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RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

If you’re new to the proposal or bid process, then you’ll need the request for proposal (RFP) basics. Even though, […]


RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

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

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

What does RFP stand for?

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

Why do RFPs exist?

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

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

Other RFP-related terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to use an RFP

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

When to respond to an RFP

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

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

When to use RFP software

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes you wonder if life is a movie…

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

“Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process”

By Sue Donim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is an RFP again?

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

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

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

BOSS: That doesn’t sound efficient at all.

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

BOSS: Enough with the acronyms, Keyes.

What’s an RFI? What’s an RFQ?

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

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

How to write executive summary
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 8-step RFP response process.

[CUT TO GRAPHIC OF 8-STEP RFP RESPONSE PROCESS]

RFP process and steps

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.

LevelUp interview series: The evolving role of content in the sales process

LevelUp interview series: The evolving role of content in the sales process

Is content important to your business?

If you asked a business leader this question just 10 years ago, their answer would likely be quite different than it is now.

In 2019, 41% of marketing budgets were spent on content alone, compared to just 23% in 2018, according to Hubspot’s State of Content Marketing 2020.

Bottom line: The role of content for B2B business has changed dramatically. And these changes have monumental implications for the sales process and beyond.

To dig deeper into what those changes mean, we invited sales and marketing leaders to share their experiences navigating the changing nature of content. During these conversations, we discussed what organizations can do to better leverage company knowledge and what we predict the future of content will bring.

Watch our video series below!

Asher Matthew, VP of Revenue at Demand Matrix


Tune into this 15-minute conversation to hear Asher’s take on all things content, including:

  • Why relevancy is so important to content creation,
  • How content can bridge the gap between sales and marketing teams, and
  • How content creators can make sure their content is buyer-centric

Connect with Asher on LinkedIn.

Read the full transcript here.

Eric Wittlake, Senior Director of Category and Product Marketing at 6sense


Tune into this 15-minute conversation to hear Eric’s take on the role content plays in the sales process, including:

  • The importance of involving buyers in the selling process,
  • What personalization means for content (and what it doesn’t mean), and
  • How to enable sellers to better leverage content.

Connect with Eric on LinkedIn.

Read the full transcript here.

Stephen Diorio, Executive Director at The Revenue Enablement Institute


Learn about the new “21st century commercial model” and why content is even more critical to the sales cycle than ever. During this 15-minute conversation, Stephen touches on:

  • Why lack of content is the #1 impediment to selling, and what to do about it,
  • The increasing importance of personalized content, and
  • How to get the most mileage out of your content and increase your “Return on Asset”

Connect with Stephen on LinkedIn.

Read the full transcript here.

Matthew Volm, CEO and Co-Founder of Funnel IQ


Hear Matthew’s thoughts on good content creation in this 15-minute fireside chat, where he touches on:

  • How organizations can prepare themselves for content creation,
  • Finding the “why” of content, and
  • The three tenets of good ops

Connect with Matt on LinkedIn.

Read the full transcript here.

Scott Olsen and Gary Brashear of Olsen Group


Listen to Scott and Gary talk about how content can empower your sales teams. In this 15-minute conversation, they discuss:

  • How to improve sales-marketing alignment,
  • Why storytelling is important for sales, and
  • The role exclusivity plays in sales content

Connect with Scott and Gary on LinkedIn.

Read the full transcript here.

The best business proposal software for small business

The best business proposal software for small business

If you’re a small business that creates proposals, presentations, and responses to RFPs, RFIs, and requests for bids/tenders, it’s time to take a serious look at business proposal software.

Why should you invest in AI-enabled proposal software? Because proposals are mission-critical revenue generators for companies who prioritize them and optimize their response process.

Compared to enterprise organizations, smaller teams have several advantages when responding to RFPs:

  • Your team is closer to the proposal content, so you really understand what the ask is
  • With fewer cooks in the kitchen, you have a more consistent voice
  • Collaboration is close, and you are in tune with what each team member brings to the table

Add technology to the mix, and you’ll be unstoppable. Business proposal software provides quick access to proposal content, simple ways to collaborate, and built-in project management features that make it easy to keep proposals on track.

If you’re ready to automate your RFP response process to save valuable time and increase revenue, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out how business proposal software gives small businesses like yours a competitive edge.

In this blog, we’ll cover:

What is business proposal software?

Business proposal software is a cloud-based program designed to help businesses develop proposals, presentations, and responses to RFPs, RFIs, and bids/tenders. It can also be used to respond to security questionnaires (e.g. VSAs, CAIQ, SIG), create proactive proposals, write SOWs, and manage company knowledge.

The key to business proposal software is that it simplifies the proposal creation process with a few core functionalities:

  1. Storing and organizing internal knowledge

Just like the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, a content library is essential to any good business proposal software.

The content library consolidates subject matter expertise in one place. Then, the next time a new RFP opportunity pops up in your inbox, you’ll be able to tackle commonly seen questions in one fell swoop.

