if you manage to quadruple the number of proposals you submit, you need a solid RFP win rate for all that work to turn into real profits. 

“Too many opportunities are lost because of ambiguous and overly complex language, long and dense sentences, and vague, lifeless prose. Clear writing, in contrast, makes its points simply, demonstrating a bidder’s competence and quality.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

For that, you need your proposals to stand out, and directly address all of the customers’ requirements. The kind of persuasive proposals that win business tend to have a few main things in common:

Best practice #1: Customize answers with specific deliverables

Does it ever feel like you’re operating in rote? You have spent so much time talking up your company that you can cite its features and metrics with your eyes and ears closed. That might be fine for a cold call, but RFP issuers want deeper, tailored answers.

That’s not to say that you can’t get some help from past answers. There’s nothing wrong with repurposing and reusing old answers on new proposals—it’s a smart way to get more done, especially when using RFPIO’s Answer Library. But for those estimated 20% of questions that require customized answers, reinvest some of the time saved through automation into really trying to impress reviewers at every level.

Related: Corporate wiki vs internal knowledge base: Which is better?

To be truly persuasive, you need to convince your audience that you understand their particular situation well enough to provide the right solution. That means using content you’ve already created, but making changes to bring it in line with the specific use case of this client. 

RFP response example:

RFP response sample question: On average, how long does implementation take?

The easy RFP response sample: On average, implementation takes X months. 

The better RFP response example: The average implementation takes X months. For organizations of your size that will include setting up integrations with X, Y, and Z products; we estimate implementation will take around X months, with X weeks for training and onboarding. 

Why it’s better: Making your answer specific to their particular needs and situation makes it more relevant to them. It also shows that you do your homework. Not only do you have the expertise to provide a knowledgeable answer, but you understand enough about their needs to provide one with greater accuracy. 

Best practice #2: Be succinct and real

Talking about complicated technological tools can get, well, complicated. The more complex the subject matter you’re dealing with, the more important it is to emphasize clarity in your answers. You may not be able to avoid technical terminology entirely, but you can look for opportunities to simplify your language and sentence structure. The ability to explain a complicated subject in clear, understandable terms demonstrates expertise better than industry jargon or needlessly long words ever will.

RFP response example:

Sample question: What is your company’s approach to project management?

The wordy RFP response sample: We systematically approach each project. We follow several phases in which we gather requests, develop our strategy, create a WBS, execute on our plan within the estimated project timeline, and then deliver on all desired outcomes. We implement each project and validate that it has met the needs of the customer according to their primary KPIs.

The better RFP response example: Our project management team is agile. We tailor our proven process to each client’s unique needs with the main steps remaining consistent: build, test, and deploy to deliver value.

“Every reader, even a technical expert, appreciates clarity. Use the same style of English you use in conversation to make your proposals more open and accessible to a wide range of audiences.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

Why it’s better: It’s easy to hide behind jargon. Big words like methodology, execution, strategic, etc. have their place in business, but with RFPs, they feel generic, scripted, and empty.

You should also assume your audience is busy. The people reading your proposal (and making a decision based on it) want to get the answers they need quickly and easily, without extra fuss. If you use confusing terminology or overlong sentences that make it harder to get through each answer, you’ll lose them. Getting straight to the point with a clear response gets your point across better. 

Click here for winning RFP response examples using story telling

“Your goal is to make readers spend less time untangling your meaning and more time reviewing your solution.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

 

 benchmark-blog-report

The 2021 benchmark report: Proposal management

Learn about the state of proposal management, and see what teams need to do to be successful in 2021

Read the report

Best practice #3: Make life easier for the issuer 

Reviewing a (long) proposal is a tedious enough process, don’t also make the issuer do extra digging to find answers. Rather than directing them to an attachment or a URL to find the answer they’re looking for, answer their question within the proposal itself. In addition, you can always provide an attachment to expand on your answer, or to offer supporting evidence for it. 

RFP response example:

Sample question: Has the tool been subject to any application security testing? (e.g. Veracode, other). Please attach if yes.

The RFP response sample that creates more work: Yes. Please refer to <file name>.

The better RFP response example: We practice secure application design and coding principles. Engineers are required to undergo security training for security awareness and secure coding. 

We use third-party services to perform vulnerability/application security scans annually. 

The most recent penetration report is attached to this package: <file name> 

Why it’s better:

The issuer gets information that lets them know your company meets their needs on this point right there in the proposal, without having to stop their review and go look for a separate document. But they also have access to the additional supporting documentation to prove that your claims are legitimate. 

Click here for sample RFP response cover letter

Best Practice #4: Elaborate when appropriate

You don’t want to be too wordy or provide unnecessary information, but there are instances where a bit of elaboration is valuable. Sometimes you have to read between the lines to figure out what the customer needs. Rather than just providing the most direct answer to the question, try to understand what the buyer is actually trying to learn. If a more detailed response provides a better answer, go for it. 

RFP response example:

Sample question: How do you communicate new features to your clients? 

The simple RFP response sample: Upcoming platform enhancements are communicated to customers via email. They can also be accessed from the Help Center.

The better RFP response example: Our roadmap is heavily influenced by our customers, through a feedback/enhancement request feature within the application. Customers can interact with one another’s requests, as well as with the development team. Their comments, voting, and status reports all influence future enhancements. 

