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How to write a winning RFP executive summary—er, briefing (with template)

How to write a winning RFP executive summary—er, briefing (with template)

Executives don’t want to be summarized. They want to be briefed, which is what your executive summary needs to do. […]


Category: Product & Best Practices

How to write a winning RFP executive summary—er, briefing (with template)

How to write a winning RFP executive summary—er, briefing (with template)

Executives don’t want to be summarized. They want to be briefed, which is what your executive summary needs to do. While common terminology is “executive summary,” approaching it as an executive briefing will put you in the proper persuasive mindset.

It all tracks back to Dr. Tom Sant. Know him? If you prepare proposals or briefings to make your sales living, then Dr. Sant’s subject matter expertise needs to be in your toolbox.

He’s written a few books, one of which is Persuasive Business Proposals. I highly recommend it, and not just because I used to work with Dr. Sant at one of the companies he founded. Its value is in how he ties proposal writing to the psychology of how humans make decisions. It’s a master class in how to use persuasive language in sales when building proposals and their executive summaries.

For the sake of this article—and to help keep us focused on the executive summary—I want to focus on one of Dr. Sant’s most helpful guidelines, which goes by the acronym NOSE.

  • Needs: Spell out your understanding of the prospect’s problems.
  • Outcomes: Confirm the results they anticipate when their problems are solved.
  • Solution: Recommend how you can solve the problem.
  • Evidence: Illustrate how you’ve solved similar problems in the past and who else trusts you to solve such problems.

According to Dr. Sant, by organizing your executive summary to align with NOSE, you’ll address three questions that executives want answered while being briefed:

  1. Are we getting what we need?
  2. Is it really worth the investment of resources and time?
  3. Can they really deliver?

Many salespeople make the mistake of focusing more on “summary” than “executive.” Summaries tend to not provide answers. They’re more like glorified tables of contents for the larger proposal.

Create the executive summary with the understanding that it’s likely the only part of a proposal that executive-level decision-makers will review. You have to elicit the desired response from a proposal without including everything that goes into a proposal. No doubt it’s a top-flight challenge in persuasion, but it’s the hurdle your executive summary has to leap.

Executives want to see that you understand their needs and desired outcomes, their pains and wants. Seeing this level of understanding articulated in the executive summary helps relieve any anxiety they may have as check writers. Many executives just want the briefing to overcome their fear of making the wrong decision or selecting the wrong vendor, which can be a career-damaging move.

5 more tips for writing an executive summary that packs a punch

There are heaps of tips written in-line in the template. It’s a template with instructions, like one of those fresh dinner boxes you can have delivered that has all the groceries and the recipe you need to make a meal, but without all the surprise prep work that no one ever mentions (“Wait, I still have to marinate this meat and chop all these veggies?”).

In fact, there’s so many tips that I didn’t have room for these four, so I’m dropping them in here:

  1. Create a title using a dynamic verb: Sadly, the most popular title for an executive summary is “Proposal for Prospect Company.” Use the title as an opportunity to capture the executive’s attention. “Increasing lead-generation…,” or “Visualizing revenue forecasting…,” or “Streamlining cloud storage…” or whatever it is that your solution is going to do for them.
  2. Use the recipient’s actual name whenever possible: It makes recipients feel important and personally attended to when they see their name on the front page.
  3. Aim for a 3:1 ratio of recipient company name versus your company name: Make the document feel customized to them, not you.
  4. Show how well you understand your prospect’s needs: Sales or business development representatives should provide this information either from experience or from a formal discovery phase that needs to happen prior to your building a proposal with an executive summary. List only 3-5. Six and beyond are dismissed by the brain as trivia, and are almost never read.
  5. Make sure your key functionalities match your prospects’s desired business outcomes: If they don’t, it’s probably not a good fit.

Executive summary template: Use it or reference it, whichever works best for you

I could tell you *how* to write an executive summary until the cows come home. But, if you’re anything like me, things don’t really click until you see these best practices put into action.

That’s why I pulled together an executive summary template based on Dr. Sant’s NOSE. Replace the in-line instructions with recommended content and you’ll end up with an executive summary that’s bound to impress. Or, at the very least, that’s bound to address executive-level strategic concerns about your proposal. Download the full template here.

Pro-Tip: When you’re ready to write your own executive summary, make a copy of the template. Then, delete all the comments. That way you don’t accidentally fire off a document complete with my tips and tricks.

Create effective executive summaries consistently

Some of us around here at RFPIO are prone to saying, “A proposal on its own is not likely to win a deal, but it can certainly lose it.” The same can be said for an executive summary.

Remember that executives buy a solution for different reasons than a production team (sales, marketing, IT, etc.) wants to use it. Executive teams have strategic goals while production teams have daily workflow improvement goals. In RFPIO’s case, while prospect executives may want to increase sales pipelines, sales and proposal teams just want time back for sanity.

I hope you find this template and walkthrough helpful. It’s been my experience that very few organizations or individuals get any training on writing executive summaries. Hence, on the sales side, there can be a lot of inconsistency across the organization when it comes to executive summary approaches. With RFPIO’s ability to work from templates for executive summaries and proposals, uploading this template can help establish a consistent foundation for executive briefing creation moving forward.

To learn more about RFPIO and functions such as Salesforce Proposal Builder, schedule a demo today.

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.

10 ways RFPIO customers can strengthen security

10 ways RFPIO customers can strengthen security

$3.92 million. That’s the global average cost of a data breach in 2019, according to Ponemon Institute.

So it’s no wonder that companies invest heavily in cybersecurity. In the five years between 2017 and 2021, global spending on cybersecurity products is slated to exceed $1 trillion—and this trend is only expected to continue on its upward trajectory.

If you’re storing company information in RFPIO to streamline your RFP responses, I have good news: RFPIO has state-of-the-art security controls to protect your data. Even so, there are still extra things you can do to further protect your information.

Here are 10 things you can do to further strengthen security in RFPIO:

1. Use SSO: A Sweet Security Option

SSO stands for Single Sign-On, but it is also a super sweet security option. RFPIO uses the most widely accepted industry standard, SAML 2.0.

With SSO, RFPIO users use the credentials they already have to sign in. That means they don’t have to remember (yet another) separate user ID and password—and Admins don’t have to take on the responsibility of managing user credentials.

SSO isn’t just convenient. It’s also more secure. When you use SSO, passwords aren’t stored in the browser and there’s a lower risk of a lost or forgotten password. This prevents security gaps that hackers will exploit to gain unauthorized access to the application.

Additionally, SSO allows Admins to manage user activities in real-time, which gives you the extra visibility you need for a tightly run security program.

2. Automate user management with SCIM

SCIM stands for System for Cross-Domain Identity Management. Luckily, it is not as complicated as the 13-syllable name would have you believe.

In a nutshell, SCIM simplifies user management. If SCIM is enabled, users can be added or deleted automatically. It’s as easy as that.

On the one hand, SCIM makes life much easier for Admins. No more manually adding and deleting user accounts.

But it’s also important from a security perspective. With SCIM, user accounts are automatically deleted as soon as employees leave your organization, which means employees won’t have access to sensitive company information after they’ve left.

SCIM happens through SSO and is supported by OneLogin and Microsoft Azure. If your identity provider supports it, I highly recommend implementing SCIM—both for the added convenience and peace of mind.

3. In lieu of SSO, use 2-factor authentication

If your organization doesn’t use SSO, I would recommend you set up 2-factor authentication as an additional layer of security.

If you’ve ever had a code sent to your email or phone, that’s 2-factor authentication. After a user enters their username and password, 2-factor authentication prompts users to enter a valid key or code.

2-factor authentication prevents an unauthorized person from accessing data. Even if a cyber attacker learns the login credentials, they will not be able to access the code for 2-factor authentication.

RFPIO supports 2-factor authentication through Google Authenticator and Duo Mobile.

