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The proposal manager’s success guide for stronger RFPs

The proposal manager’s success guide for stronger RFPs

You are the glue holding everything together for a critically important process. Winning an RFP means winning new business. It’s […]


Category: Tag: Proposal management platform

The proposal manager’s success guide for stronger RFPs

The proposal manager’s success guide for stronger RFPs

You are the glue holding everything together for a critically important process. Winning an RFP means winning new business. It’s that simple. What isn’t simple is how you get to that win.

Responding to RFPs isn’t always a high priority for other teams at your organization. Your email gets ignored. The deadline is missed. Shinier work wins their attention over an RFP most of the time. But, for you, proposal manager? RFP response makes up a significant (too significant, sometimes?) part of your world.

Rest easy, hard-working proposal manager. A hyper-efficient response management process is now absolutely possible with the right technology. Best-in-class organizations know this already and they are choosing proposal management tools like RFP software to support their efforts.

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

  1. A manual approach to RFP response used to be the inefficient norm
  2. AI-enabled technology is making the proposal management role more important that ever across organizations
  3. Proposal managers find the support they need in RFP software
  4. Each RFP project’s import and export is a time-savings opportunity
  5. Better RFP project management is possible with the right tools
  6. Knowledge sharing makes your organization more successful
  7. You have the power to lead a stronger RFP response process

proposal manager role

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report

What does a proposal manager do?

If you’re like most of the proposal managers I know, you have days when the more appropriate question is, “What do proposal managers not do?” Sometimes it feels like you’re the symphony conductor as well as every musician in the orchestra, pinballing around from instrument to instrument, struggling to achieve a harmony that seems just out of reach.

There are survival guides out there that help you wrangle the RFP process. This is different…this is your success guide.

By taking time out of your hectic day to read this guide, you’ve already made the choice to become the kind of proposal manager that leads your organization to greater heights with RFP response. Let’s discuss how to make it all happen with the most advanced proposal management tools you can get your hands on.

Life for proposal managers during the pre-technology era

Once upon time, there were no proposal management tools. For the sake of this dramatization, we’ll call it the Dark Ages for RFP responders.

The plague was an inefficient manual process, one involving complex spreadsheets and documents that infected the health of entire organizations. Responding to RFPs took too long to complete and deadlines were inevitably missed.

SMEs (subject matter experts) and proposal managers found it difficult to collaborate. They rushed the deliverable and submitted outdated, boilerplate responses instead of customizing the strongest possible content for each prospect.

Eventually this plague of RFP inefficiency caused a famine for organizations. They responded to fewer RFPs, and they did not win the RFPs they did submit. No matter how hard the proposal managers tried, they couldn’t manage on their own.

“Boilerplate responses end up providing generic, basic, and bland information. They do not help the team win proposals. In fact, over-reliance on boilerplate responses can actually decrease pWin (Probability of Win).” – Kevin Switaj  

What does a proposal manager do when backed by AI?

Thankfully, we’re not in the Dark Ages anymore. There is a wealth of technology available to support the RFP response process. However, a surprising 84% of proposal managers are still using a manual approach with RFPs today. The question is: Why?

manage rfps

As with many other industries, technology is causing an important shift in the proposal management industry, empowering teams to be more successful. Technology allows proposal managers to:

  • Do more with less and become experts at efficiency. “Doing more” might mean the ability to submit more RFPs, which translates to additional opportunities for generating revenue. The “with less” part of this equation might mean fewer hours required from SMEs to pursue these opportunities.
  • Establish a collaborative ecosystem that works. Collaboration is a necessary step in every RFP project. Having an easier way to communicate makes the entire process run smoother, whether you need to ask sales to contribute to a section or ping marketing for the final buff and polish.
  • Achieve more quality control, and more wins as a result. Quality responses separate winning organizations from the rest of the herd during vendor selection. More time to focus on creating the best content will help you stand out as the partner that cares, versus another who cuts corners.

The initial investment into a proposal management system is ultimately worth it when the organization saves time and resources. With a good solution, typically these benefits are visible as early as the first RFP project. Response teams see an immediate increase in productivity, so they can do more of their best work.

