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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: Selling & Enablement

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!

RFP automation: What it is, how it works, and best practices

RFP automation: What it is, how it works, and best practices

If you’ve ever responded to a request for proposal (RFP), you know they tend to be about 80-85% boilerplate content. The remaining 15-20% is where you really have the freedom to adapt your proposal to a client’s specific needs.

This skewed structure means you might spend 80-85% of your time responding to repeat questions. Subject matter experts (SMEs) could spend up to 30% of time they didn’t have to spare responding to RFPs. Valuable time is spent on repetitive tasks. Information and departmental silos keep teams from reaching their fullest revenue-generating potential as a collaborative unit.

But with RFP automation, the story changes. Automating the RFP response process means less repetitive labor, more time for other high-priority tasks—and the chance to make each RFP you submit pack a bigger punch.

What is RFP automation?

RFP automation is a cloud-based B2B sales technology that helps teams maximize resources and time being spent on RFPs. As a result of these time savings, team members are able to return to other high-priority tasks.

But let’s take a step back.

Billions of years ago (in the late 2000s), marketing automation caused an important shift in email marketing. Automation allowed marketers to achieve more as a team and make a bigger impact on revenue.

Over the past few years, the proposal management industry experienced the same transformative effect with RFP automation.

It’s a collective effort to respond to an RFP, with involvement from multiple departments—sales, marketing, legal, finance, product, compliance, IT—and the list goes on. Often (but not always) there is a dedicated proposal manager directing these projects to keep everyone moving toward the same target…a timely, quality RFP response.

In the olden days, an RFP would come in. The proposal manager would “shred” it and assign questions to an SME—the all too familiar questions the SME had answered many times before on other proposals.

The SME then would spend too much time looking through folders and documents to copy and paste previous responses. There would be little time to ensure quality control.

With RFP automation, an SME only has to answer a question once, and then it’s captured in an Answer Library. The proposal manager can then reference the Answer Library to populate the responses with relevant content. SME involvement consists only of oversight, making sure the content is accurate and optimized.

Automation helps teams maximize resources and time being spent on RFPs. Time savings allow team members to return to other high-priority tasks. Some of your most valuable and costly resources are involved in RFP responses. If you respond to 100 RFPs in a year, this really adds up. To calculate your RFP automation cost savings, check out our ROI calculator.

How do you automate an RFP response?

Automating an RFP response comes down to two main things: Artificial intelligence and content. AI-enabled RFP automation technology uses AI to match existing content with new incoming RFP questions. The more content you have, the more accurate the result.

When we set out to build a consolidated (and better) solution for RFP response management back in 2015, over and over we heard that responders wanted a platform that would help them improve collaboration and automate workflows.

A few RFP automation solutions existed, but they weren’t easy to use. And these solutions didn’t integrate with systems that teams were already using across an organization, including CRMs like Salesforce, communication tools like Slack, or cloud storage like Google Drive. With more than 8,000 solutions in the marketing technology landscape, the last thing an organization needs is a solution that doesn’t play nice with other technology its stack.

marketing technology landscape

To make sure we built a solution for proper RFP automation, we focused on three aspects:

  • Artificial intelligence: (AI) is changing the way we all work, including how proposal management teams “shred” their RFPs. It’s easier to break up relevant sections, auto-identify response content, and assign questions to subject matter experts.
  • Integrations: Our integrations keep all team members working in their preferred tools. Salespeople don’t want to leave their CRM to respond to RFPs and they no longer have to. SMEs are unreachable by email, but they’ll engage through Slack.
  • Content management: The Answer Library is the content management hub—not only for RFPs, but for all company information. Anyone has access to the latest and greatest content, which can be easily searched, selected, and inserted into a variety of business documents…even emails.

Benefits of RFP automation

Achieving more with RFP automation also means responding to more RFPs. Organizations that use RFP software respond to 43% more RFPs per year, on average. Because the time-savings realized from automation can be re-invested to maintain or improve response quality, imagine what this scenario, based on data from our research, would do to your revenue forecast:

  • Prior to RFP automation, let’s say you responded to an average of about 50 RFPs every year.
  • Each RFP win equals, on average, $1-3 million.
  • Add 43% more responses per year with RFP software.
  • At an industry average of 45% win rate, that equates to 22.5 more wins per year.

In this scenario, your revenue forecast from RFPs could increase upwards of $22.5 million to $67.5 million in a year!

Without automation, response management teams can only dream of increasing RFP responses, let alone revenue forecasts. They respond to RFPs in a reactive state, which, of course, is not the way to produce a quality deliverable for the prospect.

Saving time through efficient processes turns into extra hours to consider viable business opportunities—perhaps even breaking into new markets. RFP automation gives your team the space to establish a proactive process, where technology handles much of the heavy lifting. Team members are brought in to use their strengths to strengthen the content—and the chances of winning the deal.

RFP automation: Is it a good AI use case?

Someone has to say it. Doc Brown of Back to the Future fame wasn’t a scientist. He was a tinkerer who built Rube Goldberg machines. Everything from his dog Einstein’s automatic feeder to the Delorean’s lightning rod was an overly complex chain-reaction contraption. Until he invented the Flux Capacitor. That was the real science that made time travel possible.

How is Doc Brown’s evolution from tinkerer to scientist relevant to automation? In the case of responding to RFPs, you cannot simply automate all of the manual tasks that go into a response. If you do that, then you’ll end up with an RFP Rube Goldberg machine that may not be as reliable as the manual processes you’re trying to eliminate. But in situations where AI is appropriate? That’s the real science that makes automation possible.

As promising as AI is, it’s still just plain hard. Projects are costly, unwieldy, and difficult to complete. Only 53% of AI projects make it into production, and those that do are only profitable about 60% of the time.

RFP automation best practices

In the case of RFPIO’s Auto Respond functionality, AI-enabled automation:

Populates the “first pass” of responses of an entire project or section of a project References Answer Library records in conjunction with a series of filters and the ranking of metadata Uses a recommendation algorithm to prioritize and rank the results Allows results previews so users can decide whether or not to use the answers

To do this, AI operations factor in, among other things:

  • Access to the Answer Library content by user
  • Similar questions or alternate questions in the Answer Library
  • Answer Type/Compatibility
  • Content-to-search match percentage
  • Star rating (content quality)
  • Used count (how often the content is used)
  • Last used date
  • Last updated date
  • Exact word/phrase match

When effectively executed, AI enables RFP automation because the solution has been built by qualified data scientists, extensively tested, based on accurate data models, and designed to scale. It’s also important to note that AI isn’t meant to be used to replace humans; it’s intended to enhance us.

The secret to RFP automation success: Organized content

Even artificial intelligence needs a brain. Don’t worry. This isn’t a Skynet scenario. For RFP automation, the brain is your content library. More specifically, in RFPIO this is known as the Answer Library.

With a robust, well-maintained Answer Library as a resource, your AI can grow in sophistication from machine learning. Users will be able to filter at higher levels, access the cleanest Q&A pairs, and move faster through the response process. Additionally, time saved from RFP automation can be re-invested into developing better content and curating existing content to improve its quality.

A long-term benefit of RFP automation is increased visibility into which content is most popular and where you have gaps. Data from these insights will be valuable in your content strategy moving forward.

So through RFP automation using a reliable Answer Library you get to create better content and find time to continuously organize content, all while responding to more RFPs. That sounds like a profitable use case for AI.

Are you ready to see if RFP automation is right for you? Schedule a demo to find out.

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

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

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

What does RFP stand for?

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

Why do RFPs exist?

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

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

Other RFP-related terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to use an RFP

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

When to respond to an RFP

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

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

When to use RFP software

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes you wonder if life is a movie…

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

“Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process”

By Sue Donim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is an RFP again?

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

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

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

BOSS: That doesn’t sound efficient at all.

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

BOSS: Enough with the acronyms, Keyes.

What’s an RFI? What’s an RFQ?

