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How to respond to an RFP like an all-star champ

How to respond to an RFP like an all-star champ

Organizations issue requests for proposals (RFPs) because they have a need that cannot be fixed internally—a big need—one that will […]


Category: Tag: RFP management

How to respond to an RFP like an all-star champ

How to respond to an RFP like an all-star champ

Organizations issue requests for proposals (RFPs) because they have a need that cannot be fixed internally—a big need—one that will cost lots of money. This isn’t calling a plumber to fix a clog. This is soliciting bids from multiple contractors for complete remodels, or to construct full-on additions.

Obstacles in the RFP response process

The scale of an RFP can be huge

RFPs contain up to thousands of questions and requests for specific content. If your company has a solution to the problem put forth by the issuer, then you respond with a proposal that includes all the answers and requested content. Depending on the size of the RFP, it can take you hours, days, or weeks to prepare a response. As long as you submit your completed RFP response by the deadline, your solution will be considered.

Competition is fierce

The issuer compares your RFP response with all of the other RFP responses received from your competitors. Sometimes, the lowest price wins. Other times, the best solution wins. Sometimes, it’s both…or neither.

Success requires more than paperwork

Much of the time, the winner results from the best pitch — an umbrella term that includes the RFP response, relationships built with sales and subject matter experts (SMEs) during the process, pricing, reputation, and a variety of other factors. Then there are the times when winners are selected based on prior or existing relationships between the two organizations.

No matter what the deciding factor between an RFP win or loss, the ultimate truth is that you have to compose an RFP response to have a chance. Why not put your best foot forward?

How to respond to an RFP

The RFP response process is cyclical, not linear. I’ll get into more of that in the best practices section. For the sake of getting a proposal out the door, you need to follow these eight steps after you first learn about the RFP.

1. Qualify the bid

Is this worth going after? As I mentioned earlier, RFP responses can take weeks to compose. Starting off with a go/no-go checkpoint gives you an opportunity to evaluate how your solution measures up, the financial viability of the project, availability of resources you’ll need to submit a response by the deadline, and any other factors that will impact your business during the response process. Essentially, building a proposal is like investing in your future. Every investment requires close scrutiny.

2. Understand requirements

What do you need to get it done? This ranges everywhere from the type of content, to who produces the content, to who is responsible for signing off on the final proposal. The list can be quite lengthy, but it must be comprehensive to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

3. Answer commonly seen questions

Pull from your content library to fill in answers to commonly seen questions. If anything needs to be reviewed by a subject matter expert, be sure to get their eyes on it before submission.

4. Assign due dates and tasks to key collaborators

Whose expertise do you need to get this done? After you determine requirements, you’ll identify all the milestones. There’ll be due dates for content, reviews, edits, and approvals for multiple collaborators. The trick is respecting everyone’s time while driving the process forward.

5. Assign questions for review and approval

Who needs to sign off on this content? Likely, this will not be a Caesar sitting in the stands giving thumbs up or down. You’ll have multiple approvers to sign-off on content related to sales, product, support, legal, branding, etc.

6. Polish

Make sure you’re telling the story you want to tell. Add visuals or other supporting content to tell your story better. This is where you can nail the competitive differentiation. If you have the good fortune to have a dedicated proposal team, this may fall on writing and design specialists within that team. It may also be someone from branding or marketing—someone who puts eyes on anything that your organization produces for external audiences. Ensure your proposal is in a clean, easy-to-read format. Or, even better, put it into a branded template.

7. Proofread

Don’t let poor grammar and typos be the reason you lose the bid.

8. Submit to issuer

Push send with no regrets (See? Proofreading is important!).

The Benchmark Report: Proposal Management

Learn about the state of proposal management, and see what teams need to do to be successful moving forward

Read the report

Best practices for responding to an RFP

Whether you have a dedicated team of stakeholders from each department or you assign a new team for each project, what matters most is that everyone in the organization recognizes that they have skin in the game. 

RFP wins, proactive sales proposals, and fast turnaround on questionnaires equate to revenue and may determine whether the company grows, shrinks, or offers an extra percentage point in next year’s retirement fund match.

Build the right team

Proposal managers lead the proposal team. Proposal managers may think of themselves as the director of a motion picture. After that “Directed by” end title flashes, another three minutes of credits roll by.