We then communicate enhancements to our customers via email release announcements. This email will have the major highlights from the release, a document outlining all the release details, and a link to the release details that can be accessed 24/7 in the Help Center. 

Why it’s better: While we believe that clear, concise answers are far better than those loaded with unnecessary filler words, this detailed response shows a well-developed and thought-out process for improvements. It answers the question, but also provides additional reasons for why the company is worth choosing. 

Best Practice #5: Say no with style

When filling out an RFP, a “no” can seem scary. If you don’t offer everything the company wants in a vendor, won’t that lose you the sale? It could, but it doesn’t have to. 

An honest answer is always better than a misleading one. And finding the right way to frame that answer can make a big difference. When the honest answer to an RFP question is “no,” think about how you can make the answer more useful and compelling than those two letters.

RFP response example:

Sample question: Does your tool integrate with XYZ tool? Please explain. 

The basic “no” RFP response sample: No, our solution does not integrate with XYZ tool.

The better RFP response example: Currently, the solution does not integrate with XYZ tool. However, a potential integration is on our 6-12 month product roadmap. We would love the opportunity to partner with you in identifying the best path forward to build an XYZ tool integration.

Why it’s better: It makes clear that you don’t intend to stop at “no”—you have a plan for providing what they’re looking for in the near future. And it lets them know that you’re actively interested in their input so you do things in a way that works for them. 

Click here for more RFP examples and a free RFP response template

Modernize your RFP response process and complete more winning bids with artificial intelligence

None of these best practices are worth much if you can’t manage to complete each potentially winnable RFP, or find time to customize them when you do. To get to the point where you can actively put this advice into practice, you need software that takes care of the more tedious and time-consuming parts of an RFP. 

Related: Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software

RFPIO uses automation to do most of the proposal process for you, so your team can stick to customizing specific answers to improve quality. Schedule a demo of RFPIO to get started with a better RFP process. 

How proposal teams can drive sales productivity and improve outcomes (with a free email template)

How proposal teams can drive sales productivity and improve outcomes (with a free email template)

“I don’t get no respect.” – Rodney Dangerfield

At RFPIO, we often say that proposal managers are the unsung heroes of their organizations. Proposal teams spend hours, weeks, and even months crafting perfect responses, yet who gets credit for the wins?

In siloed organizations, both proposal and sales teams have vital roles to play in the response process, but it’s often the sales team that gets credit for sealing the deal. Why is that? How can proposal managers prove their worth in a siloed organization? Can sales and proposal teams set their rivalries aside and recognize that their goals are not just aligned, but identical?

Don’t get me wrong; I would never throw shade at sales teams. They’re critical to any business, including ours. However, if an organization regularly receives RFPs, RFIs, RFQs, or RFTs, a dedicated proposal team with a professional proposal manager frees sales teams to make more contacts and close more deals. In other words, everybody wins.

Still, like the late, great, Rodney Dangerfield, proposal managers often don’t get a lot of respect. Oftentimes, their ideas are dismissed as uninformed or out of touch, if they even get a seat at the table – after all, it’s sales who has their collective ear to the ground. 

Maybe, but a good proposal manager is a fountain of knowledge. In many cases, they know more about their company than the founders. Additionally, the RFPs themselves offer essential insights into customers’ priorities and pain points that sales may not be aware of.

So, now that you know how valuable you are, how can you convince the rest of your company? What role does a proposal manager play in their organization?

In my upcoming May 19th webinar, I will talk about the steps you can take to prove your worth. In this blog post, I’ll outline some of the challenges the proposal managers we work with face, and I will give you an email template with the information your boss needs to see to validate your position.

Are proposal managers part of the sales team?

The short answer to whether proposal managers are part of the sales team is, maybe. The longer answer is that it typically depends on the size and structure of their company. In most small and medium-sized organizations, proposal managers answer directly to the director of sales, business development, or marketing. 

In larger organizations or enterprise companies, the proposal manager could be part of revenue management or finance. 

Do you feel like you’re pushing boulders by yourself?

We’ve all heard the story of Sisyphus, the ancient Greek king, who, as the legend goes, was punished by Zeus for cheating death. The punishment was to push an immense boulder up a hill, only each time, the boulder rolled back down the hill right before Sisyphus reached the top.

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to Sisyphus. While your boulder is metaphorical, it’s every bit as frustrating when you’re trying to do the heavy lifting but you aren’t getting the support you need.

When sales hands the RFP off to proposal management, all too often, they wash their hands of it. Sales, however, should remain part of the process. Perhaps a salesperson or pre-salesperson was the catalyst for the RFP – in that case, they’re a subject matter expert on the customer. 

Sales should also help craft the proposal, and ensure that all the customers’ priorities are met before submitting the final bid. 

How to bring sales and proposal management together

In too many cases, sales teams forget about RFPs the second they are handed off to their proposal management team. But isn’t sales as vested in the outcome as anyone? A win for the proposal team is a win for the sales team, and vice versa. 

I will get into more detail in the webinar, but fostering communication and de-siloing the sales and proposal management teams will help create more wins for the teams and the company as a whole. 