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

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

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

BOSS: Sounds like a cover letter.

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

BOSS: I’m better at that than most.

KEYES: Of course you are.

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

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

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

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

BOSS: What did I just say about acronyms?

What’s a DDQ?

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

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

What even is a security questionnaire?

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

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

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

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

KEYES: I think that’s a good call, Boss. We’ll start with the 6-step RFP response process.

[CUT TO GRAPHIC OF 6-STEP RFP RESPONSE PROCESS]

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

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

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

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

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

KEYES: Thank you, Boss.

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

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

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

[END]

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

RFP vs RFQ vs RFI: How response management reflects sales success

RFP vs RFQ vs RFI: How response management reflects sales success

There are more responses in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your RFx, to badly paraphrase Hamlet. In an enterprise sale or government bid, you’re likely to run into one or more of the following: request for proposal (RFP), request for quote (RFQ), and request for information (RFI). How your organization responds to these requests has direct implications on your sales process: Improve how you respond, improve how you sell.

What is an RFP?

RFP stands for Request for Proposal.

For the proposal team, this is the be-all, end-all of responses that stirs up everything you can possibly imagine about your organization. Pricing, functionality, technology, security, company basics, competitive differentiators, case studies, references, implementation, SLAs…phew! As the owner of the RFP response process, the proposal manager must ensure that ALL of these questions are tackled.

For the deal that’s already several touchpoints in the making, this response can either help seal it or kill it for the sales team. The importance of the RFP in the overall sales process varies according to industry. But across the board, it’s one of the touchpoints—along with product demo, pricing, and references—that every stakeholder will take into consideration when deciding on vendor selection.

Bottom line? No matter how awesome a response turns out, it alone cannot win the deal. Alas, a subpar response can indeed kill a deal all by itself.

What is an RFQ?

RFQ stands for Request for Quote.

If you receive an RFQ, then one of two things have likely happened. One, your RFP passed muster and you’re a finalist. Or two, there never was an RFP and you’re being approached because yours is a known solution for one reason or another. Either way, details are important in an RFQ. The issuer wants to know exactly what they’re getting at what price.

Lean heavily on subject matter experts (SMEs) to ensure accuracy. In some cases, you may need to complete a table of specific line items and include a cost for each. Your industry dictates your details. The point is that you need to be ready to deliver those details in an RFQ. There’s usually no room for creativity like you might have in an RFP. And remember, anything you commit to in the RFQ will have to be backed up down the line during implementation and support. You’re setting up expectations for the customer experience moving forward, after the hand-off from sales.

What is an RFI?

RFI stands for Request for Information.

There are two schools of thought regarding RFIs. The first school says an RFI is a fishing expedition for organizations who have questions but don’t know who to ask. In this case, RFI responses usually end up forming the basis of an RFP.

The second school says that RFIs are closer to RFQs and are used only with RFP finalists. In this case, the open-ended questions may try to clarify something in your RFP or may give you an opportunity to explain use-cases of how your solution solves specific challenges.

The RFI is usually more casual than the RFQ and will give you room to be creative. In some cases, it can even be your last opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition. End on a high note!

What is the difference between an RFP, RFI, and RFQ?

Obviously, there are many differences, based on the definitions above. But the biggest difference between these three requests is in the content of your response.

  • RFQs will be structured; content will likely be technical, financial, and legal.
  • RFIs are more casual; content will be more along the lines of solution briefs, case studies, and custom answers to open-ended questions.
  • RFPs will be structured and formal, but they’ll also provide opportunities to show off your creativity and competitive differentiation. Content will be in the form of answers to many, many questions. Hopefully you have a response management solution in place to automate and manage content. It makes your life much easier.

Ways RFPs, RFQs, and RFIs help your sales process

Back in the days of paper forms and manual processes, if an RFP was involved, then you could count on a long wait before knowing if you won the deal. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Digital transformation has introduced three new trends with regards to the RFP as it relates directly to the sales process.

  1. Deadlines are sooner: Issuers expect vendors to have technology and expertise in place to turnaround RFPs faster than ever. Besides, in some instances, the ability to respond fast may be part of an issuer’s filtering process.
  2. RFPs are more complex: Lots of reasons for this. More complex problems, competitive industries that have more vendor options, and the ability for issuers to do a lot of research on solution providers prior to launching an RFP (thanks a lot, Internet) are the biggest, in my mind.
  3. Globally, more organizations and agencies are using them: Actually, there’s a flip side to that idea, too. More solution providers are able to respond to global RFPs. Few of us are limited by borders anymore when it comes to conducting business. If you offer a product or service that the world needs and you can deliver it, then go after the business!

Regardless of your RFP vs RFQ vs RFI predicament, if you work on the following two things, your sales process will be the better for it.

#1 Know your competitive differentiators

There’s a high probability that you will be asked to state your competitive differentiators when responding to an RFP. Here are some examples of how that might look:

  • What is the competitive advantage of your solution?
  • Describe your competitive position relative to your competitors.
  • When comparing yourself to the market, what are the unique selling points?
  • Briefly state how you are differentiated from any competitors.
  • Why should we work with you instead of one of your competitors?

A generic RFP response to any of these will only benefit your competitors who are able to dazzle the issuer with a great response. Instead of using jargon-y adjectives that everyone else uses, focus on demonstrating the value your solution provides.

Knowing company differentiators is half the battle for many organizations—take the time internally to explore what these are and how to communicate them. Once you have these locked down, make sure the best versions are readily available for your team to grab and tailor appropriately.

“A value proposition offers clients something they want and gives them a good reason to choose you over your competitors. In the executive summary and in your full proposal, communicate a strong value proposition that matches your client’s needs and demonstrates your unique offer.”

– APMP Body of Knowledge

#2 Build and use an answer library

How do you make sure the best versions of your competitive differentiators are easy for your team to grab and tailor? Make sure they’re in your answer library, of course. It won’t be long before response management software will no longer be a choice; it’ll be an imperative.

Most RFP-specific technologies include an answer library component. This is where all the content is stored and organized for use in RFPs or other responses, depending on the flexibility of the solution. Much of the content in these libraries exists as Q&A pairs. For the sales process, using AI functionality from an answer library improves:

  • Repeatability: Build your response process around the foundation of your response management software. It will help establish steps for how you develop a response, access content, and collaborate with writers, editors, and experts time and again.
  • 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%.
  • Quality: With much of the time-intensive activities of responding offloaded to AI-enabled software and rock-solid processes, you can spend more time on personalizing responses and generating revenue.

Improve how you respond, improve how you sell

We found that organizations using RFP response software submitted 43% more responses in 2020 than those without. We also found that organizations averaged a 45% win rate in 2020. From a sales perspective, that’s a huge opportunity for improvement: submit more responses, win more deals.

To learn more about how response management can benefit your sales processes, schedule a demo today!

Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software

Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software

Salesforce found that salespeople spend 66% of their time generating quotes, writing proposals, and chasing down approvals instead of closing deals. According to Blake’s edict (Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross), that doesn’t leave much time for coffee. If a Cadillac is within reach, then why would your sales team be spending most of its time going after steak knives?

There’s no questioning the importance of proactive proposals in the sales process. The configure, price, quote (CPQ) software category is expanding rapidly for good reason. Automation of proactive proposals, scopes of work (SOWs), quotes, service level agreements, (SLAs) and their ilk accelerates close rates and increases visibility in the process.

Traditionally, proactive proposals required extra time because salespeople wanted to personalize them for an optimal customer experience. The thinking is sound here. You feel like you have a good shot at a deal, you want to put your best foot forward. The problem is what you have to go through to execute.