Technology also can prevent the need to send countless emails back and forth, reduce the number of internal meetings, and facilitate final content review and approval by the response manager.” – Steve Silver, Forrester Research

How proposal managers lead the charge with RFP response

You’ve probably heard some negative things about RFPs from your peers and colleagues. It’s common for professionals to dislike RFP projects because of the inefficiencies they have faced firsthand over the years.

But, the importance of responding to RFPs cannot be stressed enough—they are a must for any growing organization. If you want more sales wins, you have to do the work. And, teams have to work together.

But those teams need a leader. Organizations with dedicated proposal managers submit up to 3.5x more responses than those without. Give those proposal managers RFP-specific technology and they can submit 43% more proposals per year than those not using RFP-specific technology.

All the more reason to get the support you need to handle everything, right? RFP software helps you with:

  1. Importing and Exporting – Importing from any file source (yes, even PDFs and spreadsheets) and exporting back into the original source or customized template allows you to focus on a quality deliverable.
  2. Knowledge Sharing – Bringing greater accessibility to company information not only promotes collaboration on RFP projects, it also breaks down document silos across departments and even the organization.
  3. Project Management – Being able to track real-time progress of RFx completion helps you see when sections are being taken care of. Communication with SMEs is quicker without email, since you can use @-mentioning and Slack.

It’s not easy to be in your shoes, dear proposal manager. You handle the complexities of RFP responses and it’s up to you to keep your team motivated. If you bring in a proposal management tool to support your RFP response process, then your job becomes a lot easier.

Start each RFP project right and finish brilliantly

The bane of pretty much any proposal manager’s existence is the import and export process with RFP responses. When an RFP lands in your inbox, it should be cause for rejoice. Responding to an RFP is a chance to win new business, after all.

Yet, when starting an RFP project, you’re working with a source document that could be anything from a long-winded Excel spreadsheet to a pesky PDF. Copying and pasting, organizing and filtering suddenly fill your days as you try to ready the documents for your SMEs.

It’s the end of the RFP project, now you’re ready to rejoice. Or, so you thought…now it’s time to export everyone’s responses back into the prospect’s source file.

Exporting is the stage where hours slip by as formatting blunders take over the Wednesday evening you were hoping to spend at home cooking dinner with the family. Instead, even though you thought you had this project under control, you’re at the office trying to submit an RFP right before the deadline.

proposal manager hours worked

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report

How RFP software makes importing and exporting easier…

Every import and export is actually a time-savings opportunity.

Finding content and information is a significant productivity obstacle for sales teams.” – Phil Harrell, Forrester Research

RFP software allows you to start your RFP project off on the right foot by importing effectively from any source—docs, spreadsheets, even PDFs (RFPIO is the only solution that imports PDFs). Instead of copying and pasting like crazy, you can simply pull the source document right into the platform and start organizing and assigning sections to SMEs.

Exporting back into the original source or a template of your choosing ensures consistency with your deliverable, without the manual labor.

We’ve heard plenty of disheartening stories from proposal managers who stay after-hours or work weekends to submit an RFP before the deadline. With the exporting capabilities you enjoy with RFP software, you will dramatically speed up this process so you can have more work-life balance, even if you’re a one-person team.

Break information silos with easier knowledge sharing

Information silos are truly a point of weakness for any organization. When teams don’t have equal accessibility to important company content, it causes inefficiencies well beyond the RFP response process. On the flipside, organizations with centralized information promote collaboration and growth.

With RFPs, the expertise SMEs provide is indispensable. They harbor technical specs and product information that you certainly don’t know, because those details are outside your domain—not to mention, this information is practically a foreign language.

As long as SMEs contribute to RFP responses regularly, you’re fine, right? As long as they don’t leave and take that knowledge with them. Workflow is fragile business with RFPs, so you want to do everything in your power to store company information in a place where anyone can find it quickly.

How RFP software makes knowledge sharing easier…

The way we share information impacts the way we work.

RFP software promotes a culture of knowledge sharing, and ultimately strengthens communication companywide. An RFP content library eliminates document silos entirely, because it offers one place for company content to live. Instead of being in Google docs or email folders, RFP responses are organized with tags and star ratings to help you and your team find the best content in seconds.

The great thing about having all company information handy like this is how easily you can improve the quality of your content. Performing regular content audits ensures that you keep your most valuable RFP responses up-to-date and ready to grab on the go.

