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What is an RFP?

What is an RFP?

RFP stands for request for proposal, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a plea for help, a clue […]


Category: Author: RD Symms

RD is a senior copywriter at RFPIO. He has more than 15 years of experience in writing, content development, and creative strategy. Connect with RD on LinkedIn.
What is an RFP?

What is an RFP?

RFP stands for request for proposal, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a plea for help, a clue to problems that need solved, and an opportunity to build pipeline. This article will take you from asking, “What is an RFP?” to knowing how to use RFPs to drive revenue in less than 1,500 words. Buckle up.

First, an assumption: If you came here because you want to know what an RFP is, then I’m guessing that a high-value target has decided to issue an RFP to find a solution to a problem you feel strongly about solving. When that target finally understands that you’re the answer to their problem, then you’ll pick up a sizable chunk of business. Now you just have to play the RFP game.

(Just in case you’re here because you want to know how to issue an RFP, check out this article instead.)

What is an RFP opportunity?

There are essentially two types of RFP opportunities: solicited and unsolicited. Solicited means that you’re invited to play the game. Unsolicited means you have to crash the game. You have a better chance to win when you’re invited.

That reminds me. There’s a fair bit of jargon in the RFP world. Here’s a short glossary of some common terms you’ll encounter often, including in this article:

  • RFP issuer: The organization that sends out the RFP. They have a problem, and they’re willing to pay someone to solve it, within certain parameters.
  • RFP responder: You.
  • RFP response: How you answer the RFP.
  • RFP proposal: Your response to the RFP.
  • RFP Q&As: Most RFPs present a number of questions that responders must answer. This section makes up the lion’s share of your proposal.
  • RFP win: You were selected by the issuer to solve their problem.
  • RFP loss: Happens to the best of us.

Back to more on “What is an RFP opportunity?”…While you can still win an RFP if you submit an unsolicited response, the odds are against you and you need to take an honest look at whether or not it’s worth it to respond.

RFP responses are not easy, even when you’re invited to partake. If you’re lucky enough to be alerted to an RFP on the day it’s issued, then you’re likely looking at a 3-6 week window to compose your response. Rarely are you so lucky. Sometimes it’s brought in with notice of a week or less, putting you on a tight deadline. The number of hours you’ll have to commit to building a proposal during that time will be determined by, among other things, team participation, content relevance and access, and how much you have to rely on manual processes to complete the response.

Now that you understand what an RFP is and the opportunity it presents, you need to put yourself on a path to respond only to those RFPs that you can realistically win. If this is one of your first RFP responses, then it could be a rabbit hole of unknown depths. Insert a go/no-go milestone before you go ask Alice. It involves asking yourself the following five questions:

  1. What was your level of involvement prior to the RFP being issued?
  2. Is your solution a fit (now, not at some squishy date in the future after you’ve had a chance to adapt it to what the problem calls for)?
  3. Does your price match the RFP issuer’s budget?
  4. Will winning the RFP be a strategic fit for your organization?
  5. Do you have bandwidth (to complete a competitive proposal, not to deliver your solution)?

As part of the RFP response process, you should have an opportunity to ask the questions necessary to fill in the gaps for your go/no-go milestone. Best-case scenario? Your sales team has already laid the groundwork for all of this with the issuer and it’s just a matter of taking their learnings and making them actionable.

It’s a “go.” Now what?

It’s a process deal. Doesn’t that take the pressure off?

I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the RFP process here (you can do so here if you’re ready to start now), but I will touch on the value of efficiency. Even if this is your first RFP, you’ll want to go into it as prepared as possible to save you and your team some pain and give your organization its best shot at winning.

Break down your efficiency goals into three main categories: project management, content management, and proposal quality. Before you start checking boxes under these categories, you need a team. Part of that team has likely already formed. The salesperson at the tip of the spear will be your subject matter expert (SME) for issuer-related questions and perspectives. The rest of the team will come together based on your review of the RFP. What questions need answered? Who has the answers? Who has the design and technical chops to build the proposal?