4. Control access with User Roles

With User Roles (default) and Custom Roles (customized), you can define what users can see and do, and ensure users only have access to the data that’s relevant to them. This is key for security. When you reduce the number of people with access to sensitive data, you minimize the risk of leaks.

RFPIO’s out-of-the-box user roles include Super Admin, Admin, Manager, Team Member, and Project Requester. With Custom Roles (available as an add-on, or included with enterprise package), you can create your own roles that make sense for your organization For example, Content Owner, Reseller Partner, or Project Contributor, but really it can be whatever you want. The world of custom roles is your oyster.

Read our Help Center article to learn more about specific permission levels for the out-of-the-box user roles (RFPIO customers only).

5. Control visibility with collections

Collections is another, more granular way to control access to sensitive data.

While User Roles controls access to projects and organization settings, Collections controls access to content.

When you assign a piece of content to a collection, you can restrict visibility to that collection, either by a user group level (e.g. the sales team) or on an individual level. You can get as granular as you’d like.

For example, you may choose to have a “security” collection and restrict visibility to just the InfoSec team. Or maybe you want a “financials” collection, and want to restrict access to just the finance team and upper management. Here’s a blog with more detail on using collections to organize your content (or scroll to the bottom to watch the webinar).

6. Get really granular with permissions

If you want to get really in the weeds with visibility, you can set privacy settings at the individual object level (e.g. a Q&A pair). Rather than assigning it to a collection, you can set privacy settings to control who can view or edit a specific piece of content.
If there’s a Q&A pair you really only want upper management to have access to, you can do that.

You can also adjust view and edit permissions. For example, maybe there’s a question about a product feature that you really only want the product team to be able to edit, but still want to give your marketing team access to view.

7. Keep up with your audits

With RFPIO, all activities are tracked and logged at different levels (e.g. project level, content level).

Every so often, I’d recommend pulling the Activity Report, which monitors all user activity within the application—including permission changes, user creation, and user deactivation.

For example, if you notice an individual user’s permissions have been changed to have broader access to data that may not be relevant to their role. In response, you can reach out to the person who made the change for more information—and, if necessary, reverse their permission levels to a level more appropriate to their role.

You can also pull the User Login Activity Report. This log includes information about:

  • Who accessed the account,
  • When it was accessed,
  • Where it was accessed (e.g. IP address), and
  • How they logged in (e.g. SSO, username + password, etc.)

Using the User Login Activity Report, Admins can see if the user logged in at odd hours, like on the weekend or very late at night. This could be an indication of unauthorized access that could lead to a data breach.

8. Set up “session timeout”

Avoid the risk of internal attacks by setting up session timeouts that automatically log you out of the application. This is most relevant for organizations working in an office setting.

Here’s the scenario: The VP of Sales leaves their desk for a meeting. Scooby-Doo walks over to the VP of Sales’ desk and downloads a bunch of sensitive financial information from RFPIO, and uses it to wreak havoc. Classic Scooby move.

To prevent this kind of situation from happening, you should set up “session timeout”. The default timeout is 20 minutes, but you can adjust according to your needs.

9. Bring Your Own Key (BYOK)

Set up an extra layer of security with BYOK. RFPIO already encrypts data with our own mechanism, but if you want that added boost… you should consider BYOK.

Basically, BYOK gives you the ability to provide your own encryption key to protect your data—on top of the encryption that RFPIO already uses. This is an added measure for fighting unauthorized access to data.

If you’re an RFPIO customer, learn more about BYOK in the Help Center.

10. Securely share information via Linked Companies

Share company information with partners (e.g. resellers) in such a way that they can only view and use it—but don’t have edit access. This essentially transforms your RFPIO Answer Library into an internal knowledge base that your reseller partners can use to respond to RFPs or answer any other questions that may come up during the sales cycle.

You can set this up using Linked Companies. Learn more about how to set up and use Linked Companies in the Help Center (RFPIO customers only).

What is RFx? Do the math for sales and procurement.

What is RFx? Do the math for sales and procurement.

What is RFx? In this case, it’s proof that Mrs. Vickers, my pre-algebra teacher, was right. She assured me that algebra would come in handy in my adult life. It only took 35-ish years, but it turns out Mrs. Vickers’s crystal ball wasn’t so foggy after all.

Back to the original question: What is RFx? It’s the shorthand for your “Request for” category of procurement and sales processes and documents. Solve for x.

  • RF(Proposal)
  • RF(Information)
  • RF(Quote)
  • RF(Application)
  • RF(Bid)

Explanations and definitions of these are insightfully encapsulated here (processes) and here (glossary). However, if you want an overview of how you can use any of these RFx varieties for your business — either in procurement or business development, then you’re in the right place.

Using RFx for procurement

If you use RFx for procurement, then you’re the issuer creating the RFx. Typically, you’ll submit requests in the following order:

  1. RFI
  2. RFP
  3. RFQ

Ultimately, you want to play your RFx cards to select an ideal vendor using strategic sourcing. The RFI will be high level, probing to see if a problem can be solved. It will help narrow down providers to whom you’ll want to submit the RFP, which will be much more detailed and a heavier lift for you to evaluate.

Your RFP will ask for in-depth problem analysis, what it will take to solve the problem, how a vendor proposes they’ll solve the problem, proof of solving similar problems in the past, and, possibly, an estimate on cost. It may also inform responders how responses will be evaluated (e.g. cost = 35%, experience & performance = 35%, response quality 30%), budget expectations, and timing details.

From your pool of RFP responses, you’ll submit an RFQ to one or two providers to finalize your costs. At this point you know the exact product or service that you want so you request a price quote for that specific solution.

“RFB” is also known as “invitation to bid.” While this terminology does appear in the U.S., it may be more common internationally, where issuers post “tenders,” and responders submit “bids” in response to those tenders.

RFAs are associated with government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Funding has already been set aside for a specific requirement and now agencies or organizations are seeking recipients of funding. Agencies want to solve a very specific problem, such as building the capacity for drinking water systems. Nonprofit organizations have grant money available and seek applications to distribute the grant, such as for placing veterinarians in underserved areas.

Using RFx for business development

For the 69% of salespeople who do not have enough leads in their pipeline, RFx opportunities are an opportunity to drive revenue. When you use RFx for business development, then you are the RFx responder. Response teams require expertise from multiple areas, including sales, product development, product marketing, finance, contracts, and more, depending on the product or service you sell. It’s up to you to respond appropriately in an attempt to put your product or service at the top of the list for RFx issuers.

If you’re lucky, then you have a unified content repository of some sort to reference for your responses. Many sales professionals still work from personal content libraries they’ve amassed on their own, which is problematic for brand management and onboarding new employees. If you’re even luckier, then you represent one of the 43% of organizations using RFP-specific software, which helps automate response processes.

Responding to an RFI will get your foot in the door. Hopefully, it’s something you do regularly and doesn’t take up a lot of bandwidth, for you or any other response team members. This will be early on in the sales process, possibly too early to even count toward your pipeline. When an RFx is not certain of gaining revenue, then you want to minimize resources spent on responding.

However, once you’re selected to respond to an RFP, you can add prospective revenue to your pipeline. This will also be the largest investment as far as resources that you’ll commit to responding to an RFx.

The RFP is your opportunity to lay all your cards on the table. Show the issuer what you can do, how you can do it, and why you can do it better than anyone else. Expect to be evaluated on your experience, your price tag, and the quality of your response. By evaluation, I mean you’ll be measured against all other responders in as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as the issuer can comprise based on the complexity of the response.

The RFQ will be the final deal number, if it wasn’t already requested in the RFP. It will highlight the solution you’re providing within the issuer’s budget. If your solution comes standard with additional functionality beyond the scope of what the issuer originally requested (e.g., integrations with other software, free training, or VIP support), the RFQ is a great opportunity to call that out.

What is RFx automation?