Old way challenges

This manual process might involve working from a Word document or PowerPoint deck that includes multiple versions of paragraphs or slides. A salesperson would start building their proactive proposal by deleting the paragraphs or slides that don’t apply and augmenting those that do. The process quickly devolves into a time suck if your sales team has to navigate:

  • Multiple platforms or applications — Between the CRM, content management system, and Microsoft docs, too much time is lost switching between applications. And that’s not even including email or Slack or the support ticketing system that’s also likely in play. Switching between apps is a productivity killer, accounting for up to 40% of a worker’s time.
  • Decentralized content (marketing, technical, legal, etc.) — Even if all your sales-ready content is organized in a content management app or shared drive, your sales team still has to find it, make sure it’s the right version, and import it into the proactive proposal. There’s also always a question of whether or not the proposal includes all the content necessary to be effective. Who has visibility into quality control?
  • Non-branded formats — Many organizations at the very least create their Word doc or PowerPoint deck template according to brand guidelines. But even then, versions get saved to local drives for easier access. Margins are pushed to include more content. Fonts are changed to add “emphasis.” Multiple edits done with each proposal creation result in a Frankensteined template that doesn’t accurately reflect your company’s brand. Next thing you know every salesperson is sending out their own unique proposal, which can present severe disconnects during handoffs.
  • Complex solutions to multiple problems — The more complex your solution, the faster your proactive proposals will go off the rails if they’re not tightly controlled. How can you provide salespeople with the freedom to be creative while ensuring their proactive proposals consistently represent a deliverable solution time and again?

Any solution you implement to help your sales team with building proactive proposals must include:

  1. Customizability
  2. Automation
  3. Repeatability

There’s only so much time in the day. Sometimes your sales team is under the gun to create multiple proactive proposals or SOWs. While that’s a good problem to have, you still need to be prepared for when it happens. The last thing you want is to under-deliver, especially at the early stages of a customer relationship.

Introducing Salesforce Proposal Builder

Integrating Salesforce Proposal Builder with RFPIO hits on all three of the solution requirements—customizability, automation, and repeatability—and much more. Our customers are already realizing huge gains in sales team efficiency. For example, ECS, a cybersecurity firm, integrated Salesforce Proposal Builder with their RFPIO platform to help with SOW development. A process that used to take 45 minutes to two hours per document now only takes a few minutes of clicks and navigating dropdowns.

“Each customer has a different problem. Each requires a different solution. Through customizable capabilities that Proposal Builder offers, we realize how much of a positive impact it makes on us, and therefore, on our customers”

-Jeff Rozines, Channel Manager at ECS.

Top-level benefits beyond the huge time savings include:

  • Always working from approved content. RFPIO can act as your knowledge management platform so sales has access to the most up-to-date content available.
  • Spend more time in Salesforce. Avoid the need for complex training, and simplify onboarding of new sales reps. Generate self-service proposals without the need to visit other applications.
  • Take advantage of the great content and subject matter expertise curated in RFPIO for use in requests for proposal (RFPs) responses.

Set up the self-service user experience once and then update as necessary. Working in RFPIO, you’ll create the building blocks of your proactive proposals. This is where you create the user experience for sales, build templates, and connect content. From there, it’s just a matter of showing salespeople where they need to go in Salesforce to initiate their proactive proposal.

Initiate a proactive proposal project directly from Salesforce

The software walks them through the Proposal Builder step by step.

  • Work from response templates to standardize the look and feel of your proposals.
  • Compile section templates into a comprehensive proposal by automatically knitting together fundamental areas of information based on clicks through dropdowns.
  • Customize content such as testimonials, use cases, implementation timelines, and pricing by using catalogs.

After a few clicks, your salesperson has a final proactive proposal, in Microsoft Word format, ready to send to prospects or customers.

Of organizations planning to respond to more RFPs in 2021, 82% also aim to complete more proactive proposals82% of organizations planning to respond to more RFPs in 2021 also aim to complete more proactive proposals. The most efficient way to make that happen is with Salesforce Proposal Builder for RFPIO. Schedule a demo today!

How to respond to an RFP like an all-star champ

How to respond to an RFP like an all-star champ

Organizations issue requests for proposals (RFPs) because they have a problem that cannot be fixed internally. A big problem. That will cost lots of money. This isn’t calling a plumber to fix a clog. This is soliciting bids from multiple contractors for complete remodels, or to construct full-on additions.

RFPs are issued as questionnaires of up to thousands of questions and requests for specific content. If your company has a solution to the problem put forth by the issuer, then you respond with a proposal that includes all the answers and requested content. Depending on the size of the RFP, it can take you hours, days, or weeks to prepare a response. As long as you submit your completed RFP response by the deadline, then your solution will be considered.

Now here’s the rub. The issuer compares your RFP response with all of the other RFP responses received from your competitors. Sometimes, lowest price wins. Other times, best solution wins. Much of the time, the winner results from the best pitch — an umbrella term that includes the RFP response, relationships built with sales and subject matter experts (SMEs) during the process, pricing, reputation, and a variety of other factors. Then there are the times when winners are selected based on prior or existing relationships between the two organizations.

No matter what the deciding factor between an RFP win or loss, the ultimate truth is that you have to compose an RFP response to have a chance. Why not put your best foot forward?

How to respond to an RFP

The RFP response process is cyclical, not linear. I’ll get into more of that in the best practices section. For the sake of getting a proposal out the door, you need to follow these eight steps after you first learn about the RFP.

  1. Qualify the bid — Is this worth going after? As I mentioned earlier, RFP responses can take weeks to compose. Starting off with a Go/No-go checkpoint gives you an opportunity to evaluate how your solution measures up, the financial viability of the project, availability of resources you’ll need to submit a response by the deadline, and any other factors that will impact your business during the response process. Essentially, building a proposal is like investing in your future. Every investment requires close scrutiny.
  2. Understand requirements — What do you need to get it done? This ranges everywhere from content to who produces the content to who is responsible for signing off on the final proposal. The list can be quite lengthy, but it must be comprehensive to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
  3. Answer commonly seen questions — Pull from your content library to fill in answers to commonly seen questions. If anything needs to be reviewed by a subject matter expert, be sure to get their eyes on it before submission.
  4. Assign due dates and tasks to key collaborators — Whose expertise do you need to get this done? After you determine requirements, you’ll identify all the milestones. There’ll be due dates for content, reviews, edits, and approvals for multiple collaborators. The trick is respecting everyone’s time while driving the process forward.
  5. Assign questions for review and approval — Who needs to sign off on this content? Likely, this will not be a Caesar sitting in the stands giving thumbs up or down. You’ll have multiple approvers to sign-off on content related to sales, product, support, legal, branding, etc.
  6. Polish — Make sure you’re telling the story you want to tell. Add visuals or other supporting content to tell your story better. This is where you can nail the competitive differentiation. If you have the good fortune to have a dedicated proposal team, this may fall on writing and design specialists within that team. It may also be someone from branding or marketing — someone who puts eyes on anything that your organization produces for external audiences. Ensure your proposal is in a clean, easy-to-read format. Or, even better, put it into a branded template.
  7. Proofread — Don’t let poor grammar and typos be the reason you lose the bid.
  8. Submit to issuer — Push send with no regerts (See? Proofreading is important!).

Best practices for responding to an RFP

Build the right team

Proposal managers lead the proposal team. I’m talking about more than just the proposal “department,” if you have one. There, leadership is more about mentoring, training, delegating, and establishing a reputation within the organization. It’s certainly important, but this is the team that drives the process. The proposal team I’m referring to is made up of the individuals you rely on for prospect and customer interaction, subject matter expertise, brand messaging, IT support, and all of the other details vital to creating a winning proposal.

Even a one-person proposal department needs input from internal or external SMEs to build a high-quality response. Proposal managers may think of themselves as the director of a motion picture. After that “Directed by” end title flashes, another three minutes of credits roll by.

Whether you have a dedicated team of stakeholders from each department or you assign a new team for each project, what matters most is that everyone in the organization recognizes that they have skin in the game. RFP wins, proactive sales proposals, and fast turnaround on questionnaires equate to revenue and may determine whether the company grows, shrinks, or offers an extra percentage point in next year’s retirement fund match.

