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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 solution

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.

Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Business proposal example, template, and how-to instructions

Before I get into the business proposal example, template, and tips, I need you to remember one thing: You’re Yoda, not Luke Skywalker:

“Think about Luke Skywalker and Yoda in Star Wars. When Luke meets Yoda, he encounters the perfect guide. Yoda understands Luke’s dilemma and has mastered the skills Luke must develop if he is going to defeat the Death Star.”
Donald Miller

As the writer of a business proposal, you want to come off as the perfect guide. Your goal is to make your prospect look like Luke Skywalker, the hero of the story. The prospect doesn’t care about your product; they care about solving their problem.

What is a business proposal?

Put simply, a business proposal is your solution pitch to a prospect’s business problem. It’s you saying, “I understand your problem. This is what the situation will look like after it’s fixed. Here’s a few ways we can help you fix it. Sign here to get the solution rolling.”

It’s used often, especially if your prospect isn’t the only stakeholder involved in deciding whether or not to buy your solution. In such situations, the business proposal is the document that your prospect will share with those decision-makers. Jeff Bloomfield, sales coach and author of NeuroSelling, says, “They need to know that they are saving money with your solution when compared to the high cost of the problem you are solving.”

As succinctly as possible, you need to tell the story of how your solution will help your prospect look like Luke Skywalker. That’s not much room; the opening scroll in all the Star Wars movies takes up more than two pages.

A business proposal is brief, yet informative and customized to every prospect’s specific problem, even if you only have one solution. Remember this is about their needs rather than your features. To put it another way, it’s the photo negative of a brochure or website.

How to write a business proposal

Arguably the most important step when writing a business proposal takes place before any writing begins: Confirm interest in your solution. Odds of winning deals from unsolicited business proposals are multi-state lottery-level. Any effective business proposal starts with a conversation.

When you understand objectives and have a solution, then you can begin writing. If after identifying the prospect’s pain points you believe that your solution isn’t strong enough, then keep digging for the pain points where you can excel. Sometimes you have to push to get the right objectives to make sure there’s enough pain to justify your solution.

Timing is essential because a business proposal needs to be educated and comprehensive. Too early and it’s going to land on deaf ears. Too late and either someone else solved the problem or you’re perceived as not caring enough to make it a priority.

As soon as you’ve identified pains, objectives, and how to position your solution as the ideal, then gather the following content:

  • Logos (yours and prospect’s)
  • Pricing options
  • Scope of work collateral you can link to from the business proposal

Now you just have to complete the business proposal template. These business proposal best practices will help.

8 business proposal best practices

  1. Take advantage of “title” real estate. As my esteemed colleague Keith Norrie explains in his expert advice on executive summaries, the title is too good of a setup opportunity to pass up. Use an action verb to surface the primary problem that you’re proposing to fix with your solution. The following power-verb examples will perk up stakeholders’ ears: increasing, reducing, accelerating, improving, streamlining, monetizing… Check out the business proposal example to see how I framed the solution in the proposal.
  2. Agree on 3-5 objectives with the prospect’s champion during your initial calls. These objectives will be based on pains that your prospect wants to overcome.
  3. Explain how your solution will enable these objectives. This isn’t an opportunity for you to list product features—most of which the prospect won’t care about. It’s where you tie solutions to problems. For example: “RFPIO’s AI-enabled Content Library will reduce XYZ Company’s time spent responding to repetitive questions from 1,200 hours to 720 hours or fewer annually for an equal number of submitted RFPs.”
  4. Give multiple pricing options as a checkable list. Avoid line-item detail. Explain the difference between each option. For example, “This one allows you to scale…this one gets you to the end of the year…this one is best for small businesses…”
  5. Provide a high-level scope of work specific to the prospect’s need. Link out to data sheets or websites for more information.
  6. Include a call to action, preferably a signature request. At the very least, schedule a call to review next steps.
  7. Review the proposal with the prospect over the phone or through video conferencing. If possible, try to get the person you’re really building the proposal for (the decision-making stakeholder in the shadows behind the prospect champion) to join the review. If you can’t schedule a review, then record a Vidyard of you walking through the business proposal that can be shared with stakeholders.
  8. Be careful of jargon. Every industry has its unique terminology, but be wary of using jargon for jargon’s sake. With only two pages, you don’t have any room to waste on hollow language that doesn’t address the prospect’s specific problem.

Download your business proposal template & business proposal example

Here are the business proposal template and the business proposal example. When you’re ready to write your own business proposal, make a copy of the template. Then, delete all the instructions as you complete the sections. That way you don’t accidentally fire off a document complete with my tips and tricks. Also, if you build your business proposals from Salesforce, then these tips on Salesforce Proposal Builder will be a big help.

I hope you find the template and example helpful. Remember, the decision-making stakeholder (likely an executive) will be reviewing multiple proposals. They should be able to look at yours and identify that it’s comprehensive and customized for them. They’ll sniff out cookie-cutter treatments immediately and will sideline them while they look for something unique, like yours.

Be confident. This isn’t a shot in the dark. The prospect needs to solve this issue. Your business proposal will illustrate how you’ve thought through their problems.

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