“Workers spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. A searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35%, the time employees spend searching for company information.” – Mckinsey Global Institute

Better RFP project management is all yours

Effective project management is truly the heart and soul of the RFP response process. Every RFP project requires multiple team members to share their expertise, as a proposal manager only knows so much about the organization.

size of proposal organization

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report

This is where the SMEs come in to offer their support. But trying to track them down often proves difficult for proposal managers. SMEs are busy and they have other high-priority projects on their plates. With a manual RFP process, collaboration with team members is more challenging because much of the communication happens through email and meetings, which get missed or forgotten.

Protecting the time of your team—and your time as well—comes down to the technology you’re leveraging to achieve maximum efficiency. Here’s some good news from a survey conducted by Project Management Institute: “75% of senior executives said investing in technology to better enable project success was a high priority in their organization.”

How RFP software makes project management easier…

You don’t want to just get the job done, you want to get it done well.

Having full visibility into the RFP project means you know which SME is handling specific sections, so you can keep tasks and owners straight. With the project overview dashboard, you’ll see where SMEs are in terms of progress so you can avoid beating down their office door when the deadline is looming.

Integrations with Slack and Salesforce make communication more seamless for busy teams, with less of a chance for an important email to be missed. Fewer emails and meetings keep SMEs focused on what they need to accomplish so they can share their input and move on to other priorities.

success for proposal managers

“Without access to effective tools that support and reinforce the business development lifecycle, companies cannot maintain a managed, repeatable business acquisition process—thereby reducing their overall chances of winning business.” – APMP’s Body of Knowledge

Lead your team to success with RFP response

The proposal management industry continues to evolve with advances in technology. No longer do proposal managers need to feel alone, and no longer do SMEs need to dislike contributing to RFP projects.

Knowledge sharing and collaboration are becoming more common among organizations who recognize the need to band together to be more successful with RFP response. This improvement in teamwork positively affects multiple aspects of the business, far beyond the next RFP project.

RFP response is your business—more so than anyone else’s at your organization. Be the leader that takes charge with your RFP response process and guide your team toward greater success.

It’s time to take this success guide a step further. Schedule a demo to learn how RFPIO will make your RFP response process a mighty one.

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

Like the devilishly tempting Hostess Ding Dongs treat, a proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. Unlike that aforementioned hockey puck of delectability, proposal cover letters cannot be mass-produced. To write a proposal cover letter with nary a wasted word, you first need to understand its strategic significance in the overall proposal.

I’ve spent more than 17 years on proposals and have written hundreds of proposal cover letters. When I started, we printed out proposals and created huge binders to share with reviewers. Reviewers would open the binders to see the proposal cover letter, then an executive summary, and then dig into the proposal itself. Binders are part of a bygone era; there’s been a big digital shift since I started.

Requests for paperless submissions and the growing popularity of online portals has altered the strategic significance of the proposal cover letter. It’s gone from a “must-have” element, to a “nice-to-have” one. My background is predominantly healthcare and insurance. Anecdotally, maybe only 30% of requests for proposals (RFPs) in healthcare and insurance request executive summaries while most volunteer that a cover letter is optional. If they give you an option, take it.

Some online portals don’t even give you an opportunity to include extra documents like cover letters. In such cases, you now have to include the cover letter as part of your proposal PDF. At the same time, RFPs are more complex than ever, requiring more details in submitted proposals. Issuers expect you to have your content in order, and a lot of it.

Speaking of issuers and what they’re looking for in proposal cover letters: They don’t need information that they can find on your website, that they can Google, or that sounds canned. They want to make sure you’ve reviewed the RFP requirements, and it’s absolutely essential to hit them with that up front, in your proposal cover letter. Especially if your solution meets all of the issuer’s requirements. Emphasize that fact simply and directly.

What is a proposal cover letter?

The proposal cover letter is meant to frame up your RFP proposal. It’s not a rehashing of the proposal or executive summary. It’s a vehicle to thank the issuer for the opportunity to respond, to say, “We’ve seen your business requirements and composed this proposal because we think we’re the best partner for you.” Think of it as the bow on your RFP proposal package.

Whether paper, PDF, or stone tablet, one thing that hasn’t changed about the proposal cover letter is that it’s your first opportunity to declare the value propositions that differentiate yours from competitive proposals. These value props will be the threads that weave through your proposal, from cover letter, to executive summary, to answers to questions.