Only respond to RFPs you can win

As part of your bid-qualifying at the beginning of your RFP response process, add a Go/No-go checkpoint to ensure that you only respond to RFPs you can win. Whether it’s a scheduled team meeting or a checklist, you need to answer:

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

Basing the answers to these questions on data rather than anecdotal evidence will help validate the Go/No-go step as well as your role as a proposal manager. Gathering that data is one of the advantages of working in RFP software.

Respect contributors’ time

If you want SMEs and other stakeholders to feel a sense of ownership for their proposal responsibilities, then you have to respect their time. RFP responses will suffer if contributors end up working after hours and weekends, rushing to meet deadlines. Get their buy-in ahead of time on deadlines and time required for reviews and approvals.

Document your process

A documented RFP response process will anchor your team during the most chaotic times. It’s up to you to own the process, but RFP software will make it easier to automate, execute, and monitor processes from beginning to end on multiple projects running simultaneously.

Conduct a win/loss review

The win-loss review gives your team an opportunity to close the loop. Internally evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

Did you win? Why? How can you repeat it for future proposals?

Did you lose? Why? How can you avoid it in future proposals?

Include the whole proposal team in a wrap-up summary, but make the extra effort to work hand-in-hand with sales enablement so they can bring in the customer perspective.

Remember earlier when I said the RFP response process is cyclical? The win/loss review will inform your new Go/No-go step, increasing your predictive accuracy of which RFPs you can actually win. It helps to have RFP software for a win-loss review because you have everything that went into the response—the planning, communication, content, and the actual response—in one place.

Let technology do the heavy lifting

Speaking of RFP software…it’s the single most effective way to overcome lack of experience. It’s the difference maker that will help you respond like a boss. With only 43% of organizations using RFP-specific technology, there’s a huge opportunity for you to get a leg up on competitors.

RFP software makes it easier to collaborate with an extended team and leverage the power of technology. With automated processes for scheduling, collaboration, and completing wide swaths of massive RFPs using answer libraries, you can blaze through the first pass of a response faster than working without RFP software. You create more time to spend customizing the responses that really matter and focus on differentiating yourself from the competition. And that’s only the beginning! Here’s a quick overview of how RFP software helps each of the seven steps of responding to an RFP:

  1. Qualify the bid — Check data from past similar RFPs. What took weeks without RFP software may only take hours with it. All things being equal, is this RFP winnable?
  2. Understand requirements — Let the tool create a checklist of open items based on what remains after the automated first pass conducted at intake by your Answer Library.
  3. Answer commonly seen questions — RFP technology consolidates all your previous Q&A pairs into an intelligent answer library, so you can automatically respond to repeat questions in just a few clicks.
  4. Assign due dates and tasks to key collaborators — Assign each RFP question or section as a task to individual collaborators from the project dashboard in RFPIO. They’ll then receive a notification from where they’re already working (e.g. email, Slack, or Teams).
  5. Assign questions for review and approval — Simplify the review and approval process with automated reminders and cues across multiple platforms.
  6. Polish — From intake, work within a branded template and support answers with approved content that’s always up-to-date according to the SME in charge of that content.
  7. Proofread — Still important, but working with already-approved content will decrease how much you have to proofread.
  8. Submit to issuer — Push send from RFPIO or your integrated CRM!

We recently created a Proposal Management Benchmark Report where we found that 75% of respondents plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021 than they did in 2020. We also found that organizations using RFP software already managed 43% more RFPs than those who do not use RFP software. If you’re looking to speed ahead of the field in RFP response, then gain traction faster with RFP software.

Organizations using RFP-specific technology submit 43% more RFPs than those who don't

I’ll just leave these other tidbits right here…

Recognize SMEs and salespeople at quarterly meetings. Salespeople are competitive and like to be recognized for winning.

Implement formal kickoff meetings for RFPs. Make them quick and include pre-reading materials in the invitation to hit the ground running. Some organizations combine this with a Go/No-go checkpoint.

Hold 15-minute daily standup meetings or calls as you approach the RFP deadline. Focus on status reports and action items.

Commit to professional development time. Join this LinkedIn group, the response management Slack community, or connect with APMP. This is especially valuable for small shops, where it can be hard to build a network.

If this has inspired you to investigate RFP software, then schedule an RFPIO demo today!

9 key RFP metrics for minimizing risk and enhancing efficiency

9 key RFP metrics for minimizing risk and enhancing efficiency

When I first started responding to RFPs, few people were paying attention to RFP metrics. Sure, there were definitely some trailblazers who were measuring performance, analyzing wins and losses, and optimizing efficiency… but I certainly wasn’t one of them. For me, responding to RFPs was less of a process than a mad scramble to the deadline.

Since then, my approach to RFP response has evolved. Admittedly, this is likely aided by co-founding a company that streamlines the response process via automation and analytics. This article will focus on the latter.

If you do it right, data-driven management can help sales teams sell smarter. But it can also provide insights into how proposal teams can identify—then either avoid or plan around—process challenges, such as resource management challenges, reduced ROI, missing deadlines, and inefficient content development.

By the end of this article, you will understand which RFP metrics you should be tracking—and how to use these metrics to minimize risk and enhance efficiency.

RFP metrics overview

Responding to RFPs can be an expensive undertaking. When you’re working with limited time and resources, you need to be strategic about which projects you take on. Improving your odds of a win starts by determining whether you’re a good fit, and identifying risk factors early so you can avoid surprises and plan for success.

Don’t let dollar signs, commas, and zeros distract you from what’s possible. Go for that big deal, but don’t do it just because of the logo or the dollar value. Do it because the data tells you, “You have a great shot at winning!”

For answers about your future, look to the past. Use data from past wins, losses, and incompletes to determine whether a project is worth pursuing. When you capture an RFx and upload it as a new project to RFPIO, the system will evaluate past projects for comparison and provide a dashboard that gives you an idea of what to expect.

Here’s a small taste of some of the data points that will help you enhance efficiency and gain new insights throughout your response process:

Project Type: Segment your RFP data according to project type. If you respond to RFPs, Security Questionnaires, and DDQs, then you can set each of those as a project type so you’ll be able to compare apples to apples. You can also segment based on industry, size, geo, and more.

Segment your RFP data according to project type
Focus on Wins: How many similar past projects have you won? Lost? Understanding what kinds of projects have been submitted and won helps you focus your efforts only on projects you’re most likely to win moving forward.

Focus on RFPs you're likely to win
Project Scope: Identity total volume of work required to complete the project.

Identify project scope before starting any RFP
Time to Completion: See the shortest, longest, and average times for similar past projects. In a recent survey, we found that 57% of proposal managers said their primary goal is to improve the proposal management process to save time.

Understand the shortest, longest, and average times for similar past RFPs.
Resource Needs: Examine content that may need to be created or moderated. Identify primary authors and moderators from past projects.

Identify primary authors from past RFPs.
Content Needed: Understand what kinds of questions are being asked, and whether you have that information on hand.

Clearly understand the content available in the library
Taken in isolation, each of those data points means very little. Homing in on a single datapoint is just like trying to ride a bike with just the wheels—you can’t get anywhere without the pedal, seat, and handlebar.

Instead, it’s best to approach RFP metrics in context of the greater RFP response process. The trick is learning how to apply insights from each individual data point in a way that enhances efficiency and reduces risk.

To make this easier on you, this blog breaks down the RFP metrics you should be paying attention to according to how they fit into the RFP response process:

  • RFP metrics to inform bid/no-bid decisions
  • RFP metrics for planning, implementation, and finalization
  • RFP metrics for ongoing optimization

By the time you finish reading, you’ll understand which RFP metrics you should be tracking and how to track them.

RFP metrics to inform bid/no-bid decisions

The first step of the RFP response process is figuring out whether an RFP is a good fit. Is this RFP worth the time and resources it’s going to take to complete?

