We marketers adore our SaaS tools, don’t we? These magical solutions allow us to make even the most starry-eyed campaigns and projects humanly possible. As the co-founder and content strategist at Superneat Marketing, I can tell you that my business wouldn’t exist without efficient processes and automating mundane tasks. I have our software arsenal to thank for that each and every day.
Just when I thought I had it all figured out, guess what happened? Me and my business partner faced the inevitable irony of responding to an RFP for one of our clients. And, we had to do it all manually, with no magical RFP software to lean on.
Me, a content creator for RFPIO since 2016. Me, the person who has championed RFP software to empower responders to save time and energy—to win more, to succeed more. Me, the person who passionately warned thousands of responders to embrace technology and leave their manual ways behind forever.
This isn’t your typical case study for RFP software. This is the “un” case study for manually responding to RFPs, a cautionary tale if you will.
In this eye-opening, personal account (peppered with irony and intrigue) I reveal where it all went wrong. And how we definitely could have saved our sanity—and 100 hours—if we only had RFPIO.
Thank heavens, we had a solid RFP executive summary
I’ll start this cautionary tale on a happy note, because we keep messaging solution-focused here at RFPIO. We were ahead of the game in one part of the process, at least—our RFP executive summary.
An executive summary boilerplate was one of many deliverables from a larger marketing foundations project. We had the luxury of time during the content creation process. Even better? We had this executive summary template, an asset we created with the RFPIO team, to work with.
Basically, this template gives you the building blocks to craft a kick-ass RFP executive summary. Our most popular blog of all-time was about how to write a winning executive summary for RFP responses. Which is precisely why we created this nifty infographic.
The executive summary can be mystifying, so it makes sense that so many responders need help with this opening statement of an RFP. I was beyond thankful to have this infographic in my content marketing tool belt when it was time to write an executive summary for our client.
A really important RFP is due in three weeks…Help!
Then came the cry for help from our wonderful client. This RFP came out of nowhere, from an organization they had worked with for a decade who suddenly got the itch to send a formal proposal.
That meant the obvious possibility that their long-term client was sending that same request for proposal to their competitors. So, winning this RFP was kind of a big deal. (No pressure.)
When we received the email from our client, we paused to acknowledge the irony of the situation because you just have to sometimes in life. Then, we jumped in like spirited content marketers always do. We needed to nail this puppy.
We thought: “We’ve seen it all. We totally got this!”
First, our clients slaved over this RFP for two weeks, spending countless hours copying and pasting from historic RFPs until they pulled everything together. Then, it was our turn…to polish the content and the formatting. We had to hustle, drop everything else we were doing to prioritize the RFP.
Once we received the RFP from our client, we quickly realized It was going to take all of our marketing superpowers to pull this off before the deadline. Because the RFP was…wait for it…160 pages.
The humbling content experience of an RFP monstrosity
After years and years of creating content in every possible format, I faced my Everest. This RFP was ginormous and I had limited time to work through it. One thing I’ve learned about quality content creation? It can’t be rushed.
It doesn’t matter who you are. Stephen King has published 58 novels—that’s A LOT of content. It’s an achievement to write one novel, let alone 58. But, Mr. King wasn’t alone in this notable achievement. He had a fastidious editing team working like crazy before a single page made it to print.
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” – Stephen King
In the end, I glued my you-know-what to my chair for an entire day and cozied up with this RFP monstrosity. I cleaned up the responses in a content fury—making them more concise and lovable. I attacked repetition and passive voice, my rapid-fire fingers pounding against the keyboard for hours until they were numb.
I was ten pages in when I yelled aloud: “If only we had RFPIO!”
My business partner chuckled at my manual RFP misfortune. However, his sense of humor was shortlived. His days were numbered, the deadline drawing ever closer. Soon his time came to format the RFP deliverable. Cue content marketer evil laugh…
Winning the RFP formatting battle without any casualties
“How goes the battle?” This was the brilliant subject line our client sent us when she checked on the state of the RFP deliverable as we approached the tight deadline. Truer words have never been spoken.
My business partner had to change all of the inconsistent formatting manually in a Word doc. It was a right mess, responses having been pieced together from a dozen different documents—some of which were ancient RFP history.
There were over 30 different font styles and 60 images. Every bullet and numbered list was formatted differently. This RFP had multiple personalities and we needed to show only one brand personality.
He copied everything as plain text and re-formatted the entire document page by page. To bring the document home, it took a 6-hour straight session with him strapped to his chair in a straitjacket (kidding).
And, guess what he said to me…“If only we had RFPIO!”
200 hours later, how RFPIO would have saved us
It sounds dramatic to say that RFPIO would have saved us, but it’s nothing but the truth. On average, happily productive RFPIO users cut their response time by 40 percent. Between the four of us—me, my business partner, and our clients—we easily spent 200 hours on a single RFP.
We always track our time, so we know what we put in. Our clients were writing and reviewing for weeks, so we can guesstimate what they put in. 200 hours? Holy smokes!
A response management platform like RFPIO has many glorious features. As a small team, I know the exact two features that would have saved us all. The answer library and the import/export functionality.
Our client had no centralized repository for RFPs. They hunted through years of folders and documents to find responses they could repurpose. As a result, the copying and pasting led to the ickiest formatting challenges. There was no easy fix for any of it. It took time to pull everything together—lots and lots of time and energy.
So, how would things have been different if we had RFPIO? Let me count the ways…okay, four ways…
- Import – We would have imported the Word doc in seconds and jumped right into the RFP project.
- Content – We would have found relevant content with a quick search of historic responses, or by filtering with tags or star ratings in our answer library.
- Collaboration – We would have invited our clients to review the responses within the platform, versus the many back-and-forth emails we used to collaborate.
- Export – We would have exported the responses into a branded template. The formatting would have been cohesive and beautiful. This process would have taken seconds, not hours.
Would we have preferred to spend half the time on that 160-page RFP? Would our clients have liked to do the same, so they could focus on the many other aspects of their business? You betcha.
Not even a month later, another RFP came along. And the cycle repeated itself, as it does for many organizations. The lesson to be learned here isn’t always an obvious one. It’s difficult to put a value on time. But our time is, in fact, a valuable commodity.
Technology like RFP software allows us to be more efficient. The power behind that efficiency is not only the ability to do more but to do it better than everyone else. I hope our cautionary tale of a manual RFP process inspires you to consider your options.