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Why collaboration is essential to outstanding customer experiences

Why collaboration is essential to outstanding customer experiences

By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to a study by Walker. […]


Why collaboration is essential to outstanding customer experiences

Why collaboration is essential to outstanding customer experiences

By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to a study by Walker. Despite this, many organizations still aren’t entirely sure what customer experience is, let alone developed programs to optimize it.

Customer experience is the impression your customers have of your brand as a whole throughout all aspects of the buyer’s journey. It touches everything: navigating the website, interacting with sales, working with customer service—and, of course, using your product.

Not only is customer experience complex and multifaceted, it’s also vital to your business. In their future of Customer Experience report, PwC surveyed 15,000 customers and found that one in three customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience, while 92% would completely abandon a company after two or three negative interactions.

Optimizing customer experience across platforms is complex. A good place to start is by keeping the promises you make to customers. When you commit to fulfilling customer demands, make sure you follow through. This starts by ensuring your sales, proposal, and product teams are in lock-step.

Make promises you can keep

Most of us don’t make promises with the intention of breaking them. Despite this, brand-customer relations often end with unfulfilled promises of features and functionalities that never appear.

The disconnect between customer expectations and reality can often be traced back to a disconnect between sales and product teams. This gives rise to the question: how do you re-connect sales and product teams?

Promises to fulfill customer demands start with the sales proposal. Complex questionnaires (i.e. RFPs, RFIs) are bound to ask about a feature or functionality that your solution currently doesn’t have.

Rather than simply saying “no”, and risking losing the bid, the proposal team might explain the feature is not available now, but will be added to the product roadmap. For example, if an RFP issuer is looking for a solution with an open API, being willing to make that available within six months could be the tipping point that wins you the deal.

But to follow through on this promise, and provide an outstanding customer experience, the product team needs to be involved in these kinds of conversations from the get-go.

That’s where RFPIO for Jira steps in. Rather than sending product feature requests into the abyss of email, proposal and product teams can collaborate on the platforms they’re already using. Deadlines, customer commitments, and feature requests are tracked in a single centralized location—and nothing slips through the cracks.

RFPIO for Jira keeps your teams aligned

A survey of over 2,000 knowledge workers found that 69% of workers waste up to 60 minutes a day navigating between apps. That’s 32 days a year.

When you integrate RFPIO with Jira, your proposal and product teams can collaborate on customer commitments, without leaving the app they’re already working in.

When product inspiration, customer demands, or commitments arise in an RFx response, presales teams can create Jira Issues or Tickets directly from RFPIO, relating that issue back to a specific question or section within the RFPIO project. RFPIO users can track the status of Jira requests against defined timelines, and engage in bi-directional conversations with product and project owners in Jira.

Start the conversation

When approached with questions regarding a feature or functionality your solution doesn’t have, the proposal team needs to know:

  • Are we already working on this?
  • Can we develop this feature?
  • If yes, what is the expected release date?

The proposal team can ask these questions by creating a new ticket in Jira, assigning owners, labels, deadlines, and priority levels. For questions that address features already being worked on, the proposal team can link to an existing ticket.

Figure out a solution

When customer requests require further discussion, team members can start those cross-functional conversations by @-mentioning users. RFPIO and Jira users can discuss a certain request, without leaving their preferred platform.

Stay on top of commitments

With RFPIO for Jira, all feature requests can be tracked in the ticket dashboard in RFPIO, giving ticket creators full visibility into the status of any tickets they’ve submitted—and can give status updates to other teams, as needed.

Additionally, ticket creators are notified anytime an associated ticket is updated or commented on.

Strengthen customer experience to stay ahead

According to research from PwC, there’s a 16% price premium on products and services that come with great experiences. Companies that connect their responses to product development are providing that outstanding customer experience, right out of the gate—and giving themselves an automatic edge over their competitors.

If you’re ready to take the first step in providing an outstanding experience, aligning your teams is a great place to start. Tealium, a software company that connects companies to data, is already seeing incredible results with RFPIO for Jira.

Armando Rosario, the VP of Strategic Programs, explained, “the integration between RFPIO and Jira is bridging the gap between subject-matter-experts, engineers, and proposal managers during the RFP response process—allowing us to better collaborate and build workflows between systems they’re already using.”

To watch RFPIO for Jira in action, check out our webinar below. If you’d like to see how RFPIO for Jira could work for your specific use case, go ahead and schedule a demo.

How Salesforce integration with RFP software unified a team

How Salesforce integration with RFP software unified a team

Alison Moeller was tasked with improving her team’s RFP response process, and she knew finding RFP software that integrated with Salesforce CRM was critical. With over 600 question and response pairings, she also needed a solution that would centralize their content.

When the Accolade team isn’t interacting with prospects and customers, they turn to Salesforce for information. A strong CRM integration was key to successful user adoption as Alison set out to find the most beneficial RFP software option for her team.

Alison’s team sought to improve their RFP process in 3 ways:

  1. Spend less time combing through complex RFPs and spreadsheets to find relevant information.
  2. Better collaboration by automating RFP response data directly into Accolade’s CRM.
  3. Ability to analyze the performance of their RFP responses and optimize them for future success.

In the end, they decided to trust RFPIO to digitally transform their response process. A few months after implementing the solution, they’re already seeing incredible results.

Leveraging historical information with a centralized RFP answer library

Without a central location for their growing, Accolade lost hours combing through complex RFPs and spreadsheets to find relevant information and possible answers for every new response.

After implementing RFPIO, Accolade released knowledge that was locked in the heads and hard drives of individuals into the RFPIO Answer Library. Within days of launching RFPIO, they immediately added 600 question-answer pairs to their answer library.

The more projects they complete in RFPIO, the more robust their answer library becomes. Three years after implementing the software, they’ve grown their answer library to over 14,000 question-answer pairs.

According to the 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey, 89% of RFPIO users agree the Answer Library helps them save time. They love its ability to store, organize, and access responses in a centralized content hub.

Optimizing performance with built-in analytics

Being a data-driven organization, Accolade longed to analyze the performance of their RFP responses and optimize them for future success.

With RFPIO, they can perform a win-loss analysis on every RFI and RFP response. Discussions with their sales ops team uncovered actionable insight that resulted in improvement in teamwork and efficiency. Just three months after Accolade onbarded, they could respond to complex questionnaires like RFPs and RFIs in half the time.

The Accolade team is responding to complex questionnaires like RFPs and RFIs in 50% of the time thanks to RFPIO.

Streamlining opportunity management with a fully linked system

Automatically plugging RFP response data directly into Accolade’s CRM saved even more time and resulted in better collaboration across the board.

RFPIO’s Salesforce integration gives Alison’s team the visibility they need to track opportunities involving an RFP response with their other opportunity level as they continued to grow. The team uses RFPIO’s executive dashboard to track next steps for all active RFP responses. At a glance, the sales and management teams can now track all sales together.

New research of 2,900 sales professionals found that 75% of business buyers agree that connected processes are very important to winning their business.


“RFPIO’s Salesforce integration is helping our business be more efficient and organized with RFPs and RFIs. We can easily view insights and progress with every RFP right from Salesforce. Our team is very big on data, and the new project custom fields have been really helpful for reporting to management. Cutting our RFP completion time in half has allowed us to focus more on process and data as a whole.”