RFx automation reduces the manual processes required to issue and respond to any RFx. For issuing, RFx automation streamlines how requests are created and organizes the evaluation process for you. For responding, RFx automation uses artificial intelligence to Auto Respond to any RFx based on content in your Answer Library. Organizations that use RFP-specific software are not only able to respond to 43% more RFPs than those without a designated RFP tool, they’re able to turn around each response 40% faster.

RFx response automation can also extend to responding to security questionnaires, due diligence questionnaires (DDQs), scopes of work, and whatever else you may be requested to respond to in your sales or client support lifecycles. The functionality can also serve you well for proactive proposals, where you need to deliver a proposal or presentation even though one wasn’t specifically requested. This is common in business proposals when a prospect wants something in writing to share with management or the C-suite to build a business case for adding your solution.

Whether you want to use RFx for procurement or business development, if you’re going to do it for the long term, then RFx automation will be a boon to your workflow, morale, and bottom line. The math works out. Mrs. Vickers says so. Learn more about AI-enabled RFx management by scheduling a demo.

4.5 reasons I (a sales pro) love Autograph e-signature

4.5 reasons I (a sales pro) love Autograph e-signature

As a sales professional, when I’m closing a deal I don’t want anything getting in the way. The closer I get to a win, the more I get nervous about two things: delays and relying on others. E-signature functionality has been a huge help to minimizing both.

On the delay side, if there’s always been one holdup that makes me question my closing skills more than any other, it’s waiting for a signature. Back in the paper days of yore, it was even worse. Fax machines were already gathering dust by the time I started my sales career in 2007. At that time, we had progressed to a print-fill out-scan-email process that was annoying enough for me, especially for complex contracts that required multiple signatures and initials. Inevitably, a client would miss an initial blank or two and I’d have to chase them down for it. Then I’d have to merge multiple documents to make a complete, legally binding signed contract.

I once had a client on a $150K deal sign one page of a contract but forget to sign another. While waiting for that second signature, other stakeholders entered the picture, held up the deal, and eventually it died…all because I didn’t have e-signature capability.

On the relying-on-others side, this isn’t a selfish play. On the contrary, I depend on my pre-sales, marketing, operations, product development, and customer support teams to help me do my job every day. This play is about streamlining the approval process: I seek to remove as many barriers as possible to simplify what prospects need to do to sign off on a contract. The less I have to rely on them to print, scan, and email, the faster I can get my signatures.

When e-signature hit the scene a few years ago, it was a game changer. Adoption was slow at first, but it’s picked up big time over the last year. The pandemic has helped, in a sense, because the accelerated digital transformation everywhere has increased usage and familiarity with e-signature functionality.

Now that RFPIO has integrated e-signature capabilities across the user experience for all customers, I’ve fallen in love with it all over again. Known as Autograph, there are 4.5 reasons why, as an account executive sales professional, it’s changing the way I work, for the better.

#1 I move faster

Yeah. I know. I was just complaining about delays. Well, I can be the cause of those delays, too. Even prior to Autograph, I wasted cycles toggling back and forth between my e-signature app and whatever I was using to build proposals and contracts (usually either PowerPoint, Word, or PDF).

With Autograph e-signature, I now have capabilities embedded in the same system I’m using to create proposals and contracts, which means no more toggling. From RFPIO I can create the document, add signature requests, send it out, and save the signed version all in the same application. From the moment I have verbal assent on a deal, I can spin up a proposal or contract in a matter of minutes.

The big bonus with it being in RFPIO is that everyone in the organization can have access at no extra costs.* And I’m not just saying that because I happen to work for the app creator. RFPIO’s unlimited user licenses means everyone can have access, and it’s now included as a standard feature.* In addition to not needing to toggle to and fro with your e-signature app, you don’t have to pay for it, either.

#2 I’m more efficient

It’s about more than just working fast. It’s also about having more control over the whole sales lifecycle. Like any other sales professional, I have a quota or goal that I aim to achieve every month, quarter, and year. Autograph enhances the control I was already gaining with RFPIOs other features. Now I can add e-signature to my ability to manage documents, create content, access answers in near real time, and collaborate with my teammates in sales enablement and proposal development.

One of the greatest efficiencies is with contracts that need signatures from multiple parties. With Autograph, I can set a signing order, include personalized private messages to each signer, set a deadline, and prompt reminder emails. Signers will be invited via email to review the document and add their signatures and initials.

#3 I have more visibility

No deal exists in a vacuum. Quota calls, and I need to keep an active pipeline. There’s a fine line between managing multiple deals and spreading yourself too thin. At any one time, I may have two or three contracts out for signatures. The most important deal is always the one I’m currently working, so it was frustrating and distracting to have to keep tabs on contracts that were awaiting signatures on other deals.

Autograph has a dashboard that helps me track all my contracts, including timestamps, what’s been signed, who still needs to respond to the signing order, and all other actions taken with the document. The dashboard is my window into an organized record of all my signed documents, all of which are also stored in RFPIO and only accessible by me. There is no limit to how many documents I save, and no one else can see the documents without my permission.

#4 I minimize my tech stack

Don’t get me wrong. I love my technology. The fact that I can do what I do from almost anywhere still sometimes astonishes me. But like the inevitable course of a TikTok challenge going too far, there can be too much of a good thing.

I’m of the school of productivity through simplicity and taking the straight line from point A to point B. In the face of Nancy Nardin’s overwhelming 2021 SalesTech Vendor Landscape, I’m seeking to consolidate for more efficiency, automation, and of course, ROI. RFPIO has my back: First, by introducing Autograph on top of another new product this year, RFPIO® LookUp; second, by integrating with other applications I already have in my sales stack. From Salesforce to Microsoft Teams to Google Chrome, I have my sales tech stack dialed in for optimal productivity.

#4.5 Get more colleagues involved

This is only 4.5 because, while the byproduct is still something I love, it also comes with the luxury of working for the company that built Autograph: We all use it already. For you, the benefit is that Autograph exposes RFPIO to other users in your organization who may not have experienced it yet. If you’ve been trying to get any engineers or finance team members—maybe even other sales teams—in your organization to start using RFPIO because it’ll make your life easier, then Autograph is the perfect lure.

I’m one of many who love it

Beyond the sales benefits, I’m hearing a lot of love for Autograph from customers on proposal, human resources, and operations teams. Proposal managers are turning around proposal components such as cover letters, legal documents, NDAs, and disclosures faster than ever. HR is incorporating Autograph into onboarding to make the process easier for administrators and new hires. Operational subject matter experts are realizing efficiencies in utilizing Autograph for vendor/supplier agreement contract management.

Autograph is a no-brainer. Free and ready to go if you’re a current RFPIO customer.* Why not try it? Log in. Navigate to Autograph on the left. Upload a doc. Set a signing order. Send it externally or internally. NEXT!

Request a demo and ask to see how Autograph works, or check out a cool GIF demo of Autograph in action. If you’re already an RFPIO customer, view our Help Center article for detailed instructions on using Autograph.

*The inclusion of the free Autograph tool depends on your RFPIO package. If you currently don’t have Autograph, but want it, please reach out to your Account Manager.

Improve user adoption in 7 steps

Improve user adoption in 7 steps

Give a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day. Teach a person to fish, and they’ll eat for a lifetime. Surprise all the end users of your new software purchase with a fishing trip and they’ll wonder, “Do I have to do this, and how do I get off this boat?”

As a proposal manager with a shiny new RFPIO lure guaranteed to attract every big fish you can reach with a cast, sometimes it feels like you’re stranded on dry land with a map to the fishing hole but no way to get there.

Introducing new software into your sales enablement tech stack and workflow is no joke. Change management is a sophisticated discipline that examines the processes behind organizational transformation. It’s way too deep a rabbit hole to fall into here, other than to say that 99 out of 100 proposal managers I work with during RFPIO onboarding don’t have any specific experience in change management or software deployment. Which can make the prospect of convincing end users that their jobs and lives will improve with RFPIO somewhat daunting.