In making your fit analysis, you need to be selective. You don’t want to waste time and resources on an RFP you’re probably not going to win. But you also don’t want to walk away from a potential opportunity, and leave money on the table.

RFP metric #1: Determining whether you’re a fit

While this isn’t *technically* a metric, decomposing the RFP to determine whether you’re a fit is extremely important to the bid/no-bid decision making process, and worth mentioning here.

Before you spend anytime answering a single question, the first thing you’re going to want to do is determine whether your solution is in line with the key requirements. Do a quick scan to see if anything pops out at you.

What problem is the issuer looking to solve? What are the features and functionalities on their “must-have” and “should-have” list?

This is also a great way to determine whether you’re dealing with a wired RFP, where an incumbent exists and the issuer is just going through the motions. If there are a considerable number of requirements that seem irrelevant or very far off base, that’s a good sign the issuer isn’t interested and the RFP might not be a good use of your time.

If your solution isn’t in-line with the issuer’s needs… go ahead and throw it on the “thanks, but no thanks” pile.

Remember: Your time is valuable. Don’t spend it on proposals you’re not likely to win.

Even if you are a good fit, you may still decide it’s a no-go due to other priorities, deadlines, and resource commitments.

If you do find you’re regularly passing up potential opportunities due to bandwidth, you might consider a proposal automation solution. According to a recent survey, organizations using RFP-specific technology submit nearly 50% more RFPs than those who don’t.

RFP metric #2: Do your homework on the RFP issuer

Yes, okay, we’re two for two for metrics that aren’t technically metrics. But you’re going to want to do a background check on the RFP issuer before you do a single iota of work. Nothing is worse than putting the final touches on an RFP, only to discover you already submitted a near-identical RFP two years ago.

Once you’ve determined the decomposition of data is a fit, there are a few questions you’ll need to answer:

  • Has this company previously issued RFPs?
  • If yes, did you win? Were you short-listed?

If you did submit an RFP for this particular company before—and you lost—it might not be worth your time. But if you were short-listed, and the company ended up going with another vendor, it could indicate that they weren’t happy with the other vendor’s solution… and this might be your chance to shine.

If you have submitted an RFP for this particular company before, pull that old RFP from the archives, and examine it with a critical eye. What did you do well? What can be improved? You don’t always get a second chance to demonstrate your competitive advantage—don’t let this opportunity slip you by.

RFP metric #3: Analyzing past wins based on company profiles

Compare company size, project value, and vertical to your typical customer profile. If you usually work with enterprise companies, and the RFP you’ve just received is from a startup, your solution might not be a good fit.

Save yourself some time in the future by tracking these data points as you go along. Each time you receive a new RFP, make a note of the parameters you want to track. As a starting point, I would suggest tracking*:

  • Vertical
  • Company Size
  • Product Line
  • Project Type*
  • Project Stage*
  • Number of Questions*
  • Project Value*

*RFPIO tracks project type, stage, number of questions, and project value by default. You can track vertical, company size, and product link by creating a custom field.

Be diligent about tracking each parameter whenever you receive a new RFP. Over time, you’ll see how well you perform for each of your chosen parameters.

If you’re using RFPIO, you’ll get a performance snapshot each time you import a new project, including project status (e.g. won, lost), time spent, and answer library usage (i.e. how many of the questions were answered using Auto Respond).

With RFPIO, you'll see a performance snapshot each time you import a new project.

RFP metric #4: Tracking your average RFP response rate

Your average RFP response rate is a function of the number of outgoing RFPs divided by the number of incoming RFPs.

Average RFP Response Rate = # Outgoing RFPs / # Incoming RFPs

There is no rule of thumb for what your average RFP response rate should be. For some companies, an 80% response rate is too low; for others, a 30% response rate is too high.

One thing that can be said for certain is that if every RFP that comes in is being responded to, something is off. It means you’re not qualifying what’s coming in. By going after everything, you end up wasting time and effort on deals you’re probably not going to win.

You can adjust your average RFP response rate as you go along. If your win rate is astronomical, it could be a sign that you want to start responding to more RFPs (and vice versa).

On the flip side, if you’re responding to 50% of RFPs, and your win rate is abysmal, it could be a sign you need to better qualify the deals you’re going after.

RFP metrics for planning, implementation, and finalization

Once you’ve decided this RFP is a go, it’s time to get to work. That means building out your team, keeping your project on track, and submitting a polished final product.

RFP metric #5: Determining Workload

Before you do anything, check the project size (i.e. number of questions) and the due date. This will give you a general idea of how much work you’ll have to do based on past performance.

After that, you can start assigning work out to your team. As you’re choosing SMEs, the most important metric to track is current assigned workload. If one of your SMEs has four projects due by the end of next week and you’re adding another one, you’re just asking for trouble. That’s the time you proactively find an alternate SME.

If you’re using RFPIO, you can check current SME workload right in the application. The system will tell you how much work is assigned to which SMEs, what the workload looks like, and if there is any overload.

If you’re not using proposal management software, you can also keep track of SME workload using spreadsheets; you’ll just have to make time to keep your spreadsheet up to date.

RFP metric #6: Readability Score

If a proposal is difficult to understand, it increases the cost for bidders during the procurement process. Confusion leads to delays. Delays drive up costs. And everyone loses.

Most people read at a 10th grade level. Make life easy for your buyers by writing at that same level. Avoid delays by calculating readability as content is being added, using an editing tool like the Hemingway App or the Flesch reading ease test.

RFP metric #7: Probability of Win Score (PWIN)

Here’s where you take an honest look at your work so far and ask yourself: How can I increase my odds of winning?

A PWIN (Probably of Win) score is calculated based on the answers to a variety of questions designed to best determine how well the company’s team, experience, and contacts match those required for the opportunity. The higher the score, the better chances of winning the contract will be.

Ask questions like:

  • How does the language compare to previous projects? Is it accurate, positive? Does it align with winning RFPs from the past?
  • Have you answered all the questions? Have you met all the required conditions?
  • How often do you answer in the affirmative vs. negative?

Be honest with yourself. Have you said “no” to a certain percentage of must-have or should-have requirements? Are you qualifying too much, or agreeing to build too many features? It might not be worth the final proofing and polishing to primp your proposal to perfection.

Just because you’ve spent a lot of time getting your proposal this far, it doesn’t mean you need to spend even more time getting it over the finish line. Your time is valuable. It’s okay to throw in the towel.

Regardless of whether you decide to submit the proposal, make note of the requirements you’re missing, and coordinate with your product management team to get them into the roadmap.

RFP metrics for improving win rate and optimizing efficiency

You should constantly be looking for opportunities to optimize efficiency and improve win rate. Tracking metrics and analyzing the data can help you do that.

RFP metric #8: Identify Content Gaps

Auditing your Answer Library is an art unto itself. From an RFP metrics perspective, RFPIO includes an insights tool that helps you identify content gaps, content that needs to be updated, and content that needs to be created.

What terms are being used in search? What’s being found? What’s not being found? Let’s say a security product company is seeing a lot of requests for “zero trust” but no content exists because it’s new terminology that has quickly become industry norm.

The insight tool alerts content owners that content needs to include “zero trust” in order to stay relevant—and could provide insight to leadership and product teams on where the market is headed.

Sometimes you just need new content in your library. For example, if a lot of people are looking for information about “outages” (i.e., what has been your longest outage?), but turning up empty-handed, it might be a good idea to reach out to your product team to let them know new content is needed.

RFP metric #9: Determine content library health

To determine how healthy your content library is, see what percentage of RFPs can be completed with auto-respond, as opposed to manually creating answers from scratch. With a well-curated Answer Library, 40-80% auto-response is realistic. 30-40% of content exists but needs editing. 20-30% needs to be brand new.

If your auto-respond is hovering below 40-50%, that’s a good sign you’re in need of a content audit. If this sounds like you, check out our guide on how to conduct a content audit in 3 steps.

4-Step RFP Content Audit

Future impact

There’s more to discover after delivering a project. Before you even know if you won or lost, you can start mitigating future risk based on what you learned during this project.