– Alison Moeller, Accolade

4 ways to set your sales development team up for success

4 ways to set your sales development team up for success

I knew RFPIO wanted results when I came aboard six months ago. I felt confident that I could deliver. But even I was surprised by a 281% increase in the number of demos my team scheduled over a 90-day period, a key metric to our lead-qualifying process. Especially during a global pandemic, when workforces around the world were thrown into chaos.

The good news is that my bosses don’t expect that level of growth to be repeated quarter over quarter. Even better news is that I still feel confident that we can improve on these lofty benchmarks. Our product is a no-brainer (spoken like a true sales evangelist, right?), but that’s not why I’m so confident. It’s the sales development representatives (SDRs) on my team that make me confident.

While watching my team crush our goals for the quarter, I was inspired to share a few of the things I learned along the way:

Piece together the best people

The best way to set your sales development team up for success is to think like an NBA GM. On a basketball team, not everyone is the go-to for offense. You need defenders, creators, passers, hustlers, shot blockers, ball handlers, coaches, and more to have a winning squad.

For a championship-level sales development team, curate a team of varying opinions and perspectives. This is especially true in sales development when you’re getting the bulk of prospect objections. Every SDR responds differently to objections. Some like the direct approach while others prefer storytelling to help a prospect understand why they have a problem that your solution will solve. I once had a former journalist on the team who excelled at telling stories to paint a bigger picture. Some SDRs rely on use cases to tell a story.

Accentuating these diverse approaches provides a rich tapestry for collaboration. Colleagues can say, “Hey, this worked for me…” One option may not be the right style fit, but when multiple options become available, SDRs can find what works best for them. When training new SDRs, they’ll feel more comfortable knowing that there’s more than one pathway to success.

This doesn’t just apply to phone conversations. Much of sales development takes place over email. While one SDR has a talent for writing subject lines, another SDR may be better at writing compelling call-to-action body copy.

A team composed of diverse backgrounds will make SDRs better together and provide unique solutions to otherwise challenging problems.

Equip your team with the knowledge they need

Now that you have your sales development team ready, it’s your responsibility as a sales manager to create the environment where they can be successful. That starts by implementing a knowledge management system that empowers SDRs to act quickly and decisively.

For example, CrownPeak, a Digital Experience Management software company, uses the RFPIO Answer Library to answer prospect questions. SDRs can answer their prospects’ questions as soon as they ask them—shortening the sales cycle and keeping prospects happy.

According to Paul Taylor, the Vice President of Solutions Engineering at CrownPeak, “When a sales development representative asks me a question, I’ll point them to the Answer Library. If they can’t find the answer there, I’ll write a really good answer and send it to them—and then add that answer to the Answer Library, so they won’t have to ask me next time.”

Another useful knowledge management tool is RFPIO Lookup, a Google Chrome extension that makes accessing your Answer Library even easier. With just a quick keyword search, SDRs have a robust library of pre-approved answers at their fingertips.

Many SDRs are still early in their careers and won’t have the same product knowledge as more senior sales members. Ensuring sure your team can quickly answer prospect questions is essential to any sales team that wants to work faster and smarter.

Define personal and team success

The third way to set up your sales development team for success is to define what that success looks like, and then communicate your plan so everyone on the team is heading in the same direction.

I hire people because I recognize talent that will be valuable to the organization. Whether they continue in sales or find a home in another department, I want to help grow that talent investment. Identifying a clear career path for SDRs will guide how you train them and show them that you want them to succeed.

Ensure everyone has the same view of what is expected of them and can see clearly the path to get to the next level. Avoid distraction of misalignment or missed expectation and focus the team’s energy in one unified way toward agreed upon objectives. I’ve found success in this area by creating plans for personal development for all SDRs.

I use these plans to document goals that each SDR needs to achieve so they can move up in the organization. Everyone learns and grows differently. One SDR may know the product extremely well but they don’t have presentation skills. Another may have great presentation skills but not know the product. It’s my job to find out how each SDR learns and that will determine how I train them.

Not everyone wants to be an account executive. Some want to be in operations or enablement or move out of sales altogether. With a written plan in place, when the SDR achieves their goals then—when a position is available—we’ll move them into their desired role, trained and ready to go.

A fully developed plan takes a while to build out because you have to work with the SDR a good 90 days to get to know them. It’s built with them; it’s never dictated to them. As trust grows, they’ll be more comfortable relaying their true goals. When that emerges, we can create a career pathway so they’ll be successful.

I share these plans for personal growth with my bosses as well as the SDR. This transparency keeps me and the company accountable to the promises we’ve written down. If you have a larger team, it’s more challenging, but the extra work developing each SDR’s growth plan at the outset will pay off in the long run.

Abandon conventional thinking about incentives

Finally, the fourth way to set your sales development team up for success is to nurture motivation, and create incentives that increase sales and promote personal fulfillment. What motivates one person may do little to excite another. Defining specific rewards for each individual allows you to tap into that SDR’s values and help them feel fulfilled in their role.

According to a report from Harvard Business Review, 9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work. They also found that employees who find meaning in work report higher job satisfaction and spend more time working, generating an estimated additional $9,078 per worker, per year.

Instead of assuming everyone in sales is motivated by money (they’re not), dig beneath the surface to discover what drives each individual on your team.

Who likes motivating their team members? Maybe they’d like to grow into a leadership role. Who enjoys the problem-solving aspect of matching the right customer with the right solution? Maybe you should assign them more complicated accounts.
Defining specific rewards for each individual allows you to tap into that SDR’s values, help them feel fulfilled in their role, and find meaning at work.

Where to start?

Sales development team success starts with your product and your people. After that, it’s up to you to curate an environment where that success can grow long-term. If you want to start using RFPIO as your knowledge management system, then schedule a demo today.

3 strategies for a consistent and on-brand content library

3 strategies for a consistent and on-brand content library

What do marketing and proposal teams have in common? They both want to demonstrate their company’s strengths in a way that is compelling and impactful. Despite this, proposal and marketing teams tend to manage their respective content in silos, with little collaboration between the two.

When you break content along team lines, messaging becomes inconsistent—or worse, inaccurate. That’s why the proposal team needs a champion who can bridge marketing and proposal teams to keep people aligned and content up-to-date. Who is that person at your organization? Maybe it’s you.

The good news is that aligning proposal and marketing teams isn’t as complicated as you might think. And I’ve already outlined a few simple strategies to get you started.

Replace walls with bridges

When teams become too focused on their tasks and deadlines, they inadvertently build walls around themselves. The higher these walls grow, the more difficult it is to stay aligned. As the self-appointed bridge between your organization’s marketing and proposal teams, it’s your responsibility to tear those walls down.

Kick off the collaboration by gathering the right brains in the same room, and setting up recurring cross-team meetings. Make sure everyone, on both sides, is clear about their responsibilities.

Next, make cross-team communication as easy as possible by setting up a designated channel in your communication platform of choice—be in Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts—where team members can go when they’re stuck or have a question.

Once you’ve established regular contact between marketing and proposal teams, they’ll be able to stay aligned on content guidelines and be ready for any changes coming down the line.