The more efficiently you can respond to RFPs, the more time you and your team have to work on other projects—be it building relationships with customers, creating sales collateral, or responding to more RFPs.

Consolidate RFP content using rich text editing

2. Keeping projects on track

RFPs and other business proposals are often the most collaborative activity an organization undertakes. When you’re working at a small company, it’s possible that everyone at your organization will be involved, in part, in a response to an RFP.

When your team adopts business proposal software, it means you’ll no longer be managing proposals via email, Teams, Slack, or spreadsheets.

Most business proposal software comes with built-in project management features, including:

  • Importing RFPs onto the platform in Word, Excel, or pdf format
  • Assigning questions and/or sections to key collaborators
  • Automated reminders
  • Sequential review cycles
  • Exporting to source file
  • E-Signature

3. Seamless collaboration

In addition to project management features, business proposal software also streamlines collaboration with in-app commenting and @mentioning.

When all proposal-related conversations are in one place, you can make sure your organization stays aligned on proposals (and declutter your inbox in the process).

seamlessly collaborate by assigning tasks to collaborators in-app

When you’re ready to evaluate vendors, be sure to demo the various platforms. You’ll want to find something that’s powerful enough to suit your needs, but intuitive enough to make sure your small team can get ramped up in no time.

4. Make data-driven decisions

Top-notch business proposal software comes with built-in dashboards and analytics, giving you the insights you need to minimize risk and enhance efficiency.

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

Make data-driven decisions

5. Integrate into your existing tech stack

The final component of business proposal software is the ability to integrate into your sales tech ecosystem.

Since responding to RFPs is a key part of the sales process, it’s critical that the business proposal software you choose is able to smoothly integrate into your tech stack.

This is especially important when working on a small team that doesn’t have the bandwidth to manually update your business proposal software to work in-sync with your CRM, like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, or Hubspot.

Benefits of business proposal software for small businesses

When you’re working on a small team, business proposal software can be an absolute game-changer. Instead of spending your time on menial tasks—like tracking down RFP answers in emails and old drafts—business proposal software makes it easy to respond to commonly-seen questions.

“Auto Respond is absolutely brilliant. We click on it and RFPIO answers about 80% of an RFP in a few seconds.”
-Paul Taylor, Vice President of Solutions Engineering at Crownpeak

Read the full story —>

Here are real results we’ve seen from customers after automating their response process with business proposal software:

Calculate your ROI here to see how much time and money your team could save with business proposal software.

calculate your roi to see how much you could save with RFP software

Calculate your ROI

Making the case for business proposal software to your boss

Maybe you know that you need business proposal software—you just need to convince your boss.

A good way to start is by finding a way to align business proposal software to a stated business imperative. Anything related to revenue or margin impact is a good thing, like the following:

Proposal value isn’t always obvious to an organization’s stakeholders. When you align it with your business imperatives they can more clearly see the value.

How to select the best business proposal software

Here’s a secret. There is no “best” business proposal software. It all depends on your specific needs.

This being said, the decision to implement business proposal software shouldn’t be taken lightly. You’ll want to make sure the software you choose helps you and your team achieve your goals and save time.

As you’re making your decision, here are some software selection steps you can follow:

1. Meet with your team

Before you commit to an annual subscription to business proposal software, schedule a meeting with any stakeholders in the proposal process. This includes subject matter experts, sales reps, and bid writers.

Leave the meeting with a clear understanding of the main goals you hope to achieve.

Your final list could simply be a bullet list, like:

  • Improve collaboration on business proposals without relying on color-coded Word docs
  • Consolidate answers to common RFP questions in one place, so SMEs aren’t answering the same question over and over again
  • Create visibility, so leadership can easily check on proposal status

2. Do your research

Once you determine key goals for your proposal program, you need to prioritize business proposal software features. Divide features into two columns—”must-have” and “nice-to-have”.

If you want to make it easy for everyone to get up-and-running in the tool, an intuitive user interface might be a “must-have”. If your sales team lives in your CRM, an integration with Salesforce or Dynamics might be “nice-to-have”.

3. Read customer reviews

Just like you might check Yelp before you head to an unfamiliar restaurant, reading through reviews from verified customers on platforms like G2 should absolutely factor into your decision making process.

On G2, you can also sort reviews by company size, user role, industries, and region—so you can find reviews from users just like you.

Here is a screenshot of comparing four of the most popular business proposal software solutions:

Select the best business proposal software

Check on the full comparison on G2.

4. Understand the product and services

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of business proposal software providers, schedule a demo to see the solution in action and meet the team you’re considering partnering with. Bring your priority feature list, along with a list of questions you want answered.

Answers to frequently asked questions about business proposal software

We hear common questions from proposal teams at small businesses every day. Below we’ve answered these questions to help you feel more at ease with RFP software implementation and learn a few ways to improve your RFP response process along the way.

What should my proposal team look like?

