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How to improve your RFP response process in 5 simple steps

How to improve your RFP response process in 5 simple steps

Let’s start with the good news: You have an RFP response process. You’d be surprised to know how many companies […]


Category: Author: Tara Kolinksy

Tara Kolinsky is an APMP-certified Customer Success Manager at RFPIO, with 17 years of experience working as a proposal manager at software companies. She excels at helping small organizations build processes from the ground up, implement proposal management software, and manage their response process from start to finish. When she’s not helping organizations save time, you can probably find her gardening, camping, exploring new foods, or spending time with her family.
How to improve your RFP response process in 5 simple steps

How to improve your RFP response process in 5 simple steps

Let’s start with the good news: You have an RFP response process. You’d be surprised to know how many companies don’t even have that. If you don’t have a process yet, then I recommend reading How to create an RFP response process as well.

Now the bad news: It needs work. I can help. Let’s look at how to improve your RFP response process.

First, take inventory: How are RFPs viewed within your organization?

Before you improve, take a look at what you have and why. Does your organization view RFPs as a strategic revenue stream or a box to be checked? If the latter, are executive sponsors in place to help you lead the process change?

Change management is real. If past attempts to prioritize RFPs in the sales process were mishandled, then you may still be feeling the pain. If this will be your first sales process change as it pertains to RFPs, then how it’s managed will be just as important as what is implemented.

One advantage of improving your RFP response process now is that salespeople and customers are more open to change than they may have been prior to the pandemic. As people quickly adapted to a “new normal,” Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said, “We saw two years of digital transformation in two months.”

However, if you’re like most organizations, the change will need to take place while maintaining current staff levels. According to our 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management, 75% of organizations plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021, but only 37% of organizations plan to hire more RFP response staff.

5 steps to improving your RFP response process

Perfection is unattainable. There’s always room for improvement. I’ve seen organizations improve their RFP response process and see big gains within a year. One 2-person team successfully responded to 16 RFPs that were stacked on top of each other a year after having to push back on the same expectation. Hopefully these tips will help you attain the same kind of results.

Step 1: Only chase RFPs you can win

One of the best ways to make your RFP response process more effective is to stop wasting time on unqualified RFPs. Do this by setting up a qualification step or a go/no-go decision. Consider the following during this step:

  • What was your level of involvement prior to the RFP being issued? RFPs are not the optimal time for cold calls. Odds are definitely better when you’ve been invited to respond to an RFP because sales or presales has developed a relationship with the prospect or you already responded to a request for information (RFI) or the prospect has done extensive research on you and your competitors.
  • Is your solution a fit? At minimum, it needs to meet the mandatory requirements. Everyone’s agile. Everyone’s flexible. Issuers already know that. You need to be able to prove that you have a battle-tested solution. If proof isn’t required in the RFP, then it will be at onboarding or implementation. RFPs fall into the category of “under promise, over deliver”; doing the opposite will sabotage future support, renewal, and upgrade efforts.
  • Does your price match the prospect’s budget? Of course there’s give and take when considering the opportunity and what it means to your business now and in the future. Nevertheless, the issuer will expect your solution to come with everything promised in your response. Whatever the cost to deliver on expectations, make sure you’re being fair to your prospect, your product, and your team responsible for supporting those expectations.
  • Is it a strategic fit? RFPs take a lot of time and effort, but not nearly as much time and effort as onboarding and supporting a customer that doesn’t fit your business or product development strategy. There are few things more frustrating than submitting and winning an RFP only to find out that you cannot follow through because it’s not a strategic fit for you or the issuer.
  • Do you have bandwidth? Too often, this consideration gets pushed to the side. It’s especially important if you’re responding to unqualified bids! It’s completely understandable to want to respond to more RFPs (we found that 72% of companies plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021 than they did in 2020). But don’t do it at the expense of response quality or your proposal team’s, sales team’s, and subject matter experts’ valuable time.

Step 2: Focus on content

Are you working from a content library, or are you still chasing down content ad-hoc? If you have a content library, make sure it’s up to date and that content is clean and reusable. Develop content so that it has the flexibility to either be easily customized or used in its generic form. It should all have a consistent voice to reduce editing and review time on the back end.