Your challenge is maintaining communication between the two sides. Keep collaboration simple. Ensure regular meetings keep happening. The more often the two sides are in contact, the easier it will be to communicate important deadlines, updates, or changes in content strategy.

Set regular review cycles

I like to think of brands as people. When you’re interacting with someone, it goes without saying that we expect them to sound and look the same throughout the conversation.

When customers are interacting with your brand, they expect a similarly uniform experience. Your company should look and sound the same, whenever your prospects are interacting with you, be it on your website, advertisements—or, yes, even proposals.

Proposals inconsistent with the rest of your organization’s content leaves customers with a tangled idea of what your company represents. And when you’re trying to demonstrate your value proposition, the last thing you want is to confuse your customers.

Luckily, we can fix this problem in just three words: Regular review cycles.

Beyond establishing an extended content plan, there is absolutely nothing more important to the long-term success of your content library than setting review cycles, content audits, and careful moderation practices.

Unsurprisingly, both of these elements also play a critical role in bridging the gap between marketing and the proposal management team.

Establishing a healthy review cadence allows your content experts to take a look at volatile or brand-centric content regularly, and creates the space to make any necessary edits before you submit your proposal.

Working Tip: If you’ve already set up review cycles in RFPIO, consider creating a separate cycle for marketing content, and add users from your team who will be plugged into the organization’s brand copy guidelines and priorities.

Stay aligned on content strategy

The cherry on top of excellent content is bringing everyone on the same page. Making sure both proposal and marketing teams are tuned-in to the overarching content strategy reduces miscommunication, misunderstandings, and inconsistencies.

Is there a rebrand on the horizon? Do taglines or other key pieces of brand copy change on a rolling basis? Are new products going to be released that will require additional content?

Understand your organization’s long-term content plan and be aware of any forthcoming copy and branding updates, so you can align proposal content with any changes coming down the pike.

Keeping a pulse on changes will ensure proposals are always aligned with your company’s mission and voice.

“Great things in business are never done by one person”. I’ll have to agree with Steve Jobs on this one. When proposal and marketing teams collaborate on content, messaging is consistent across channels. Proposals are more compelling. And everyone wins.


If you want to learn how RFPIO can help you keep your content organized, up-to-date, and on-brand, schedule a demo today.

How RFP automation software helps Hyland strengthen their responses

How RFP automation software helps Hyland strengthen their responses

Hyland is a leading content services provider that enables thousands of organizations to deliver better experiences to the people they serve. With a robust product suite that connects data and systems across complex enterprises, they serve industries across the board, including government, education, healthcare, and financial services.

For many of Hyland’s customers, RFPs are an integral (and sometimes legally required) part of the vendor procurement process. For Hyland, RFPs are their ticket in the door—and their chance to make an outstanding first impression.

And it’s the proposal team’s responsibility to ensure that first impression propels them to the next stage of the sales cycle.

As Hyland continues to grow, the number of RFPs coming in is also increasing. The proposal team quickly realized that if they wanted to respond to more and more RFPs—while continuing to ensure each RFP makes an impact—they needed a more efficient process.

That’s why they started the search for RFP automation software. They needed something that simplified project management, knowledge management, and collaboration.

After a rigorous vendor selection process, they decided on RFPIO.

Collaborating in the same document, in real-time

The Hyland team used to manage projects by color-coding an Excel or Word document, assigning questions to collaborators according to color. Each collaborator saved the document locally, completed their assignments, and returned it to the proposal specialist.

The proposal specialist would then manually combine more than 4 different versions into one master copy.

Lauren Joy, the Proposal Team Manager at Hyland, remembers that “the most frustrating part was that people often wouldn’t finish their questions. Not only were we rushing to combine all these separate versions into one master copy, but we’d also find out last-minute that someone only answered half of their assigned questions.”

Now, with RFPIO, collaboration is a breeze. Instead of color-coding, the proposal specialists can assign questions on the RFPIO platform. SMEs will then be notified that their help is needed, and can answer their assigned questions in one place.

As the SMEs are responding to questions, the proposal specialists can monitor progress in real-time. That means there is no need to worry someone forgot to answer their questions. And no more manually copying and pasting answers into a master file.

Creating a place to find answers

Hyland has always used a cloud-based system to house content from previous bids. But, in their previous system, something as simple as finding information had a steep learning curve. Beth Travis, the Knowledge Base Administrator at Hyland, explained that, “we all had our own method of finding answers, but it definitely wasn’t intuitive. We’d get a lot of questions from newer folks.”

Not only that, the system offered zero insight into how people were using the content. And anytime a piece of content needed to be updated, the editing process was very cumbersome.

“The answer library was a game-changer across the board.” Beth Travis Knowledge Base Administrator, Hyland Software

With RFPIO, the proposal team can ensure everything in their response library is 100% accurate and up-to-date. Now, their library is a place the entire organization can go for answers.

The first part of this is content moderation. Content managers have full control over what goes into the Answer Library. Before any question-answer pair is added, it is reviewed for consistency and accuracy. The result is a rich library full of pre-approved content, written in a unified Hyland voice.

The second piece of this is content review. The team maintains accuracy by assigning each piece of content an owner and setting up regular review cycles. The content owner is notified when it’s time to review their question-answer pair. They can then make any necessary edits, and give their stamp of approval.

As a result, the Hyland team trusts the information stored in RFPIO. And because RFPIO is equipped with AI-enabled search, anyone can find the answers they need, using keywords they’re familiar with.

Hyland has also given everyone access to RFPIO Lookup, the Google Chrome extension. Both Hyland employees and reseller partners can key in a quick keyword search right in their Chrome browsers—bringing a robust library of pre-approved content to the fingertips of anyone who needs it.

“Not only is the RFPIO Answer Library a place to find answers, it’s also helping us submit stronger responses. We use the stored question-answer pairs as a solid kick-off point, and then tailor each question to our issuer’s specific needs.” Lauren Joy Manager of Proposal Services, Hyland Software

Adjusting permission levels based on user roles

When you’re creating a place for answers, it needs to be something everyone can use. That means it needs to be intuitive and it needs to be simple. For this, the proposal team uses Custom Roles. Each team member sees a different user interface, depending on their role.

Most Hylanders will only see the Answer Library and any questions they’ve been assigned to. That way, they can immediately find what they’re looking for when logging into RFPIO.

By making sure RFPIO is something everyone can use… everyone is using it. User adoption has been outstanding.

Hyland also wanted to be able to give their reseller partners access to information about products or services. But, they wanted to keep certain pieces of content internal-facing. Enter the “Reseller” role. By adjusting content permission settings, the Hyland team controls what their reseller partners see.

As a result, the reseller partners can easily access the information they need. And any internal-facing content… stays internal-facing.

Embedding the RFP process into existing workflows

Hyland uses the Salesforce integration to pull data in from an existing account or opportunity. This both ensures the data is matching and also means there’s fewer fields to fill out—saving time and avoiding errors.

They’re also able to more easily track post-project and future engagement. Going forward, they will better understand how their proposals are performing, and gain more insight into their win/loss rate.

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

Thinking about implementing RFPIO? Just do it.

