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How intelligent RFP search saves valuable time for salespeople

How intelligent RFP search saves valuable time for salespeople

Sales enablement tools have become a household name. It’s no longer a question of whether or not your team needs […]


Category: Tag: Proposal Management Software

How intelligent RFP search saves valuable time for salespeople

How intelligent RFP search saves valuable time for salespeople

Sales enablement tools have become a household name. It’s no longer a question of whether or not your team needs these tools. It’s a question of how to use these tools effectively throughout every aspect of the sales cycle.

20% of lost deals are caused by internal complexity within sales organizations, according to Gartner. One of the biggest obstacles for sales teams to overcome involves their longtime manual process of responding to RFPs.

Searching for ways to protect the time of your sales team? Look no further than RFP software. This sales enablement solution offers intelligent RFP search so you can optimize your responses and your resources.

The high cost of searching manually for RFP responses

Finding response content is a top challenge for busy teams. Every day salespeople spend valuable time hunting around spreadsheets, docs, folders, and emails for response content. This manual RFP response process is costing organizations from both a time and resource perspective.

Let’s say your team responds to 50 RFPs annually. By bringing in a sales enablement tool like RFP software, you can automate many of the tasks your team completes manually today. Annual savings would amount to nearly $57,600 or 480 hours. Much of that effort is being spent searching for previous RFP response content.

If you put your own numbers into our ROI calculator, in seconds you will see how much your sales organization would save through RFP automation.

RFP software is a dedicated sales enablement tool for responders. The solution addresses the common challenge of content accessibility by delivering intelligent RFP search functionality. When you quickly find the content you need, your most valuable resources will save time and be able to focus on other priorities.

RFPIO search commands that save valuable time

An easy way to understand search capabilities within a solution like RFPIO is to think about the way you use Google to find information. The majority of Google searches involve a simple phrase or question. But, did you know there are handy search commands you can use to find specific information even faster?

Called search operators (aka search commands or advanced operators), these special characters and commands extend the capabilities of ordinary text searches. Typically, search operators are used by more advanced Google users—like SEO experts.

With RFP software, search commands are very often underutilized. Because we know just how valuable your time is, here are several RFPIO search commands that will help you better optimize your searches during the RFP response process.

1. Combination search

Combination search is the most commonly used search command by RFPIO users. This search allows you to find response content using a combination of terms—you can have either/or, both, or exclusions.

Let’s say you search for multiple keywords, such as “technical” and “architecture.” Use these all-caps search commands and RFPIO will serve up the most relevant responses from your RFP answer library:

  • OR – technical OR architecture
  • AND – technical AND architecture
  • NOT – technical NOT architecture

2. Phrase search

The second most commonly used search command is phrase search. This command is simply where you add quotations around a specific phrase you want to find in your answer library response content.

The search command would look like this:

  • “technical architecture”

“Technical” might be the first word and “architecture” might be the twentieth word. Phrase search automatically pulls these words together to find entire RFP response sections with these two words.

3. Proximity search

Now we get into search commands that are rarely used—with the exception of advanced RFPIO users. Proximity search is similar to phrase search, except that you get even more specific about the proximity or distance between words.

The search command would look like this:

  • “technical architecture”~5

In this search command example, the ~5 means that “technical” and “architecture” are no more than 5 words away from each other. If there are too many words in between the searched keywords, the response would not show up.

4. Stemming

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things in a Word or Google doc is not automatically finding different variations after searching for a root word. In RFPIO, stemming is a default search functionality that shows documents with variations on a root word.

If you search for “correspond,” you will find documents that also include word variations, such as “correspondence” and “corresponding.” Stemming search technology makes finding related words much easier.

The search command would look like this:

  • “correspond”

…and, that’s all you have to do. Since this is a default search setting, RFPIO will show documents that contain the root word and any word variations.

5. Faceted (or filter) search

Faceted (or filter) search is something you already use when you’re shopping on Amazon. For filtering, you might use the sidebar to filter by ratings of 4 stars and above. Faceting is similar to filtering. On Amazon, it asks you if you want to see products by brand (Apple, Sony, etc.)

The search command involves:

  • Check boxes to filter.

In RFPIO, a faceted/filter search will help you get the best RFP response based on your selected filters. As long as you properly organize your answer library responses by collections, tags, project names, owners, admins, and other customizable categories, simply drill down to find hyper-specific content.

6. Star ratings

Your star content is your team’s favorite RFP response content—these responses are rated manually by your team and/or chosen by the common usage of the content (i.e. responses used more than 5 times).

The search command involves:

  • Sort by star rating.

Sorting by star rating, such as 3 stars and above, means you can find the cream of the crop through a quick selection.

Internal complexity within your sales organization will only keep you from reaching annual objectives. Sales enablement tools like RFPIO support you and your team throughout the sales cycle. Modernize, automate, and simplify…then, nothing will stand in your way when a big opportunity comes along.

How to create proactive proposals efficiently and make an impact

How to create proactive proposals efficiently and make an impact

Are you reactive or proactive? You need to possess both qualities to succeed in achieving your revenue objectives. Responding to a request for proposal (RFP) leans on the reactive side, while proactive proposals are obviously the latter.

When you’re selling in a highly competitive industry, you’ve gotta make time to be proactive. You already know this—you’re diligent about outreach, follow-ups, and relationship selling.

Proactive proposals are another key step in the sales cycle. Sales teams know they “should” do them, but they frequently miss out on the opportunity because they lack time to create these sales proposals.

Here are some ways to save time with proactive proposals, so you can really focus your efforts and get a headstart early in the sales cycle.