The proposal team I’m referring to is made up of the individuals you rely on for a variety of roles:

  • Prospect and customer interaction – Customer-facing teams have their fingers on the pulse of competitors and customer needs.
  • Subject matter expertise – Many RFP questions require detailed answers, and for those you should turn to the people who know the most about their particular area of expertise.
  • Brand messaging – Consult with marketing before submitting your response to ensure that you are on brand.
  • IT support – Can your company support the issuer’s needs?

… and all of the others who are vital to creating a winning proposal.

Even a one-person proposal department needs input from internal or external SMEs to build a high-quality response. 

Only respond to RFPs you can win

As part of your bid-qualifying at the beginning of your RFP response process, add a go/no-go checkpoint to ensure that you only respond to RFPs you can win. Whether it’s a scheduled team meeting or a checklist, you need to answer:

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

Basing the answers to these questions on data rather than anecdotal evidence will help validate the go/no-go step as well as your role as a proposal manager. RFPIO’s AI-powered analytics tools provide that data.

Respect contributors’ time

If you want SMEs and other stakeholders to feel a sense of ownership for their proposal responsibilities, then you have to respect their time. RFP responses will suffer if contributors end up working after hours and weekends, rushing to meet deadlines. Get their buy-in ahead of time on deadlines and time required for reviews and approvals.

Document your process

A documented RFP response process will anchor your team during the most chaotic times. It’s up to you to own the process, but RFP software will make it easier to automate, execute, and monitor processes from beginning to end on multiple projects running simultaneously.

Conduct a win/loss review

The win-loss review gives your team an opportunity to close the loop. Internally evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

Did you win? Why? How can you repeat it for future proposals?

Did you lose? Why? How can you avoid it in future proposals?

Include the whole proposal team in a wrap-up summary, but make the extra effort to work hand-in-hand with sales enablement so they can bring in the customer perspective.

Let technology do the heavy lifting

Remember earlier when I said the RFP response process is cyclical? The win/loss review will inform your new go/no-go step, increasing your predictive accuracy of which RFPs you can actually win. It helps to have RFP software for a win-loss review because you have everything that went into the response—the planning, communication, content, and the actual response—in one place.

Software is the single most effective way to overcome lack of time, experience, and other resources. It’s the difference maker that will help you respond like a boss. With only 43% of organizations using RFP-specific technology, there’s a huge opportunity for you to get a leg up on competitors.

How RFPIO can help

RFPIO RFP software makes it easier to collaborate with an extended team and leverage the power of technology. With automated processes for scheduling, collaboration, and completing wide swaths of massive RFPs using our industry-leading Content Library, you can blaze through the first pass of a response faster than working without RFP software or with less advanced software solutions. 

You create more time to spend customizing the responses that really matter and focus on differentiating yourself from the competition. And that’s only the beginning! 

Using software at every step in the RFP response process

Here’s a quick overview of how RFPIO RFP software helps during each of the seven steps of RFP response:

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

We recently created a Proposal Management Benchmark Report where we found that organizations using RFP software already managed 43% more RFPs than those who do not use RFP software. If you’re looking to speed ahead of the field in RFP response, then gain traction faster with RFP software.

I’ll just leave these other tidbits right here…

Recognize SMEs and salespeople at quarterly meetings. Salespeople are competitive and like to be recognized for winning.

Implement formal kickoff meetings for RFPs. Make them quick and include pre-reading materials in the invitation to hit the ground running. Some organizations combine this with a go/no-go checkpoint.

Hold 15-minute daily standup meetings or calls as you approach the RFP deadline. Focus on status reports and action items.

Commit to professional development time. Join this LinkedIn group, the response management Slack community, or connect with APMP. This is especially valuable for small shops, where it can be hard to build a network.

If this has inspired you to investigate RFP software, then schedule an RFPIO demo today!

Follow along as I craft an RFP executive summary example

Follow along as I craft an RFP executive summary example

I recently wrote an article on how to write an executive summary that will give you the best chance to win your request for proposal (RFP). It’s a riveting read! I included a template in that article to give you a head start. Now I’d like to draft an executive summary example with you using that template.

Now I’m not suggesting that you create War and Peace here, but there are some key elements you need to include. And, as I mentioned in the other article, follow Dr. Tom Sant’s guidelines for persuasive writing, namely following his NOSE acronym:

  • Needs: Demonstrate your clear understanding of the prospect’s business problems. Only by demonstrating that you truly understand the customer’s specific problems, and that you understand the business payoffs of solving those problems, are you qualified to recommend a solution.
  • Outcomes: Confirm the results they will achieve when their problems are solved.
  • Solution: Recommend a specific solution.
  • Evidence: Illustrate how you’ve solved similar problems in the past and provide convincing proof of your track record.