As soon as I get my chance to work with the person or team in charge of deploying RFPIO — whether it’s a proposal manager, sales manager, or IT specialist — I recommend inhabiting the following mindset: “How do I set myself up for success?” Now we have a bite-sized challenge we can overcome, rather than an amorphous source of anxiety such as “change management.”

My response to the question, “How do I set myself up for success?” is “Follow 7 steps to improve user adoption.” Let’s roll through them.

#1: Get executive buy-in

Trying to implement any change without executive buy-in is akin to growing a garden without any seeds. The need and desire may be there, but you just don’t have anything to get started. So take that need and desire and use it to build a business case for adding RFPIO to your sales technology stack.

This all has to happen before deployment even appears on the horizon. Gaining and maintaining buy-in from managers and executive sponsors will be critical to making end users more receptive to your excitement and the possible benefits. According to Steve Silver at Forrester, a leading global research and advisory firm, “Every business case must have an executive to champion the investment.”

To build the business case, Silver advises to call out timing of adding RFPIO (i.e., answer, “Why now?”), identify risks and dependencies (key to which he includes this nugget, “Tie the consequences of not using the technology to failure to meet specific goals that a sales organization has committed to attaining”), and clarify budget allocation and source of funding.

After you secure executive buy-in for the purchase, you’ll need to keep them engaged with monthly or quarterly status updates on implementation and RFPIO benefits. It’s important to obtain and maintain their endorsement so that they continue to encourage their teams to use RFPIO.

Here’s an email template of what one of the initial updates might look like.

SUBJECT: RFPIO has already accelerated response time by 40%

Hi [EXECUTIVE NAME],

We’re off and running with RFPIO, and I wanted to give you a quick update on how it’s going:

    • [X#] of end users are now using RFPIO
    • We have used it to respond to [X#] of RFPs this month
    • Compared to the same month last year, we responded 40% faster to RFPs
    • Of the RFPs submitted this month, we know we won [X#] at a valuation of [$X]

End users are picking it up quickly: “It takes about 10-30 minutes to train the client-facing teams on how to search for information in RFPIO.”

As we continue to add content to the Answer Library, we expect to see an even greater leap in proposal quality, greater usage of Auto Respond functionality, and more efficient workflows.

I’ll send another update next month, but feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

#2: Make sure you have bandwidth

Before you kick off your RFPIO implementation, make sure you have an accurate expectation of the amount of time you’ll need to dedicate to the project. It will require some extra bandwidth. On average, expect to spend about five hours per week for the first three to six months.

Some RFPIO admins prefer to assign their regular duties to another team member so they can “cram” on RFPIO. They’ll spend 15-25 hours per week to focus solely on the rollout and learn RFPIO as quickly as possible. Then they’re able to pare back to a few hours a week. You’ll need to determine which method works best for your team and goals.

As far as what you’ll be doing with that time, here’s an overview of what to expect:

  • Deployment processes: From generating excitement to coordinating with IT, and from amassing content to scheduling training, you need to balance your daily workflow and responsibilities with what’s expected of you during deployment. This will be a short-term issue. While we’ll be there to lend you support, you need to make sure your bandwidth can handle being the point person on this project.
  • Ongoing “office hours”: End users will have questions, especially at the outset. And every time there’s a new hire in sales or pre-sales or proposals or customer support you’ll need to make sure they’re trained and able to thrive in RFPIO. Plus, you’ll want to encourage feedback, negative and positive, to adapt your usage, increase functionality, or add integrations in the future.
  • Driving response management processes: Any tool is only as good as the processes behind using it. Even a hammer has to be swung accurately to hit the head of a nail. A huge benefit to AI-enabled tools like RFPIO is that it will be able to automate most of your existing manual processes. You will still need to work behind the scenes to execute schedules, push collaboration buttons, and drive deadline management. In other words, the robot can swing the hammer as long as you put the hammer in its robotic appendage.
  • Auditing content: Do a full content audit to make sure you are starting off with a cohesive, succinct Answer Library. Watch this webinar to learn more about completing a content audit in RFPIO, or follow these four steps to set your Answer Library up for success:

#3: Admin team, assemble!

Make sure to recruit admin team members from each department that needs to be involved, and has the bandwidth to help with implementation, rollout, and RFPIO day-to-day operations. Sometimes admin teams are made up of only one or two people, and that’s okay, too. Whatever the makeup, they will in turn be responsible for evangelizing RFPIO, reinforcing the value message from executive sponsorship, and liaising with you to provide team-specific training for end users in their department.

For larger, global organizations, the admin team will also be responsible for figuring out a rollout plan. They’ll determine which departments get onboarded first, taking into consideration metrics such as proposal volume, knowledge sprawl or content silos, and collaboration challenges. They’ll also develop a repeatable onboarding process that can be turnkey for new hires or other new end users.

This team will continue to exist beyond the initial deployment of RFPIO. Their meeting cadence will likely be weekly at first, but that cadence will slow down to monthly as you meet a critical mass of end users.

The admin team will also create and monitor milestones that mark success and check in regularly with leadership to report on the milestones. It will be responsible for communicating RFPIO’s value to leadership and end users, promoting transparency for feedback and user expectations, and overseeing the strategy for #4…

#4: Generate excitement through an “awareness campaign”

Start generating excitement, even if you’re still finalizing the purchase. Involving your power users during the early stages of launch will increase the likelihood that they’ll use new software by 55%.

You can do this by setting up an internal email campaign. In addition to informing end users what’s coming, this will also get the organization used to hearing from you about RFPIO training and product updates. Ultimately, you want to provide clear concise answers to the following questions that are common to end users:

  1. Why do we have RFPIO? (e.g., “To automate manual response processes, streamline content management and access, and create higher quality proposals.”)
  2. Why is RFPIO exciting for me? (e.g., for a sales end-user, “Locate answers to prospect questions in near real-time based on updated content that’s searchable from the application you’re already working in.”)
  3. How will it help me do my job better? (e.g., for pre-sales end-user, “Spend more time creating innovative solutions instead of answering the same questions over and over.”)
  4. When will I be trained on RFPIO? (e.g., “Go-live for RFPIO is XX/XX/20XX. Your department is scheduled to be trained the week prior to that go-live date.”

One of the first couple of emails should come from the executive sponsor (some proposal managers like to send a short teaser about an impending big announcement about changing the game for sales enablement). It will validate the addition of RFPIO to your sales tech stack while communicating a high-level value proposition of improvements in productivity, efficiency, and outcomes. It will also set the expectation of cooperation and collaboration among end users to plow the road for your deployment.

Make each email short and informative. Respect your readers’ time. Include links for more information for end users who choose to learn more. Set up the next step in the process. Here’s an example of an announcement email to get you started.

SUBJECT: Announcement: Help with sales response and content is on the way!

Hi everyone,
I’m excited to announce that we are adding RFPIO — one of the best AI-powered sales enablement solutions available today — to your toolbox in the next few weeks. RFPIO will save us a bunch of time, allow us to focus on improving response and proposal quality, unify all sales content, and improve how we collaborate.

You’ll receive more information about RFPIO from me or your manager as we finalize the rollout plan. I’ll also schedule you for a quick training so you can hit the ground running (no worries, RFPIO is super intuitive and will integrate with other apps you’re already using!).

Meanwhile, learn more about how RFPIO will make life easier and more productive:

Let me know if you have any questions. You’ll be hearing from me again soon!

Thanks,
[YOUR NAME]

#5: Train yourself

You’re the tip of the spear on this project. No matter how much help you have from your admin team, executive sponsor, IT, or evangelized end-user base, you’re going to be the person handling initial questions. Even when you tell everyone that they’re free to create a help ticket of their own with RFPIO, they’re going to ask you first.

Best to be prepared.