RFPIO has helped Hyland strengthen their responses, take on more projects, organize their content library, break down knowledge silos, enhance collaboration, and align their teams. When asked what they would say to someone thinking about implementing RFPIO, Lisa McNeeley only had two words: “Do it”.

“We chose RFPIO because we realized it will help us grow in the long-term,” Lauren added. But don’t just hop right into it. “Make sure you have a plan in place. Figure out the different pieces you need,” she continued.

Once you have the right process in place, the only way to go is up.

“RFPIO has helped us strengthen our responses and enabled us to take on more projects. And the more projects we take on, the more business we’re likely to win.” Lisa McNeeley Proposal Services Team Manager, Hyland Software

Want to see RFPIO in action? Schedule a demo and we’ll give you a customized tour.

How to build an effective & scalable proposal program

How to build an effective & scalable proposal program

Everyone has a proposal program. How do you differentiate yours to stay competitive?

Many companies want to respond to more proposals faster. Many are using proposal automation software like RFPIO as the platform to accelerate their RFP process. The competitive differentiator is how your company builds and manages the program around the proposal automation software.

Overall, you want to build a program that gives you the flexibility to complete what you need now but can also grow with your business in the future. Build for nimbleness. Make it moldable. Fit it around the people and programs that are already in your organization. Build an open architecture so you’re able to accomplish future goals that you’re not even going to be aware of at your initial launch. You also want to make sure your program addresses these seven considerations to optimize your chances of success.

#1 Crafting a mission statement

The mission statement is your proposal team’s anchor. Without it, your program is unmoored. The mission statement gives you the lens you need to see how your program is progressing.

It describes your areas of focus to your team and your customers (the rest of the company). Think of the results you want to realize. How will you impact sales productivity, mitigate bid risk, and minimize subject matter expert (SME) disengagement, for example?

For reference as you compose yours, here’s a sample proposal team mission statement:

Increase sales productivity and empower SMEs by providing the people, processes, and technology to efficiently manage proposal content services while delivering high-quality professional support to the field and partner ecosystem via solicited and unsolicited bids.

  • Create a centrally managed and continually validated repository
  • Become a one-stop shop for proposal content.
  • Scale the delivery of our proposal services globally and efficiently.
  • Develop a reputation for first-class proposal services.

#2 Building the proposal team

Who you decide to put on a team is critical. If you’re trying to improve proposal quality, then you have to have quality people on your team. You need people that can do something with the time savings that the technology platform produces. These are people that can synthesize information, that can build a comprehensive win theme, that understand how to write and edit. They’re learners because they need to understand your business and put it together in a cohesive package. They also need to partner with the sales team. In a way, this is a sales support role, but it’s much more than copy and pasting sales presentations into proposals.

As far as experience, recruit experienced writers and editors who know how to put together a story. If they already work for the organization then all the better—you have “bench depth” that you can turn to for help. These are people that already know your products and services well. If you don’t have existing bench depth, then you need to recruit writers and editors with proposal experience. It’s important to establish credibility and show immediate value across the organization. If team members have done it before, then they’ll be fast learners who can synthesize information into a story.

Your goals for a team culture are collaboration and ownership. For example, if yours is a global company, set up team leads in each region. Provide the collaboration tools, time, and opportunities so leads can meet and work together as mutual resources for troubleshooting issues.

#3 Staying flexible with the right tools

Whether you’re considering RFPIO or another platform, there’s one major consideration you have to address, according to FireEye proposal manager Brian Trigg: “Technology can either lock you in or open you up…the value of proposal technology really is in its ability to aggregate all of this information together, quickly access that knowledge, provide it across all the people that need to know or have input on this information…If you can’t do it openly and easily, then your technology is locking you up.”

#4 Building procedures based on mission

Consider your mission statement when defining your procedural objectives. Policies and procedures need to be set up to help you accomplish your mission. For example, if your mission statement includes emphasis on SME engagement, then you may want to consider implementing procedures that allow SMEs to define their own review cycles. Not only does this check off a key procedural step, it also engenders ownership of the overall program among SMEs.

#5 Showing value through metrics & reporting

Measure your engagement, open pipeline, impact to organization, won deals in number and dollars, content items under management, completed reviews, etc. Set up reporting for these and any other metrics where you can show your value back to the organization.

#6 Flushing out your content library

How do you get new content and fill up your Answer Library? One, create it from scratch (always awesome, but it can be time and labor intensive). Two, use old content, but be careful that it’s not outdated. Three, reverse engineer questions and answers based on message source documents, value discovery guides, data sheets, service descriptions, white papers, and any other marketing materials your company provides.

If your company doesn’t have these, then developing your proposal program gives you the leverage you need to drive their creation. Pitch it as a way that other departments in the company can contribute to consistency of message.

#7 Getting your booster rockets ready: Launch!

Hopefully, you’ve already put in in motion whichever mechanisms you need to solicit executive buy-in on your proposal program. At launch, executive support is essential to establishing company-wide credibility (aka, the booster rockets you need to get your program off the ground). Identify key stakeholders and communicate the benefit of the proposal program. Sell your mission statement through the perspective of how it will help them as executives as well as the company as a whole.

Bend, don’t break

Remember to iterate your program. It’s not going to be a perfect launch. Set up a program that you can flex into, something that you can change easily as you grow.

FireEye’s Trigg sums it up nicely: “Creating a flexible model, providing opportunities for ownership, driving engagement, and designing your content capture strategy properly are going to enable you to scale and synthesize your proposal team from more than a knowledge bank to a strategic part of your approach to market.”

If you would like to consult on how to build your proposal program for long-term success, schedule a demo today.

7 tips to excite SMEs about the RFP process

7 tips to excite SMEs about the RFP process

What’s harder? Changing, or not changing? In the 25-plus years I’ve worked with subject matter experts (SMEs) on proposals, I can attribute almost all initial pushback to resistance to change. Who wants more work if they don’t have time to complete what’s already on their plate? But the fact of the matter is that a proposal program powered by RFP process automation and a continuously updated Answer Library makes changing easier than not changing.

Before I launch into how to get internal and external SMEs excited about the RFP process, I want to call out a recurring theme that echoes through all of the tips: Respect their time. SMEs already have daily calendars chock full of responsibilities, such as solving engineering issues, dealing with clients, and creating demos.

Requesting their help with responses to any RFx (RFP, RFI, RFQ, DDQ, security questionnaire, etc.) is you asking them to repurpose some of that valuable time. But you need their help to complete the RFP process. Your company needs the revenue. SMEs need the company. In the circle of your company’s success lifecycle, the greater the SME involvement and enthusiasm, the easier your job will be.

#1: Control comms chaos

SMEs already get too many emails that are easily lost or deleted. Overloading SMEs with multiple emails frustrates them because they don’t know which are the most current, especially if they’re trying to respond from an airplane, client site, or conference. RFP automation software that streamlines the RFP process provides a personalized dashboard of the most current action items. Most importantly, it gives SMEs a single source of truth to eliminate confusion, and they’ll thank you for protecting their inbox.

#2: Do the heavy lifting for them

A proposal team should be able to complete 70-80% of a response using an RFP answer library (see tips 3 and 5). Then set up SMEs as reviewers to save time and avoid having them answer the same question multiple times.