How to convince leadership to keep you in the loop 

Communication is the cornerstone of response management processes. As a repository for a company’s past and current content, RFPIO’s Answer Library can automatically generate answers for up to 80% of an RFP’s queries. 

But what about the future? Perhaps there’s an exciting new acquisition that would make your company more appealing to the customer, or maybe the company is downsizing and can’t deliver on the requirements. 

Perhaps there is something that is a bit less newsworthy but still impacts the response to an RFP. For example, the company might have switched vendors, affecting the costs. Let’s go with an example that isn’t so hypothetical: The worldwide supply chain crisis could potentially affect every aspect of an RFP, yet if a response manager doesn’t know how the company is addressing supply chain issues, it’s nearly impossible to formulate an accurate response. 

And it’s tough to imagine that the sales team wouldn’t want to be part of the pricing discussion. Additionally, proposal managers need reports on their teams’ efforts as much as sales managers do. 

If you aren’t quite sure how to convince the sales manager to invite you to sales meetings, here is an email template that has worked for several of our customers:

Hi {boss name},

I’m writing to request an invitation to the sales team’s weekly sales huddles and pipeline meetings. 

As the proposal manager, I’m responsible for crafting a compelling proposal that solves our clients’ problems. The sooner I’m clued into the status of open opportunities, the sooner I can start researching our client—and the more compelling proposal I can write. 

To put a number on this:

      • Total dollar value of proposals won in [last year]:
      • Total dollar value of proposals lost in [last year]:

By joining sales conversations early on, I’m confident I can increase our proposal win rate—and help push deals deeper into the sales cycle.

Looking forward to seeing you in the first meeting!

Best, 

Your Name

If you are feeling left out of the conversation, join me on May 19, 2022, as we discuss challenges and methods for bringing the proposal team back into the fold. 

5 types of tools that optimize presales engagement

5 types of tools that optimize presales engagement

You’re ready to get where you’re going, every red light fueling a little more impatience. Then you feel a bump, and recognize the telltale signs of a flat tire. You’re already frustrated as you pull over and then things get worse. You don’t have a tire jack.

It’s the age-old problem: lacking the right tool for the job. 

So many problems in life become manageable if you have the right tool to solve them. That’s as much the case when you’re looking to make your job run smoother as when you’re stranded on a highway wishing you had a tire jack. For presales professionals, investing in the right tools is an important step in creating a process that:

  • Leads to higher engagement with prospects, so more of them make it through each stage of the funnel
  • Helps position you as more of a strategic leader than an administrative contributor
  • Enables you to work more effectively with colleagues across departments
  • Cuts down on the time you spend on repetitive tasks
  • Helps you close more valuable deals—the main goal of your job 

But you need to be careful. Application sprawl—having too many tools in your tech stack—can cause its own share of problems. You need the right tools for maximum RFP automation ROI. The ones that will actually make the presales experience smoother for both you and prospective buyers.

5 Tools to Increase Presales Engagement

Developing the right presales process, supported by the right products, will make your job easier and increase your success rates. For most presales professionals, there are five main categories of tools you want represented in your sales stack.

 1. Knowledge Management

So much of presales engineering is about knowledge. Prospects need to know that a product will do what they need, even if they don’t understand all the technical details required for that to happen. Presales engineers are the keepers of that knowledge, and RFPIO® LookUp is the key to access it from any browser or Microsoft Office. But with the right knowledge management tool, you don’t have to be the only one with access to that knowledge. 

A knowledge base product allows you to keep a record of the answers to common questions, and organize information so it’s easier to find when needed. By improving findability and enabling you to share content with the right people in the organization, it cuts down on time spent answering the same questions over and over again. And when your colleagues have easier access to knowledge, they’ll reply to prospects faster, improving presales engagement and creating a better overall experience. 

2. Communication and Collaboration

Creating a good experience for prospects and customers requires successful collaboration between all customer-facing teams. Presales must collaborate with the sales team to make sure all of a prospect’s questions get answered quickly and correctly, or risk losing the sale. And communication between presales and customer support is important for keeping customers happy after purchase.

Technology can facilitate more efficient communication, especially as more teams work remotely. Slack offers asynchronous messaging, so coworkers can reply when they’re able. And video conferencing products like Zoom are good for connecting over virtual meetings. 

3. Proposal Automation

Every time you have to push aside other tasks to do the tedious work of filling out a proposal, it takes time away from other responsibilities. Proposals are important for winning deals, but the time cost is likely impacting your ability to complete other tasks important to presales engagement.

A proposal automation tool, like RFPIO, can give you back most of that time while also improving the number of proposals you win. Every answer you provide is saved in a knowledge base. The product then identifies which questions on future proposals have already been answered, and fills the responses in automatically. That leaves you more time to personalize the parts of the proposal that merit a personal touch, which is key for improving win rates. 

4. Customer Relationship Management

Proposals aren’t the only area where personalization matters. In every interaction with prospects and customers, you want to have current information on their relationship with the company up to that point. And each time you gain valuable information about a prospect, you want the sales and customer support teams to have access to that data moving forward.

That’s where customer relationship management (CRM) software like Salesforce is so valuable. You can ensure everyone that interacts with a prospect is up-to-date on where they are in the sales process and has all relevant information about the account. That’s key for making every interaction personalized to their needs as you move them toward a purchase. 