How long did it take (longer/shorter than average)? How many deadlines were missed? How much content was re-used? How much content was missing? Set up a feedback mechanism to share these findings with content owners and SMEs so you can continue to improve knowledge management and the response process.

Time matters

Our success metric is not to have users spend more time in our platform. This is not social media. We want users to be able to work responses faster and more effectively than they’ve ever thought possible. Which brings me to the last RFP metric I want to mention here: how well you’re using your team’s time.

Generate an Application Usage Report to gain insight into which modules (Project, Answer Library, etc.) your users spent their time. Compare that time spent against past similar projects. Did you save the team time? Did it take longer than average? From here, you can dig into why and start minimizing risk for the next proposal.

Gain insight into which modules your users spend their time
Schedule a demo today to see how to use some of the RFP metrics mentioned in this article to improve proposal management.

How proposal teams can prepare for 2021

How proposal teams can prepare for 2021

How is technology aiding the request for proposal (RFP) response process? To find out, we surveyed members of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) to gain insight into current and future trends in proposal management processes across 10 industries. The resulting data has been compiled and analyzed for you in the 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management.

The clash of trend and reality

No doubt about it, the events of 2020 greatly influenced B2B sales — and proposal management for many organizations was not immune. In 2021, as we all seek more certainty, the most consistent trend we’ve spotted is that digital transformation in sales, marketing, and proposal management assures generic proposals will never again make the shortlist. Budgets in 2021 will be tight, and each new business purchase will involve increased scrutiny and justification. So how can your proposal be competitive?

For any proposal to have a chance, it has to illustrate how your solution solves the issuer’s specific problem, and it has to speak to proposal reviewers and decision-makers alike. This requires your organization to focus on responding only to the requests that you think you can win. It also helps to have dedicated proposal writers experienced in developing content that appeals to your target audience.

Both of these considerations clash with two trends our research identified: the need to respond to more RFPs in 2021, paired with a resistance to increasing headcount. The research shows that many organizations understand that they need to respond to more RFPs in 2021 in order to play the odds and generate revenue. With RFP opportunities averaging between $1M and $3M (according to RFPIO data), each one has the potential to make a significant impact.

But how can you respond to more requests, while simultaneously focusing only on the requests you have the best shot at winning? RFP technology enables organizations to efficiently invest time in the RFPs they go after, increasing the rate at which organizations can generate proposals. Some RFP softwares, likeRFPIO, even enable data-driven analyses of the characteristics common to all the deals you win, helping you focus your time where you have the greatest possibility of success.

It’s concerning, however, that proposal team headcount is expected to remain at its 2020 status quo throughout 2021. This indicates proposal managers will have to learn to do more with less. It also means that unless you already have proposal writers on staff, you’re less likely to hire any this year. You may want to buck that trend because our research also found that organizations with dedicated proposal professionals lap competitors by 3.5X.

75% of organizations plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021 than 2020. But only 37% plan to increase staff.

Organizations with dedicated proposal professionals submit 3x more RFPs than those without

Survey says: Douse proposals in fresh-baked cookie scents RFP software is an advantage

“With RFP competition predicted to increase, and teams already being challenged to do more with less, keeping proposal team staffing at 2020-levels only adds pressure. Proposal teams will need to invest in technology and automation to scale their responses, enhance efficiency, and maximize output.”

Fewer than half of the respondents to our survey currently use RFP software. This is surprising, considering the fact that those that use RFP software were able to submit 43% more proposals in 2020. Technology is transforming the proposal management landscape, making it easier for organizations to efficiently create their first proposal draft, thus giving them back the time they need to personalize responses to win effectively.

Only 43% of companies use RFP-specific technology today

We also discovered that organizations not using RFP software instead used, on average, nine solutions to compose their RFPs, compared to only five for those with a dedicated RFP tool. One study found that workers estimate switching between apps wastes up to 60 minutes of each day. Yet another asserts that up to 40% of a worker’s productive time is lost while switching between apps, a loss of focus it attributes to “context switching.”

For the sake of productivity, efficiency, personalization, as well as to help keep up with steeper competition for each request, organizations that want to take advantage of more revenue-generating opportunities will need to streamline their technology and automation to be effective in 2021 and beyond.

Check out the full report to learn more about the state of proposal management, including our four recommendations for success in 2021. If you’re one of those organizations trying to keep up without RFP technology, schedule a demo of RFPIO today. If you are already an RFPIO user looking to streamline your tech stack to increase efficiency, fill out this form to schedule time with your Account Manager.

20 stats proposal managers need before making that next big decision (new data)

20 stats proposal managers need before making that next big decision (new data)

The legendary Ted Lasso once said, “Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doin’ it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.” Proposal managers can relate, especially staring down the end of a pandemic-induced paradigm shift in collaboration, automation, and workflow.

Digital transformation in response management has replaced proposal managers’ old challenges with new ones. Gone are the days of stalking cubicles of salespeople and subject matter experts (SMEs) to keep a proposal on track, manually completing questionnaires, and storing content in file cabinets or on shared drives. Enter the challenges of working remotely, videoconferencing fatigue, and high expectations for personalized proposal content.

What can you as a proposal manager do to stay on top of a dynamic response management industry? Before you consider your next automation solution, team addition or subtraction, or learning opportunity, make a decision based on some facts. We took the liberty of gathering 20 of them for you here.

RFP project management

  • “Only 43% of respondents report using RFP-specific technology today.” Organizations not using RFP-specific technology rely more on email, spreadsheets, content storage, and e-signature tools” – 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management
  • “57% of proposal managers said their primary goal is to improve the proposal management process over time.” – 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey
  • “44% of project managers use no software, even though PWC found that the use of commercially available PM software increases performance and satisfaction.” – PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • “75% of senior executives said investing in technology to better enable project success was a high priority in their organization.” – Project Management Institute

As we see it, the trend for proposal teams is to break even on headcount while relying on automation and collaboration to increase productivity. Doing more with less is nothing new to proposal managers, and RFP software can help accelerate response time, centralize content management, and unify collaboration. In one case, it helped to triple RFP volume and reduce turnaround time by 40%.

RFP project collaboration

  • “Distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.” – Harvard Business Review
  • “78% of survey respondents expect the amount of remote work to increase post-pandemic from its pre-pandemic levels.” – Verizon
  • “Organizations with dedicated proposal professionals submitted 3.5X more responses in 2020.” – Salesforce
  • “Today’s average proposal management team consists of: 1 person (6%), 2-5 people (33%), 6-10 people (24%), 11-20 people (16.5%), 21-50 people (12%), more than 50 people (8.5%).” – APMP

The way we work is changed forever. Whether you’re back in an office or embedded as a remote worker, you’ll be designating responsibilities that team members can accomplish onsite, on the road, or at home. We’ve all grown more familiar with remote work tools and have our respective cheers (e.g., accessibility) and jeers (e.g., too accessible). The upside is that your team will be able to adapt quickly to RFPIO’s @-mentioning functionality and its integrations with Slack, Salesforce, and more.

RFP response knowledge sharing

  • “The latest edition of Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends study ranks ‘knowledge management’ as one of the top three issues influencing company success, yet only 9 percent of surveyed organizations feel ready to address it.” – Deloitte
  • “40% of survey responders use RFPIO to manage company knowledge.” – 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey
  • “44% of employees are ‘poor or very poor’ at transferring knowledge.” – Ernst & Young
  • “Workers spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.” – Mckinsey Global Institute

Whether the proposal is being proactively generated by sales to get their foot in the door or reactively created for an RFP, you want the brand, expectation-setting, and peace-of-mind benefits of knowledge sharing from the RFPIO Answer Library. Make this dynamic warehouse of Q&A pairs and content available to everyone in the organization through our unlimited license model. Even as a small team, you can respond to multiple RFPs simultaneously, scaling with the personalization necessary to merit serious consideration.