With the right RFP automation software, you can reduce the burden on SMEs with functionality such as robust search options, marketing-approved templates, and targeted action items. One important reminder: SMEs—like many of us—are resistant to change. Any change you make—even if it’s being done to simplify their lives—has to be quick to learn and to show value. Don’t hesitate to kick off the RFP process with a quick 30-minute training session and a one-page how-to guide for easy reference.

#3: Update the RFP answer library on a regular cadence

If you’re already using RFP automation software, then take full advantage of the RFP answer library. When you get an answer from an SME, add it to the database immediately. SMEs will remember that they have already answered a question. They see asking them to repeat an answer as a lack of respect for their time. It’s better to have them review the answer for accuracy than to start with a blank page.

#4: Point out how they control their own destiny

If you are downselected or win an RFP, then SMEs will be first onsite, which means if there were any mistakes in the RFP response, they have to answer for them. If the new client reads that your product or service will do “X”, then SMEs are onsite having to explain why that’s not the case. Help SMEs understand that their involvement ensures a smoother transition and more positive client interaction.

#5: Sell the benefits of content audits

The more up to date the answer library, the more your proposal team can complete automatically, and the easier SME lives will be during live proposals.

Use this carrot often, but even when you’re updating existing content in the answer library on a cyclical basis, remember tip #2 (do the heavy lifting). SMEs are not grammar gurus, and it will be easier for them to deliver content in their language. It’s up to you or your content/proposal team to wordsmith it.

When you start a content audit, it can be daunting. Prioritize what’s used most. Don’t force SMEs to review rarely used or unused content. Have a kickoff meeting with SMEs and their managers to document the process and illustrate how you’re making it as easy as possible for them. They need to see that you have as much skin in the game, or more, as they do.

#6: Be transparent with external SMEs

With internal SMEs, I can go to their manager if they refuse to participate. I don’t have that luxury with external SMEs. Provide the same courtesies of communication and heavy lifting that you offer internal SMEs. RFP automation software should include “guest” functionality to give them access.

When you’re working with guests, make sure to give them as much notice as possible. And, when you do need their help, make it as easy as possible. Send them a short, single-page (front and back) PDF of instructions on how to use your RFP automation solution of choice. And definitely leverage the comments function so they know exactly what they need to do.

The big thing you need to pay attention to is content audits. Communicate ahead of time that you’re going to keep their content in the RFP answer library. However, you won’t bother them to review it until their portion of the solution is proposed. They need to know that when you contact them, you’re doing so because there’s real business value potential at stake.

#7: Recognize the effort

Recognize SMEs for spending their valuable time on your RFP response! If your company doesn’t have a recognition system, then expense a $10 Starbucks card. They deserve it, and they appreciate it.

Give respect, earn respect

Remember, if your primary responsibility is to respond to a proposal, then SMEs are your most precious resource. Without them, you’re a quarterback without an offensive line…a pilot without landing gear…a tree with no roots…a musher with no dogs…you get the idea.

To learn more about streamlining your RFP process to make life easier on SMEs, schedule a demo.

Reinvest time saved from a high-powered RFP process

Reinvest time saved from a high-powered RFP process

Whether it’s RFPIO or another RFP automation solution, the reason your company initially invests is to accelerate your RFP process. Sarah Ellerman, leader of proposal teams at Salesforce and an RFPIO customer, put it this way: “It’s kind of like in The Walking Dead, [RFPs] just keep coming. You can easily take care of each one. On The Walking Dead, they’re like, ‘OK, I’ll grab that one,’ and ‘OK, I got this one,’ but you start to get in trouble when there’s more and more and more. That’s the stage we were at when we knew that we needed an RFP automation tool.”

After you accelerate your RFP process, what will you do with all of your time dividends? Did Apple hit a trillion-dollar valuation by cashing out every year and implementing a 20-hour work week? Not if Apple Park is any indication.

If you want to disrupt like Apple, then you need to reinvest like Apple. As it pertains to your RFP process, reinvest time dividends to realize long-term growth in content quality, workflow efficiency, and proposal team job satisfaction, and do more than just fend off RFPs.

According to Ellerman, by reinvesting time saved using RFP automation software, you can expect the following outcomes:

  1. Better Deliverables: Finish more RFPs with better-quality content. Proposals can include images, up-to-date contact, all new products and services, and can be output as a beautiful package that will get you up-leveled to win the deal.
  2. Engaged Employees: By spending more time on training proposal team employees and subject matter experts (SMEs) on RFP best practices and products, you’ll have happier teams working in a collaborative environment.
  3. Data-Driven Decisions: When decisions can be made based on data instead of hunches, it leads to more credibility with leaders, especially when an uptick in RFP success coincides with the onboarding of your RFP automation software.

And how should you go about disrupting your RFP program? In this article, you’ll learn how to:

  • Invest in Content
  • Enrich with Context
  • Elevate your People

Invest in content: Use automation to advance your content management system

Curate Content: Continually add and edit content to make it as relevant as possible. Make it pretty. Add images, bullets, and attachments to make it look as professional and polished as possible.

Optimize for Automation: Address proposal team fears that software will be taking over their roles (it’s not; their expertise, credibility and consultative skills will always be necessary). Also clarify with leaders that robots are not in charge of RFPs. Success is still team driven. RFP automation software helps you complete more RFPs more accurately, but it’s not an AI infiltrator.

Also, the proposal team and management need to understand that automation takes time. The software will need help to learn. For example, different RFPs will ask the same question in many different ways. As part of the workflow, team members need to recognize that an answer already exists for a question if it’s being asked with different verbiage. Take the step to add the new verbiage to the Answer Library (essentially clicking two or three buttons) to help the system learn and enrich search functionality.

Speak Your Customer’s Languages: With legacy approaches to RFP responses, teams may have relied on siloed systems (aka, multiple Excel docs or tabs) to translate RFP responses from English into other languages. Lots of problems here. Content in other languages may not be as up to date. Increased globalization sees many more companies in need of multilingual capabilities. International proposal teams may feel overlooked if the content in their language is out of date and requires more time and effort than their English-language counterparts. RFPIO has multilingual capabilities so that updating content in one language actually updates it in every language.

Enrich with context: Integrate your RFP process with your existing tech stack

Examine Your Integrations: Whether you use Google Drive, Salesforce, Slack, or other tools that you want integrated with your RFPIO solution, set it up at implementation. RFPIO already has integrations set up with many of these tools. It’s just a matter of customizing it for you.

Explore the APIs: RFPIO offers custom integrations with your projects and answer library. With RFPIO’s Project API, you can connect your project data to a BI tool such as Tableau and execute even more complex reporting than you may have been able to do with your CRM integration. Our Answer Library API allows you to hook it up to a homegrown CSM system or other software. APIs are yet another option to embed RFPIO into your existing systems so convincingly that both your responses and your team’s engagement with the process will be enriched.

Reinvent/Reimagine Metrics: Time isn’t the only metric you can use to determine success, but it’s a primary driver for most companies investing in RFP software. Tracking how much time each contributor spends on an RFP is a key metric to resource allocation. Without RFP automation software, you have to rely on manual reporting. Not that people purposely misrepresent how much time they spend on a proposal, but with everyone multitasking, stepping away for meetings, or contributing to multiple responses, manual reporting results in under- or over-reporting hours spent. RFPIO automates time tracking so you can eliminate any manual bias and have a single source of truth when it comes to resource allocation.