5. Data Collection and Analysis

You need to understand your presales process to improve it. Technology can collect data that provides insights into questions like:

  • What does your current process look like?
  • What kind of actions most often lead to sales? 
  • Which proposals are most worth your time, based on which ones you’ve won in the past?
  • What types of clients are most likely to purchase? 

A tool that collects this data and makes it easy to analyze gives you fuel to improve your process and win more sales. And you likely won’t need to seek out a specific product for this purpose. Most of the tools used in the other categories on this list will have reporting and analytics features built in. 

In most organizations, critical sales data is spread across multiple platforms, which when combined, paint a complete picture of a customer’s journey and the overall sales process. 

RFPIO integrates with most CRMs – including Salesforce and Hubspot, along with messaging tools such as Slack, Google Drive, and Microsoft Teams – providing incremental insights that can be used to track how presales is impacting the entire organization.

Additionally, RFPIO® LookUp enables users to conveniently gather company data from a browser or Microsoft Office, even from home. 

Use the Presales Tools You Choose Effectively

Selecting the right tools for the job is an important first step. But for you to reap their benefits, you need to use them effectively. Think carefully about how to best incorporate the presales tools you choose into your process, and how to make sure they all effectively work together. 

Buying more sales products won’t help you improve presales engagement, but the right products used the right way will.

 

 

 

Win more bids by scaling your response management process – part 2

Win more bids by scaling your response management process – part 2

In part 1, we discussed the best practices to scale your response management process from your end. This week we will look at how RFPIO’s toolbox can help you standardize your operations, improve communication, and trim response time, so your team can spend more time driving revenue. 

The RFPIO features that can help manage your response time

The RFPIO platform includes several features to help with your bid/no-bid decision-making. 

Intake

We designed the intake feature to help teams submit their project requests as intakes to the proposal team. The intake submits project requests to the designated user(s), who will approve or reject them. In addition, you can create an intake form with custom fields that will help you decide whether or not to pursue a project.

CRM integration

Another way to increase transparency and automate processes around the bid/no-bid decision is through one of our CRM integrations. For example, if sales is tracking information used in a bid decision, you can pull those fields into RFPIO. Your sales team will only ever have to enter the information once. Some of RFPIO’s CRM integrations even allow teams to fill out the intake form without ever leaving the CRM.

Reporting/custom fields

Lastly, you can use custom reporting on any fields you create in the intake form to analyze your win/loss rates and how they may be affected by certain factors in the opportunities you choose to pursue. This enables your team to evaluate your strategy and determine if you use your resources wisely when responding to RFPs.

What is your proposal management process?

You’ve decided which RFPs are worthy of responses. The next step in auditing your RFP process is evaluating how you’re managing the proposals. 

Are you having kickoff meetings?

A kickoff meeting is one of the most critical parts of the response process. At the end of a successful kickoff meeting, each team member will leave armed with clear roles and responsibilities – all designed with one clear goal, winning the bid! 

  • Are roles and responsibilities crystal clear? – Following a kickoff meeting, each team member should have an action plan. Follow up in your project management software.
  • Do you have a specific schedule? – Create hard deadlines for each team member and each response phase. 

Are you following the proposal’s progress?

Proposal managers should perform daily progress evaluations to ensure that they can address issues and lags before causing delays or inaccuracies.

How are you managing your team?

Proposal response has a lot of moving pieces. A proposal manager’s role is to follow those pieces, even if the responsibilities are outside the team’s immediate control. For example:

  • How are you tracking and managing tasks outside of the RFPIO platform?
  • How are subcontractors managed? 
  • How do your teams juggle multiple proposals?
  • Is there a shared calendar?

Task templates

How many of you have several tasks for every project? And how many of those tasks have nothing to do with the work in RFPIO? I’m referring to things like responding to an intent to bid or prepping shipping labels. Task templates can help you track those tasks automatically. Suppose you’re the manager of a team of proposal managers. In that case, you can even automate the tracking of tasks or stages across a shared calendar for a team, giving you better insight into the team’s workload on a given date or week. 

These are great ways to automate task creation. You can create a template for standard tasks under your organization settings and have it appear in each project upon creation. If there are tasks that you track as a team in a shared calendar, you can create a user in RFPIO that is assigned to these tasks automatically when you set them up in your organization settings. You can then sync that user’s calendar to a shared calendar in Outlook or Google to see all tasks across your team.

Clarifications 

Clarifications, often overlooked, is a great tool to help you compile any questions that you and your team need to send back to the issuer of your project. Then, you can export the questions, send them to the issuer, and import the responses back into the system.

Calendars 

RFPIO’s calendar view provides at-a-glance project management for you and your team.

Integrations 

Adding on our integrations for Teams or Slack can help increase transparency. I’ve also known clients to take advantage of our API integrations in their project management tools.

Discussions tab/comments

The discussions tab in the project is a great way to not get behind on potential issues. From this tab, you can quickly sort through open comments within the task. When managing multiple projects at a time, I made it a habit to open the discussions tab of each project every day to help reassign questions and resolve issues as they appeared.