Proactive sales and marketing…strongly consider it

“I like to encourage people to realize that any action is a good action if it’s proactive and there is positive intent behind it.” Remember Michael J. Fox? Well, he was onto something here.

If you feel like your organization is a good fit for another, why not be proactive? A proactive proposal gives you a competitive advantage…assuming you create quality content. The reason we stress quality content around here is that quality often takes a backseat when busy teams are rushing.

Presentation is everything with a proactive proposal. Besides your website or other content assets, this type of sales proposal happens early in the sales cycle. As always, you want to make a good impression by presenting your organization professionally.

proactive proposals

Source: Strategic Proposals

Graham Ablett, Director of Strategic Proposals, shared some great articles about proactive proposals best practices on LinkedIn. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. Pictured above is an Executive Brochure that doubles as a proactive proposal example. Be sure to check that document out as well if you need guidance.

What to include in your proactive proposal

When it comes to laying out your proactive proposal, the components are pretty similar to a regular sales proposal or SOW (statement of work). To name a few, you have: an introduction, executive summary, solutions overview, and why clients should use your solution.

The difference is that you obviously will not include tons of project details, like scope and timeline. Instead, you will focus on a few compelling extras.

This might include bios and headshots of your team to help your prospect see the face of your brand. Or, case studies—maybe a featured case study or teasers that link to the full content. Also, a proactive proposal tends to be a little flashier so use proposal graphics generously.

Think of your proactive proposal as a puzzle. You decide which piece fits where, with the goal of delivering a customized sales proposal to your prospect before they have the chance to ask.

Hyper-efficient proactive proposals with RFPIO

A response management platform like RFPIO makes proactive proposal creation hyper-efficient. Let’s say you’re pulling together a proposal and you have no time. Happens all the time, right? Within these individual sections, you may have differentiators that are variable content which change based on the product, industry, or vertical.

The proposal builder literally gives you a checklist to help you quickly create proactive proposals. You see everything you need to include, then decide on the order. To capture the look and feel you’re going for, simply set up the template. Once your template is ready for action within RFPIO, you select from a pick list:

  • What kind of project do you want to create?
  • What sections do you need for this particular prospect?
  • What are the differentiators for variable content?

Now you group everything together in a way that is most impactful for your prospect. You insert the differentiators into each section, then export the document after you’re happy with the flow of your content. Ultimately, you decide and click a few times then send off your customized proactive proposal.


Since you’re itching to create a proactive proposal, why not build one efficiently in RFPIO? Reach out for a demo and we’ll show you how easy it is to create proactive proposals.

Make your healthcare RFPs stand out with proposal graphics

Make your healthcare RFPs stand out with proposal graphics

$280.25 billion. That’s the dollar amount the health technology sector is expected to reach by 2021. In the 2019 Global Healthcare Outlook report, Deloitte revealed parallels between the decline of healthcare profits and the rise of new organizations redefining fundamental aspects of the health care industry.

Healthcare organizations are reacting to these industry shifts, searching for ways to optimize their financial and operational performance. As a proposal manager working in this rapidly evolving industry, your role has become increasingly important. Responding to healthcare RFPs is your primary job function and successful outcomes fall right on top of your shoulders.

Now is the time to level up your healthcare RFP game. Using proposal graphics is one of the most effective ways to stand out and one-up your competition.

RFPs in healthcare don’t have to be boring

“I’m a proposal manager at a healthcare organization. How am I supposed to jazz things up when I’m responding to RFPs exactly?”

That’s a fair statement. RFPs? Not the most exciting content. Healthcare? Not the most exciting industry. Which is precisely why infusing your healthcare RFPs with visuals gives you an edge.

Unlike hi-tech companies, healthcare hasn’t been fully revolutionized by technology…yet. Proposal graphics are a great way to stay ahead of the curve in your industry. On top of that, using visuals is actually a game-changing strategy in proposal management as a whole.

Bringing design elements into proposals is a much less mature practice. It’s crazy to think about, considering that marketing has been using visuals for the better part of a decade to enhance communication efforts and user experience.

In recent years, visuals have started to creep into proposals across industries. Healthcare RFPs can especially benefit from graphics as a way to break up long narratives, make content more dynamic, and engage prospects.

“Graphics really help! We understand there is a lot of information to report, but long narratives can be cumbersome and make the RFP response feel daunting. RFPs that convey information in a creative way are more dynamic, and therefore, the reader is more engaged in the actual content.” – Caitlyn Helsen, RFP Issuer

Finding success with proposal graphics

In a recent RFPIO webinar, Picture Perfect: Turn Words Into Graphics That Win RFPs, Mike Parkinson from renowned proposal creative services firm 24 Hour Company brought many useful proposal graphics tips to the table.

A few of those takeaways are below, but you can watch Mike’s entire webinar on our YouTube channel

Be clear

Does the confused mind say yes or no? The goal of your sales proposal is to paint a clear picture of why their team should choose to work with your team. Using visuals in your healthcare RFPs is a huge differentiator…as long as you’re communicating clearly. Choose your design elements wisely—when in doubt, simple is usually better.

Be strategic

Select graphics and design elements that help you tell the most compelling story. Rather than burying stats and data within a paragraph, create a graph or chart. Rather than using bullet points and numbered lists to show steps in a process, build a ladder or stairs diagram.

healthcare rfps graphics

Source: PresentationGo

Be scrappy

You don’t have to be a designer with a Photoshop certification to pull off proposal graphics. Even if you have a design team in-house, you may not be able to use them as a resource. There is a world of reasonable (and free) graphics solutions out there for you, from Canva to PowerPoint. Embrace a DIY design spirit and see what happens.