If you’re a small organization, you might have 1- or 2-member proposal team, or sales reps could be responsible for creating their own sales proposals. Either your proposal team or your sales rep should own the proposal process, and reach out to subject matter experts on other teams (e.g. product, engineering, security, marketing, legal, etc.) for help on specific questions.

How do you write a good business proposal with software?

Writing a good business proposal starts with a strong process. Business proposal software simplifies that process, making it easier to collaborate with an extended team. With automated processes for scheduling, collaboration, and completing wide swaths of massive RFPs using answer libraries, you can blaze through the first pass of a response faster than working without software.

Here’s a quick overview of how you can write a good business proposal with software:

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

How does business proposal software support my process?

Business proposal software supports your proposal process and makes it easier to manage your RFP project and review everything in one place. With the right software in place, you’re able to assign tasks to authors and reviewers, assign content owners, and keep content organized and up-to-date.

If you’re a 1- or 2-person proposal team, software helps you provide enterprise-level support to your sales team. If you’re a sales rep responsible for managing your own RFPs, software helps you automatically respond to commonly seen questions—so you can focus on building customer relationships and closing deals.

How does business proposal software provide efficient collaboration?

Since fewer people are involved in the response process at smaller organizations, each person’s time is extremely valuable. Proposal software gives you the ability to share information across various platforms. Content and assignments are seamlessly integrated into one platform, without the need for cumbersome reformatting, converting, and importing/exporting tasks.

How do I get started with business proposal software?

Joan Dolence, Proposal Architect at Finastra, recommends that proposal teams plan for RFP software implementation, just as you would with any new technology you bring into your business. Do the prep work and housekeeping before jumping in. Then, teach everyone how to use the proposal software by managing each proposal like a project.

How long does it take to implement business proposal software?

The answer everyone hates: It depends. If you’re a small team with a lot of bandwidth to upload and organize your content, you could be up-and-running in less than a month.

But the more bells and whistles you add on—things like integrations with Salesforce, Slack, or SSO—the longer it takes. The more users you have, the longer it takes. The more complicated your process is, the longer it takes. The less bandwidth your team has to upload and organize your content, the longer it takes.

Is business proposal software really worth it?

In our 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management, we learned that organizations leveraging RFP-specific technology respond to 43% more RFPs than those who don’t. We also discovered that organizations not using RFP software instead used, on average, nine solutions to compose their RFPs, compared to only five for those with a dedicated RFP tool.

One study found that workers estimate switching between apps wastes up to 60 minutes of each day. By consolidating proposal management efforts into one place, you and your team can stay focused, aligned, and on track.

Strengthen your business proposals with the right software

The only thing missing between you and your next winning proposal is the right software. If you’re ready to uplevel your business proposal process, schedule a demo of RFPIO today.

Where’s the answer? Ask Slack!

Where’s the answer? Ask Slack!

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

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

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

I’m no poet, wouldn’t you know it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How to use the Microsoft Teams integration to optimize RFPIO features

How to use the Microsoft Teams integration to optimize RFPIO features

“Poise counts!” — Cosmo Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

Microsoft Teams for knowledge sharing

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

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

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

Microsoft Teams for user enablement

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

Microsoft Teams for RFP efficiency

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

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

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

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

Improve RFPIO collaboration with Microsoft Teams

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

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


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

How Genpact transformed proposal quality with an access-anywhere knowledge base

How Genpact transformed proposal quality with an access-anywhere knowledge base

Genpact (NYSE: G) is a global professional services firm that makes business transformation real. The company drives digital-led innovation and digitally-enabled intelligent operations for its clients, guided by its experience of running thousands of processes primarily for Global Fortune 500 companies across more than 30 countries.

One of the recent examples is the transformation of the BidPro (the bid and proposal team) team. The team was spending 80% of time on deals that represented just 20% of revenue. As is common across the industry, bids turned into fire drills and deal managers provided stock-standard responses rather than focusing on winning messaging.

The result? Poorly articulated value propositions. Inconsistent messaging. Low team morale. And disappointing conversion rates on deals they knew they should be winning.

There was no doubt that the bid-pro team was ready for a transformation. And one of the key catalysts of this transformation was content.

Here’s the story of how they did it.

Chapter 1: Building a strong content backbone

Content is at the heart of any strong proposal. While there were already different types of collateral available, proposal-specific content is a different ball game. It needs a differentiated approach. In addition to content “breadth and depth”, content also needs to be of the right quality.

By simultaneously broadening and deepening leadership-approved content, they were able to give bid managers the valuable content they needed to build out a standard proposal and could customize from there — improving the quality of the final submission, the way they always hoped to do.

The next big thing was ensuring content was available in multiple formats. 80% of their submissions were made in Microsoft PowerPoint, which meant the RFPIO library needed to be compatible with PowerPoint.

The Genpact team partnered with the RFPIO team to find a solution that could serve their unique needs. After multiple discussions and iterations, an optimum solution was agreed upon and the new capability was launched. With this, the proposal library became comprehensive, full of Q&A pairs, templates, boilerplates, infographics, and images.