Answer Library

RFPIO’s Answer Library uses AI to intuitively auto-populate and answer all of the most common and not-so-common questions. In addition, the Answer Library offers several filtering tools, options, rules, and tags to help ensure that you’ll receive the most appropriate answer, even with simple one or two-keyword searches. Furthermore, your AI-driven library will update as you input data. 

Look inside your content management lifecycle

When did you last audit your content?

I’m going to let you all in on a bit of a secret. Every time I perform an audit of a customer’s Answer Library, I start with the Answer Library Insights Report.

This report is also available for any filters you apply in the Answer Library. So, for example, if you have an Archive collection set up, you can filter it out and look at the Insights report without skewing your data. 

You can also use RFPIO to create an internal knowledge base, perfect for training new hires. Here at RFPIO, all of our sales enablement content and sessions are easily accessible from our company-wide instance of RFPIO. It’s easy for me to remember a session from a month ago, and I can simply use the search to find a Q&A pair that directs me to the video.

Other customers have found increased collaboration between their proposal team and their marketing and security teams but are saving the most recent versions of client-facing documents in the document library. Using RFPIO as an internal knowledge base and a single source of truth also provides a level of self-service to your organization that can boost morale.

Lastly, especially for small companies and startups, using RFPIO to track crucial information related to delivery can help create an excellent database for client references in the future.

Are your Q&A pairs going unused?

RFPIO’s Q&A pairs is one of the most exciting features on the platform. Users can upload any type of document and customize it to suit their needs. In addition, you can edit and store content in almost 20 languages. In other words, the majority of what you need to respond to an RFP is right there, at your fingertips, and best of all, RFPIO is consistently learning.

How often do you manually respond to RFPs?

Sometimes, old habits die hard. Perhaps response managers feel they need to manually respond to justify their worth. RFPIO doesn’t want anyone to lose their job; we want to help them be more productive and respond to the RFPs they might not have had time for before automation.

How often do you automatically respond to RFPs?

RFPIO makes the RFP response process easy through near-total automation. Sure, some questions require at least partially manual responses to push the RFP over the finish line, but RFPIO will take you as much as 80 percent of the way toward full automation

If you aren’t automatically responding to every RFP that is worth a bid, we would love to hear from you and see how RFPIO will make the response process faster, less expensive, and, dare I say, enjoyable. 

How do you utilize your Answer Library?

I’ll bet you that you’ve answered most questions on each RFP multiple times – perhaps for other customers. Utilize the Answer Library to let RFPIO take care of the redundant and tedious aspects of response management. 

Is your Answer Library content relevant and up to date?

Perhaps the most common feedback we get, especially from companies that aren’t fully utilizing RFPIO, is that they’re hesitant to use the Answer Library because they haven’t audited it. Hence, their content isn’t up to date. I get that. It seems daunting to audit and update answers, but it’s not, and you can’t beat the long-term benefits.

Here at RFPIO, we refer to auditing the Answer Library as getting rid of the ROT (redundant, outdated, or trivial content). Here is a simple guideline to take you through the process. 

I get it if you’re worried about deleting information you’ll need one day. Who hasn’t thrown something away in a fit of cleaning, only to need it the next day? Instead of deleting that information, you can warehouse it in case you might need it again in the future.

Are you utilizing your subject matter experts?

Subject Matter Experts (SME), which we sometimes pronounce “smee,” are, as the name implies, experts in proposals, sales, marketing, etc. Your SMEs might be experts on your organization or in their fields in general. They’re the people you turn to when you don’t know how to answer a particular question.

Do you have a moderation process?

Do you have a moderation process? Is the moderation process documented? When was the last time you checked the moderation’s organization settings? Does the content have owners and review cycles? How do you ensure your library is free of redundant, outdated, and trivial content?

The RFPIO features that help keep your content organized and current

Answer Library Insights Report

Here’s a tip: Every time I perform an audit of a customer’s answer library, I start with the Answer Library Insights Report.

This report is also available for any filters you apply in the Answer Library. So, for example, if you have an Archive collection set up, you can filter it out and look at the Insights report without skewing your data. 

This report is an excellent way to see what can be easily archived: Q&A pairs that you don’t use or pairs with a star rating of less than 3. This report can also help see if Owners are becoming inundated with reviews. Maybe you can reassign Q&A pairs to another SME.

I recommend customers look at the Answer Library Insights Report and the Executive Dashboard routinely. Use them both to guide your content strategy and look for improvements.

Additionally, you may want to evaluate where you can use merge tags more. While a lot of our customers are familiar with the use of merge tags to replace a client or a company name in a proposal, did you know you can use merge tags for content that gets updated frequently? For example, track the number of employees in your organization or clients who use a specific product version. Updating that number once in the organization settings will reflect wherever the merge tag is used in your library and carry over into the project.

Lastly, many of our customers add on custom reporting to help guide their strategy. It allows for more in-depth reporting of custom fields and usage. I have seen customers use this feature to determine areas where they may need more content developed in their library.

Executive Dashboard

You never want to leave your response management team guessing. The Executive Dashboard provides your team insights at-a-glance. The dashboard tracks the lifecycle of your RFP from the time it’s received until it’s archived.

The Executive Dashboard lets users create reports, such as RFP viability, based on similar bids from the past. In addition, managers can pull win/loss analysis, average completion time, and identify the top contributors. 