Simplifying proposal graphics in healthcare RFPs

Now that you have proposal graphics figured out, you need an easy way to include them in your healthcare RFP responses. Due to formatting limitations, trying to insert imagery manually can quickly become a roadblock. A response management platform like RFPIO simplifies the proposal graphics process.

RFPIO makes it easy to repurpose proposal graphics, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time an RFP lands in your inbox. You can create a set of graphics by catalog, by product, by action, or by value. Once these graphics are uploaded in your answer library as a Q&A pair, you can continually recycle them.

Since you already spent time creating proposal graphics AND RFP responses, you want the formatting to be as stress-free as possible. The alternative is a lot of manual effort, where you’re recreating graphics in PowerPoint or hunting down previous versions in Google Drive folders. RFPIO is flexible, allowing you to insert images into various types of responses with a quick search and a few clicks.

You have the technologies and resources to create customized visuals for your healthcare RFPs. It’s pretty easy to do simple designs in a scalable way, without investing a lot of expertise, time, and money. Proposal graphics will become your secret weapon, one of the most powerful ways to differentiate yourself from your competition.

RFPIO makes proposal graphics easy to include in your next healthcare RFP. Give it a try.

Why that sales proposal matters more than you think

Why that sales proposal matters more than you think

If you’re deep into a sales process and seeking feedback from a prospect, any sentence with the word “unfortunately” in it generally doesn’t bode well. “Unfortunately, you weren’t selected.” Or, just as bad: “You were our number one choice, but unfortunately the project budget was cut.”

There is another sentence that fills salespeople with a sense of foreboding: “Please send me a sales proposal.” Or, even worse: “You’re invited to respond to our RFP.”

Why is this? It’s not as if creating a sales proposal is an unusual step. Most sales processes have a “proposing” stage. Surely being asked for a proposal is a positive sign—a buying signal.

There is quite a disconnect happening for sales teams when it comes to prioritizing sales proposals. Which is precisely why we’re here today to show you why that sales proposal matters and should not be ignored.

A sales proposal is not this

A sales proposal serves a very specific function within your sales process. But, let’s start with what it is not.

A sales proposal is not just a price quote. It’s not a marketing slick, a bill of materials, or a statement of work. If all the client has to work with is a price quote, the only information available to compare you with the competition is the cost. That’s a distinct disadvantage if you’re not one of the lower-cost options.

“Even if you’re seeing a ten percent conversion with sales proposals, depending on the cost that goes into creating those, it could be a far more efficient funnel than traditional outbound/inbound demand generation.” – Matt Heinz

Here’s what a sales proposal is

A sales proposal is a selling document designed to move the sales process forward—plain and simple. It should reinforce the work you’ve done throughout the sale process by:

  • Succinctly articulating your understanding of the client’s needs.
  • Outlining measurable business outcomes.
  • Recommending specific solutions.
  • Showing demonstrable ROI.
  • Calling out your relevant experience and differentiation.

It’s likely this proposal will be circulated far and wide within your potential client’s organization. For many stakeholders, this document will be their first interaction with your company. And we all know the importance of first impressions.

Making a good impression with your sales proposal

The goal of your sales proposal is to paint a clear picture of why your prospect should choose to work with you. Help them understand why you are uniquely positioned to address their needs more efficiently or effectively.

To create an impressive sales proposal, your document should be…

  1. Concise – Your sales proposal doesn’t need to be long. Around 4-5 pages will often suffice to get your point across.
  2. Simple – A proposal is a selling document, not a technical document. It doesn’t need to be complex.
  3. PersuasivePersuasive writing is a skill. Use the right tone of voice, avoid jargon or buzzwords, and focus on underlying business drivers.
  4. Personalized – Use the client’s name in a 3:1 ratio versus your organization’s name. The client should feel that this proposal is written for them, not you.
  5. Accuracy – If you are repurposing content from previous proposals, the quality of information quickly degrades. Leave plenty of time for reviewing and polishing.
  6. Visual – Break up the content by making good use of white space with graphics. Adhere to your marketing guidelines for brand consistency.
  7. Attractive – With sales proposals, appearance matters. Take the time to format your document into a presentable deliverable.

Make it look easy with proposal automation software

Why then it is so hard for sales teams to produce a good sales proposal? Because you have to work hard to make it look easy.

Writing something compelling from scratch is daunting and takes people out of their comfort zone. Instead, many will resort to copying and pasting from their last proposal. But quality and personalization will suffer. This is where proposal automation software plays a key part.

A response management platform like RFPIO offers the ability to create and maintain a library of persuasively-written, formatted, up-to-date, and approved content. From which (often initiated from within the CRM application), sales teams can generate highly personalized sales proposals.

Using technology to automate your sales proposals allows you to make client-specific content selections to ensure only the relevant issues, outcomes, products, and value-drivers are incorporated. In other words, you quickly develop sales proposals that pack a punch.

You don’t need to become a Pulitzer-winning author or an expert in desktop publishing to impress prospects with your sales proposals. By allowing technology to do the heavy-lifting for you, you’ll “make it look easy” because this process is, in fact, easier with proposal automation software.

See for yourself. Happy to show you around RFPIO…schedule your demo here.

The secret to making security questionnaires a lot easier

The secret to making security questionnaires a lot easier

As a sales engineer, you’re both a technical resource and a sales resource. Your time is best spent on the phone, working with potential clients to help close deals so your tech company stays ahead in a highly competitive market.

On the other hand, your time is not always best spent responding to security questionnaires—especially given their repetitive nature with tens, hundreds, or even thousands of questions. You may find that addressing security questionnaires distracts you from selling priorities and that sales numbers are falling behind as a result.