Chapter 2: Making content easily accessible

Before RFPIO, the Genpact team was managing content on a different cloud-based system. Since this content catered to different use cases, finding the right content was not easy. They kept hearing the same feedback over and over again — nobody could find relevant content, content was dated, and searching for content was a pain.

RFPIO met their needs on both content management and search.

However, change is never easy. To simplify the process and provide a seamless user experience, the Genpact team implemented the RFPIO® LookUp subscription, giving the BidPro team direct access to the RFPIO Answer Library via Microsoft 365 programs like Word and PowerPoint.

In addition, people outside the BidPro team can download template slide decks directly from the library. Then, they can create the storyline using boilerplate content (also stored in the Document Library) and customize it to the client’s specific use case.

Using RFPIO® LookUp, the Genpact bid-pro team can now download template slide decks directly from the Answer Library. Then, they can create the storyline using boilerplate content (also stored in the Answer Library) and customize it to the client’s specific use case.

By strengthening content quality and creating easy access to the Answer Library via RFPIO® LookUp, bid managers now have immediate access to pre-approved content they can easily add to their proposals. As a result, proposal quality has improved dramatically.

Chapter 3: Increasing efficiency by 30% by empowering a team of high-achievers

Before RFPIO, the bid-pro team would repeatedly answer factual questions such as “What’s your address” and “What’s your D&B number”. As such, talented proposal professionals weren’t able to seize opportunities to advance their career.

“Since implementing RFPIO, we’ve been able to do so much more with the same headcount. We’ve increased efficiency by at least 30-35%. We’ve diverted the effort and time to more value-added activities, creating a win-win both for the organization and the team members”.
-Shashi K, Assistant VP of Content at Genpact

Bid-pro team members are no longer grinding to complete repetitive tasks. Instead, they’ve been able to grow into content professionals who are experts in the subject areas they’ve helped build-out. “Not only are they creating real value for deal managers, but they’re developing important skills to advance their careers,” Shashi said.

Another key benefit of RFPIO for a fast-paced organization such as Genpact is accelerating onboarding. With a rich repository of high-quality, pre-vetted content, new team members across the organization are able to create strong proposals without relying on their more-senior counterparts.

And like they say, the proof of the pudding lies in eating. The team is witnessing early success —over 90% of the content they’ve created is being used. Their content strategy is working. Going forward, they’re going to continue to use RFPIO’s built-in analytics to track how their team is using RFPIO® LookUp for Microsoft Office to gain more insight into how their content is being leveraged.

Epilogue: And the journey of excellence continues

In addition to the outcomes envisaged, this transformation has also been recognized by the industry. In 2020, they were recognized by the Association for Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) as “Best Team of the Year.”

And they’re not finished yet. As Sanjay Singh, Vice President, BidPro says, “And the journey has just about begun. The BidPro team is now planning to empower the entire sales team to create proactive proposals using standard content from the RFPIO Answer Library. A new phase begins.”

And they’re not alone. According to the 2021 Benchmark Report on Proposal Management, of organizations planning to respond to more RFPs in 2021, 82% will also complete more proactive proposals.

Powered with strong content and a drive to succeed, the Genpact BidPro team is perfectly poised for the next phase of its transformation. At Genpact, the future is bright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spread the content wealth across teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch proposal quality rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Microsoft saved an estimated $2.4 million with RFP software

How Microsoft saved an estimated $2.4 million with RFP software

Microsoft is a company dedicated to empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. True to its mission, Microsoft is committed to helping customers modernize processes and achieve digital transformations at scale. This commitment applies internally, as well: Microsoft encourages all employees to use a growth mindset across all efforts and requires everyone to ask questions and continually improve their processes, tools, and workflows.

In 2019, proposal professionals at Microsoft saw an opportunity to improve the efficiency of proposal response management with AI-based tools and enhanced collaboration across teams. By augmenting Microsoft’s proposal response process with the right solution, it was clear they could save their salesforce valuable time that could be otherwise spent with customers — and propel their proposals to a new level of excellence.

Microsoft needed a scalable and flexible response management platform that supported multiple teams, languages, and content types, while smoothly integrating into its tech stack. And it needed the right solution partner to help. With RFPIO’s partnership, Microsoft reimagined its proposal process — significantly improving efficiency and productivity with 5 key principles:

Unleash the power of knowledge

According to a McKinsey report, employees spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.

RFPIO believes that democratizing knowledge is essential to working effectively. That’s why it offers an unlimited user licensing model, enabling customers to give everyone access to the answers they need. No hidden fees, and no strings attached.

Similarly, Microsoft believes in giving its teams the tools they need to thrive. For sales teams, that means spending less time searching for answers, and more time listening to customers, creating solutions, and managing pipelines.

RFPIO made giving access easy, thanks to its integration with Azure Active Directory (AAD). With a simple email, thousands of users across the company have securely activated their accounts using their existing Microsoft corporate credentials.