After you identify potential team members, dig into their availability and try to build a schedule to complete the response by deadline, preferably before deadline to give yourself some buffer. Then schedule a kickoff meeting with all team members to get their buy-in to process details for the following:

  • Project management: You’ll be the lead for collaboration, assigning tasks, and driving the schedule.
  • Content management: You’ll need content creators, content reviewers, and a storage system for a content library (if you’re gathering all this valuable info for an RFP, you’ll want to save it for repurposing; even if this will be your only RFP response of the year, the info will be useful for business proposals, answering prospect and customer questions, and training new hires).
  • Proposal quality: Answering RFP Q&As won’t be enough. You need to personalize the proposal to make it stand out.

Remember, the issuer is using the RFP process to identify its optimal vendor. They’re inciting competition, so you need to play to win. Second prize doesn’t even get a set of steak knives.

Beef up your sales pipeline

Now that you’ve discovered RFPs and the opportunities they can offer, you may want to evaluate how they can help you achieve your sales goals. 69% of B2B salespeople do not have enough leads in their pipeline to meet quota. Pursuing RFPs can build up pipelines fast: Globally, $11 trillion of revenue is won through competitive proposal processes (i.e., RFPs) every year.

Obviously, you’re not going to win every RFP. We found the average win rate to be 45%. However, RFP opportunities can cost as much as 5X more than traditional sales opportunities, which makes your process and your sales tech stack your best friends when it comes to response efficiency.

Automate to dominate

The optimized sales technology stack is a hot point of conversation these days. With so many software solutions, it’s easy for sales teams to overspend on solutions they barely use. A recent Harvard Business Review article cites a survey where 62% of B2B companies were not satisfied with their sales technology return on investment. It also found that:

“The winning companies in our analysis were 1.4 times more likely to fully deploy sales technology tools and 1.9 times more likely to fully integrate them…By taking the time to embed these technologies properly into its sales processes, the [SaaS] company was able to increase revenue growth by 200 basis points within a few weeks.”

RFP automation offers a massive competitive advantage for responders. It saves time, improves proposal quality, and helps companies create their best work by activating their company knowledge. Companies with RFP-specific technology responded to 43% more RFPs in 2020 than those without a designated RFP tool. “With RFPIO, I would say we have increased our win rate by 15%,” said Grégory Saive, IBA global director of sales support and tender management,

But it has to be the right RFP automation technology for your sales tech stack. It has to be able to manage your entire response process — from building proactive proposals to answering prospect and customer questions on the fly and responding to questionnaires — while integrating seamlessly with the other applications you rely on, such as your CRM, communication, and cloud storage solutions.

What’s next? Demo.

We started with “What is an RFP?” and made it all the way through to the value of RFP automation. Once you win one, you’re going to want to win more. Since I’m almost at my promised 1,500-word cap, I’ll wrap it up with a tip on your next step: Schedule a demo. It’s the fastest and easiest way to find out if RFP automation is right for you. Even if it’s not, you’ll get some valuable response tips from our process experts.

Corporate wiki vs internal knowledge base: Which is better?

Corporate wiki vs internal knowledge base: Which is better?

Wikipedia is the primary resource hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett cite in their podcast, Smartless, when interviewing a veritable who’s who in entertainment, sports, and journalism. It’s a must-listen podcast, IMHO, but not because the hosts actually rely on Wikipedia as their source. The use of Wikipedia is an inside joke because one or more of them usually knows their “surprise” guest quite well. As a result, the interviews are funny, insightful, and loaded with personal anecdotes and nostalgia.

What would happen to Smartless if Jason Bateman decided to forego podcasting for more directing opportunities? Could Sean and Will fall back on a wiki or internal knowledge base where Jason had the opportunity to upload his insight into interviews with Erin Gray, Ricky Schroeder, or Alfonso Ribeiro? (Try a reference that’s timelier than “Silver Spoons,” RD.) How about interviews with Laura Linney, Jason Sudeikis, or Rachel McAdams? Comparatively, they’d fall flat without Bateman’s personal knowledge and relationship with those guests.

In the real world, where we all do business with people who haven’t starred in a movie, sitcom, or Netflix series in the past 40 years, falling flat due to ineffective knowledge sharing means not meeting customer expectations, not having answers to prospect questions fast enough, or giving wrong or outdated answers in proposals. It’s costly and embarrassing. It’s also avoidable.