Alright. So, what’s the big secret to making security questionnaires a lot easier to handle? Having a content repository of responses, also known as an answer library. And, the most efficient security questionnaire process possible depends on your answer library setup.

Security questionnaires are the inescapable norm

You might spend your work days scheming ways to escape security questionnaire responses. Hate to be the one to break it to you, but you can’t.

If your product or service is in the realm of telecommunications, SaaS, internet, wireless, or information technology, responding to security questionnaires is the inescapable norm. These days there is no limit to the concerns people have over data and security. When you’re a tech company, those concerns are amplified.

In a recent Deloitte data security report, 70% revealed a moderate to high level of dependency on external vendors, with 47% reporting the occurrence of a risk incident involving external vendors over the past three years. And, 38% cited technology as their primary risk concern.

In other words, these vendor security assessments aren’t going anywhere. Because security questionnaires are a fact of life for you as a sales engineer, the smartest thing you can do is find ways to speed up that process. A more efficient process will take a lot of pressure off you and your sales team, allowing everyone to focus more on closing deals and achieving sales goals.

“We estimated it took roughly 16 hours to complete a security questionnaire, between finding the answer and typing the correct answer, as well as doing other tasks related to the job. Now with RFPIO, multiple people can collaborate on the same response—versus emailing questions back and forth. That has saved a lot of time and effort.” – Rob Solomon

How to effectively set up your answer library as a unit

How you set up your answer library totally depends on how your organization is structured. You might have a proposal manager, an entire team, or none of the above. No matter what your situation is, an effective answer library setup is a joint effort.

Sales engineers tend to be more analytical than most, so you prefer systems over chaos. Categorizing your content repository properly is HUGE. Tagging responses within the answer library are one of the best ways to organize some of the chaos.

Even when organizations have a response management platform like RFPIO, they don’t always succeed in maximizing the content repository. That’s because they don’t build out and organize their answer library as a unit. Nobody owns this part of the content management, when really multiple people should…including you.

Let’s say you’re lucky enough to work with a dedicated proposal manager at your organization. They own RFPs and the response management platform, but they are not the experts in specific categories. Security responses can be particularly complex, which is why your proposal manager relies on subject matter experts who have a deep understanding of this information.

You and any other sales engineers involved in security questionnaires will share valuable input when categorizing and tagging security-related responses. If you are not involved in the answer library setup, the proposal management team will likely categorize and tag the security Q&A pairs in a way that does not make sense to you.

Schedule a brainstorming meeting with your proposal management team to figure out which tags will be used within your answer library. That way the system works for you, so you can respond to security questionnaires quickly and accurately.

Tagging content within your answer library involves some administrative work. But it’s one of those tasks that you take care of in the beginning. Then you don’t have to worry about it moving forward.

Achieving security questionnaire efficiency

Building out an answer library may seem like quite an undertaking upfront. But once this content repository is set up, it saves a tremendous amount of time for everyone involved in the response management process.

Sales engineers are a highly educated bunch that demand a significant salary. As one of the organization’s most valuable internal resources, protecting your time is important. Today a lot of your time is being spent answering those repetitive security questions instead of having the headspace you need to concentrate on closing deals.

With an easier security questionnaire process, you’ll free up your time to focus on key functions of your role and bring more sales effectiveness to your organization.

We’d love to show you how RFPIO makes your job way easier. Reach out and schedule a demo.

Develop high-impact proposals by making this mindset switch

Develop high-impact proposals by making this mindset switch

The Proposal Support Function (PSF) is critical to the overall selling process. Yet, all too often the PSF is viewed and treated as an administrative function instead of a strategic partner. This is a common organizational misconception, one that inhibits the creation of high-impact proposals.

Recently we were fortunate to have B.J. Lownie—the Founder, Managing Director, and Principal Consultant of Strategic Proposals—as our guest presenter for a webinar called “The Proposal Support Function: From Stepchild to Strategic Partner.” Over the last 30 years, B.J. has trained thousands of proposal professionals. He has helped them to be viewed by their respective companies as professionals and as critical to capturing business.

If you missed this webinar, have no fear…the entire on-demand webinar is available on YouTube. Because this educational hour was jam-packed with so many great insights, today we’re sharing a few highlights right here on our blog.

Excited to learn some tips and techniques that will help your Proposal Support Function (PSF) succeed? Enjoy some of the most profound moments from our recent webinar with B.J.Lownie.

“Aim high, rather than aim for mediocrity.” – B.J. Lownie

Demonstrating your strategic value in the PSF

Proposals are a team operation and collaboration is a necessary part of your process. A typical proposal management team includes sales, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and the Proposal Support Function (PSF).

The PSF has five main areas:

  1. Business / Strategy
  2. Planning / Management
  3. Content Development
  4. Document Management / Production
  5. Knowledge Base Administration / Support

Often we see people in PSF roles working 12-14 hours, including nights and weekends, to manage these areas and submit proposals before the deadline. To change that trajectory requires a change in mindset, both from the PSF but also from sales, SMEs, and management.

Empowerment comes from within—it’s up to you to improve your role and demonstrate your strategic value to the organization.

That means making sure you have the resources you need to succeed with your proposals, even if you need to fight for them. It means finding technology that supports your process, even if you need to fight for budget. It also means knowing best practices for developing high-quality proposals inside and out.

“Without the foundation, the proposal falls apart.” – B.J. Lownie  

Best practices for developing high-quality proposals

The foundation is everything. Besides following requirements and crafting the best possible content, that also includes knowing why you’re creating the proposal in the first place. Most PSF team members would answer that the reason they work so hard to submit proposals is to win.

