What’s harder? Changing, or not changing? In the 25-plus years I’ve worked with subject matter experts (SMEs) on proposals, I can attribute almost all initial pushback to resistance to change. Who wants more work if they don’t have time to complete what’s already on their plate? But the fact of the matter is that a proposal program powered by RFP process automation and a continuously updated Answer Library makes changing easier than not changing.
Before I launch into how to get internal and external SMEs excited about the RFP process, I want to call out a recurring theme that echoes through all of the tips: Respect their time. SMEs already have daily calendars chock full of responsibilities, such as solving engineering issues, dealing with clients, and creating demos. Requesting their help with responses to any RFx (RFP, RFI, RFQ, DDQ, security questionnaire, etc.) is you asking them to repurpose some of that valuable time. But you need their help to complete the RFP process. Your company needs the revenue. SMEs need the company. In the circle of your company’s success lifecycle, the greater the SME involvement and enthusiasm, the easier your job will be.
#1: Control Comms Chaos
SMEs already get too many emails that are easily lost or deleted. Overloading SMEs with multiple emails frustrates them because they don’t know which are the most current, especially if they’re trying to respond from an airplane, client site, or conference. RFP automation software that streamlines the RFP process provides a personalized dashboard of the most current action items. Most importantly, it gives SMEs a single source of truth to eliminate confusion, and they’ll thank you for protecting their inbox.
#2: Do the Heavy Lifting for Them
A proposal team should be able to complete 70-80% of a response using an RFP answer library (see tips 3 and 5). Then set up SMEs as reviewers to save time and avoid having them answer the same question multiple times.
With the right RFP automation software, you can reduce the burden on SMEs with functionality such as robust search options, marketing-approved templates, and targeted action items. One important reminder: SMEs—like many of us—are resistant to change. Any change you make—even if it’s being done to simplify their lives—has to be quick to learn and to show value. Don’t hesitate to kick off the RFP process with a quick 30-minute training session and a one-page how-to guide for easy reference.
#3: Update the RFP Answer Library on a Regular Cadence
If you’re already using RFP automation software, then take full advantage of the RFP answer library. When you get an answer from an SME, add it to the database immediately. SMEs will remember that they have already answered a question. They see asking them to repeat an answer as a lack of respect for their time. It’s better to have them review the answer for accuracy than to start with a blank page.
#4: Point Out How They Control Their Own Destiny
If you are downselected or win an RFP, then SMEs will be first onsite, which means if there were any mistakes in the RFP response, they have to answer for them. If the new client reads that your product or service will do “X”, then SMEs are onsite having to explain why that’s not the case. Help SMEs understand that their involvement ensures a smoother transition and more positive client interaction.
#5: Sell the Benefits of Content Audits
The more up to date the answer library, the more your proposal team can complete automatically, and the easier SME lives will be during live proposals. Use this carrot often, but even when you’re updating existing content in the answer library on cyclical basis, remember tip #2 (do the heavy lifting). SMEs are not grammar gurus, and it will be easier for them to deliver content in their language. It’s up to you or your content/proposal team to wordsmith it.
When you start a content audit, it can be daunting. Prioritize what’s used most. Don’t force SMEs to review rarely used or unused content. Have a kickoff meeting with SMEs and their managers to document the process and illustrate how you’re making it as easy as possible for them. They need to see that you have as much skin in the game, or more, as they do.
#6: Be Transparent with External SMEs
With internal SMEs, I can go to their manager if they refuse to participate. I don’t have that luxury with external SMEs. Provide the same courtesies of communication and heavy lifting that you offer internal SMEs. RFP automation software should include “guest” functionality to give them access.
When you’re working with guests, make sure to give them as much notice as possible. And, when you do need their help, make it as easy as possible. Send them a short, single-page (front and back) PDF of instructions on how to use your RFP automation solution of choice. And definitely leverage the comments function so they know exactly what they need to do.
The big thing you need to pay attention to is content audits. Communicate ahead of time that you’re going to keep their content in the RFP answer library. However, you won’t bother them to review it until their portion of the solution is proposed. They need to know that when you contact them, you’re doing so because there’s real business value potential at stake.
#7: Recognize the Effort
Recognize SMEs for spending their valuable time on your RFP response! If your company doesn’t have a recognition system, then expense a $10 Starbucks card. They deserve it, and they appreciate it.
Give Respect, Earn Respect
Remember, if your primary responsibility is to respond to a proposal, then SMEs are your most precious resource. Without them, you’re a quarterback without an offensive line…a pilot without landing gear…a tree with no roots…a musher with no dogs…you get the idea.
To learn more about streamlining your RFP process to make life easier on SMEs, schedule a demo.