Elevate your people: Make collaboration as easy as possible

Build a Culture of Collaboration: How do you find the happy medium between abandoning a team member to work alone and forcing every team member to be exposed to every issue? According to Ellerman, her teams at Salesforce had the most success in RFPIO when they “buddied up.” These smaller teams are able to help each other through challenges, create a standard of accountability, and work faster than solo practitioners or large teams.

Refresh Your Team’s Mission Statement: With RFPIO on board, your old mission statement of, “We save the company time by answering questionnaires,” will be out of date. Set up a team lunch to discuss all that your team does for the company post-RFPIO implementation, including everything from communication to efficiency to increasing revenue. A team with a bigger mission will feel compelled to make a greater contribution to the company.

Redefine Team Personas: Not everyone is an “answerer” anymore. Content will need to be updated. Training and enablement will need to be expanded. Give team members an opportunity to deepen and specialize. While everyone may be involved in answering an RFP, primary roles may change to focus on content or training or leadership. Examine what the organization needs and what employees want to do, then identify how to mesh the two together with new capabilities afforded by RFPIO. Everyone will be happier with a job persona that fits.

Scaling: How can you unleash RFPIO on your organization? Get more people involved than just RFP staff. Salespeople and engineers who start recognizing the benefits of RFPIO will want to get involved to accelerate business development or strengthen content being used for answers.

Certifications: Certifications command respect. Start with APMP Certification, offering the world’s first, best and only industry-recognized certification program for professionals working in a bid and proposal environment. With this level of recognition and expertise, your RFP team can be unstoppable!

Do more with less with RFP software

Whether you’re dealing with a headcount freeze, budgetary constraints, or leaders who want results faster than ever, RFPIO will help you do more with less. How will you reinvest the proceeds of a fine-tuned RFP process?

How ELMO Software boosts productivity and efficiency with RFPIO

How ELMO Software boosts productivity and efficiency with RFPIO

Elmo Software is the fastest growing HR technology solution in Australia and New Zealand, offering a single, cloud-based platform for organizations to easily manage their HR and payroll processes.

For many of ELMO’s mid-market and enterprise-sized customers, a request for tender is often the first step in the sales cycle. As more organizations are looking to cloud-based technology to streamline processes, ELMO noticed a steady increase in the number of tenders received.

ELMO knew that the more tenders they responded to, the more revenue they could generate. They also knew that the right technology could help them respond to an increasing number of tenders, at the same high quality they were used.

So they kicked off the search for bid automation software.

ELMO Software’s bid management team was spending too much time on manual processes

Jay Kumar, the Senior Bid Manager at ELMO Software, explained that before RFPIO, “the response process was not nearly as efficient as it is now.”

“The most time-consuming part of this process would be following up with the stakeholders to remind them to respond to questions. This was especially frustrating because I already had so many other things on my plate,” Jay remembers. “And I know the stakeholders had their own priorities they needed to take care of. We all felt like we were spending more time than necessary.”

Because each tender required so much time and effort—and they were responding to so many tenders—the bid management team would often work nights and weekends to get everything done on time.

They knew it wasn’t sustainable to keep working overtime to complete responses. They had to make a change. They started to look for a solution that could help them organize their content, simplify cross-team collaboration, and automate their process. Ultimately, ELMO decided on RFPIO.

By automating the response process, ELMO Software can respond to more tenders than ever before

Sameer Longi, the Consulting Solution Manager at ELMO Software, says that despite having a small team, RFPIO has enabled ELMO to submit more tenders per month than ever before—without the need for extra headcount or working overtime.

Not only is ELMO’s bid management team able to respond to more tenders, key stakeholders are also spending significantly less time responding to questions.

As the bid manager, Jay would often ask different stakeholders for help on questions. However, because answers were all stored in old tenders, rather than a central repository, it wasn’t easy to track down answers. As a result, he often inadvertently asked stakeholders questions they had already answered.

This has all changed since implementing RFPIO. Now, previous question-answer pairs are nicely stored in Jay’s answer library. Any time he needs an answer, a quick keyword search is all he needs to find what he’s looking for. Any answer he can’t find in the Answer Library, he assigns to key stakeholders using RFPIO’s robust suite of project management tools. Each new answer he collects is automatically stored to the Answer Library—ready for the next time he needs it.

RFPIO is a place for the entire team to find answers

The ELMO Software team isn’t just using RFPIO as a tool to respond to bid requests. The team can also use RFPIO as a place to find answers.

Solution consultants will often take advantage of the rich answer library in RFPIO to prepare for their demos. Oftentimes, their prospects will send over a few questions they would like to see answered—and the solution engineers can easily find the answers they need with a quick keyword search in RFPIO.

Over the next six months, ELMO Software will be using RFPIO in more areas of the organization, so more people can quickly find information and resources. Sameer explains, “We’ll often be contacted by people from different parts of the business for additional information. If we can close the loop by giving them direct access to the platform, we can make our process even more efficient.”

“RFPIO makes it really easy to give everyone on our team access to the platform, since we can issue as many user licenses as we’d like at no extra cost”, Sameer added.

“Tenders are a critical part of ELMO’s growth journey. With RFPIO, we’re able to respond to every bid request that comes our way—significantly increasing the potential revenue we can generate.”

Sameer Longi
Consulting Solution Manager at ELMO Software

“The RFP Process Basics” Screenplay: Action!

“The RFP Process Basics” Screenplay: Action!

What’s an RFP? What’s an RFI? What’s a DDQ? Follow the journey of a manager learning about the intricacies of the RFP process for the first time.

[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.

Everything you need to know about the RFP process

Everything you need to know about the RFP process

Much like a human, every RFP is different. However, from an anatomical perspective, there are also similarities. Each RFP response your team creates will impact your organization’s win potential. Knowing how to respond to an RFP effectively can increase your chances of landing a deal.

By no means an extensive list of every question that you will encounter as an RFP responder, we picked a few RFP questions and themes to explore. The goal is to help you know what’s coming ahead of time, so you are more prepared with a stronger foundation.

By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you’ll understand that:

  1. Timing is the main difference between an RFP, RFI, and RFQ
  2. There is an effective way and an ineffective way to respond to an RFP
  3. Understanding the anatomy of an RFP helps you create stronger responses
  4. Team success happens by combining process with technology

Once you’ve completed this “lesson,” you’ll have the necessary anatomical background to respond to RFP questions with precision. And, you’ll also understand why RFP software is the primary set of tools you need to operate.

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

It’s true…a lot of acronyms get thrown around during the sales cycle. You need to know how to respond well to each request, so you have a better chance of making it to the next part of the process—and eventually, that happy day when you close the deal.

The difference between an RFP (Request for Proposal), RFI (Request for Information), and RFQ (Request for Quote) involves timing during the sales process. An RFP is issued early on when Company A needs a diverse, in-depth set of information about Company B to aid their vendor selection process. An RFI or RFQ occurs later when Company A needs additional information or specific requirements beyond the RFP.