A poor quality proposal can cause a loss of an opportunity. It’s up to the PSF to do everything in their power not to lose an opportunity. To increase the chances of success with your proposals:

  • Adhere to instructions
  • Address all requirements
  • Answer all the questions
  • Provide the best possible responses
  • Provide the necessary evidence
  • Receive the highest score possible

And, what is “success?” Anytime your team is working on a proposal, it’s important to understand what that definition of success is.

It’s also a good idea to make sure the pursuit is worth the time, resources, and energy. Is there a relationship already with the prospect? Or, is this proposal a shot in the dark? The PSF and sales should align their efforts.

When developing responses, here are several top-down best practices to follow:

  • Carefully consider the question being asked (What does the customer really want?)
  • Determine the customer’s wish list answer
  • Determine the best possible answer you can provide
  • Draw from a knowledge base
  • Add appropriate supporting information
  • Review response (Sales, SME, PSF)

If we look at your proposal content as food, think about what your customer wants to eat and how you can serve them the best possible meal. You can serve them “leftovers” from your knowledge base or you can prepare a fresh meal with the right ingredients. It’s up to you.

  “Don’t just get something out the door. Get something out the door that’s compelling.” – B.J. Lownie

Think ahead to produce high-impact proposals

A key piece of the PSF is the facilitation of the strategy and key messages. The Proposal Support Function never owns the strategy, since that is owned by sales. The PSF completely owns the facilitation…and being proactive is paramount.

Herein lies the problem. This is a typical timeline for proposals that you and your team are likely very familiar with.

rushed proposal process

Source: Strategic Proposals Webinar

Rushing the proposal out the door means you don’t produce your best work. It leads to a bad habit of M.S.U. (Make Stuff Up), which is obviously not the right process for developing high-impact proposals. If you can’t get information from your SME before the deadline, then you are technically an enabler of an inefficient process too.

Rather than filling in the blanks with an M.S.U. approach, think ahead and work with your team. Get started on the proposal as early as possible and make sure your resources are lined up already. When you’re proactive, this is what your proposal timeline looks like…

proposal timeline

Source: Strategic Proposals Webinar

If you think ahead, you start producing high-impact proposals. You have more time for quality control to ensure accuracy, clarity, relevancy, and professionalism. This is the number one area of responsibility for the PSF. Now you just need technology to empower you even further.

How RFPIO empowers the proposal support function

The facilitation of the strategy and key messages belongs to the PSF—and a response management platform like RFPIO serves a very similar role. RFPIO is really a support function to the proposal support function. The answer library is the knowledge base for the entire organization, a content hub that can be used for proposals or any type of business query.

RFPIO gives you a way to access your highest quality content in one place. This saves you time as you don’t need to hunt through various documents, emails, and folders. You don’t stumble into the M.S.U. (Make Stuff Up) trap, because you have up-to-date, approved content ready to go in a searchable answer library.

Assembling your team is much easier as you can assign specific questions and sections, then track progress along the way. Collaboration is easier with SMEs and sales anytime you do need clarification, with the ability to message directly inside the platform or through Slack.

Overall, RFPIO allows you to be more proactive, develop high-impact proposals, and improve your chances of winning the business opportunity. By having this advanced technology at your fingertips, you can feel more confident in your role. You can also say goodbye to being seen as the “stepchild,” and establish yourself as a strategic partner in the proposal management process.

Prepared to make the mindset switch? Request a demo of RFPIO to take the next step.

20 stats that will make you a better proposal manager

20 stats that will make you a better proposal manager

Proposal managers are the unsung heroes in many companies. Words couldn’t be truer, and we were happy to hear APMP’s Christina Lewellen speak them when we interviewed her about the state of the proposal management industry.

The daily pressure of being a proposal manager is a real thing. If you’re leading the RFP response charge at your organization, you probably feel like you’re on your own island sometimes.

On top of that, proposal management resources can be very hard to come by when you’re looking for support in your role. Which is why we created this special round-up of stats and insights just for you.

RFP response is so much more than many realize, involving everything from project management and collaboration to content management and knowledge sharing. Here are 20 important stats you need to know, and how RFP software empowers you to become a better proposal manager.

RFP project management

  • “PMOs that continue in the conventional manner do so at their peril: by 2020, proactive PMOs are expected to replace most (if not all) of their passive counterparts.” – Gartner
  • “72% still track project status manually, via spreadsheets or similar tools, illustrating continued reliance on legacy methods. A third of respondents (32%) point to collaboration as the most difficult aspect of managing their project teams” – Changepoint
  • “44% of project managers use no software, even though PWC found that the use of commercially available PM software increases performance and satisfaction.” – PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • “75% of senior executives said investing in technology to better enable project success was a high priority in their organization.” – Project Management Institute

How RFP software helps with project management…

RFP response is predominately project management, especially for proposal managers who spend their days wrangling all the moving parts and contributors needed for a successful deliverable.

RFP software empowers you with technology to get the job done efficiently. Track real-time progress of RFP projects in a clean project overview dashboard and see when sections are assigned, completed, and reviewed.

RFP project collaboration

  • “Distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.” – Harvard Business Review
  • “Miscommunication costs businesses $37 billion (or $26K per employee) in the U.S. and U.K. every year.” – Mitchell Communications Group
  • “86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business.” – Salesforce
  • “Today’s average proposal management team consists of: 1 person (6%), 2-5 people (33%), 6-10 people (24%), 11-20 people (16.5%), 21-50 people (12%), more than 50 people (8.5%).” – APMP

How RFP software helps with collaboration…

As every proposal manager knows, responding to RFPs is a team effort. RFP software makes communication much easier between you and your SMEs. Use @-mentioning for clarifications and collaboration, or enjoy integrations with well-loved platforms like Slack and Salesforce.