During onboarding, we’ll take you through extensive training until you feel comfortable with the tool. We’ll also be available when something arises that stumps you. But you can also refer to the following for help, too:

  • RFPIO Help Center (RFPIO customers only): Access an RFPIO self-guided tour and New User Training Checklist as well as expert insight into importing your first documents, organizing your Answer Library, and more.
  • New User Training ChecklistFollow this checklist to get the most out of your RFPIO experience. Each step includes links to Help Center articles to set you up for success.
  • RFPIO University (RFPIO customers only): Watch video training modules on project management, content management, and other powerful capabilities such as user management and Auto Respond.
  • Customer webinars: Sign up for the next live webinar or dig into the on-demand archive of recent webinars for further instruction, product updates, and response management best practices.

#6: Schedule training by role

RFPIO is an intuitive tool. Even so, we have your back when it comes to user adoption. Institutionally, we have prioritized it. You’ll recognize our efforts in user experience upgrades, the new learning management system (LMS) RFPIO University mentioned above, and certification events designed to help you train end users.

Learning how to use RFPIO is relatively simple. Eric Fink, Dynamics & Business Applications Specialist at Microsoft, said, “The first time I logged into RFPIO, it took me about 10 minutes to get comfortable with the platform. After that, I quickly found responses to all of my open questions — seeing 100% value from the very beginning.”

Sales users are savvy. They can pick it up in an hour-long training. You should follow up with shorter, recurring training sessions to make sure they’re really using it, understand its benefits, and feel comfortable asking for help, if necessary. Respect end users’ time by training them only on what they need to know.

Again, manager buy-in is crucial here. Work closely with sales managers to make sure they fully comprehend the opportunity offered by RFPIO. They will help you overcome any pushback from sales end users, who may hesitate at the request to disrupt their workflow for a training, no matter how short and helpful it may be. They will also help ensure their team is using the tool consistently.

#7: Monitor, collect feedback, adapt

The push for greater user adoption is never complete, but it can most certainly be less painful and onerous. The good news is that user-adoption pushback fades as win rates increase.

After the rush of your initial rollout, you’ll be re-investing some of the time you used to waste on all the manual tasks of building proposals and chasing down content and subject matter experts into RFPIO administration. Beyond driving your underlying processes of project, content, and user management, you’ll also be communicating regularly with your admin team and executive sponsor.

RFPIO makes it easy to report on usage because every action is captured within the tool and spun into insight for your desired output. However, you’ll want to gather anecdotal input as well. Speaking to end users and their managers about what’s working and what’s still a struggle with regard to RFPIO or your response management strategy will help you adapt to future needs.

Depending on the size of your organization, you can expect to see value from using RFPIO 90 days to six months after implementation. You may see value in as few as 35 days if you push it, but be wary of setting unrealistic expectations that can circle back around to sabotage the overall adoption.

Want to hear from someone other than RFPIO? See how Hyland Software managed user adoption: “By making sure RFPIO is something everyone can use… everyone is using it. User adoption has been outstanding.”

E-signature for sales and proposal teams: Autograph

E-signature for sales and proposal teams: Autograph

Just like Law & Order: SVU, cloud-based sales technologies kicked off in 1999 and somehow continue to come out with new material 20 years later.

Since the debut of Salesforce’s cloud-based CRM in 1999, thousands of new sales automation solutions have been introduced to the market. Each with the promise of enhancing efficiency and saving time.

But as any good sales leader knows, increasing efficiency through technology doesn’t mean adopting many different technologies. It means strategically identifying the tech that works for you and your sales team, and finding opportunities to bring things under one roof.

According to a recent study by RingCentral, two-thirds of workers spend at least 60 minutes a day toggling back and forth between apps. This adds up to more than a month lost every year and costs billions of dollars in lost productivity annually for businesses.

[queue dramatic *CHUNG CHUNG*]

Two-thirds of workers spend at least 60 minutes a day toggling back and forth between apps. This adds up to more than a month lost every year and costs billions of dollars in lost productivity annually for businesses.
RingCentral

At RFPIO, we automate our responses to RFPs, RFIs, security questionnaires, and other complicated questionnaires using our own RFP automation solution. But if we needed to get anything signed—be it a cover letter, an NDA, or a contract—we would need to make a special trip into a separate e-signature tool.

So we decided to bring e-signature and proposal management under one roof, with our brand spanking new e-signature tool: Autograph.

Autograph is an e-signature tool designed specifically for sales and proposal teams. But the best news is that it’s absolutely free to RFPIO customers.*

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s clear up some basics.

What is electronic signature (e-signature)?

Electronic signature, e-signature, or digital signature is an efficient, legally binding way to get approval on electronic documents.

For any electronic signature solution to be legally binding, it must:

  • Enable signing parties to explicitly consent to use electronic signature and do business electronically,
  • Give users the choice to decline to sign electronically,
  • Track how the document was signed, and
  • Send a copy of the completed/signed document to all signing parties.

Sales and proposal teams use electronic signatures on documents like NDAs, cover letters, legal documents, disclosures, and more. Unlike traditionally signed documents—which take 5-6 days to process—electronically signed documents can be signed within minutes.

With Autograph, you can embed e-signature within your proposal management solution, further streamlining the e-signature process by keeping your signed documents all in one place.

How to sign sales contracts online (and other documents) with Autograph

Signing sales documents using Autograph is extremely intuitive. Just like many other e-signature tools, e-signing documents using Autograph can be done in just 4 steps.

Step 1: Open the document for signature

Navigate to the Autograph dashboard, click on “Awaiting my signature”, and click open the document. You can also open the document directly from your email.

Step 1: Open the document for signing

Step 2: Consent to online signature

When you open the document, you’ll see a prompt to ask you to read the Electronic Record & Signature Disclosure. After reading this document, click the box to indicate that you consent to using electronic signature and doing business electronically.

Step 3: Start signing

Sign and initial where indicated in a couple clicks. Autograph stores your preferred signature and initials, so it’s ready for you when you need it.

sign document

Step 4: Download documents

Download a copy of the signed document for your records. A copy will also be sent to your email, and you can access other documents you’ve signed from your Autograph dashboard.

download documents

How to integrate e-signature into your sales tech stack

If you’re already an RFPIO customer (or planning to be) integrating e-signature into your sales tech stack is as easy as opening your RFPIO dashboard. Autograph is included with all RFPIO subscriptions—and it’s totally free for all RFPIO users at your company. Which, if you’re taking advantage of our unlimited licensing model, means everyone.*

The most challenging part of any new tool—even if it’s free for everyone,* easy to use, and integrates into existing processes—is getting people to use it. People don’t like change, even if the change is good for them.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for getting the rest of your organization rocking and rolling in Autograph:

Step 1: Get buy-in from leadership

When you’re having the conversation with leadership about Autograph, make sure to bring up the fact that it’s free for all RFPIO users.* If you’re already paying for an RFPIO subscription, using Autograph is a no-brainer.

Here’s a sample email template you can use when sharing information about this new feature with leadership:

SUBJECT: Free e-signature feature included with our existing subscription

Hi ,

RFPIO, our proposal automation solution, has just introduced a built-in e-signature functionality—at no additional cost to us.

Because we have an unlimited user license with RFPIO, anyone at can use e-signature for free.

I’d love to help get the team up and running with this tool. I’ll be scheduling training sessions with the team over the next couple of weeks.

Can you help communicate the importance of this free new feature with the rest of the team?

Here are some resources you can check out to learn more about their e-signature functionality:
Blog: E-signature for sales and proposal teams
Help Center Article: Autograph Overview

Thanks,

Step 2: Schedule training

The key to helping your team get up and running with e-signature is to show them how it works. Schedule a training session to show them how they can use Autograph to sign NDAs, contracts, and other documents.

If you have a large team, it’s better to roll out the new tool in waves. Rather than trying to train everyone all at once, start with a small group and expand from there.