Businesses looking for knowledge sharing tools often end up deciding between two options: corporate wikis or internal knowledge base software. While they may seem similar, they’re actually quite different. In this blog, we’ll break down the differences between company wikis and internal knowledge base software to determine which is the best for your business.

What is a corporate wiki?

A corporate wiki is developed using an open source model. This means that anyone can submit edits or gain access. Although touted for being “collaborative,” they are not always reliable because anyone can make changes and include inaccurate information. Democracy works in politics and when making decisions with your fellow lifeboat occupants. Crowdsourcing worked for Tom Sawyer and tells you if police are ahead on Waze. Neither are good fits for business content.

As far as knowledge sharing is concerned, corporate wikis follow the rules of the jungle. While they certainly encourage greater employee involvement, power users tend to elbow out the specialists. They also get out of control fast. It’s an environment where content seeds are planted and then vines grow depending on what’s most popular or controversial. Without any strategy or rules in place, old vines don’t get pruned, some seedlings get overshadowed, and Barry from engineering starts every edit with, “Whoever wrote this is an idiot. The correct answer is…” Not the sort of collaborative vibe you were hoping for.

What is an internal knowledge base?

An internal knowledge base exists in a self-contained solution designed to streamline access, creation, and review of your business content. Unlike corporate wikis, internal knowledge bases have verified writers, so that all team members using the knowledge base can feel confident that the answers they are finding are accurate. Whereas wikis are open to any user creating or editing content, internal knowledge bases are read-only. If the corporate wiki is the jungle, then the internal knowledge base is a curated nursery.

Structure and strategy are the two biggest differentiators between corporate wikis and internal knowledge bases. Within an overarching content strategy developed for the internal knowledge base, writers create and edit content based on a schedule, which is informed by data-driven insight. Tags, collections, and custom fields define its information hierarchy, making it more user-friendly and efficient to search.

Depending on how you set up your internal knowledge base, you can also gather data to derive intelligence on how it’s being used, what it’s missing, and what it doesn’t need. For example, through RFPIO, users can output an Answer Library Insights Report to see which content gets used most often as well as which search terms receive very few or zero results. In the latter example, content managers can build content production plans around zero-result search terms so users will be able to find answers they need during their next search.

Creating an internal knowledge base is a 6-step process:

  1. Consolidate existing knowledge: Import your most recent sales proposals, DDQs, security questionnaires, and RFPs.
  2. Grow as you go: Add new content as products come and go, markets change, audience triggers evolve, and new departments come on board based on your initial tag, collection, and custom field structure.
  3. Stay accurate and up-to-date: Curate content to keep it fresh (corporate content every 90 days, product content every 6-12 months, and evergreen content that doesn’t change much every 12-24 months).
  4. Provide open access: Make sure everyone who needs to use the content has access to the content. Don’t get restrained by user licenses.
  5. Train your team: Even if the tool is intuitive and easy to use, set up time to train new users or else risk them never even trying it.
  6. Conduct regular audits: Don’t let the internal knowledge base turn into the wiki jungle. Keep it clean.

Learn more about these six steps here.

Why is knowledge sharing so important?

In 2020, Forrester asked more than 3,000 sales reps about their main roadblocks to productivity. Finding content or information was at the top of the list. And a McKinsey study found that knowledge workers spend 20% of their time searching for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. Time equals money, and IDC estimates that an enterprise of 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $5.7 million annually searching for information that is never found.

One more bit of bad news (I’ll end on a high note. Promise.): Knowledge workers are quitting. They are not immune to “The Great Resignation” of the pandemic. According to the New Yorker, “Many well-compensated but burnt-out knowledge workers have long felt that their internal ledger books were out of balance: they worked long hours, they made good money, they had lots of stuff, they were exhausted, and, above all, they saw no easy options for changing their circumstances.” Well, the pandemic gave them the opportunity they were looking for to simplify their life. With knowledge workers departing, organizations need to up the ante on knowledge sharing to make sure they’re expertise doesn’t go out the door with them.