Your content library also needs to have an organizational structure that helps with searching. With RFP software such as RFPIO, you can use tags, collections, and custom fields. It might help to organize content to match the structure of the RFPs you receive. What sections do you always see? Sections common in many RFPs are:

  • Company overview
  • Training & implementation
  • Security
  • Software/Functional/Technical
  • Biographies
  • Case Studies

If you’re not using RFP software, organizing your files and documents this way will help reduce the need to chase down content for every new RFP.

Step 3: Set clear definitions of roles and responsibilities

Have a project plan that emphasizes expectations. Someone has to own it and drive it to hold team members accountable to deadlines. If you don’t have a full-time proposal manager in place, then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better reason to hire one than to improve and own your RFP response process.

Initiate a kickoff meeting for every response to discuss strategy and expectations with the entire response team. Surface scheduling conflicts, content gap concerns, or issues with deadlines to avoid surprises. Find a way to get visibility over the whole process.

Step 4: Get to know your resources

The better you know your resources, the better you are at going to the right person at the right time. Establish their preferred communication channel and respect it. RFPIO has integrations with several channels to make it easier, including email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Jira. Maybe you have an SME who hates writing. Call him up and have him talk out the answer, then you write it out. Putting in the legwork to build relationships with your resources will pay off at crunch time.

Step 5: Rinse & repeat

Any improvements need to be repeatable. For example, if you bring in a contract proposal manager for a response, then be prepared to do so every time. This is a process you will cycle through for every RFP. If it works as well as it should, then you may want to carry the process over to other responses, such as security questionnaires or due diligence questionnaires (DDQs).

8-step RFP response process

  • Qualify RFP: Insert a go/no-go evaluation at the beginning of the RFP response process. Sales will be the loudest voice, but proposal teams, SMEs, and executive sponsors will need to weigh in to evaluate risk, timing, and strategic fit.
  • Kick-off project: Provide clarity and accountability to the full response management team, including strategic objectives that everyone can work toward.
  • 1st response: Make an initial response pass based on reusable content. This step is much faster with RFP software.
  • 2nd response: Tap into resources for new questions, and assign segments that require customization to respective SMEs.
  • Review & revise: Conduct internal reviews to ensure a high-quality proposal. Link review requests to specific purposes (i.e., Are strategic objectives met? Are responses accurate and high quality? Did we fully answer the question?)
  • Submit: Deliver polished RFP with reviewed supporting materials. Follow up to confirm receipt. Keep internal stakeholders abreast of progress.
  • Save & audit: Save finalized responses in a centralized location and commit to regular content audits.
  • Post-mortem: Winning doesn’t always mean content was perfect. Losing doesn’t mean it was a bad response. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t.
    Bonus step: Get a good set of tools

RFP process and steps

Bonus step: Get a good set of tools

RFPs are becoming more complex. As technology has evolved, expectations have risen. With the capacity to answer more questions, issuers want to ask more questions.

In the past, RFPs were issued with the issuer not knowing if a solution even existed, let alone the company that could provide it. Now there’s a lot of research done online. Typically, there are multiple touchpoints with a prospective solution provider before an RFP is even issued.

In 2021, companies that use RFP-specific software responded to 43% more RFPs than those who use other solutions or techniques. They were also 25% more likely to agree that their processes are streamlined enough to make time to tailor their proposals to the issuers’ specific use-cases.

RFP software can contain and drive your response process. In RFPIO’s case, AI-enabled automation and collaboration begin at intake and carry all the way through to your postmortem.

For those increasingly popular but sometimes maddening online response portals, RFPIO® LookUp can help. The theory behind online portals is that they make RFPs easier. For the issuers, maybe. But not for responders. Even though you can have as many proposal team members respond as you want, there’s no visibility. If multiple responders are updating and changing answers then version and quality control are at risk. RFPIO® LookUp lets you work directly from your Answer Library to fill out the online portal without having to leave your browser.