The response from the field has been overwhelmingly positive. Eric Fink, Dynamics & Business Applications Specialist, said, “The first time I logged into RFPIO, it took me about 10 minutes to get comfortable with the platform. After that, I quickly found responses to all of my open questions — seeing 100% value from the very beginning.”

Today, a year and a half after implementing RFPIO, over 7,000 Microsoft users already have access to the platform. In the 18 months since deployment, Microsoft users have pulled over 36,200 ready-to-go RFx responses from the managed RFPIO Answer Library. With a conservative estimate of 20 minutes saved per response, Microsoft estimates $2.4M in savings.

After implementing RFP software, Microsoft saved an estimated $2.4 million

Stay secure and connected

Strong privacy and security practices are critical to Microsoft’s mission and essential to customer trust. The standards captured in its Supplier Security and Privacy Assurance (SSPA) reflect company values and extend to suppliers who handle Microsoft data on their behalf.

RFPIO’s proposal automation solution meets the privacy and security policies and integrates nicely into Microsoft’s existing tech stack. Microsoft’s RFPIO platform is hosted securely on Azure with AAD authentication and integrates with Microsoft Translator to support its multi-lingual customer base. In addition to the standard browser experience, RFPIO fosters adaptation by meeting employees right where they are, including:

  • Microsoft Teams,
  • Microsoft Office, and
  • Microsoft Outlook

By giving everyone access in familiar platforms, RFPIO has improved collaboration and enables proposal managers, contributors, and Field users to search faster — and find the information they need to work effectively.

“We were able to retire a Business Applications chatbot we built for the Field. RFPIO is available right from Microsoft Teams and surfaces content from all of our content collections without the maintenance overhead.”
~Vicki Griesinger, Director of Business Strategy, Worldwide Public Sector  

Simplify content curation

According to 2019 research from Richardson Sales Performance, the top two biggest challenges when pursuing new opportunities are demonstrating competitive differentiation and creating a case for change.

When sales and proposal teams have ready access to pre-approved content, they’re able to spend more time showing how their solution addresses their customers’ specific problems.

That’s where content curation steps in. At Microsoft, content curation goes beyond organizing and presenting online content. It’s a craft. Content managers shape compliant, compelling, and customer-focused information by proactively seeking out information from subject matter experts, harvesting answers from proposals, and storing content in a shared database for future users.

RFPIO simplifies this process. Advanced content organization, moderation, and review features mean content managers are able to keep content relevant, fresh, and working in harmony with RFPIO’s AI engine.

As a result, proposal professionals can use the AI engine to automatically respond to commonly-seen questions — SIG questionnaires (documents many corporations use to understand risk from potential bidders) that used to take several days to complete, now take just a few hours.

With trusted content at their fingertips, Microsoft’s proposal professionals have time to focus on crafting compelling win messaging tailored to each customer’s needs. With more time to spend polishing each proposal, the stronger their proposals are — and the more likely they are to win.

“At a fast-paced company that is agile at anticipating and responding to the ongoing evolution of technology, Microsoft’s Content Managers have relied on RFPIO to efficiently deploy the best competitive positioning to win business”
-Lisa Duplessie, Business Program Manager at Microsoft

Enhance communication and collaboration

A 2019 study from Forrester found that teams save an average of 4 hours per week from improved collaboration and information sharing. Teams stay collaborative and aligned when all members are working in sync and communicating constantly to accomplish a common goal.

When communication is dispersed across email, chat, and in-person meetings, keeping track of moving parts is complicated and time-consuming, and it’s easy for teams to fall out of alignment.

Microsoft focused its attention on keeping everyone connected and communicating by rethinking their proposal processes. With RFPIO, all communication happens within the application in a single place, using in-app commenting and @-mentioning. Proposal contributors and proposal managers use in-app collaboration features for their projects. SMEs, proposal managers and content owners all communicate within each question-answer pairing, which helps keep content fresh and improves deadline commitments.

Communication around project status has also been simplified to a few clicks. Rather than reaching out to proposal managers for a status update, anyone can check RFPIO project status right from the dashboard in Microsoft Teams. By tracking status in real time, project teams are able to prevent roadblocks before they happen.

“RFPIO’s enterprise-level capabilities enable multiple business units, including partners, to collaborate on a single platform. It also reduces communication channels during the proposal development process.”
-Page Snider, Director of Business Program Management, Microsoft Consulting Services

Stay flexible and keep evolving

According to the Adobe State of Create Report, 78% of respondents agreed organizations that invest in creativity increase employee productivity. When each problem or inefficiency becomes an opportunity to think creatively about finding a solution, the lines defining limitations become blurred.

When the team at Microsoft set off to reimagine the proposal process, they knew it would be a continual journey, a persistent state of questioning the status quo — constantly making tweaks, adjustments, and changes as they go along.
That’s why a solution that was flexible enough to grow alongside their process was a necessity.