Speaking of doors, knowledge sharing is also a boon for onboarding new employees coming in the door. Giving them the freedom to access company knowledge at will and in context gets them up to speed faster while making custom face-to-face training more efficient and effective (i.e., trainees can find answers to common questions in the wiki or knowledge base on their own time). A majority of HR professionals cite improved onboarding as beneficial to overall employee engagement.

As promised, a high note: Knowledge sharing encourages and rewards greater employee involvement, especially when the sharing mechanism is easy, intuitive, and trustworthy. Organizations with highly engaged employees earn about 150% more than their less engaged counterparts. So they have that going for them, which is good.

What’s better: a corporate wiki or an internal knowledge base?

Guessing I probably showed my hand too early with that wisecrack about Barry from engineering. You got it: The internal knowledge base takes the checkered flag when it comes to organizational knowledge sharing.

Its structure and the processes that support it make it a more trustworthy single source of truth, which reduces knowledge hoarding and shadow development of content that may exist in individual hard drives. And just because content is created and edited by designated writers doesn’t mean that all expertise hasn’t been tapped. Systems such as RFPIO enable content owners to automate collaboration with subject matter experts so that knowledge is captured accurately and efficiently, while maintaining consistency in message, voice, and tone throughout.

Besides, it also offers much more functionality compared to a corporate wiki. Instead of opening a new browser window or tab and navigating to the Intranet wiki, users can search content from almost anywhere. RFPIO® LookUp is a portal into the Answer Library, which can be searched from Chrome like you’re searching the Internet. According to Hope Henderson at Alera Group, “We market RFPIO as our internal content Google. If anyone that’s client-facing has a question about a specific product, the RFPIO Answer Library will be the first place they’ll go.”

“We market RFPIO as our internal content Google. If anyone that’s client-facing has a question about a specific product, the RFPIO Answer Library will be the first place they’ll go.”
-Hope Henderson, Marketing Coordinator at Alera Group

RFPIO also integrates with CRM, communication, cloud, and other applications so users don’t have to toggle back and forth to find content. Vicki Griesinger, Director of Business Strategy, Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft, said, “RFPIO® LookUp is available right from Microsoft Teams and surfaces content from all of our content collections without the maintenance overhead.”

With fewer writers and more controls, you might think content ends up sounding too institutional, with too few opportunities to personalize it. On the contrary. With a finely tuned internal knowledge base, prospect- and client-facing workers can find accurate content faster and easier so they’ll have more time to spend on personalizing the interaction.

Plan for unknown knowledge

In your pursuit of the ultimate knowledge repository, remember one thing: It’s going to have to change. In five years, you may need the knowledge you have now or you may not. You’ll definitely need some of the new knowledge you’re going to gain on the way.

Both corporate wikis and internal knowledge bases are updateable, but five years hence do you want to be hacking through a jungle to see what you can update? Or would you rather have the new knowledge curated and grafted onto the existing content for you so that all you have to do is harvest the fruit?

To learn more about using RFPIO to build your internal knowledge base, schedule a demo today.

IBA increased win rate by 15% by improving response and bid quality

IBA increased win rate by 15% by improving response and bid quality

There are niche markets. Then there are niches of niche markets. IBA, a medical device manufacturer based in Belgium, is in one of those niches. That’s why they face such tough competition for every one of their 30, on average, annual request for proposal (RFP) responses or tender bids.

IBA global director of sales support and tender management, Grégory Saive, and his team review every document released in relation to IBA’s proton therapy technology. Due to the sensitive nature of the technology—it’s at the forefront of cancer treatment innovation—and the level of investment required to build and furnish a proton therapy suite, RFPs and tenders are understandably complex. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages of technical, legal, and medical information are included in responses and bids. Multiple subject matter experts must weigh in to ensure accuracy and mitigate risk.