As far as length, I aim for a page and a half when I write proposal cover letters. Try to keep it under two. Go longer only if a template or specific framework for the cover letter is provided by the issuer, which is sometimes the case in government RFPs.

Why a good proposal cover letter matters

RFP reviewers will be looking for deviations in responses. Deviations among responders as well as deviations from their (the issuers) requirements.

When you can write a cover letter and state, “After reviewing the RFP, we are confident that our solution meets all requirements and detail that fact in our proposal,” you make a compelling argument for reviewers to concentrate on how your proposal illustrates how you solve problems. They’ll notice cover letters that do not mention something that direct, and will review those proposals to look for where the solutions fall short.

When should you write the proposal cover letter?

It’s page one so it should be written first, right? Not necessarily. I’m a proponent of writing the executive summary first, the cover letter second, and then building the proposal. Certainly review the RFP first so you can determine what it’s asking for. But don’t just jump into a response from there. Take the time to establish the value props that will make it a cohesive proposal.

Writing the executive summary first helps you formulate your argument and determine which content you’ll need for the proposal. Once you know what you need to be persuasive and how you can solve the issuer’s problem, then you can develop the three-to-five value props (I try to boil it down to three solid, unique value props) that you can define in the proposal cover letter.

Who signs the proposal cover letter?

Notice I didn’t title this section, “Who writes the proposal cover letter?” The person who writes it and the person who signs it may not be one and the same.

If your proposal team is fortunate enough to have a dedicated writer, then have them write the letter based on input from the frontline sales rep. Whoever writes the letter must be fully informed of response strategy and have intimate knowledge of the proposal and executive summary. Strategy, voice, and style need to be consistent across all documents (cover letter, executive summary, and proposal).

Who signs it depends on a variety of factors. In most cases, the frontline sales rep will sign the proposal cover letter. They have the relationship, own the strategy, and likely conducted the discovery that informed the proposal. However, it’s not uncommon for an executive sponsor such as a VP of sales to sign. The thinking being that executive reviewers may appreciate seeing a proposal that’s been vetted by a fellow executive.

There are also those cases when the executive of executives, the CEO, signs the letter. There are two common scenarios for this play. One, the RFP may be large enough to represent a significant percentage of a responder’s annual revenue. Two, the responding organization is concerned with appearing relatively small, and in an effort to improve its stature, seals the proposal with a CEO’s signature.

There’s definitely some gamesmanship at play here. Even so, the name on the letter will never overshadow the content of the proposal.

7 steps to write a proposal cover letter

The compact nature of the proposal cover letter makes it difficult to fit everything in one or two pages. Good writers are valuable assets in these instances. Every proposal cover letter should contain the following sections:

  1. Thank the issuer (and broker, where applicable) for the opportunity.
  2. Recite your understanding of the opportunity to validate that you reviewed the RFP requirements.
  3. List your abilities to meet requirements. If you can meet all of them, lead with that fact.
  4. Describe your value propositions. You’re trying to portray that, “This is what we bring to the table, and that’s why we’re the best choice.”
  5. Provide a high-level future snapshot of what business will look like after your solution is chosen.
  6. Conclude with a persuasive delivery of your understanding of next steps: “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further.” Show that you’re able and willing to move forward in the sales lifecycle.
  7. Sign it from the frontline sales representative or executive sponsor. This should not look like a form letter from the organization as a whole.

3 common mistakes to avoid

Beyond the mistakes of not including a proposal cover letter at all or writing one that’s too long, proofread your next letter for the following mistakes before sending it.