RFP (Request for Proposal)

While RFI and RFQ can be classified together, an RFP is really in a category of its own. This document is typically lengthier than an RFI or RFQ, because it stirs up anything you can possibly think of that relates to your organization. Pricing, functionality, technology, security, company basics, competitive differentiators…phew! We’re barely scratching the surface here. And you as the RFP responder must tackle ALL of these questions.

RFI (Request for Information) and RFQ (Request for Quote)

An RFI and RFQ can be classified together in regards to sales process timing. They usually show up later when an organization is close to making a final decision. This might happen after you’ve completed an RFP. Or, if you skipped responding to an RFP because you already made it to the final stage of the selection process, you may see an RFI or RFQ at that point instead.

Still with us? It’s time for the bonus acronym round…

DDQ (Due Diligence Questionnaire)

Similar to an RFI, a DDQ arrives much later in the sales process. In fact, it might even come after they’ve selected you as a vendor when they haven’t signed agreements yet and they’re doing their final due diligence. This document inquires about a few hyper-specific points as part of their standard company protocol.

RFx (Request for…)

An RFx is a term for the entire “request for” family of documents. This is important to know if you’re looking for technology like RFP software to help you respond to multiple documents. When you need to handle the entire family of possible requests, a solution like RFPIO can help you with these variations.

How to respond to an RFP effectively

Now that you feel confident about the definition of these wonderful sales acronyms, you have a better idea about which document will be coming your way—and when. As you can tell, of the potential request documents that might be issued to your organization, the RFP will likely require the most effort.

So, the question is: Do you know how to respond to an RFP? There’s really an effective way and an ineffective way to respond to an RFP.

The effective way to respond to an RFP

  1. Exceptional teamwork happens with every RFP project.
  2. Communication is clear and easy for all contributors.
  3. A documented RFP process serves as the anchor for your team.
  4. Content is easily accessible in an answer library.
  5. The answer library is always relevant to ensure quality.
  6. There is plenty of time to spare before the deadline.
  7. Branding and messaging is on point every time.
  8. A healthy percentage of these RFPs result in business won.

The ineffective way to respond to an RFP

  1. Teams and departments work in distinct silos.
  2. SMEs feel frustrated to contribute because of inefficiencies.
  3. Nobody owns the RFP response process.
  4. Responders can’t find content when they need it.
  5. Spreadsheets, emails, and online folders “store” historic responses.
  6. RFP contributors work after hours and weekends to meet deadlines.
  7. Inconsistent fonts and language are compromising the deliverable.
  8. A high percentage of these RFPs result in business lost.

The effective way is made possible with both a great internal process and technology that offers continued support. The ineffective way is the result of a manual RFP response approach where a lack of direction, process, and accessibility cause great inefficiencies.

Teams using RFP software experience a much more streamlined process. They not only cut their response time down, they also improve the quality of the responses to win more deals. Yet, only 16% of organizations are using RFP software to support their efforts.

This is a disservice to busy teams, who can benefit from a tool that helps them manage a lengthy document like an RFP. As we dig into the anatomy of an RFP, it’s easy to see just how many sections there are to handle—and how technology is really the right move here.

Understand the anatomy of an RFP response

Ready for your RFP anatomy lesson? From “head to toe,” here are some questions you will likely come across in an RFP.

Your homework as a responder is to familiarize yourself with the nuances of an RFP, so you can pass your prospect’s test with flying colors. Analogies aside, understanding these different questions and themes will help you craft stronger responses to win the next opportunity.

Company Information

“27% rated project management flow during the content creation process as ‘fair,’ revealing that some projects moved along efficiently but they faced bottlenecks.” – Content Marketing Institute

Though it may seem like a basic part of an RFP response, company information can be tough for teams. This content includes all of the foundational pieces for your organization: company name, address, annual revenue, employee count, website URL, year founded, etc.

While HQ’s address is an easy one, the employee count is not. Depending on company growth the number of employees might change dramatically every year or even every quarter. RFP software automates this basic content in your answer library, ensuring the most accurate information is on-hand for team members.

Executive Summary

Responding to an executive summary is tricky in an RFP, but it’s also one of the factors that affects your organization’s chances of winning. Though usually an optional section, this particular content section allows you to stand out by adding some flavor to your deliverable.

All too often responders mix up the RFP executive summary with the cover letter—but they are two distinct sections. An executive summary is high-level content that covers the issuer’s challenges, and demonstrates how your solution will help. While a cover letter is more of a conversational introduction that mentions your reason for responding and what you are providing in your RFP response.

Need a cheat sheet for your next RFP executive summary? Enjoy…

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 what that question might look like:

  • 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?

Speaking of competitors…a generic RFP response to this particular question will only benefit your competitors dazzling 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 within your answer library.

“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

Our Approach

The approach question is a seemingly straightforward inquiry. However, similar to competitive differentiators, this is another RFP response that teams struggle to execute well.

If someone were to ask who you are as a person, how would you answer them? You might go with a safe answer about your line of work and what you do. Or, you might share a little bit about what you value and believe in. There is no right or wrong way to answer this, because you are made up of all of these things.

When you respond to the approach question of an RFP, think about who your organization is along with what you do. Explain your methodology and how your solution benefits your customers. Also demonstrate why you do what you do to show your greater purpose behind offering the solution.

Branding

How does content impact an RFP response? Majorly. Which is why marketing teams often own this piece. Branding isn’t a specific question per say, but more about how the final RFP deliverable is presented. Messaging, font style, and any visual design must align with your brand.

Due to the collaborative nature of RFP responses, you end up with many voices and styles from SMEs who don’t always have their pulse on branding guidelines. Random fonts and bullet points combine with an ancient logo from eight years ago for a big design headache. Technical jargon makes sense to the expert, but isn’t engaging for the issuer reading the response.

To achieve a consistent look and feel when it’s time to wrap up the RFP project, manually fixing the branding bloopers can cost marketing a lot of time. RFP software helps teams save hours during the export process with templates that ensure consistency for a higher quality deliverable.

Learn How RFP Software Empowers the High-Performing Marketer

rfp response marketing

Security

Security is a concern for modern organizations and this topic is becoming more and more common in RFPs. You will either need to address your internal processes by responding to a specific section of the RFP or you may need to respond to a separate security questionnaire. It’s also quite possible that you will do all of the above.

A security questionnaire might arrive at the same time as an RFP, or along with the DDQ if you’re further along in the vendor selection process. Depending on your industry, a security questionnaire might have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand questions.

security questionnaire template

RFP software supports teams who are responding to these massive spreadsheets. Auto-response fills in the majority of questions from the start of the project. A template designed for even the largest Security Questionnaires imports the content in a single click. Technology makes a big difference in time-savings and providing the most accurate responses.

Pricing

To share pricing or to not share pricing…that is the question. As an RFP responder, you must answer this one way or another. There is a strategic decision to be made about pricing depending on many factors.

If you provide pricing in your RFP response upfront, you have less control over the conversation around pricing. Negotiation and discussion are replaced by numbers on a page. So, you might decide to hold off on providing pricing until you have advanced further in the RFP response process.

Like anything else, as long as you show the value of your product or service, the pricing should not disqualify you. In this case, you could get away with maneuvering around this question by sharing benefits of your pricing model without getting into exact numbers. It’s really up to your organization on this one, and you could test RFP responses over time to see if the price reveal is working for you or against you.