Three years ago, Grégory took over a team of regional product managers and tender specialists participating in the business development of Proteus® proton therapy technology. At the time, the team faced multiple challenges:

  • Even though team members carried the title of “specialist,” the monotony of repetitive bid and response tasks relegated them to feeling more like “assistants”
  • Manual processes took up too much time and had to be repeated for every bid or response
  • Bids and responses did not accurately represent the quality the company or the team wanted to portray when representing such a high-end brand in competitive evaluation processes
  • Content was scattered, siloed, and difficult to keep current

When Grégory took over, he committed to transforming the team’s response processes while promising not to increase headcount. In order to fulfill his commitment, Grégory and his team knew that they needed a tool that could be the foundation for the team’s transformation. Given the nature of his work, he began the process by running a tender. “We are tender specialists, so I found it strange that my team would select a tool based on a whim. So we created a full tender for RFPIO and some of its competitors,” Grégory said.

First impressions

IBA offered the tender to four pre-selected solution providers. During the demo process, RFPIO’s search functionality stood out as a definitive competitive differentiator. Grégory said, “I was impressed by how easy it was to tag answers with associated keywords, search for those keyword tags, and view search results with a score index to see the questions that are the most recent and most used at the top.”

In the past, when Grégory wanted to find the proper wording for an answer—wording that he knew existed but he could not precisely recall its location—he had to search through multiple documents line by line until he found it. With the search functionality he witnessed in the demo, he realized that he wouldn’t have to conduct those manual searches ever again.

For Grégory, response management software was a tool. Alone, it could not transform his team or response processes. Using response management software as the foundation, he sought to achieve three goals that he believed would result in a successful transformation.

Goal #1: Improve Quality

From the day Grégory took over his team, his goal was not primarily to increase efficiency. His goal was to improve bid and response quality. “We do not win a deal with a tender, but we can definitely lose a deal because of a tender,” he said.

With such a highly specialized solution, the market and opportunities are extremely limited. His team responds to an average 30 tenders or RFPs every year because there are only that many real opportunities that become available on a global scale.

Increasing efficiency so his team could produce more responses or bids would do nothing for IBA’s bottom line. They had to improve the quality of their bids and responses to increase the win percentage of existing opportunities. And IBA is not alone in its desire to re-invest time saved into improving bids. In fact, 84% of companies with designated RFP software agree that they have more time to personalize proposals for specific use cases.*

After a year of using RFPIO, IBA increased their win rate for Grégory’s business unit to 80%.

“With RFPIO, I would say we have increased our win rate by 15%.”

He’s quick to point out that RFPIO isn’t the only reason for this uptick. It’s also due to how he’s spent the time saved by using the tool. By reducing time spent on searching documents and copy and pasting answers, the team has more time to strategize about how to compose the best answers.

“RFPIO allows the team to spend more time on meaningful tasks…either training, reviewing answers, or improving quality. That’s where I’ve spent most of my time saved since the beginning.”

Goal #2: Improve Content Management

Prior to implementing RFPIO, Grégory and tender specialists had to browse hundreds of documents during the bid process. When they found something that was remotely close, then they copy and pasted it. They could not spend the time necessary to fully think it through and make sure it was a contextually sound answer because they had to move on.

That presented a problem for answers that had not been used in awhile. According to a Deloitte article called The new knowledge management, “If searching is difficult and the results are not highly valued, workers lose trust in knowledge systems.”

With RFPIO, the team now searches the Answer Library for the most relevant answer and trusts the results based on the content score. When they find an answer, they can also see when and how often that answer was used. If the answer is two years old, for example, then it is likely out of date because the product has evolved. The team knows that the answer needs to be reviewed by a product manager or other specialist, depending on the context, and can assign and track that review through RFPIO.

But even that process will continue to improve. Because Grégory’s team focuses only on proton therapy business, they can work in a single Answer Library. They are implementing processes to proactively review answers—especially long answers that are used regularly—with experts every six months. So in future searches, fewer Q & A pairs will be out of date and require detailed review during a bid in-flight.

In the case of content that needs updating more often, Grégory hopes to focus the review process even more. “Content relating to financing options—stuff that we don’t use often or that’s really specific to a country or prospect—usually needs 50% or more changes. Maybe in five years, we tag that content with special comments saying that it needs to be automatically reviewed by financial experts at IBA.”

While content management has already improved, IBA continues to identify new ways to streamline their review processes to identify more time that can be spent on improving bid quality.