If this blog post inspired you and you want to dive deeper into your workflow or content management strategy, RFPIO’s Professional Services Team can help! As an RFPIO customer, you can purchase bundles of Professional Services hours for specific projects and initiatives. You’ll work alongside a Professional Services consultant like myself for the entirety of your engagement. Reach out to your customer success manager or account manager, and they’ll connect you with a member of my team who can scope your project.

 

Win more bids by scaling your response management process – part 1

Win more bids by scaling your response management process – part 1

You have probably heard the expression that you can’t win if you don’t play. The business equivalent of not playing is failing to respond to an RFP. You might ask what that has to do with you and your response management team. After all, your team responds to every RFP that comes their way, right?

Playing to win requires more than filling in the blanks, however. It requires updated and defined RFP response processes to maximize efficiency and accuracy while saving time and company resources – all with the ultimate goal of winning the bid!

This article will discuss the revenue-driving and resource-saving Association for Proposal Management Professional (APMP) best practices for updating and defining your organization’s response management process.

End-to-end processes help future-proof your RFP response flow.

Organizations that consistently follow a defined business development process win more business and use fewer investment resources. ~ Association of Proposal Management Professionals  

If your company is anything like ours, and I’m sure it is, you have dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct personalities and work styles. You also have attrition, onboarding, PTO, etc. Yet surprisingly, you rarely devolve into chaos.

Why is that? It’s because you’ve established defined processes. So if, for example, a client calls with questions for their customer service rep who’s out of the office, your CRM will arm everyone else in the department with the information they need to answer the questions. 

CRMs are great at helping define processes, and so is RFPIO.

Do you have a defined response management process?

If you won the lottery today, would someone be able to pick up your job tomorrow? How fast will it take your replacement to ramp up?

According to the APMP, every organization should design its own end-to-end process suited to its organization and customers.

Sure, we’d all like to feel indispensable, but if we are the exclusive key holders to critical processes, we’re doing a huge disservice to our companies. I would even argue that the best employees, at least those whose values align with their organizations, are transparent about their work processes. 

In turn, the best-run organizations have processes to ensure that when an RFP manager takes a day or week off, or even leaves, it won’t derail responses. 

If you have a defined process, have you recently reevaluated your processes?

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s change. Just a little over two years ago, remote work was relatively rare. Then, everything suddenly turned upside down, and we all needed to adapt. 

Guess what? We did, at least for the most part, and the world didn’t implode. I don’t think it’s a giant leap to say that defined processes kept the economy humming, despite unforeseen challenges. Defined processes certainly helped keep RFPIO thriving, but only because we regularly reevaluate them.

In the software industry, especially in SaaS, things change quickly. At RFPIO, we have to be agile. As our customers’ needs change, so must we. When the market or regulatory environment changes, we have to adapt. That’s why we have new releases almost monthly. 

**It only takes about 15 minutes each month to learn about the new features.**

Of course, defining your processes requires more than updating software. Do you regularly interact with your subject matter experts? Do you ask them for feedback on your Answer Library? If you don’t, your subject matter experts may be frustrated, but they may start to feel heard by opening the door to collaboration. Also, they’re a potential wealth of ideas. 

After speaking with the experts, bring your Customer Success Manager into the fold. Ask them about the challenges they have run across. They might have solutions that they’ve previously been reluctant to mention.

How to identify a response management black hole

In an ideal world, we’d have months to respond to each RFP. But, unfortunately, that’s rare. Often, we have two weeks or less. I’ve even seen two days! But, thankfully, that’s also rare. 

How often does this scenario happen: The RFP landed in your inbox just days before it was due, but you saw that it was issued weeks earlier! 

Obviously, two days is an extreme example. A more common scenario might look something like this: The RFP was issued two months ago. It sat somewhere, untouched, for weeks. Then, just as you were confident you were on track for all your deadlines, the RFP lands on your lap, and it’s due by the end of the week. 

The fact is, you can’t win them all. So when buried under an avalanche of response deadlines, many companies choose to triage, or employ the bid/no-bid strategy, where you bid the RFPs with the higher win rates and let the less viable opportunities go. 

But what if the RFP that sat in the pipeline for weeks has a high win rate? What happened to the RFP during those weeks? Where is that black hole, and how can you plug it? Let’s see if we can help you identify the problem(s) and help you create a bid/no-bid strategy with this attached downloadable worksheet.

In the second of our two-part series, we’ll explore the tools RFPIO provides to help scale your response management process and, of course, win those bids!

In the meantime, let us know if you’d like to learn more about RFPIO and how we can help you scale your response management process.

Using automation to drive presales productivity

Using automation to drive presales productivity

When a prospect has a question that requires technical knowledge, it almost always falls to a presales engineer to answer.

It’s your job to fill in any gaps in knowledge the sales team has and make sure every prospect has the answers they need. But at many organizations, the number of people that have the mix of technical knowledge and sales skills to answer those questions doesn’t match the level of need.

That leaves the presales team scrambling to balance an overwhelming list of responsibilities. And taking your time rarely feels like an option—a slow response could put an important deal at risk. As a result, many solutions engineers and other presales professionals feel relegated to checking off an unending list of in-the-weeds tasks instead of building toward strategic relevance—for customer expectations and revenue generation. Somehow, you need a way to do more with less.