The result is less back-and-forth email and fewer meetings—and more time focusing on delivering a quality RFP project.

Ready to lead your organization’s RFP response process? Read our success guide for proposal managers.

RFP response knowledge sharing

  • “Only 20% of companies believe their knowledge sharing efforts are effective. And, only one-third of organizations have a defined corporate knowledge sharing strategy.” – Brandon Hall Group
  • “Workers spent up to 25 minutes looking for a single document in over a third of searches conducted. In 80% of cases it took up to eight attempts to find the right information.” – SearchYourCloud
  • “44% of employees are ‘poor or very poor’ at transferring knowledge.” – Ernst & Young
  • “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

How RFP software helps with knowledge sharing…

Document silos will no longer exist in your RFP response process, allowing for greater access to company information in a centralized RFP content library.

RFP software promotes knowledge sharing for you and your entire organization. Everyone will save time by finding the best content in seconds with intelligent search.

RFP content management

  • “According to 1,000 content professionals, top content management challenges are: time (58%), management (14%), planning (14%), communication (11%), approvals (3%).” – ClearVoice
  • “27% rated project management flow during the content creation process as ‘fair,’ revealing that some projects moved along efficiently but they faced bottlenecks.” – Content Marketing Institute
  • “Sales reps average about 43 hours a month searching for information or content.” – Aberdeen
  • “The 2017 Martech Supergraphic revealed organizations are using 5,381 solutions, a 40% increase from the previous year. One of these marketing technology solutions is RFP software, but only 16% of teams are using this technology to streamline their RFP response process.” – Chiefmartec and RFPIO

How RFP software helps with content management…

There is a lot of pressure with responding to RFPs, being that new business rides on quality and timeliness of the deliverable. RFP software has several benefits when it comes to managing content more effectively.

In addition to centralizing information and promoting a collaborative environment, ensure only the best responses are available for SMEs to grab and go by scheduling content audit reminders. Leverage sequential reviewing for a smooth review process for contributors and marketing.

RFP response efficiency

  • “In contrast to small projects, which have a greater than 70% chance of performing well, a large project has virtually no chance of coming in on time, on budget, and within scope.” – The Standish Group
  • “At many companies 80% are spending their time in meetings, on the phone, and responding to emails, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own.” – Harvard Business Review
  • “85% of proposal managers work over 40 hours a week, with 11% working over 50.” – APMP
  • “84% said they waste more than an hour a day on manual data input, often entering identical data into multiple programs. 76% of managers spend at least an hour a day preparing reports and presentations.”- Changepoint

How RFP software helps with efficiency…

Ask most proposal managers why they lose sleep at night, and they will likely blame the importing and exporting process with RFPs.

RFP software ensures that you start each project off on the right foot, then end with a brilliant finish. Import from any possible source—docs, spreadsheets, even PDFs—and export back into your original source or customized template.

Life is never easy for a proposal manager and we salute you for your efforts. Rest assured that there is plenty of technology available now to help you manage the RFP response process like a pro.

Ready to become a better proposal manager this year? Schedule a demo of RFPIO to start shining in your role.

APMP reveals the state of the proposal management industry

APMP reveals the state of the proposal management industry

What is the state of the proposal management industry? Recently we were fortunate to sit down with APMP’s VP of Business Development and Operations, Christina Lewellen, who shared her take on the industry as a whole.

In this podcast interview, Christina shares the latest trends in the proposal management industry, along with plenty of insights and resources to help our fellow responders in the field. Sit back and enjoy!


Listen to the podcast…

 


Read the interview…

 

Christina, the RFPIO team is well connected with the APMP community already since we’re members. Can you share a bit about APMP with the rest of our audience in case they’re not familiar?

APMP is a global association. A lot of people may not realize for the first twenty or so years of our existence, we were primarily a volunteer run organization. About six years ago, the association started experiencing significant growth and the leaders decided to bring in a professional staff to help APMP go to the next level.

Today we have more than 25 chapters all over the world and nearly 8,000 members. We focus primarily on serving as a professional association by providing resources. We serve proposal and bid managers, but also business development and capture professionals, graphics folks, and really anybody who touches the proposal at any stage of its development.

Take charge of your RFP response process. Check out this proposal manager success guide.

We attended our first Bid & Proposal Con in New Orleans a few months ago. It was great to meet so many proposal professionals at our booth. There were about a thousand people from all over the world—and in fact, APMP had a record-breaking year. What does this increase in attendance mean for our industry?

It’s an impressive event. Over the last decade we’ve seen an evolution and maturing of the profession—not only with the caliber of the presenters who share best practices, but also with the professionals. The professionals in the proposal management space are really carving this out as their career.

APMP bid & proposal con

The event continues to grow year over year, and certainly we saw that momentum peaking this spring in New Orleans. Business owners and management see the value in sending their team to Bid & Proposal Con because of what they come home with—and what they can apply the minute they step back in the door.

The conference has a really awesome energy, and I would highly recommend it to anybody who hasn’t checked it out yet.

It’s clear that the proposal management industry is evolving. How has it improved over the past few years?

The important element in all of this is that we’re figuring out how to share and communicate. Every proposal team is a bit different, but I see the best practices are really starting to take shape. As professionals find good ways of accomplishing something, they share those insights with other peers in the same space.

size of proposal teams

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report 2017

Often times proposal managers are either one person alone or a small team in a great big company. They sort of feel isolated, like they’re on their own island. When they come to APMP events, or chapter events, or connect on LinkedIn, they find their tribe.

We are also shaping certification programs at APMP to demonstrate that proposal management is, in fact, a profession. It’s a profession that is essential to putting cars in the parking lot and keeping the lights on at these companies.