Goal #3: Enable Better Training

Grégory promised management that in exchange for investing in a response management tool such as RFPIO, he would not add headcount. One of the primary reasons he’s been able to keep his promise is because of the training advantages offered by RFPIO.

IBA is not alone in its focus on training and maintaining headcount. 63% of proposal teams plan to increase team training on RFP response, while only 37% plan to hire more staff.*

Again, it’s not just the tool. As Grégory said, “It’s a great tool, but it’s not a magical tool.” While the RFPIO Answer Library helps streamline the answer process, it also gives time to Grégory and his team members to think and customize their answers.

For Grégory, he can take the time to train team members on how to answer, or what makes a good answer to a particular question. For his team, it’s the difference between plowing through the bid process feeling like an “assistant” or “generalist” and approaching each question as a “specialist” who can deliberate on differentiating IBA from competitors.

Although he is not adding headcount, transition on Grégory’s team does occur due to rotations some employees take from one department to another. In such cases, onboarding is much faster with RFPIO in place. “Again, the ease with which we are able to search the Answer Library has improved the onboarding process.” When new recruits don’t have to take the time to familiarize themselves with what the content is and where answers might be located, they can jump right into identifying the right answers through search.

IBA improved proposal quality and increased win rate by 15% with RFPIO

Next steps

So far, IBA has used RFPIO only for Proteus®. In the future, they hope to expand their Answer Library and Collections to include partner software and hardware that can make a solution even better. This will require a culture change around collaboration, but it’s all part of Grégory’s long-term plan to transform the team. IBA is also in the process of bringing its OneDrive integration online, which will expand their Answer Library with marketing videos, documents, and other content.

As for advice on how to get the most out of RFPIO, Grégory recommends having someone in charge of response management who can drive processes and establish goals. Setting ground rules and expectations for management as well as team members is essential to success.

The tool may not be magical, but it gives Grégory and his team time and opportunity to insert magic into their answers to improve the quality of their bids and responses.

“I cannot really measure the increase in quality in terms of answers, but I can certainly measure the increase of quality in my team.”

Ready to start increasing your win rate?

See how automating your RFP responses can help your team improve proposal quality, increase win rate, and generate revenue. Schedule a demo to get started.

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

If you’re new to the proposal or bid process, then you’ll need the request for proposal (RFP) basics. Even though, like all business processes, the request for proposal process has changed over the years, many of the basics have held true.

This article will brief you on what you need to know about requests for proposals so you’ll be ready to take on the response process with aplomb.

What does RFP stand for?

RFP stands for request for proposal. As a remnant of government contracting processes, it’s no wonder “RFP” is more popular as an acronym. After all, in byzantine bureaucratic processes, responding to an RFP from the DoD is the only way to share your KSP with a VIP who prefers to keep their ID on the QT until they determine ROI. And this all started before texting and social media! LOL!

Why do RFPs exist?

Organizations and agencies issue RFPs as part of their vendor selection process. It’s an attempt to create parameters that enable apples-to-apples comparisons of solutions to a particular problem.

Outside of the United States, RFPs are also known as tenders. Instead of “issuing an RFP,” organizations “run a tender.” Instead of “responding” to an RFP, vendors “bid” on a tender.

Other RFP-related terms

To learn more about common RFP-related terms, you have 3 options. One, check out the quick definitions below (it’ll take less than a minute). Two, read my new screenplay for the short film, “Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process,” later in this article (it’ll take you 3-5 minutes). Three, do both! Note: If you are an artist who can help me storyboard the movie, let’s talk (think low-budget, though).

Proposal
The proposal is your response to an RFP. If an organization or agency asks, “How can I solve X?” in an RFP, then your proposal is the answer: “I propose this solution to X.” Like Dr. Barbay’s single question for Thornton Melon’s academic evaluation that ended up having 27 parts, your RFP proposal can be hundreds, if not thousands of pages long.

RFP Executive Summary
The RFP executive summary sets the tone of the proposal. It’s usually written first, by the salesperson in charge of the relationship. It will summarize the highlights of your proposal. There are occasions when it will be the only part of your proposal that some of the issuing stakeholders will review.