There are many tools designed to help presales increase productivity. Some of my favorites include:

  • Vivun: AI platform helps track everything presales does to influence sales and product development.
  • Consensus: Next-level video-creation platform helps increase customization and interactivity.
  • Demoflow: Demo management tool helps make even the most complex demo appear seamless.

Then, of course, there’s the underlying presales automation that makes it possible to efficiently work with the knowledge that drives all of these other applications.

3 ways to use presales automation

The work the presales team does is integral to the sales process, and the specialized skill set required means no one else can do it. But that doesn’t mean there’s no way to take the load off.

Think about it: a lot of the work you do now is redundant. How many questions do you field that you’ve already crafted a perfect answer to in the past? How often do you return to a familiar script during a demo? And how much time do you spend on lengthy proposals that ask many of the same questions? You’re probably pretty tired of repeating yourself.

A smart approach to presales automation can save you from all that repetition in a few main ways.

1. Use AI-powered knowledge management software to make answers easy to find.

A lot of the answers you’ve given before exist somewhere—maybe as one of thousands of emails in your sent folder, or in an old demo recording no one’s bothered to revisit. If finding it takes more work than starting from scratch on a new answer, you’ll just end up doing the work over again.

So start capturing that content in a knowledge base. Knowledge management software employs AI to make the best answers accessible the moment they’re needed. For presales engineers, that makes it easier to find content you’ve created each time you need to re-use it for a new customer query or demo preparation.

But beyond that, all your answers become accessible to other internal teams as well. When a sales representative encounters a question too technical to answer on their own, instead of automatically coming to you, they can check the knowledge base. If the answer they need is there, they won’t need to involve presales at all. A self-service option makes their jobs easier, which helps improve the overall relationship between sales and presales.

The same thing goes for the customer support team. With the right knowledge management functionality, they can provide accurate answers to technical questions without having to wait on you. That means faster responses, a better customer experience, and less work for presales.

2. Automate proposal development.

Proposals are frequently an important part of winning new deals, but they take hours of work to complete. Some of the proposal process should be personalized. Customization is a big part of setting yourself apart from competitors and proving your product’s worth. But often, the time it takes to complete a proposal at all means you’re scrambling to cover the basics, leaving little time leftover for the personal touches that increase win rates.

When you have a solid knowledge management system that is accessible from all the software applications where presales engineers already work, you can offload a lot of proposal creation to automation technology. Software can recognize which questions it has seen before, pull from the stored bank of answers, and fill relevant information in automatically. Then all you need to do is review the answers for accuracy, and focus on the parts of the proposal that benefit most from customization.

According to the 2021 RFPIO Benchmark Report, 84% of companies that use RFP software spend more time personalizing proposals, and still submit 43% more proposals than companies that don’t. By bringing automation into the process, one RFPIO client cut a proposal process that typically lasted around a month to one that takes a week and a half and requires fewer people.

3. Automatically gather data on the process.

When you’re in the thick of doing work day after day, it’s hard to see the processes and tactics you’re using clearly. And creating extra processes to track and monitor your actions and results would add more to your already overwhelming workload.

The software you use to do your job each day can automatically track data on how you work, what types of resources you use, and how that all ties back to the results you get. Technology can monitor processes and output to identify common bottlenecks. If proposals or deals are typically held up because of something preventable, tech can help you catch it and change things. Technology can also spot trends in which proposals you typically win and lose, and give you a better idea of which are worth your time.

And all that tracking happens automatically in the background, so you don’t have to do anything extra in your job except review analytics for insights.

Automation provides room for innovation

The idea of trusting technology to do tasks you’re used to doing yourself could feel risky at first. You’re in this role because you have specific skills and knowledge that no software product can replicate. The value of automation isn’t that it replaces those specialized skills—it doesn’t—it’s that it helps you do your job more efficiently and effectively.

When you cut down on repetitive, tedious tasks, you win time back for doing more of the work that only you can do—the kind that involves creativity and leads to innovation. The result is a more successful sales process, better relationships with other internal teams, and more space to do the work that provides satisfaction.

If you’re ready to increase presales productivity while improving morale, schedule a demo today.

Why Business Units are best for visibility and control

Why Business Units are best for visibility and control

If you’ve attended an RFPIO webinar or conference recently—or read the Freedom to Thrive white paper—then you’ve heard us mention RFPIO’s ability to break down silos. If you’re an RFPIO customer, then hopefully you’re already living the silo-flattening dream.

Through knowledge management in the Answer Library and Document Library, in-app collaboration and project management tools, and real-time accessibility by way of RFPIO® LookUp to all of this content, silos can be reduced to rubble. Greater efficiency and productivity ensue, correlating quickly to improved response quality and increased win rates.

Nevertheless, sometimes separation is a good thing. Whether it’s for security or compliance purposes, or even perhaps geographic locations, there are RFPIO customers who want greater control and visibility. For this, we have Business Units.

“RFPIO’s enterprise-level capabilities enable multiple business units, including partners, to collaborate on a single platform. It also reduces communication channels during the proposal development process.”
-Page Snider, Director of Business Program Management, Microsoft Consulting Services What are Business Units?