It’s a really exciting time and it will be interesting to see how the industry evolves over the coming years.

In your opinion, what kind of trends are you seeing in our industry?

More proposal teams are leveraging software and technology.

We all being asked to do more with less, and so our proposal teams are becoming experts at efficiency. And if they’re not yet, they’re working toward that. I’m seeing this move toward better ways of doing things and trying to have better control over their most valuable assets—their knowledge and content.

There are also different modes of communication that our teams are getting better at, in terms of communicating with the client. Clients are saying: “Tell me how you can solve my problem, but I don’t want to read a 150-page document. I want a really great executive summary, video, and graphics.”

good executive summary

Trends that continue to evolve lie in the space of how you communicate your message beyond just the written word. The written word is important, but how we communicate is really important for teams.

Proposal managers continue to work toward integrating more with other aspects of the sales pipeline. So, working on relationships and not being in silos are trends we’ve seen in recent years.

In the industry we’re seeing that more folks are making this a career. Nobody went to school and dreamed of being a proposal manager when they grew up. But for one reason or another, they stumble in and find this to be an incredibly rewarding profession.

I think we’ll continue to see this trend because of the flexibility and autonomy, and really just the fact that proposal managers and writers make a big difference. They fuel companies and divisions, and that’s something that speaks to the incoming generation who want to know that what they do for a living matters.

APMP has a wealth of data about the people who power the proposal management industry. Can you share some of those insights with us?

I’ll tell you a little bit about our brand new hot off the press 2017 U.S. Compensation Report. As an association, we have this opportunity to take anonymous data in aggregate, put it together, and share it with proposal professionals for benchmarking.

You can look at your own salary and benefits, and stack it up against everybody else in the profession. And this can be really useful when having conversations with your managers or your boss—when you’re trying to build a proposal team or add to a proposal team. You need to know what a competitive salary and benefit package looks like.

In the U.S. women make up 70% of bid managers and men make up 30%. If you look at the base salary for men versus women, men are out-earning us, ladies, by quite a bit. This is societal in every profession, but the reality is right in front of us in our own profession.

A woman who identifies herself as a bid manager is making a median salary of $95,000 a year. But her male counterpart is making $130,000. That is something we need to be talking about—and this is the kind of information that lives in this data.

So, we have some challenges to overcome here. The first step is sharing the data in this benchmarks study to get us talking about it.

bid manager gender

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report 2017

I’ll also point out the median salary if you’re working in the federal sector, versus working in the commercial sector. Proposal managers in the commercial sector are making a little less than $82,000 a year as the median salary. And those who are serving the federal government are making about $100,000 a year.

It’s good information to know as you map out your career. That way you know what you should be making, and also—if you have aspirations to enter different verticals or sectors—you can see what those salaries look like.

The U.S. Compensation Report is free to all APMP members. If you’re not a member, you can purchase the report.

Can you talk about the most common challenges proposal professionals are facing? And, how they can overcome them?

I’m not a proposal manager myself, but I can tell you what we hear as a team here at APMP. One of the biggest challenges is getting the support and recognition from the higher ups.

“I think that proposal management folks are the unsung heroes in many, many companies and divisions.” 

It’s tough to demonstrate your value if your contributions are overlooked or minimized in any way. If you’re experiencing that, we encourage you to network and connect with your peers. Talk through it with folks who have been around a bit longer, who can give you some guidance on how to make sure you’re getting the recognition you deserve.

Burnout is the reality of the profession too. Again, I think proposal managers need to continue to look for ways to work smarter, because it’s a tough, tough job.

One of the things we love about APMP is the focus on educational resources for proposal management teams. We know exactly how difficult it is to find quality resources. Can you let our audience know about some of the resources APMP offers to support their efforts?

That’s why we exist—why APMP is here.

Some folks are sometimes confused about the nature of a non-profit. We are entitled to make a profit, we just don’t pay taxes on it based on our standing with the government. What that allows us to do is funnel all of that money back into the profession.

Which is why we love doing what we do. We invest heavily in resources with membership dollars, and proceeds from events and programs.

For example, we offer a free monthly webinar for all APMP members. We’ll jump around and hit topics that our members want to have addressed. You can attend these webinars live, or watch them on-demand. There’s a whole library of on-demand webinars that our members go to when they’re looking to solve a problem, or learn more about a certain topic.

APMP has many in-person events for all the reasons we talked about earlier. The reality is that our folks living on islands by themselves need to connect with other proposal professionals who do what they do. We host live events at the international level and chapter levels to make sure that proposal professionals are networking and helping each other solve problems.

We also have a certification program, which we feel is really important because it very much captures the best practices in proposal management and the whole lifecycle of a proposal. If we’re all operating from that same set of standards, then we can drive our profession forward like we never have in the past.

Ultimately what’s most important to know about our content is that it’s all peer developed. The staff may help shepherd the content development, but it’s content that’s coming from folks that are in the industry—practitioners, vendors, consultants, and committees. If you’re reading the the APMP journal, watching a webinar, or going to Bid & Proposal Con, all of that content is coming from a grassroots kind of approach.

Whatever the needs are in the profession, that is the content we focus on developing. And, it’s been very successful. Much of this content is free with membership. We try our best to make sure that as many members as possible have access to the content that can help them win more business.

Lastly, for all of the proposal teams facing efficiency challenges, what is the most valuable piece of advice you can offer?

You know, that’s a big question. It’s important to first recognize that each team is unique and there’s really no one-size-fits-all solution. There are foundational commonalities, but each proposal team’s need and makeup create different cultures.

What’s important is that when you come to APMP, you’ll connect with other people who are doing what you do—and other vendors who are providing solutions for exactly what your problems are. You can come together and solve it as a team.