  1. Avoid repeating anything from the executive summary or proposal. Those documents need to live on their own, just like the proposal cover letter.
  2. Don’t waste space with your resume. Something like this…

    RFPIO’s growing list of 600+ clients including 40+ Fortune 500 organizations continue to take advantage of our one-of-a-kind Unlimited User licensing model, expanding their usage on the platform to scale organizational success. With RFPIO as their team’s support system, every day they break down silos by facilitating collaboration and efficiency in their RFx response process
    ….is boilerplate that can appear elsewhere in the proposal or not at all, given that it’s likely available to the issuer on your corporate website.
  3. If a broker is involved, thank them, too. The proposal cover letter is also an opportunity to directly address the issuer. This can be particularly valuable when a broker is involved. Some issuers rely on RFP brokers to sift through responses to make sure only the best possible solutions get serious consideration. Ignore these brokers at your peril. While the response and executive summary will address the issuer and the problem at hand, the cover letter is where you can give a nod to the broker. Acknowledging their involvement in the process and thanking them for the opportunity as well will at the very least alert all reviewers that you paid close attention to the RFP requirements.
  4. Don’t guess. Make sure you or someone on your team does the legwork and discovery to inform your response strategy. The more you have to guess, the longer the letter will take to write.

Proposal cover letter example

Feel free to use the proposal cover letter example below as a template for your next letter. One of the many advantages of proposal building software such as RFPIO is the automation of the cover letter process. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to write it, but RFPIO helps:

  • Access and write in the template within the platform (no need to toggle back and forth between a word processor and whatever application you’re using to build your proposal)
  • Include identical brand elements as the proposal and executive summary
  • Add the cover letter to the front of the proposal and/or executive summary when you output it for submission

When you use the following example, you’ll need to swap out the RFPIO-centric items with your own company and solution information as well as the custom value props for that specific proposal. The three value props highlighted in the example are Salesforce integration, data security, and customer support. For your letter, these will be specific to your solution and the problem stated in the RFP.

Hi [Issuer(s) first name(s)],

Thank you for considering RFPIO as your potential vendor for RFP automation software. We are cognizant of the effort it takes to make a selection like this, so we very much appreciate the opportunity. First and foremost, RFPIO meets all of the requirements detailed in your RFP. That’s illustrated in greater detail in this proposal. In the meantime, the following capabilities make us confident that RFPIO is the most qualified company and solution for [issuing company name’s] [RFP title].

  • Helping businesses improve and scale their RFP response process for greater efficiency. The time and resource savings reported to us from our clients has allowed them to participate in more proposals and provide high-quality responses that create additional revenue opportunities.
  • Automating the import and export functions, centralizing content for RFPs, and facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders.
  • Managing knowledge and content through our AI-enabled Content Library.
  • Giving clear visibility into the entire RFP process through reports and dashboards—including project status and progress, and analytics for actionable insights.

We know that it’s important for [issuing company name] to find a solution with a strong integration with Salesforce. This proposal details RFPIO’s integration with Salesforce, and how it will work for you. In addition to that, RFPIO’s open API allows for integrations with many other technologies for cloud-storage, collaboration, and other desired platforms.

We also take your data security concerns highlighted in the RFP very seriously. You can be assured that your data will be safe and accessible. We work with a variety of enterprise customers and understand the necessary level of security that is required. From the beginning, we made it a priority to build security right into RFPIO’s technology, which we continue to maintain. We are SOC 2 and ISO27001 certified, while continuing to pursue other best-in-class certifications to ensure security.

Regarding your requirement for ongoing support following implementation: When it comes to customer support, our technical and account managers are high performers. We have an expert group of 110 nimble programmers and developers who are always ready to provide quick technical fixes (that you can request right within the solution). Our reliable and attentive account team is ready to fully support [company name] should we move forward as your vendor.

Upon deploying RFPIO, it’s intuitive user experience is simple to get used to. You’ll also get free access to RFPIO University for all your training needs, now and in the future. Getting started is as simple as loading that first project. The whole team will be collaborating from there. As your Content Library grows, machine learning will provide more and more automation opportunities. It won’t be long before you see a drastic uptick in proposal quality and number of proposals submitted.

If you’re interested in comparing our solution to other comparable tools, we recommend that you visit software review platform G2 Crowd’s top RFP Solutions grid. This information is based on user satisfaction and places RFPIO at the top in all categories.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further. We appreciate your consideration, and wish you luck on your selection.

Thanks,
[Signee’s name]
[Signee’s title]

You should have it “cover”-ed from here

If you’ve done your research and client discovery, and you know the value props specific to the RFP that you’ve already reviewed, then letter writing will go fast. The better you know the client and people involved, the easier it is going to be for you to tailor the proposal cover letter, the executive summary, and, most importantly, the RFP proposal.

To learn more about how RFPIO can help you write better proposal cover letters, schedule a demo today!

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