“RFPIO has unmatched flexibility in completing a wide variety of Excel templates, making my job easier and faster. Not only that, I appreciate that RFPIO approaches our relationship as a partnership, listening to and implementing our suggestions.”
-Lisa Puckrin, Shipley Certified Proposal Manager at Microsoft

The customer success team at RFPIO has worked closely with Microsoft to continuously evolve to meet its changing needs. Diane Holt, business program manager at Microsoft, added, “RFPIO is a rare gem in that the company delivers a mature product with the agility of a startup. This tool continually improves with capability and usability.”

RFPIO and Microsoft are working together to find new ways to improve efficiency and advance productivity. Rather than staying ensconced in familiar workflows, Microsoft is a company that welcomes the hard work and creative thinking required to push the status quo.

In the end, both Microsoft and RFPIO believe that when teams are willing and encouraged to think outside the box, processes become more efficient, nimble, and agile… and that’s when results start snowballing.


Ready to achieve your own cost savings with the leading AI-enabled RFP response management solution? Schedule a demo to get started.

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

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

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

What is an RFP?

RFP stands for Request for Proposal.

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

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

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

What is an RFQ?

RFQ stands for Request for Quote.

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

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

What is an RFI?

RFI stands for Request for Information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways RFPs, RFQs, and RFIs help your sales process

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

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

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

#1 Know your competitive differentiators

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

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

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

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

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

– APMP Body of Knowledge

#2 Build and use an answer library

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

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

  • Repeatability: Build your response process around the foundation of your response management software. It will help establish steps for how you develop a response, access content, and collaborate with writers, editors, and experts time and again.
  • Efficiency: Make everything easier and faster—from finding content and assembling documents, to working with collaborators. Teams that do so are often able to increase efficiency by 40%.
  • Quality: With much of the time-intensive activities of responding offloaded to AI-enabled software and rock-solid processes, you can spend more time on personalizing responses and generating revenue.

Improve how you respond, improve how you sell

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

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

How to build a business case for a full-time RFP content manager

How to build a business case for a full-time RFP content manager

Like trying to navigate the Suez Canal in high winds and poor visibility, you can manage a proposal program without an RFP content manager, but is it really worth the risk? Without one, eventually your response management process–and revenue stream–will get clogged by subpar content.

An RFP content manager owns the comprehensive content management strategy for your organization’s proposal development. The person in this role will interface with subject matter experts (SMEs) and other key response stakeholders (e.g., proposal managers, sales managers, support managers, etc.), remove redundancy in your Answer Library, ensure all content is clean and proposal-ready, and report monthly to the executive team to help demonstrate their value.

Even though it’s fairly obvious that there’s so much an RFP content manager can do for an organization, it can still be frustratingly difficult to justify the need for one with upper management. Hopefully, some of the information in this article will help you change mindsets from a “nice-to-have” approach to a “have-to-have” business imperative.

The Biggest Benefit

Your proposal team can stop splitting their time—already a scarce resource—between trying to respond to proposals AND managing content. When this shared-responsibility approach is attempted, everyone’s attention is fractured, and as soon a new proposal comes in the door, content management screeches to a halt. Proposal always takes precedence over content in a shared-responsibility scenario. Eventually, trust in content will be lost (as well as the bid), leading to resentment between teams. Imagine the finger-pointing if the Ever Given had two captains at the wheel when it went sideways.

Content is a pain point for everyone involved in a proposal. Managing the tag structure alone is a full-time job. With a full-time RFP content manager in place, you have a designated individual whose primary responsibility is to convert content from a pain point to a competitive differentiator. It also frees up the proposal team to respond to proposals as they come through the door. It will be the RFP content manager’s responsibility to interface with the proposal team in real-time to prioritize incoming Q&A pairs.

Business Case: The Numbers

The reason that RFP content managers are surrounded by a “nice-to-have” aura is because upper management doesn’t have a clear picture of the opportunity. There are many ways to surface the value that an RFP content manager will bring to your organization.

Numbers are hard to argue, even for the most budget-conscious CFO. A successful RFP content manager will enable all teams that develop client-facing proposals with “clean content,” which saved Microsoft an estimated $2.4 million. Then there’s the company that doubled its RFP win rate after hiring a full-time RFP content manager and discovered that, “When the entire team has access to the best content available, everyone is better off.”

Also, dig into your RFP win rate and percentage of revenue numbers to estimate how many more RFPs can be completed with an RFP content manager on board. Something to consider…we found that organizations with dedicated proposal professionals–which you’ll have when your new RFP content manager relieves the proposal manager of content management duties—submitted almost 3.5x more responses in 2020 than those without. Other numbers from our study that are relevant to your business case include:

  • Companies with a designated RFP solution are 32% more likely to have strong content moderation procedures in place (i.e., they have the tools and time for content management).
  • 90% of companies with designated RFP software prioritize content moderation to build trust among proposal stakeholders.
  • The average RFP win rate in 2020 was 45% at an average deal size between US $1-3M (i.e. increase how many RFPs you respond to, increase your revenue).