There’s a little bit of crowdsourcing that can happen among APMP members, among the vendors—like you guys at RFPIO—who are supporting APMP members. Other great resources are consultants and experts nearing retirement, who have been doing this for decades.

There is probably no one valuable piece of advice that I can offer other than to say that there is a resource. There’s a community of people who are willing to help. And I think that that’s where you start.


Listen to APMP’s insights on the go…

 


christina lewellen apmp

Christina Lewellen

VP Business Development and Operations at APMP
Follow @APMPConnect

Christina Lewellen, MBA, CF APMP, is an association executive with an extensive background in managing professional and trade associations. She is the Vice President of Business Development and Operations for the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), where she has overseen significant growth in the association’s events, programs, and corporate and individual membership numbers. She holds APMP’s Foundation level certification, the Certified Association Executive designation from ASAE, and a Master’s of Business Administration from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She is based in the Washington, D.C., area.

How to develop proposal building blocks to win more

How to develop proposal building blocks to win more

All proposal professionals would love to be able to develop unique, individualized content for every RFx response. For most, this remains a pipe dream.

Given the ever-increasing workload and the decreasing time provided for responses, proposal professionals need to develop top-notch content quickly. They also need to make sure responses are tailored to the needs of the client and opportunity.

How can we accomplish such seemingly opposite goals? The solution lies in creating proposal building blocks.

What are the proposal building blocks?

Proposal building blocks provide customized, repeatable sections that allow teams to develop high-quality deliverables. These building blocks can be any length. Some pieces might be one or two paragraphs, while others might be complex, multiple page sections.

At their heart, proposal building blocks are standardized sections that include fallouts for key pieces of information required to tailor the response. These components provide the vast majority of basic input for a section, allowing teams to focus not on the basic core information but customized information for that specific prospect.

Did you know? 51% of organizations respond to more than 50 RFPs each year.

Building blocks vs. boilerplates

It’s important to remember that building blocks are not boilerplate responses. By its definition, a boilerplate is a “plug and play” piece of content that one inserts into a document and does not need to tailor or customize.

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).

Building blocks prompt RFP contributors to incorporate key client and opportunity-centric information. This ensures the baseline section is crafted to the needs of the individual client. And unlike boilerplate responses, tailored responses greatly increase your organization’s pWin.

How do you develop building blocks for proposals?

The first step to developing building blocks is determining exactly what is useful. Ask yourself, and your organization, some key questions:

  • What technical offerings do you have that are easily repeatable?
  • What are the main management and staffing sections that are required repeatedly where your company has a standardized approach or response?

For example, if your company provides agile software development, the basic core of your approach remains the same—you select items from the backlog, you hold daily stand-ups, you develop a deliverable in a short period of time (a sprint), and you conduct lessons learned after the sprint.

This is a prime example of an ideal candidate for a building block.

Create your own proposal building blocks in 5 steps

It’s smart to develop a handful of building blocks as a test before you commit the resources to putting together an entire library. This allows you to develop and refine your process, and ensure you’ve put together the right list of components.

After you have selected your components, you develop the content for the “standardized” portion of the building block.

Step 1: Identify core pieces

Go through historical RFP responses and other documentation your company has (white papers, boilerplate libraries, internal training, etc.). Identify the core pieces of the approach that are standard.

Ask your best positioned SMEs (subject matter experts) who live out these processes for their input. It will ensure you have the right content to build from.

Step 2: Gather resources and SMEs

Using those pre-existing materials as secondary sources, put together a generic write-up for that approach. Make it as specific as possible—in use, it is easier to trim back a building block than to go develop more content on the fly.

Include graphics that have been well-received on other RFPs, but make sure you include prompts asking the team to update them for the new proposal (and be specific on what needs to be updated). Then, ask others to review and provide feedback on building blocks.

Step 3: Gather key information

Develop the callouts for key information throughout the response. Start with the easy one—look for places to insert the client and/or program name throughout the response.

Then, come up with several leading statements and/or questions for the introductory, client-focused paragraph. These input prompts can include asking for hot buttons, win themes, key solution points, etc.

Step 4: Collaborate and customize

Identify other places where you want your team to add customization. For example, if the opportunity puts a lot of weight on personnel, add places to call out relevant individuals in the program.

You should also include callouts for team qualifications/experience examples, win themes, and key solution points throughout the section.

Step 5: Organize building blocks

Lastly, you need to find a place to keep the useful building blocks you’ve created. Here, there is no one great solution. You should use whatever works best for you and your organization.

Options include: a shared network drive, a collaboration tool, a local drive, or proposal management software.

How to use building blocks effectively

Now that you have these building blocks, how can you make sure you get the best value from them? The best time to provide building blocks to your team is when you develop your template.

As you put together your outline, identify which sections map to your pre-existing building blocks. Then, pull the appropriate sections into the template. Sometimes, you might have a section that doesn’t quite fit what is being asked for, but has a good amount of useful content. In those cases, include the relevant building block information, but be sure to tailor the responses.

When you have finished putting together the building block template, use your proposal kickoff meeting to describe its purpose to your team. Reinforce that they need to stay within RFP requirements, such as page count—sometimes your building block will be longer than the allocated space for the section. In these cases, winnow down the building block to only include the most relevant content.

Finally, you still need to have your regular color team review cycle. This ensures the building block is properly tailored to the specifics of the opportunity, and gets outside eyes on the section.

Building blocks can help the proposal manager focus on delivering tailored solutions that meet each client’s individual needs, even on quick turn opportunities. Proposal organizations can increase quality and improve win rates by giving their teams the right tools to win.

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