Step 3: Share information

Before you conduct your training session, send an email to your team with information about Autograph, the training agenda, and other resources they can peruse.

Here’s a sample template you can use:

SUBJECT: Announcement: New e-signature tool training

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to announce that RFPIO, our proposal automation solution, has recently introduced a built-in e-signature functionality!

I’ve just sent out an invitation for a training session to show you how to use the tool, and answer any questions you might have.

Before the session, please read these resources to learn more about the new feature and how it works:
Blog: E-signature for sales and proposal teams
Help Center Article: Autograph Overview

Let me know if you have any questions.

See you during the training!

Step 4: Schedule follow-up training

Remember: Training is not a “one-and-done” thing. People hate change, even if it’s good for them.

Schedule regular follow-up training to see what questions people have, what users want to learn more about, or are struggling to understand.

Start e-signing contracts, sales documents, and more

Autograph is free for all RFPIO users,* which makes sending and signing documents that much easier.

If you’re already an RFPIO customer, check out our Help Center article for detailed instructions on using Autograph.

If you’re thinking about becoming a customer, schedule a demo to see how Autograph works.

*The inclusion of the free Autograph tool depends on your RFPIO package. If you currently don’t have Autograph, but want it, please reach out to your Account Manager.

Where’s the answer? Ask Slack!

Where’s the answer? Ask Slack!

“Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
-The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

If I were writing the poem, The Rime of the 21st Century Proposal Manager, it might include the lines:

Data, data everywhere, Not a clue to find
As silos rise, I lose my mind.
I chase my tail. I chase your tail.
My efforts always seem to fail.
Chaos abounds.
My head spins round.
Where, oh where, does my answer lie?
In the depths of our silos, it seems to hide.

I’m no poet, wouldn’t you know it?

But I am a Senior Proposal Manager at Illuminate Education, Inc., and I am charged with taming our data sprawl problems using RFPIO. I started by creating a data map. By assigning collections, tags, and subtags, I can migrate from data everywhere, including…

  • Google Drive
  • Confluence
  • Drop Box
  • HubSpot
  • Website
  • Client Library
  • Resource Center
  • Individual PCs

…to a consolidated Answer Library in RFPIO. At that point, a new $64K question pops up: Can I make it accessible to everyone in the company? I could add as many RFPIO users as I wanted at no extra cost. But introducing another new software platform to the team is a challenge. Not because I doubt the value; but because some people resist change—even if it helps. It’s a lot easier to call me than to learn a new process!

Enter RFPIO® LookUp, which makes the RFPIO Answer Library accessible from Google Chrome, Microsoft Teams, and, most importantly for Illuminate, Slack. The LookUp for Slack is the wrecking ball I need to break down all of the data silos used across my organization.

All teams use Slack. We talk, ask questions, and collaborate with Slack. Now we can extend this engagement to include RFPIO proposal projects. Log into Slack, ask a question, and BOOM! There’s the answer. Using @mentions or inserting a tag using #hashtags, users find their answers. They can even do it from their phone! All activity is captured by RFPIO for tracking usage and uncovering retraining opportunities.

Slack questions are easy to add to our knowledge base. We simply grab the conversation from Slack and create a new Q&A pair. Our workflow delivers the new content to moderation for edits and enhancements. Once moderation is done, the content is available in the library.

Slack evolves into an on-demand knowledge base. Through Slack Bot, we eliminate the “I need an answer and I need it now” dilemma. As a self-service tool, management teams, sales, SMEs, customer support, and all Illuminators can get answers or content quickly. Fast answers. Quick responses. Improved quality. What more can you want?

While RFPIO® LookUp for Slack is a huge help for all your users, your sales team will be doing happy dances! To just type in a question on their phone or laptop while sitting with a customer, and get a trusted answer—well, that is huge.

Sales is your biggest challenge. They’re busy, short on patience, rely on others, and hate change. Training this team is a challenge. LookUp for Slack simplifies integrating sales into the RFPIO proposal process and exposes them to an Answer Library knowledge base.

If you’re looking for more information about how I am implementing RFPIO® LookUp at IlluminateEducation, check out my RISE UP session! If you like detailed anecdotes, data maps, and user adoption hacks, you’ll probably get a kick out of it. Although, admittedly, I may be biased.


Building a portal to your company knowledge base from Slack is just the beginning of what RFPIO® LookUp can do. LookUp is also compatible with Google Chrome, Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, and more! Learn more here.

How to use the Microsoft Teams integration to optimize RFPIO features

How to use the Microsoft Teams integration to optimize RFPIO features

“Poise counts!” — Cosmo Kramer

Oh Kramer! How times have changed since the days of Seinfeld. But there is something to be said about “Poise counts,” especially for Proposal Managers from the minute that RFP hits their inbox to the second before it’s due. We all know that being organized helps us from getting our hair in a twist and in this blog I’ll talk about how the integration between Microsoft Teams and RFPIO puts you in even more control of your team and deliverables, so not only will your proposal “own the catwalk” but you’ll be seen as a poised, reliable, and trusted proposal professional.

Many years ago I learned a valuable lesson about how important poise is to proposal professionals. While working as an independent consultant, I made the mistake of using an image on my business card of an over-caffeinated and disheveled “proposal veteran” with glasses broken and taped together. My intent was to display my commitment to hard work…something along the lines of, “Put this workaholic to work for you!”

Proposal teams don’t want their responses created through a frantic, chaotic process, no matter how hard the leader of the process is working. Organizations that rely on proactive responses from sales or reactive responses to requests for proposals (RFPs) – for a revenue stream – recognize that their response has to be an accurate reflection of the organization as a whole.

At Microsoft—where hundreds of sellers have RFPs in flight all over the world—RFPIO puts knowledge and organization at our fingertips so that all of our users (including 100 proposal professionals) can feel empowered to represent our organization’s mission statement “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

We have adopted, capitalized, and evangelized the capabilities of RFPIO for about 7,500 RFPIO users and 25K+ re-usable assets. But it’s RFPIO’s integration with Microsoft Teams that has been a game-changer for knowledge sharing, user onboarding, and increasing efficiency.

Microsoft Teams for knowledge sharing

In our “Resuable IP Team Site,” one of the first RFPIO channels we set up was our chatbot. RFPIO users at Microsoft use a chatbot to search our knowledge base for relevant content. We’ve essentially turned Teams into an on-demand knowledge base. We can:
● Use @commands to keyword search RFPIO for Q&A pairs.
● Preview top search results in the Teams chat window, or easily view all matching Q&A pairs in RFPIO.
● Control which Teams users have access to specific RFPIO Answer Library content.

In this Teams site we added a QuickStart guide that provides an overview of what’s in the knowledge base, how the chatbot finds answers, and instructions for finding secure content.

All users are added to this Teams site and many have taken advantage of the chatbot. Because we can easily monitor this space, we’ve welcomed many new users who have asked for support either for a little hand-holding for finding content or to request content, that we quick-turn curate for future use.

Microsoft Teams for user enablement

The chatbot Teams channel QuickStart guide is one of many RFPIO how-to guides and best practices we make available within Teams. Posting to both the public (all users) and private (proposal professionals only) channels we regularly post “Did You Knows?” to keep everyone updated and informed – whether it’s important new content that has been recently curated, or a new feature, tip or trick, our RFPIO governance team remains visible and engaged with all users across Microsoft.

Microsoft Teams for RFP efficiency

One of the most important Teams integrations that we have leveraged is that of pulling an RFPIO project into a Team site. We show new sellers how projects from RFPIO can be added to their opportunity in Teams and document all the RFPIO functions that can be performed in Teams without needing to switch between platforms. Having ONE “runway” definitely supports a cohesive response fabric.

Ultimately, the goal of using RFPIO is to give time back to sellers, subject matter experts (SMEs), Proposal Managers, and Content Managers.