Business Units (BUs) allow you to create distinct operating units within a single RFPIO instance. Think of them like individual villages within a kingdom. These BUs give you the control in keeping people, projects, and content confined to a specific BU, but also allow you to share any of those across your instance to another BU. User profiles remain unchanged as they’re shared with each Business Unit. Additionally, advanced features are available to provide cross-unit functionality across your entire enterprise.

While Collections pertain to simply restricting content, and complete separate RFPIO instances provide no collaboration between people on projects and content, Business Units can provide a level of control and collaboration to fit any growing enterprise business.

When should you use Business Units?

Software business units are quite common in enterprises, but they’re growing in popularity with small- and mid-sized businesses, too. Prior to the pandemic, it was standard operating procedure for sales teams to work remotely while marketing, InfoSec, and customer support worked onsite. With the trend toward hybrid and fully remote work for all teams, content accessibility and control—as well as visibility into how it’s used (or not used)—has rocketed up the priority list for many companies.

For businesses of any size, there are 3 typical use cases for Business Units.

Use case #1: Separate cost centers or business groups

Business Units are most often separated by business group (Marketing, Sales, etc.) or region (EMEA, NAM, LATAM, etc.).

Business unit - cost center

Many RFPIO customers start with two Business Units, separating InfoSec content from all other content that responders will be sharing with prospects, customers, analysts, or investors.

Regional separation would mean your organization wants a Business Unit for each GEO where business is conducted. Factors such as language and compliance weigh heavily into the determination to split an RFPIO instance into Business Units according to GEO boundaries.

business units - GEO

Use case #2: Mergers

The mergers and acquisitions trend in 2021 was off the charts, and it doesn’t appear to be letting up in 2022. According to Wolters Kluwer, the U.S. saw a record $2.9 trillion in transactions (up 55% from $1.9 trillion in 2020). As RFPIO grows in popularity (250K users and counting…) and response management gains traction as an integral part of the sales tech stack, it’s more and more likely that mergers will take place between businesses that are each running their own RFPIO instances.

When a merger occurs with two businesses that both use RFPIO, it’s certainly an option to maintain the two separate instances. However, if you want more control and visibility, then you can convert one instance into the primary instance and then add the team or teams from the other company as a Business Unit.

Use case #3: Projects portion control

Depending on how your business operates and is structured, separate teams may need different numbers of active projects enabled in RFPIO. Whereas you have a set number of active projects in a single RFPIO instance—50, for example—without Business Units it’s a free-for-all for teams to use those projects. If you find that one or two teams are constantly clamoring for additional active projects, then Business Units can help set aside a suitable amount of active projects for those teams.

Let’s take the example of a single RFPIO instance with 50 active projects. In the case of a software business, sales and InfoSec may need more active projects than marketing and customer support. Business Units can allocate projects to meet each department’s needs: 15 for sales, 15 for InfoSec, 10 for marketing, and 10 for customer support.

business units project allocation

What are the benefits of Business Units?

Primarily, project control and content visibility, which result in additional benefits, including:

  • Ability to scale RFPIO across multiple departments to increase win probability and close deals faster.
  • Rolled-up reporting allows for the most comprehensive visibility available for your RFPIO instance.
  • Identify areas that may need more project management support (we see this a lot in InfoSec).
  • Allow for greater content detail and answer accuracy, and, ultimately, a more robust content repository (which pays off when you need to share content across multiple Business Units).
  • Better, granular visibility into projects, people, and content in each Business Unit but still administered within a single RFPIO instance.

Cross-Business-Unit collaboration is something that we’ve seen more as use cases for BUs have evolved. For example, projects can be shared across Business Units. Say you’re running an InfoSec Business Unit project and you notice that some of the questions may be mapped to brand messaging, which would better be handled by someone in marketing. Share that project to the marketing Business Unit to 1) delegate to a suitable subject matter expert, and 2) ensure that you’re delivering the best possible response. There are some user permissions at play, but it’s certainly possible.

Here’s a real-world benefit example from an RFPIO customer I worked with. This client had a Business Unit for North American and another for EMEA. They wanted Business Units so that EMEA could more effectively track its project workflow and would not have to wait to be granted projects from a global team managing the original single instance.

Teams, content, and templates (by language) were separated. Leaders from both GEOs were connected, however, and collaborated on strategic initiatives. They set up the roll-up reporting so that executives could more effectively track time savings to determine how many more opportunities the EMEA team could pursue.

How do you know if you need Business Units with your RFPIO instance?

Review these 6 questions. If you answer “yes” to any of them, then schedule a consultation to see if Business Units may be a good option for you:

  • Do multiple teams/departments/cost centers use RFPIO?
  • Do you want to expand RFPIO in your organization?
  • Do you have RFPIO users located in multiple GEOs?
  • Do you respond to bids, RFx, security questionnaires, or other external requests in multiple languages?
  • Do you have a single executive stakeholder or team that reviews the effectiveness of RFPIO in the enterprise?
  • Have you merged, or are you planning to merge with a company that is also using RFPIO or RFP360?

If you’re still not sure but want to know more about Business Units, you can review my webinar in the Help Center if you’re an RFPIO customer.

Get the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our blog and never miss an important insight again.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.