I hope this helps you formulate your next steps for improving your RFP response process. Eventually, you’ll be able to respond to more RFPs or improve the quality of your proposals, or both! You’ll also have a transparent, repeatable process that your proposal team and organization as a whole can rely on to push RFPs as a strategic revenue stream. Schedule a demo of RFPIO to see if it’s the process improvement driver you’ve been looking for.

How to create a great RFP response process

How to create a great RFP response process

If you’re reading this, then you’ve already contemplated why you need a request for proposal (RFP) response process. Something hasn’t been going right. Too much time being spent on responding? Poor quality proposals? Lack of wins? Or maybe you’re a new proposal manager, or you’re trying to provide proposal manager-level leadership as a sales or marketing manager. The point is that now you know why you need an RFP response process, so where do you get started?

I’m going to lay it all out for you, but first…

How do you respond to an RFP?

Depending on your industry, an RFP may contain several hundred questions and ask you to gather dozens of documents, certificates, and other content that validates your product as a solution to the issuer’s problem. You’ll have to compose a response that addresses all the questions and content requirements, which may require you to reach out to multiple people in your organization for help. Oh, and of course there’s a deadline. And it’s never far enough in the future for you to feel comfortable about hitting it.

Your response will be reviewed and compared to responses from your competitors. The quality of your response will determine whether or not your organization moves forward in the sales process. As many an RFP pro can attest, you can’t win a deal solely on the basis of an RFP, but you can certainly lose one.

RFPs can be painful without a process. Evaluating what’s required, searching for content, tracking down subject matter experts (SMEs) to help, and composing a high-quality proposal takes time, most of which will be wasted if you take an ad-hoc approach. Your process does not have to be extensive, but it does have to exist.

What is an RFP response process?

An RFP response process is an efficient workflow that clarifies roles, responsibilities, and timelines to help an organization meet the issuer’s deadline. A great RFP response process is practiced by an entire team. RFP contributors come together to build the process, and they follow it consistently.

When to create an RFP response process

I touched on some scenarios in the opening paragraph, but here are a few more red flags that might indicate you need to create an RFP response process:

  1. A new proposal manager is taking over the process. Whether they are taking over an existing process or implementing one for the first time, this is an excellent opportunity for a proposal manager to make an early impact.
  2. The current “process” just isn’t working. This can range from being tired of responding to RFPs in an ad-hoc fashion, to recognizing the current proposal process is broken or cannot scale, to realizing that AI-enabled software help is out there and it’s time to implement.
  3. Merging organizations with separate RFP response processes. Rare is the occasion when two companies come together and proceed in lockstep through their first RFP as a merged entity. If you’re going to try to cherry pick the best of both processes, then you might as well scrape the lot and build anew. The good news is that your combined experience will accelerate decision-making.
  4. New markets or new products. What may have worked in the past with familiar markets and established products may fall flat with audiences that don’t recognize your company or product. This is a prime opportunity to get back to basics and modernize a process that may have grown stale anyway.

Set goals for your RFP response process

Start by identifying what you want to achieve. Only then can you draw a blueprint that you can follow to get there. I recommend including these three objectives in your initial goal-setting:

  1. Decrease response time: The pain of too much time spent on responding is likely what got you here in the first place. Drop this metric in as one of your primary markers for success. If you do it right, you can decrease response time by up to 40% or more. The right process will make you more nimble.
  2. Improve response quality: Some, if not all, of that time you save with a new RFP response process can be re-invested in your responses. Instead of scrambling to find answers or begging for reviews, you’re spending the time customizing a proposal to better position your solution for the win.
  3. Increase shortlist rate: This will take a few responses before you see any results. More shortlists means that you’re receiving greater consideration. Eventually, an uptick in this metric will correlate to an uptick in win rates, too.

Further out, you can look at goals for win rate, content development, and increasing the number of RFPs you respond to every year.

RFP process steps for efficient RFP responses

Start with this RFP process checklist. Plan on at least a month of work to get the process going. The status and volume of your existing content will be the major determining factor in how quickly you’ll see results.

