Every day I hear stories from proposal professionals in the field who are working diligently to find ways to improve their RFP response process. How can our team save time? How can we close more deals? How can we collaborate consistently?
As the account executive here at RFPIO, I’m typically the guy people talk to first when they reach out to learn more about our product. What I find is that everyone I meet is on the right track. They know they need to make changes to be more effective at RFP response.
Aberdeen had this to say: “Effective technology-using sales teams increase annual revenue year-over-year at 2.3 times the rate of less effective teams.” Thankfully, technology is here to help in the proposal management space. For a long time, it wasn’t. Organizations relied completely on a manual process to respond to RFPs, and many still do today.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re just like the many RFP responders I talk to. Maybe you’re working with RFP software or you’re working with a manual approach. Either way, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell them—it’s all about the process.
Having an ironclad approach will put your organization in a class of its own. Here are five best practices to improve your RFP response process, so you can win more deals together.
Step 1: Define a great RFP response process
The most common concern we hear from fellow responders is this: We don’t have an RFP response process.
When the RFP arrives, either a team of one or a handful of people work in silos to do their best to complete the responses before the deadline. They don’t really know the steps or who is taking which sections—if Team A or Team B will ultimately get the RFP done.
Other organizations have a process in place, but it’s not a great process. The more defined a process is, the more successful the team will become. Step one is to sit down with your team to create this strategy long before the next RFP comes in.
Every team is unique, and your process should be one that works for your organization alone. While the following steps are also important, defining a great process is non-negotiable if you want to grow and succeed.
Step 2: Aim for consistency
Consistency greatly affects RFP response quality, which affects your chances of winning business. Personally, I can miss a typo after reading something three times. Many of you out there can sympathize with that, I’m sure.
Multiple team members and SMEs are involved with RFPs, and the content will inevitably carry the voices of the people who write the responses. An SME might think the response makes perfect sense, but the average reader will struggle to sift through the technical jargon.
This is where the marketing team and/or the proposal lead has their work cut out for them toward the end of the RFP response project. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Knowing your content review cycle is a necessary part of every RFP process. There are ways to do this manually, with careful planning and attention as a team. But RFP software has features and functionality built in to help teams achieve consistency.
In the answer library, you can assign owners to sections or specific Q&A pairs. You can also assign sequential reviewers to polish the deliverable and ensure it aligns with your brand’s messaging. Content audits are another good idea, and a proposal management platform provides reminders to help teams keep their content relevant and fresh.
Step 3: Organize and centralize content
Not having an answer library is a bit of a disservice for busy response teams. The majority of companies are copying and pasting from historic RFPs to complete projects. In addition, they are spending countless hours hunting through folders and emails to find these RFPs.
Whether you have RFP software or not, there are plenty of opportunities to organize and centralize your content so you can avoid the information hunt.
Spreadsheets can work until you are able to spring for technology. Create multiple tabs and categorize in a way that makes sense for your business. If you’re the proposal manager, this master spreadsheet will likely fall under your care and you will need to encourage other team members to use the document.
That can be challenging, of course. RFP software has an answer library included already. It’s one of the most valuable features in the solution, because of how much time it can save your team—but also how it enhances the quality of your responses. More time means your team can focus on the next big thing. Higher quality means you have a better chance at closing the deal.
Bonus…having your content centralized is also a huge help for your sales team. I use RFPIO any time I’m on a call with a prospect, because I can share product information in a matter of seconds.
Step 4: Become masters of efficiency
The RFP process can only be so efficient if your organization is working with a manual approach. Having an RFP project owner is a step in the right direction, but having owners over certain sections is more efficient. When you add up the hours your sales team is spending contributing to the RFP, it can be a tough pill to swallow.
The whole reason we’re all working together to complete an RFP is to win. So we know exactly how important it is to have all hands on deck. Managing the many moving parts of RFPs is far easier when you automate repetitive tasks your team is spending time on.
“Sales teams effective at maintaining consistent communications outpace other organizations by a 105% greater rate in increasing revenue growth year-over-year.” – Aberdeen
As an example, RFPIO’s auto-response feature fills in most of your responses from the start of every project. Instead of asking your sales team to answer the same question for the hundredth time, you can use the solution to do the work. Then you can tailor the responses in the final phase for a winning deliverable.
Collaboration is another key consideration.
One person could take on the entire responsibility of the RFP response, but a stronger deliverable is made possible when expertise comes from SMEs and other key contributors. Email and meetings can be time-consuming, but Slack channels and @-mentioning within a proposal management platform make communication much easier on everyone.
Step 5: Gain full visibility
You want to have full visibility into the process as much as possible. In a specific RFP response, many questions will be asked by team members, sales, proposal managers, and the executive team along the way:
- Where are we at?
- How long is this RFP going to take us?
- Who is involved in the project?
- Who is finished with their responses?
- Who isn’t finished?
You’ve probably heard these questions at some point, so you can understand how not having visibility becomes a bottleneck in your RFP response process. To overcome a lack of visibility, companies will often have regular meetings or send email updates to stay on top of progress and completion. This works better than lacking communication, but it still requires a lot of effort from your team.
Bonus step: Change the process
It’s smart to revisit the strategy to learn how to improve your RFP response process. Being open to change is a big part of process improvement for organizations.
It does take time at first to use RFP software, but most of the time it’s mental. Fear and anxiety get in the way. Once people overcome those mental obstacles, they quickly realize that adopting technology is worth it.
We know thousands of users who have improved their RFP response process with proposal management software. Reach out to us and we’ll walk you through the steps to make your team more effective.