With the Teams integration, we increase that time payoff because users can collaborate on RFPIO projects without the need to leave Teams! Through their RFPIO dashboard in Teams, users can monitor project status and:
● Control project visibility of 3rd-party/guest signers.
● See when and where others have viewed, edited, downloaded, or signed documents.
● Automatically store and retrieve previous versions of signed documents.

We can also execute essential RFPIO features in Teams such as analyzing project resources, assigning authors, and uploading documents.

Improve RFPIO collaboration with Microsoft Teams

We partnered with RFPIO to give everyone time back to focus on selling digital transformation. While it already helped break down silos, reduce inefficiencies and redundancies, and drive consistency and compliance, the Teams integration has allowed us to multiply those gains exponentially.

With a team of 100+ proposal professionals and user-base of 7,500 – it helps me maintain my poise, too.


The Microsoft Teams integration is part of the RFPIO® LookUp Subscription. Learn more about Lookup here, or schedule a demo to see the full platform in action—Microsoft Teams integration and all.

Get instant access to your company knowledge base with RFPIO® LookUp

Get instant access to your company knowledge base with RFPIO® LookUp

Blast! Just as I’m about to write this article about RFPIO® LookUp—a search portal that transforms your RFPIO Answer Library into an instantly accessible company knowledge base—the discovery of a new portal to a 5th dimension tries to steal my thunder. Lucky for me, I can confirm that the RFPIO® LookUp portal is real. No need to fire up the Large Hadron Collider.

RFPIO® LookUp is a game-changer for organizational knowledge base integration. The subscription unlocks subject matter expertise from your RFPIO Answer Library and makes it available to everyone in your organization, from almost anywhere they work. This knowledge base solution includes compatibility with all of the following:

  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Chromium Edge
  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Slack
  • Google Hangouts

With all of these applications, as soon as your RFPIO® LookUp subscription is live you’ll see a search bar and results pane where you can immediately access content without having to switch between applications. There are no limits on user licenses—the LookUp subscription can be added to your RFPIO package without worrying about a per-user cost.

Until now, RFPIO® LookUp has only been available as a Chrome extension. Now that it’s available to use almost anywhere, your entire organization can take advantage of the curated, brand-approved expertise that you’ve amassed for use on requests for proposal (RFPs), security questionnaires, due diligence questionnaires (DDQs), requests for information (RFIs), and requests for quote (RFQs).

Spread the content wealth across teams

For proposal managers and teams, RFPIO® LookUp eliminates you being the bottleneck between proposal-ready content and the sales, support, and marketing teams that rely on you to provide it. It also enables you to:

  • Consolidate, organize, and moderate company knowledge, and make it easily accessible for teams across your organization
  • Complete online questionnaires faster
  • Quickly respond to short questionnaires (e.g. RFIs, requirements questionnaires) in Microsoft Word or Excel
  • Leverage knowledge stored in the RFPIO Answer Library to create sales proposals, SOWs, and presentations in Microsoft Office

We found that 81% of proposal managers with RFP software agree that dynamic content libraries save time, and RFPIO® LookUp definitely makes any Answer Library dynamic.

For sales, RFPIO® LookUp acts as an on-demand, real-time SME that lifts the burden of chasing down answers to prospect and customer inquiries. It enables all sales team members to:

  • Quickly access the most up-to-date and accurate company information from where you’re already working, including Salesforce, SalesLoft, Google Docs, and any web-based software.
  • Respond to prospect and customer questions directly from Outlook, Gmail, or any web-based email platform
  • Streamline sales proposal and slide deck creation in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

Sales representatives can improve response time, which will lead to faster conversions and more revenue. They can then also spend less time wandering around the company wiki and more time nurturing relationships with prospects and clients.

For customer service and technical support teams, RFPIO® LookUp enables real-time access into corporate expertise so they can seamlessly respond to support requests.

For marketing and other content creators, RFPIO® LookUp provides access to the most up-to-date product, solution, pricing, and other company information that’s been curated by SMEs. This allows marketing teams to focus on efficiently creating content and running campaigns instead of conducting research and monopolizing time and resources of other teams.

Watch proposal quality rise

We’re still in the early days of this new RFPIO® LookUp portal, but we’re already hearing some positive feedback from organizations using it as a shortcut to their company knowledge base. Vicki Griesinger—Director of Business Strategy, Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft—said, “We were able to retire a Business Applications chatbot we built for the field. RFPIO® LookUp is available right from Microsoft Teams and surfaces content from all of our content collections without the maintenance overhead.”

“We were able to retire a Business Applications chatbot we built for the field. RFPIO® LookUp is available right from Microsoft Teams and surfaces content from all of our content collections without the maintenance overhead.”

-Vicki Griesinger, Director of Business Strategy, Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft

And Assistant VP of Content at Genpact, Shashi Kumar, said, “With RFPIO® LookUp, bid managers have immediate access to pre-approved content they can easily add to their proposals. As a result, proposal quality has increased dramatically.

If you already use RFPIO as your response management platform, then it’s extremely simple to add RFPIO® LookUp as a knowledge management solution. Simply reach out to Tina (tina@rfpio.com), and she’ll connect you with your account manager to get the ball rolling. If RFPIO® LookUp is the knowledge base integration portal you’ve been looking for to put you over the hump on your RFP software decision, then schedule a demo today.

If the portal to a 5th dimension is what you’ve been looking for, then maybe RFPIO® LookUp can help you manage your research on dark matter and gravitational waves. We’re always happy to help develop a deeper understanding of cosmological history!

Still need more information? Learn more about RFPIO® LookUp here.

How to turn proposals into a revenue-driving engine

How to turn proposals into a revenue-driving engine

Can the best proposal in the world win a sale on its own? Honestly, probably not. Proposals are just one element of a lengthy and involved sales process.

Flip the question on its head and ask, “Can a poor proposal torpedo a sale on its own?” Absolutely. As can a bad demo, negative reference, or a disagreeable price.

My point is that while the proposal cannot win you the sale on its own, it still plays a pivotal role. Whether it’s reactive (RFP, RFI, Security Questionnaire, etc.) or proactive (sales-generated to show product solution or value), a proposal’s job is to advance the sale. How do you propel something forward? Build an engine.

Build your revenue-driving proposal engine

A revenue-generating response engine can change how your organization feels about proposals, turning it from a necessary evil to a strategic advantage in the sales lifecycle. I’ve broken the engine down into four key components, the first of which is people. Based on my experience, with respect to the way proposals are handled, organizations fall into one of these categories :

  • Ad hoc: 20% of organizations have no dedicated proposal team, instead relying on sales to take it on. This is a reactive approach that typically produces low-quality proposals and poor win rates.
  • Tactical: By far the most common, 60% of organizations have a proposal support team. It’s more efficient than an Ad-hoc approach, but still reactive, not highly prioritized in the organizational structure, and results in a win rate that makes stakeholders hem and haw over whether it’s all worthwhile every year.
  • Strategic: This dedicated proposal function with defined processes and staffed by capture planning specialists, bid and proposal managers, proposal writers, and content managers—in place at only 20% of organizations—produces the highest quality proposals that result in the highest win rates.

People need processes—the second engine component—to optimize their efficiency, enable visibility, and forecast accurately. A well-documented process will help with qualifying opportunities, deciding on win themes, building the response team, assigning roles, tracking and reviewing proposals, assembling the final proposals for publishing, etc.

The third engine component is no surprise: content. Obviously, you need to illustrate how your product or solution solves the problem that has necessitated the response. The differentiator here is in content quality, access, re-use, and personalization.

All three of the components mentioned above will be highly influenced by the fourth engine component: the technology tools you invest in for your response management engine. These will include your CRM, collaboration and web conferencing tools, and, of course, proposal software solutions.

When the engine is firing on all cylinders

After you build the engine, you can expect improvements in the following:

Repeatability

This refers to whether you have a streamlined process that you can apply any time a response is required. Once you’ve established your process, it can be triggered by intaking a project in your proposal software or CRM.