RFI: Request for Information
RFIs, or requests for information, are more casual than a request for quote and more generic than an RFP, RFIs are either a fishing expedition or a clarification exercise.

RFQ: Request for Quote
When someone issues an RFQ, or request for quote, they want you to tell them how much your product or service will cost. Lowest price definitely does not always win. This is an opportunity to illustrate everything included in your offering as well as prospective ROI.

DDQ: Due Diligence Questionnaire
DDQs, or due diligence questionnaires—not to be confused with a security questionnaire (see below)—are all about compliance. You might see one as part of the RFP process, but it’s also likely you’ll be filling these out throughout your partnership with the issuer. With increasing scrutiny on data security and privacy, you may be filling them out more often, too.

Security Questionnaire
This will be one or more standardized questionnaires designed to assess risk of taking you on as a vendor. Popular questionnaires include SIG, SIG-Lite, VSAQ, CAIQ, and more.

When to use an RFP

Say you’re an enterprise or government agency. Through research and experience, you’ve identified five possible vendors that may be able to help solve a particular problem. Now you can issue an RFP to gather everything you need to know about the solution, its cost, and its impact on your operations after selecting a vendor. The level of complexity, number of questions, and deadline will vary greatly depending on your industry and the sophistication of the solution.

When to respond to an RFP

There are several factors to consider when determining whether or not to respond to an RFP. We recommend that your standard RFP intake process include a go/no-go step. Only respond to RFPs that you can win:

  • Is the RFP the right fit for your organization and solution?
  • Do you have a comprehensive solution that addresses all of the challenges presented in the request?
  • Does your pricing match the budget?
  • Do you have an existing or prior relationship with the issuing organization?
  • Do you have any insight into why the RFP has been issued?
  • Can you meet the submission deadline?

When to use RFP software

If you’re responding to a couple of RFPs, a few security questionnaires, and spend most of your time sending out direct responses to RFQs, then RFP software may not be the best fit.

RFP software falls into a new category of software known as response management. Response management software’s primary value is efficiency. How you repurpose time saved will determine much of your success. Some organizations seek to respond to more RFPs, others seek to improve response quality. Most want both.

If you think RFP software and its automation capabilities would help, then it’s important to consider your entire response universe when selecting a vendor. For example, do you only want help responding to RFPs? Or do you want to automate responses to security questionnaires and DDQs, too?

What about proactive proposals? Do your sales, presales, and support teams want a better way to respond to prospects and customers?

RFPs are sales vehicles, and how your organization responds is a sales support function. The response management solution you choose will be determined by how much sales support you want to offer.

Sometimes you wonder if life is a movie…

Me, too! So if you had to break down RFP basics into a scene in your life’s movie it might look like…

“Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process”

By Sue Donim

[LOCATION: HOME OFFICE OF “KEYES,” THE SALES MANAGER/PROPOSAL MANAGER/MARKETING MANAGER HERO. KEYES LOGS ONTO A VIDEO CONFERENCE WITH “BOSS.”]

KEYES: Hi, Boss. Nice virtual background. That’s the most artistic rendering of taxidermy I’ve seen in some time.

BOSS: Cut to the chase, Keyes. I’ve grown weary of these online meetings. Unless you have a solution to our revenue and inefficiency challenges, I’d rather you send me an email.

KEYES: You’re in luck, sir. It just so happens that’s why I requested this meeting.

BOSS: That’s what I like about you, Keyes. Always presenting answers instead of complaining about problems. Proceed.

KEYES: We can increase revenue by streamlining our RFP process.

BOSS: Brilliant! I like it…no, I love it! Let’s start immediately. Now…

What is an RFP again?

KEYES: An RFP is a Request for Proposal…when a company needs services and products like ours, they issue an RFP to identify the optimal vendor.

BOSS: Sounds like a no-brainer. Why haven’t we been doing this the whole time?

KEYES: We have responded to RFPs in the past, but it’s not exactly a turnkey process…yet. RFPs can be thousands of pages about pricing, functionality, technology, security, company basics, competitive differentiators, and more. Responding puts a strain on our subject matter experts, sales teams, and anyone else who needs to carve out extra time to help with the process.