Support / Customer Service

Today’s buyer has many, many choices. When they choose your solution, they want to make sure they have a partner who will stick around to offer support long after the purchase. Your response is an opportunity to make your organization stand out as the obvious partner.

This is a great time to take advantage of subject matter experts from your appropriate service department to clearly explain these benefits. Do you have a help center where they are able to self-educate? Do you offer onboarding sessions and in-depth webinars to ensure they start and continue on the right path? When you respond to this question, you can highlight your service in a number of ways.

More powerful than your voice is the voice of your customer. So, another good move is to share validation from your happy customers. This could be a review or customer success story that covers the positive experience they had while working with you. Like this one…

“RFPIO’s customer service is amazing! Between weekly training and addressing questions with platform improvements in a matter of days, onboarding has been a pleasure rather than a chore.” – Lauren Daitz, Senior Manager at HALO Recognition

Including a great review can make a big impact with an issuer. All of your competitors are answering this same question—and they might be answering it the same boring way, with a generic rundown. Play to your strengths and to their emotions with a little storytelling.

Legal

With RFP responses, your legal team will be involved at some point. Specific wording must be used to stay in line with certain legalities. Legal might come in during the review process or to answer legal questions.

Collaboration with your legal team is much easier with RFP software. There is always a healthy amount of redlining in Google and Word docs when legal chimes in with feedback. This can all be handled within a solution to make communication and finalization easier on everyone.

Past responses that are “legal team approved” can be stored in your answer library as well to populate responses with correct information. That way legal only has to perform a quick review rather than repeating themselves every time a similar question arises.

General Requirements / Situational Requirements

Speaking of repetition, general requirements are the questions you have answered thousands of times on every other RFP for your product or service. They can be disqualifiers or “knock-out” questions you plow through quickly.

On the other hand, situational requirements are gaining popularity with RFPs. With these questions you respond to a scenario, rather than just saying “yes” or “we have this feature.” The issuer might spell out a problem and ask you the following:

  • How would your software handle this situation?
  • How would your solution solve this problem?
  • How would your approach alleviate this issue?

…no pressure, right?

Situational requirements require a thoughtful response that demonstrate how your solution is the right choice for them. As such, they take more time to craft and refine. These responses should reinforce some of the strongest parts from your competitive differentiators and approach.

Again, RFP software is highly useful for knocking both general requirements and situational requirements out of the park. All content is already stored in the answer library. Search functionality helps you select the most relevant response in seconds, versus endlessly digging through emails and folders—or rounding up a committee of SMEs and marketing to constantly create fresh content.

Combine a great RFP response process with technology

Nice work, RFP responder! You made it through your RFP response anatomy lesson. We hope you feel more confident about the next RFP that lands in your inbox.

By combining a great RFP response process with technology, your team will submit a quality deliverable that has a higher potential to land the deal. And, it will all happen in less time so you and your team can operate with greater precision and move on to other priorities.

Ready to improve RFP response operations? Reach out and we’ll show you how RFPIO can help you manage everything.

How managers can set their proposal teams up for success

How managers can set their proposal teams up for success

In 2019, 23.8% of the total workforce in the US was working from home, according to the US Labor Bureau of Statistics. Although the Labor Bureau hasn’t released stats for 2020 yet, I think it’s safe to say that the percentage of remote workers will be significantly higher than 23.8%.

While the media published plenty of grim predictions about what the sudden shift to remote work could mean, the anticipated doom and gloom has yet to appear. In fact, the majority of Americans have embraced remote work with open arms—one recent survey found that 54% of Americans want to keep working remotely, even after offices can safely reopen.

As we all settle more comfortably into remote work, lots of managers are getting creative, looking for new ways to help their teams succeed when working from home. Once you figure out the right workflow for your team, remote work presents lots of opportunities for your team to grow and thrive.

A few weeks ago, I talked with Kevin Knopf, the Sr. VP of Marketing and Communications at Keenan & Associates. Before the imposed lockdowns, 95% of Kevin’s team was coming into the office every day. In one day, this percentage flipped on its head, where 100% of his team was suddenly working from home. As he navigated this new working environment, he learned three key things about setting his team up for success.

1) Make productivity a priority

The one thing Kevin knew for sure is that he needed to do everything in his power to make the transition as smooth as possible, while also keeping his team productive. He started by focusing on his people.

The first thing Kevin did was encourage his team to adjust their work schedules according to when they were most productive, instead of sticking to the regular 9 to 5 routine. This small change greatly boosted the team’s productivity and helped them to better serve their clients.

As a manager, it’s important to listen to your team members and understand what they really need. This might mean telling them to take tomorrow off when they’re stressed out. Or making sure they log off at their designated quitting time. Giving your team the chance to take some time off helps them recharge and to come back mentally refreshed, ready to do their best work.

It’s also important for managers to find ways to be flexible and go with the flow when unexpected things happen. Maybe your team member’s kids bounded into the room during a video call. Taking a moment to smile and greet them shows your team members that you care about them as people and spreads positive energy throughout the team.

2) Strengthen your response process

When you’re thinking about strengthening your response process, the first thing you should focus on his finding technology that works for your team. For Kevin, having a solution like RFPIO was mission-critical when it came to creating remote workflows.

RFPIO has made a huge difference, especially the project management features that enable them to set up tasks and checklists. In addition to helping them organize their RFPs and respond to them in record time, these checklists have helped team members keep track of each project.

While Kevin’s team had always valued technology’s role in the RFP response process, the transition to remote work encouraged them to further explore some of RFPIO’s features that make remote work easier, especially features that support collaboration and project management.

Another part of setting up remote-friendly workflows is finding an onboarding process that works. Kevin starts the onboarding process with a video series that gives new proposal managers a virtual tour of the RFPIO platform. Kevin also provides a PDF step-by-step manual that the managers can follow as they review the training videos.

This remote onboarding process has been hugely successful at Keenan & Associates, giving new team members a chance to quickly get comfortable with the platform.

3) Build connections with team members

Having a close-knit team that values cooperation and creative problem-solving is key for making remote work a success. And this process starts with establishing connections among team members.

Since positive teams are more productive teams, he stayed on the look-out for ways to bring his team closer together, even though they were no longer sharing a physical space. He set up an open Zoom meeting where team members were free to talk about life outside of work. He also organized different “theme days” on Fridays—one Friday, everyone showed up to the video call wearing their favorite tie-dyed shirt.

It’s also important to hold regular meetings at least once or twice a week to touch base and make sure everyone is on the same page. These meetings should cover each team member’s home life as well as their work life. Talk about what’s happening at home, and what non-work responsibilities they have to take on this week. Regular check-ins like these help team members to understand what’s going on in each other’s lives and helps bring them closer together.

Take your proposal team to the next level

Remote work is here to stay, which gives proposal teams plenty of opportunities to rise to the occasion and embrace innovation in the workplace. This is the perfect time to take advantage of technology solutions such as RFPIO to establish efficient RFP workflows that boost productivity whether working remotely or in the office.

Watch my full webinar, below, to learn more about how to take advantage of technology to best support your remote team. Or schedule a demo to learn about how RFP software can help your remote proposal team.

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