RFP content management

  • “Companies with a designated RFP solution are 32% more likely to have strong content moderation procedures in place, with 90% reporting this being a priority for them.” – 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management
  • “The most frequently cited typical approach taken by content creators in their business (43%) was project-focused – content is created in response to internal requests.” – Content Marketing Institute
  • “If searching is difficult and the results are not highly valued, workers lose trust in the knowledge systems. This, in turn, makes them less willing to share personal knowledge in those systems, which reduces the quality of the content.” – Deloitte
  • “50% of proposal managers said keeping response content up-to-date and accurate is their biggest challenge.” – 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey

Second only to win rate, content carries the most weight when judging whether a proposal manager is a hero or a villain. How it’s created, maintained, stored, and accessed has a direct or indirect impact on almost everyone in the organization. Sales wants accurate, innovative content yesterday. Support wants content that accurately reflects service level agreements. Marketing wants content to be on-brand.

If you’re using RFP software, then you’ve gone to great lengths to curate the content library used to automatically populate proposals. Why not make that content available to the whole organization? With RFPIO Lookup, you can add a portal into your RFPIO Answer Library from everywhere your users work.

82% of our customers said managing response content all in one place is the primary way RFPIO helps them achieve success. Global organizations can take further advantage of separate content collections relevant to their region, which is especially beneficial for multilingual content.

RFP response efficiency

  • “On average, organizations with a designated RFP technology submit 306 proposals a year, while those without submit only 210 — a difference of nearly 43%.” – 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management
  • “86% of salespeople are looking for opportunities to shorten the sales cycle to close more deals. 79% of marketers are focused on using automated technology to execute more with less resource strain. 65% of subject matter experts aspire to increase efficiency through better processes.” – 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey
  • “85% of proposal managers work over 40 hours a week, with 11% working over 50.” – APMP
  • “Solutions based on natural language processing/generation and robotic process automation can help reduce the time it takes to draft requests for proposals (RFPs) by up to two-thirds and eliminate human error.”- McKinsey & Company

Efficiency is the numero uno KPI for RFP software. The benefit you realize depends on how you re-invest time saved through efficiencies achieved by state-of-the-art automation, knowledge management, and collaboration capabilities. For example, Lauren Daitz, Senior Manager of the Proposal Department at HALO Recognition, said about RFPIO, “We’re up 25% over our average volume for the last six years and our staffing is down 50% at the same time. And we were still able to deliver every RFP on time or early and with 100% accuracy.”

Proposal managers can never be satisfied with the status quo. Always look for new opportunities for learning and growth. As competition increases and digital transformation continues, it’s either move forward or fall behind.

Like Ted Lasso says, the happiest animal in the world is a goldfish because it only has a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish. His wit and wisdom know no bounds.

If you’re ready to learn how RFPIO can help make you a more effective proposal manager, schedule a demo today.

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

If you’re reading this, then you’ve already bought into the importance of customer experience in your sales cycle. A simple product backed by great customer experience will always have more conversions than a great product with a terrible customer experience. Many of the world’s leading enterprises concur. Data points that support customer experience are plentiful, indeed. The one that stands out to me is from PWC’s Future of Customer Experience report: 73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision. 

73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision.

Obviously, pre-sales is not solely responsible for good customer experience — that’s an organizational responsibility for every department, from legal and security to executive and marketing, to product development and engineering. Whether your pre-sales function is its own entity or a responsibility tacked on to product management or sales or technical support, it can be solely responsible for strengthening (or damaging) trust with prospects and customers. 

The pre-sales process: A quick level-set

What is pre-sales? The short answer is.. It’s complicated. Most organizations differ in how they define pre-sales and the pre-sales process. Often, the definition is intentionally vague to give teams the flexibility necessary to respond most effectively to a customer.

 For the sake of this article, I’ll say the pre-sales process takes place from initial contact to demo or proof of concept (POC) presentation. From here, pre-sales hands off the relationship to the appropriate sales entity, such as a business development representative, a sales development representative, or even an account executive.

The overarching key to customer experience success resides in every hand-off. Prior to presenting a recent webinar, I surveyed registered participants—most of whom were pre-sales professionals. Only 50% were confident that commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled. 

Only 50% of pre-sales professionals are confident their commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled.

The only way to make sure details don’t fall through the cracks, or that promises made by one department aren’t met by another, or that any other pitfalls don’t derail the overall customer experience is through process. Process in a scaleup company is like a guitar string. If it is too tight, the quality of music is not great, and if it is too loose you cannot make any music at all. 

I apply an 80/20 rule to my pre-sales model. Basically, it means that 80% of the rules of engagement between teams during pre-sales are streamlined. The remaining 20% gives teams wiggle room to personalize customer buying journeys and react to exceptions pertaining to customer needs. 

Keep this in mind as you consider my model for creating trust during the pre-sales process.

Step 1: Collect and analyze data

Remember that from the customer perspective, their experience needs to be seamless. They expect consistency across channels–but different internal owners of parts of that experience can cause inconsistency. Take a longitudinal view of the total experience to spot inconsistency.

Data-driven insight is just as valuable in pre-sales as elsewhere in the organization. It’s just that at the pre-sales stage, much of the customer interaction involves gathering data. In my webinar survey, 33.3% of participants agreed that access to customer feedback data that allows them to measure customer experience would be helpful. And only 9.3% said they always have access to up-to-date information to answer customer questions. Easier access to data about prospects and your product or solution will always help pre-sales stay a step ahead during the evaluation process.

Most pre-sales professionals strongly agree developing customer trust is their top priority.

Research the company, business model, values, and funding (if applicable) 

Examine any existing CRM notes or call recordings all the way back to the first touchpoint. The first discussion should be as consistent as the most recent one. Get in sync by going through any previous activities and speaking to personnel who have been involved. Best practices say to automate this as much as possible through your CRM and other sales enablement tools.

Summarize and confirm findings-to-date during discovery

Get on the same page with prospects first, and then ask them if you have missed anything. Acknowledge their effort in the buying process so far. This is the first step in establishing trust and opens the door for a prospect to reveal new details because they view you as their advisor in the buying process. 

Next, ask open-ended questions to unearth details you can use to personalize your demo or POC engagement with the prospect. This can range from getting their core triggerpoint to identifying the details of their standard buying process to gaining insight into high-value stakeholders. Document all the discovery details.

Analyze data to inform your personalized engagement plan

You now have two critical data sets to help personalize your engagement and take the customer experience to the next level.

  • Research Data: Company, industry segment, persona role, timezone, culture, etc.
  • Sales & Discovery Data: Tone, intent, urgency, problems, specific features, success criteria, possible effort into evaluation, etc.

Evaluate all of this data to develop a personalized engagement plan for each prospect.

Step 1 to improving customer experience: Create a personalized engagement plan

Step 2: Personalize engagement

How does a touring stand-up comedian win over her audience in every new city by pointing out their local cultural idiosyncrasies? Carefully, respectfully, and by setting the right tone. In essence, this is what a pre-sales professional has to do: Point out what in the prospect’s process is not working to find the true selling opportunities. 

Build your ‘Persona 360’

So far, you’ve gathered intel on the prospect company and one or a few key individuals who have been involved in product evaluation to this point. Be transparent about the plan and share it with the prospect. For the demo/POC, expect additional stakeholders and testers to join the process. 

Use the initial discovery call and LinkedIn to find out more about these new additions: 

Fill out your Persona 360, which is a combination of the roles, work locations, industry segments, cultures, time zones, ages (estimated, by Generation X, Y, Z, etc.) and more of the entire evaluation team. 

A day or so before the demo, resend the personalized engagement plan to update expectations. Be sure to mention new members by name and ask them if they would like to see something specific in the demo/POC. 

Grow a library of demo/POC models

Always maintain a variety of demo/POC models. Match the most relevant version to the audience based on your Persona 360, weighting it for those who you deem to have the greatest influence in decision-making. Consult sales when you finalize your demo model. Each model may differ based on talktrack, flow, order of features shown, and time allocated to specific sections. 