Another key number is that a dedicated RFP content manager can reduce Q&A pairs in your Answer Library by as much as 40-50% by removing duplicates and combining similar responses. I once had a Q&A pair with 43 versions of the answer. Each had its own flavor and no one could decide which was correct. Eventually, I trimmed it down to six. This was part of a 9-month undertaking to pare down the whole Answer Library from 5,600 to 2,200 Q&A pairs! No way that happens on a part-time basis.

Ensuring Answer Library purity will help your proposal team complete RFx’s more quickly and more accurately. I have a client who refers to this as “productivity density”, meaning you can complete more proposals, more accurately, in the same amount of time. It will provide the same benefits to those teams building proactive proposals, such as sales and customer support.

Business Case: Being Respectful of Time

An essential value offered by RFP content managers is their ability to protect SMEs’ time. Your content manager won’t just work with your SMEs, they’ll build relationships with them and truly partner with them. They’re invested in content just as much as the SME is, and they will want to work together to accomplish content updates and cyclical reviews.

Say an SME takes 10 minutes to review a Q&A pair. If you send them the same question in 14 ways, then you’re asking for 140 minutes of their time. Trim that down to 2 or 3, and you’ll develop trust with SMEs in the content and in the proposal process.

There’s a numbers play here, too. It starts with identifying how much your SME’s time is worth down to the minute.

For example, say the average annual salary for an SME is $100K. That breaks down to about $0.38 per minute, or $3.80 per review of a Q&A pair (assuming it takes them 10 minutes to review). By reducing their review from 14 pairs to 3 pairs, you’re saving $41.80.

Now let’s extrapolate that savings out to annual production. After a content manager has trimmed redundant, outdated, and trivial content, you may well be left with 3,500 Q&A pairs instead of 6,200. That’s a 45% reduction. If you have six SMEs, they now only need to review about 600 Q&A pairs each, which means they can spend lots more time bringing value to your customers in their role.

This is also generating roughly $10,000 in savings for your company that can help you build a case for funding the content manager position.

Your numbers will vary, of course, depending on SME salary, average time reviewing Q&A pairs, and how many pairs an SME reviews annually. But this shows how you can hang tangible cost savings on a prospective full-time RFP content manager. Perform similar exercises to calculate cost savings for proposal managers, salespeople, customer support specialists, and any other personnel involved in generating proposals.

Business Case: Improve Content, Improve Proposals

Of course, we cannot forget the main reason you want an RFP content manager: content. They’ll be responsible for its proposal readiness 24/7/365. That includes:

  • Making sure tagging is accurate and redundancy eliminated.
  • Ensuring you don’t have client names or details in your content that could be submitted to a different client (a huge benefit to the entire organization when it comes to things like corporate and financial content).
  • Performing white-glove reviews for all content so that the proposal builders who use it (e.g., proposal, sales, and support teams) can do so in a self-service environment without hesitation.
  • Meet monthly with the proposal team to identify gaps and edits.
  • Identify content used most frequently to prioritize it for updates and reviews.

The positive byproducts of their content focus will spread across your organization. Onboarding will be easier because the right content will always be located where it’s supposed to be. Brand management will be easier to monitor and update. Upper management will have greater visibility into content and proposal management thanks to the monthly reports delivered by the RFP content manager. By the way, you don’t need one for every line of business, especially if you have a response management platform like RFPIO. The RFP content manager can do upfront legwork with multiple lines of business and then manage the processes of content development and auditing for all of them!

Remember, any proposal is only as good as its content. All the polish in the world cannot cover up inaccurate, poorly written, out-of-date, or irrelevant content. Respond to more RFPs, win more RFPs, earn more revenue. The fastest way to respond to more RFPs is by adding a full-time RFP content manager to keep the machine humming. Otherwise, your proposal development pipeline might end up being backed up into the Red Sea.

To learn more about how to build your case, check out my full webinar (below).

5 steps to healthy RFP collaboration between sales and presales

5 steps to healthy RFP collaboration between sales and presales

Friction can be a good thing. With the right amount, sales and pre-sales teams share productive exchanges, respectful pushback during disagreements, and shared admiration for jobs well done on all sides.

Too much, and those relationships can quickly flare up with resentment or burn out in an unwinnable blame game (“It’s pre-sales fault for losing the RFP!”). Too little, and silos develop, making collaboration difficult and agility nearly impossible (“It’s sales’ fault for not not giving us what we need to create a winning proposal!”).

Sound familiar? It’s OK. Sometimes when the kids are bickering in the back seat you have to follow through with your threat to pull the car over right this instant. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Namaste. Let’s move on.

How do you maintain that ideal level of friction? Glad you asked. I have five steps to help.

Before you skip ahead, remember that everyone in your organization is always working toward the same goal: Win conversions based on responses, whether they be reactive requests for proposals (RFPs) or proactive proposals designed to solve specific prospect or customer problems.

When your organization commits to the unified goal to win through proposals, then it’s just a matter of creating the best game plan to do so.