Whether or not your process is easily repeatable depends on content. Do you define service level agreements that can be adhered to time and again? Are you capitalizing on the wealth of information that already exists in your proposal software’s Content Library? If you’re finding ways to reuse existing content, you’re already well on your way to repeatability.

Visibility

Gain macro clarity of your proposal team’s performance. Are there any patterns where win rates vary? This will help identify key characteristics of your most winnable deals. Which content is most popular? Most effective?

This will help identify where to invest subject matter expert (SME) time in content development.

Efficiency

Make everything easier and faster—from finding content and assembling documents, to working with collaborators. Teams that do so are often able to increase efficiency by 40%. Sometimes it’s even more.

There’s no question that proposal software saves time, no matter how many people you have responding to proposals. Friend and peer BJ Lownie, managing director and principal consultant at Strategic Proposals believes that, “Situations exist for one-man shows and full-blown proposal departments.” Having proposal software on hand will help produce higher quality proposals faster, filled with brand-approved content and output according to your style guides.

Quality

Give everyone back time to reinvest in improving the quality of their work. Salespeople can spend more time on revenue-generating operations. The proposal team can spend more time on creating high-quality responses. SMEs can focus their efforts on their primary job functions and other equally important operational activities.

The purchasing decision is a consensus activity these days. Emotional and political factors are also at play. On balance, you always want to put your best foot forward. Proposal quality matters. It can positively influence deals.

Revenue

Link 1-4 together and you discover that proposal software fuels your revenue-generating response engine!

Ultimately, you want your revenue-generating response engine to guide your organization to the point where you’re only responding to winnable deals. Data output from the engine will help you answer questions like:

  • What is your relationship to the organization you’re responding to?
  • Have you had any prior engagement with that organization?
  • Do you have any insight into why that organization is soliciting responses?

Time is finite in the response world. The response due date is a deadline not a guideline. To paraphrase a quote I recently read on LinkedIn, proposals are never done; they’re just due. This engine will help you be more discerning with how, when, and where you invest your time and energy.

Proven value of proposal software

At RFPIO, our mission is to provide technology that streamlines the proposal process. No question that a library of pre-written content is a backbone to increased productivity. As are collaborations with sales and SMEs. We want to reduce the friction of hunting for content and herding SME cats. With proposal software, RFPIO customers are able to:

  • Submit 25% more responses with 100% accuracy while staffing is down 50%.
  • Increase win rate by finding more time to craft compelling win messages.
  • Triple proposal capacity and create efficiencies across all teams.

We deliver time back. How would you like a week back in your typical three-week proposal
process? How that time is reinvested will determine your win rate success. With a response team firing on all automated cylinders, you can unleash proposal development best practices while protecting sales and SMEs from the inefficiency rampage of a frenzied response process.

Start building your revenue-generating response engine by scheduling a demo to see how much time you can free up to reinvest.

Integrating Salesforce is a simple way to add tons of value to RFP software

Integrating Salesforce is a simple way to add tons of value to RFP software

This is about as “meta” as it gets in RFP software sales: RFPIO client Salesforce is currently in the process of integrating Salesforce with its RFPIO response management solution. How can a CRM integrate with itself? As Cosmo Kramer once said, “I must be at the nexus of the universe!” 

More than 30% of RFPIO customers who use Salesforce have already integrated the solutions. The Salesforce integration is by far the most popular CRM integration at RFPIO — 20x more customers use it than our next most popular CRM. So why do customers love it so much? 

Visibility and efficiency to start, but there’s more to it than that. 

“RFPIO’s Salesforce integration is helping our business be more efficient and organized with RFPs and RFIs. We can easily view insights and progress with every RFP right from Salesforce.”

-Alison Moeller, Proposal Manager at Accolade (full case study here)

Why you need it: Integrating RFP software with your CRM makes everything easier

Integrating Salesforce and RFP software workflows gives proposal and sales teams bi-directional access to all response management functionality. In other words, whether they’re working in Salesforce or RFPIO, users can perform all response management functions—from launch to development to publishing—seamlessly, without any redundancy or confusion. Here’s one possible workflow of how it can work for you:

Step 1: Sales rep launches RFPs, RFIs, Security Questionnaires, or any other response project directly from Salesforce. Expedite project creation by launching with existing Salesforce data in a few button clicks.Sales teams can send intake requests to the proposal team right from their favorite CRM (Salesforce).

Step 2: Proposal manager receives automated trigger notification of new project launch, analyzes what’s needed at intake to determine if it qualifies as an active project, and either rejects it or begins proposal development in RFPIO.Track and monitor progress in real-time

Step 3: Sales rep and proposal manager can track and monitor project progress in real-time from either application.When a new project launches, proposal managers are automatically notified

Step 4: Response packets and related documents are automatically published back to Salesforce so sales rep can send them to the prospect or customer.Sales reps can automatically send response packets to their prospects after they're published back to Salesforce

Step 5: Fine-tune proposal operations for sales and proposal teams with in-depth analytics output through Salesforce Reports Builder.Sales and proposal teams can fine-tune operations with detailed ananlytics

“The Salesforce integration has helped us align sales and proposal teams. Now, sales has full visibility into project status. They can see how a current project is progressing, or check which future projects are in the queue, all from the RFPIO dashboard in Salesforce.”

-Lauren Joy, Proposal Team Manager at Hyland (full case study here)

How you get it

The Salesforce integration raises awareness of RFPIO with more people in your organization. It becomes recognized as more than just a tool for the proposal team. It becomes the platform for expanding opportunities with prospects and customers. For example, after an integration, you can use the Salesforce Proposal Builder to create personalized proactive selling documents based on the up-to-date, brand-approved RFPIO Content Library

CRM integration is usually a high priority for our customers. Especially one or two years into a subscription, after their proof of concept for response management has hit its goal. 

Compared to other applications available through the Salesforce AppExchange, integration with RFPIO is a light lift. It all starts with a demo. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the stakeholders you want in the “room” and what you want us to prepare for them.

After you decide to add the Salesforce integration, the process moves pretty quickly. The integration fully supports Salesforce Lightning as well as the classic Salesforce configuration. It works with either or both. A seasoned Salesforce admin can have it ready in 1-3 hours as long as there isn’t a lot of custom mapping. If there are a lot of custom fields, then the configuration can stretch into a few days–still on the lighter side of configuration. 

We often recommend a trial integration. Connect an RFPIO production environment with a Salesforce sandbox to test the integration in a safe space that won’t create disruptions in your Salesforce production environment. It’s simple to migrate this trial setup to a production environment.

If security is a concern, it shouldn’t be. We’re already published on the Salesforce AppExchange, which means we went through the Salesforce security review. Also, we are quite comfortable navigating any enterprise security review. So far, we’ve passed 100% of every one we’ve been through.

“We’re using the Salesforce integration to pull data in from an existing account or opportunity. This both ensures the data is matching and also means there are fewer fields to fill out–saving time and avoiding errors”

-Lisa McNeely, Proposal Services Team Manager at Hyland (full case study here)

What you can expect 

You’ll start seeing the value of real-time visibility and increased efficiency from the Salesforce integration almost immediately. Another huge value comes from the reporting capabilities, and this value grows over time. By creating associations between Salesforce objects and RFPIO projects, managers, directors, VPs of sales, and other teams can identify which projects were successful, which RFPs were won, and how that impacted the Salesforce opportunity outcome. You can find patterns that help identify more successful opportunities and the teams involved with those opportunities, which will ultimately lead to higher conversion rates and more revenue.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Salesforce integration with RFPIO, then contact us to set up a demo.

“The Salesforce integration for intake requests is a game changer. When I started the proposal process from the ground up at my company, sales people had no idea where to send RFPs—they were just throwing them to legal. Now there’s an easy way to request support right in Salesforce!”

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