The Persona 360 should also give you insights into optimizing the structure and timing of your demo/POC. You can personalize the demo/POC with prospect’s problem statements agreed upon during discovery and emphasize how your product’s features help them solve those problems. Educate the new audience without surprising the existing audience to further build trust. 

Create personalized success criteria templates

Improving customer experience is about showing your prospect you understand their needs. Do this by sending a personalized success criteria template

After the first demo with the majority of the evaluators from the prospect’s side, send them a success criteria checklist to illustrate how your product or solution directly addresses some of their key pain points. This checklist will also give the prospect an easy reference to compare how your offering measures up to a competitor’s.

The more activity around this checklist the better. It’s a strong signal of their intent to proceed further with the evaluation or even to purchase. It’s not a mandatory touchpoint. If the prospect already has a standard process for evaluation, respect that and only suggest best practices as a trusted advisor. 

Step 3: Prepare for hand-off

When we board a bus or a train, we trust the vehicle will take us to our destination because:

  1. The journey is short.
  2. The route (process) and destination (value) are defined.

Length of the buying journey varies according to product and industry. Customers are more likely to notice when the journey is too long or arduous than they are to notice that it’s too short. In SaaS, the higher the price point, the greater the customer expectation that they’ll have ample opportunity to demo and evaluate if it’s the right fit. No matter how long the buying journey is in your customer experience, always make room to deliver incremental value.

A feedback call is a mandatory checkpoint after the initial demo/POC to determine where you stand on the overall evaluation. On the feedback call, be ready to review your account handbook, which covers relationship details from discovery, Persona 360, user journey, feature wishlist, and information about post sales implementation and support.

The account handbook documents any business case you can build with the prospect to help advance evaluation to purchase. It also shows the prospect everything that’s been accomplished so far on their buying journey and gives the impression that you’re ready to proceed to the next step. Perhaps most importantly, the account handbook can be used as a hand-off document to the post sales team to ensure a seamless transition for the customer. 

If you want more details…

Check out the webinar I presented on the importance of pre-sales in providing a positive customer experience. You can learn more results of the participant survey (very enlightening) and access some of the nitty gritty details I didn’t have space for in this article. It’s especially valuable if you’re in B2B SaaS because I spend a lot of time discussing how to deal with feature requests throughout the customer experience.

Top blogs from 2020: Best practices for RFP response & content management

Top blogs from 2020: Best practices for RFP response & content management

It’s that time of year again… Time to snuggle into our houses, turn on the fire, buy eggnog, vow to never buy eggnog again, and reflect on the year we’re leaving behind. And, me oh my, what a year this was.

Rather than dwelling on everything we missed, the blog crew here at RFPIO decided to focus on what we’ve learned, and how to apply these lessons to the future.

In 2020, our blog posts were viewed nearly 150,000 times… a 50% increase from the same time period in 2019, when we recorded just over 100,000 views on our posts.

From those 150,000 views, we learned a lot about you, our readers.

First of all… you love content about content. 30% of our top blogs for the year are directly related to content management.

Piggy-backing off of that, you love learning, growing, and improving. 80% of this year’s top blogs offer strategies and best practices for upleveling skills, streamlining processes, and improving collaboration.

Finally, you are careful readers. The average read time for some of our blogs is upwards of six minutes (industry average for blogs is 2-3 minutes).

With that, thanks to all of you for sticking with us throughout the strangest year in my living memory. So, without further ado, let’s kick off our 10 most popular blogs from 2020!

3 RFP content management tips to help you dominate

What exactly does good content management look like in the RFP world? It’s a trifecta of resources, data, and process.

Good RFP content management means preparing the best version of your content alongside your internal process to accelerate success. RFP responses are groomed in such a way that the content is compelling and fresh.

But the ultimate result of good RFP content management? Winning new business. The trick is to continually improve internal processes. That starts with investigating the RFP content management efforts you have in place today.

Read it now

What a response management platform can do for your revenue team

First question — what even is a response management platform? And how is it different from RFP software?

Basically, it’s cloud-based software that helps revenue teams respond to queries from clients and prospects with maximum efficiency. When teams centralize content and facilitate collaboration, they experience higher levels of productivity and results.

In this blog, we talk about the potential of a response management platform like RFPIO, and give you the tools you need to approach response management more strategically.

Read it now

Why you need the ultimate library for your RFP responses

Because various content contributors must band together to create quality responses, this content must be centralized and accessible. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

In reality, response content tends to be scattered across spreadsheets, Google Drive folders, or perhaps a content management system.

So what is the secret to more efficient RFP content management? You need the ultimate answer library for your RFP responses.

Read it now

Orchestrate better RFPs with the best proposal team structure

You need to complete and submit winning RFP responses, and you can’t do it alone. As the conductor you’ll need the best orchestra members to all play their parts in the RFP response process. Start with the basics—staffing your proposal management team.

Proposal team structure may look different for your organization than someone else’s. You could have three people or 30 on your team, but the goal is the same… simple, efficient, and effective collaboration.

In this blog, we discuss strategies for orchestrating better RFP responses by harmonizing your proposal team structure.

Read it now

How to convince your boss you need RFP software now

The first question will be, “Why do we need it?”

Tell your boss, “Because we can’t afford to gamble our relationships, and our contacts cannot afford to gamble on us.”

In this blog, we crack open this fortune cookie and unpack its meaning—and give you the tools you need to close the RFP software deal with your boss.

Read it now

RFP response best practices for up-to-date and impactful content

An RFP is so much more than a sales pitch—it’s an important opportunity to tell your organization’s story.

A quality RFP response tells that story with accurate, cohesive, engaging detail that demonstrates your competitive differentiators. But if your content is scattered, unorganized, or unpolished, telling this story raises unnecessary complications.

The first step to creating this story is quick, easy access to high-quality RFP content. Check out this blog to learn best practices for keeping your content up-to-date and impactful.

Read it now

How intelligent RFP search saves valuable time for salespeople

An easy way to understand search capabilities within a solution like RFPIO is to think about the way you use Google to find information. The majority of Google searches involve a simple phrase or question.

But, did you know there are handy search commands you can use to find information even faster?

In this blog, we lay out all ways RFP responders like yourself can use search operators to better optimize your searches.

Read it now

Elevate the RFP process in your asset management organization

In asset management, the RFP process is critical to winning new business. The prospect directly references your RFP document during the sales conversation. You must convey your organization in the most professional, appealing manner possible.

If you’re looking for ways to empower your team, stand out in a competitive industry, and win more deals, this blog is for you.

Click in to learn how RFP software manages your RFP process from beginning to end—transforming RFP process management into a well-orchestrated strategy.

Read it now

Robust proposal automation software integrations for sales

You want one thing: To achieve your sales goals. But there are many steps between “wanting to achieve” and “actually achieving”. Effectively responding to RFPs is one of those steps.

Your team generates revenue when you win RFPs. Yet, responding to RFPs involves a substantial time commitment from sales, adding fuel to the fire for the 68% of salespeople who struggle with managing their time to focus on sales-related activities.

In this blog, we dig deep into proposal automation software integrations so you know which benefits to expect.

Read it now

How to improve RFP response time management long-term

The average professional works a mere three minutes before changing tasks.

As a key player with multiple roles to fill, how can manage your time better, while also leading your organization to long-term success?

In the blog, we dive into this topic and offer solutions—everything from improving content management and collaboration to finding opportunities for automation.

Read it now

Now that you’ve read our top blogs from 2020…

It’s time to get started on 2021 planning. For RFP responders, it looks like 2021 will be a year to optimize content management and enhance efficiency.

While you’re at it, let us know if there’s something you’d like to see for 2021! We are always trying to make our blog better and better, so if there’s anything we’re missing, we’re all ears.

Send us an email at: social@rfpio.com.

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