5 steps to improve collaboration between sales and presales

Step 1: Add transparency to RFP roles and responsibilities

Attempting to collaborate without transparency is a bit like playing the card game “Go Fish”: One person knows what they want, but they’re not sure where to get it. You can avoid this first by documenting all RFP processes. If you have a proposal manager or, better yet, a dedicated proposal team, then you can ask them for this information.

As soon as assignments are delegated to sales and pre-sales teams, then make sure each team is aware of the roles for both teams. You’ll also want to include responsibilities that don’t fall under either sales or pre-sales.

For example, if your responses consistently rely on polished product marketing documentation, then your resource is likely someone in the marketing department. Calling this information out will help avoid unnecessary blaming from either team when they know it’s neither of their faults.

If you use RFP software, then your platform can help promote transparency. I cannot speak for other solutions, but with RFPIO you can:

  • Give every sales rep and pre-sales person access to the project dashboard.
  • Assign deliverables to respective teams to avoid confusion over who is responsible for what.
  • Provide a project timeline so both teams can keep up with RFP progress.
  • Monitor all deliverables to help identify bottlenecks.
  • Gather and contain all communication related to the RFP, including emails, Slack, Salesforce/CRM communications, as well as any alerts or messages initiated from RFPIO.
  • Store all questions, answers, and RFP content for unified knowledge management across every team working the RFP.

Step 2: Write the executive summary

Sales must lead the way. There’s no avoiding it. Sales is responsible for the customer relationship. Without their unique insight, pre-sales is flying blind on the RFP. If sales wants to cross the finish line with a win, then it has to guide pre-sales in the right direction. Back at the starting line, that means writing the RFP’s executive summary.

Write the executive summary first to help set the tone for the RFP. Again, RFP software can help here. After you write the executive summary, your RFP software can make an automated first pass at answering all of the questions based on the content in your Answer Library. From there, pre-sales will be able to review the answers under the direction that sales established in the executive summary. Sweet, fancy efficiency…

As the owner of the customer relationship, the salesperson should actually demand to write the executive summary. It explains the entirety of the RFP and sets up the narrative for the customer journey. If you have a proposal team, then sales can at the very least outline the executive summary so the proposal team can flesh it out and add polish.

“Sales owning the executive summary is extremely important, because it provides context and color into how the company will position itself throughout the RFP. From there, PreSales can bring insight into where the product or platform may fall short, and discuss a strategy on how to approach the response.”
James Kaikis, Co-Founder at PreSales Collective

Step 3: Schedule a kick-off call

If you have a proposal team and documented proposal processes, then a kick-off meeting for RFPs may already exist. If so, make sure sales and pre-sales are invited. If not, then take the initiative to include a kick-off meeting in your RFP response process.

Three of the main reasons you need this touchpoint are to:

  • Give all parties involved a chance to set expectations and clarify roles.
  • Exchange unique insights about the prospect, your relationship history, and how to differentiate your response from competitors.
  • Insert a Go/No-Go evaluation in your RFP response process to solidify team commitment to responding to a winnable RFP.

Step 4: Play an active role in responding to the RFP

Sales teams sometimes make the mistake of washing their hands of an RFP as soon as they hand it off to pre-sales or proposal teams. From the standpoint of the customer relationship and the reasoning behind the RFP, the sales team is the SME! Just as SMEs for product, SLAs, support, legal, pricing, etc. are expected to contribute their expertise to a response, so too should sales be expected to contribute their expertise about the customer.

Sales-related answers and content can also be managed in the answer library of your RFP software. That way sales can focus on the review process and personalizing content after the automated first pass takes place.

Step 5: Reflect on the results, win or lose

When you hear back from the issuer, come together as a team to reflect on how the RFP landed — win or lose. If you lose, talk about what you could have done better. If you won, talk about what you did well.

This win-loss review gives your team an opportunity to close the loop. It also gives you an opportunity to heap some well-deserved praise where it’s due. Sales knows that it cannot survive without pre-sales. Sometimes pre-sales likes to be reminded. There’s no better time to do so than after a win, when you can call out the outstanding job that pre-sales did in composing the response.

You can also use this opportunity to make sure what you learned in the finished RFP is carried over to the next RFP. Win or lose, factoring in what worked and what didn’t will make it easier to determine the next Go/No-Go decision.

Good collaboration = good content

Winning proposals resonate with good content. And behind every piece of good content is the collaboration that made it happen. The better the collaboration between sales and pre-sales, the better your proposal will be.

In our new proposal management Benchmark Report, we found that 75% of organizations plan on responding to more RFPs in 2021 than they did in 2020. The only way that can happen is if sales and pre-sales are collaborating at a healthy rate of friction.

If your sales and pre-sales teams need a collaboration tool to kickstart that healthy friction, then schedule a demo today!

Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software

Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software

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

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

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

Old way challenges

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

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

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

  1. Customizability
  2. Automation
  3. Repeatability

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

Introducing Salesforce Proposal Builder

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

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

-Jeff Rozines, Channel Manager at ECS.

Top-level benefits beyond the huge time savings include:

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

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

Initiate a proactive proposal project directly from Salesforce

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

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

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

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

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