  1. Identify key stakeholders: Who are they? What is their contribution? What is their role (e.g. proposal development/management, subject matter expertise, strategy, review, etc.)?
  2. Figure out the average timeline. Government RFPs tend to have longer lead times but more requirements. Private sector RFPs are generally quicker but may not be as complex. Knowing this will help you construct your response calendar. For example, if you have an average of two weeks then reviews won’t be extensive, or you may have to respond with a generic proposal instead of a custom version.
  3. Identify other metrics that will determine whether or not you pursue the opportunity.
  4. ROI: Is it worth committing resources to the effort?
  5. Strategic positioning: Is your solution truly the right fit for the issuer’s problem?
  6. Pricing: Does the estimated budget align with your pricing?
  7. Existing relationships: If you’re an unknown entity, then you have a steeper hill to climb to get shortlisted.
  8. Locate content and evaluate how easy or difficult it will be to access it. Dollars to donuts that this will be your biggest headache.
  9. Select the optimal channels for collaboration. Email? Slack? Teams? You’ll need to include all of your identified stakeholders. Then you’ll need to create a strategy of how to collaborate. Include everyone in everything (and risk early onset of project fatigue)? Customize communications for every action item (and add a hefty amount of work to the project lead while risking losing touch with some stakeholders)? Quick tip: Break away from a linear process; people can work on multiple pieces simultaneously.
  10. Get buy-in from everyone. For a process to be effective, it needs to be followed. Bring in executive sponsors from the get-go, and start selling efficiency benefits to SMEs pronto. Relationship building within your organization will be just as important as the business development relationships your salespeople are cultivating.
  11. Consider whether software can help. Software helps you have a clearly defined process. Software itself enforces the process, with the help of the administrator. It also centralizes content, makes it searchable, and automates part of the response process, all of which will simplify creating the process in the first place.
  12. Should you hire a proposal manager? This is a professional role that brings value to the RFP process. It’s a combination of project management, proposal development, and relationship-building expertise earned from extensive response experience. Otherwise, someone is going to have to multi-task with their other responsibilities to lead the RFP response.

A template: The ideal RFP response process flowchart

As soon as you have your ducks in a row, you can go about building your proposal process in the flowchart below.

RFP Response Process and Steps

8 key RFP process steps:

  1. Qualify RFP: Insert a go/no-go evaluation at the beginning of the RFP response process. Sales will be the loudest voice, but proposal teams, SMEs, and executive sponsors will need to weigh in to evaluate risk, timing, and strategic fit.
  2. Kick-off project: Provide clarity and accountability to the full response management team, including strategic objectives that everyone can work toward.
  3. 1st response: Make an initial response pass based on reusable content. This step is much faster with RFP software.
  4. 2nd response: Tap into resources for new questions, and assign segments that require customization to respective SMEs.
  5. Review & revise: Conduct internal reviews to ensure a high-quality proposal. Link review requests to specific purposes (i.e., Are strategic objectives met? Are responses accurate and high quality? Did we fully answer the question?)
  6. Submit: Deliver polished RFP with reviewed supporting materials. Follow up to confirm receipt. Keep internal stakeholders abreast of progress.
  7. Save & audit: Save finalized responses in a centralized location and commit to regular content audits.
  8. Post-mortem: Winning doesn’t always mean content was perfect. Losing doesn’t mean it was a bad response. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

Strengthen your RFP response process with RFP software

I touched on some of the benefits in the above checklist. But there is a lot more than management of process and content. Integration with other applications in your sales tech stack, the ability to work from custom response templates, Auto Respond functionality, and streamlined collaboration are just some of the highlights.

The happiest teams we know find that RFPIO features make it easier to stick to a consistent RFP response process. Imagine being able to assign reviewers sequentially to ensure the proposal is polished with the highest quality responses for each section. You can do it from a single interface, communicate with responsible SMEs, and establish clear timing of every task for everyone to see.

You can certainly respond to RFPs without software, assuming you have a rock-solid approach that hums along without any inefficiencies. But if you want to go from moving the needle to burying it, then combine a strong process with RFP response software.

Still not sure where to start? Demos are always great launching pads. Schedule one for you and your RFP response stakeholders today!

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