BOSS: That doesn’t sound efficient at all.

KEYES: Well, then you have to take into consideration RFIs and RFQs, too.

BOSS: Enough with the acronyms, Keyes.

What’s an RFI? What’s an RFQ?

KEYES: Sorry, Boss. Request for Information and Request for Quote. RFIs tend to appear early in the vendor-selection process. Companies issue them to find out if any vendors can help them solve a particular problem. They’re more generic and open-ended and would likely be used to craft a more targeted RFP. RFQs usually show up later in the vendor selection process, usually after we’ve submitted an RFP. This is when the company wants to know specifics on how much our solution will cost.

BOSS: RFPs, RFIs, RFQs… anything else I should know about? Wait, what’s that?!

How to write executive summary
KEYES: Good eye, Boss. That’s a cheat sheet on writing an executive summary. The executive summary is high-level content that covers the issuer’s challenges and demonstrates how our products and services will help.

BOSS: Sounds like a cover letter.

KEYES: That’s a common misconception, Boss. The executive summary is different from the cover letter. In an executive summary, we provide an executive-level summary of how our solution fixes their problem. In a cover letter, we talk about how great we are.

BOSS: I’m better at that than most.

KEYES: Of course you are.

BOSS: And what do our RFP-winning executive summaries look like?

KEYES: I’ll let you know when we win one.

BOSS: I was afraid you were going to say that.

KEYES: Don’t get discouraged, Boss. I have a plan to turn it around. The right RFP automation software will help us write RFP-winning executive summaries. Just like it will help with DDQs and security questionnaires.

BOSS: What did I just say about acronyms?

What’s a DDQ?

KEYES: Sorry. Last one. The DDQ is the Due Diligence Questionnaire. It’s usually one of the last stages of the response process. In fact, it may come after we’ve already been selected, when the company is doing their final due diligence. It typically involves a few hyper-specific points as part of their standard vendor onboarding protocol.

BOSS: And how is that different from a security questionnaire? In fact….

What even is a security questionnaire?

KEYES: Great question, Boss. Privacy is a hot button, and any company we work with wants to make sure we meet their privacy standards. Security questionnaires generally deal with privacy issues such as compliance, infrastructure security, and data protection. Depending on the company, this questionnaire can be a few hundred or a few thousand questions.

BOSS: Yowza. How long does it take to complete that?

KEYES: Weeks, if we don’t have a response process in place.

BOSS: Excellent. Let’s get it implemented. I’m putting you in charge of it, Keyes.

KEYES: I think that’s a good call, Boss. We’ll start with the 8-step RFP response process.

[CUT TO GRAPHIC OF 8-STEP RFP RESPONSE PROCESS]

RFP process and steps

BOSS: Looks like I put the right person in charge. You have all the answers, Keyes.

KEYES: Speaking of answers, that reminds of something else that’s essential to a smooth-running RFP process machine.

BOSS: Yes, yes, that’s why I brought it up. What’s on your mind?

KEYES: The Answer Library, Boss. It’s the secret to more efficient RFP content management. It’s what makes massive questionnaires answerable in a few clicks. It’s where content is marketing-approved and always ready to share. And if it’s intelligent—as it should be—it’s able to make recommendations along the way so that we can easily customize every RFP response. Plus, once a subject matter expert answers a question it stays in the library forever. From then on, they can take a reviewer role, saving them time and keeping them focused on their primary job duties.

BOSS: That’s it! You’re the winner, Keyes! Best video conference of the day.

KEYES: Thank you, Boss.

BOSS: No, thank YOU! Now, how do we get started. Will you—dare I ask—issue an RFP? Ha!

KEYES: Good one, sir, but no. I already have someone in mind.

[FADE OUT OF VIDEO CONFERENCE CALL AUDIO. ZOOM OUT TO SEE THE BACK OF KEYES. CUT TO BLACK. ROLL CREDITS]

[END]

How is your RFP process performing? Schedule a demo to see how RFPIO can help transform your RFP period piece into an action-packed RFP-process blockbuster.

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