Follow along or skip to the section you want to focus on:

“N” of NOSE: Understanding your prospect’s needs
“O” of NOSE: Surfacing desired outcomes
“S” of NOSE: Presenting the solution
“E” of NOSE: Providing evidence of your solution’s validity,
Conclusion: Sign off with a thank you

I recommend opening the template in a separate window and reviewing this example in parallel with the instructions included in the template. It’s a richer experience.

Also, note that I created the example using a fictional software company (“Paradocx”) responding to another fictional company’s RFP (“ACME”). While Paradocx is a complete fiction, ACME is loosely based on a running gag in Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons—but still a complete fiction.

RFP executive summary example: Read, copy, and make it your own

The first thing you’ll notice in the executive summary example is that I’ve dubbed it an executive briefing instead of an executive summary. “Brief” is more active and meets the expectation of the executive, the intended audience of this document. The intention is to inform and persuade the executive, not attempt to abbreviate and condense the response into a couple of pages. Most of the time, the executive will only read this brief instead of the whole RFP, so it has to be right on the money.

Executive Briefing

Thank you for inviting Paradocx to participate in ACME Global’s RFP for your time travel software initiative. The entire Paradocx team is eager to partner with ACME, and having carefully considered your requirements, we are very confident we can deliver a solution that will deliver significant efficiencies and competitive advantage to your organization.
In this executive briefing, we outline how our solution will address ACME’s stated requirements and deliver on your desired outcomes. We provide a high-level overview of Paradocx’s recommended solution, before then providing justification as to why Paradocx is the right choice for ACME.

“N” of NOSE: Understanding prospect’s needs

Our Understanding of ACME’s Needs

Safe, on-time delivery of overly complex devices intended to capture roadrunners—no matter how remote the location or how much TNT is included—is essential to maintaining ACME’s perceived value and satisfying subscribers. In our conversations with your team, you have informed us that you currently face several challenges with ACME’s shipping and packaging services, including:

Skyrocketing customer churn rate
Simply put, when deliveries don’t arrive on time, customers are rushed, mistakes are made, and roadrunners escape. Dissatisfied customers are quick to terminate subscription services, especially with your primary competitor, Zambezi, offering incentives to do so.

Fewer new subscriptions
ACME market share has dropped by an average of 6% year-over-year since 2017. Influx of competitors such as Zambezi has created a price war over scarce consumer dollars. ACME’s safety reputation has been damaged by social media coverage of unplanned TNT explosions.

Response times slowed by lack of data, poor decision-making
Unexpected supply chain delays surprised ACME during the pandemic crisis of 2020 and 2021. Siloed data and legacy systems that could not be integrated blocked the packaging department’s ability to find new materials in a timely manner. Panic buying of sawdust and styrofoam peanuts resulted in a dangerous hazardous waste debacle.

Too many missed on-time delivery milestones
Inability to find replacement parts for Rube Goldberg contraptions delayed delivery on more than 17% of orders in Q2 2021. Lack of communication with shipping resulted in promises of delivery times and sites based on 2018 manufacturing times that could not be matched in 2021.

“O” of NOSE: Surfacing desired outcomes

ACME’s Desired Business Outcomes

By implementing ACME’s Time Travel SaaS Platform, you wish to benefit in several ways in addition to addressing the above challenges. The desired outcomes you shared with us include:

Reduce churn while increasing customer retention
By resetting the timeline and meeting shipping deadlines for 90% of transactions tagged as “late arrival,” ACME will eliminate cause for switching services while limiting risk to reputation.

ACME will also be able to proactively alter shipping deadlines based on navigation of the near future. Headcount in the shipping and packaging department can remain constant until customer onboarding rate outpaces customer churn rate.

Distance ACME further ahead of the competition
Next-level customer rewards programs will make for a difficult choice if customers want to take their business to competitors such as Zambezi. Additionally, improved response, accurate deliveries, and better overall service will make leaving ACME even less appealing.

Many Paradocx customers have related to us that even minor interruptions in the timeline allow them to gain a toehold against aggressive competitors. Like a loud noise distracts an angry dog, time travel disrupts competitors’ momentum and returns the advantage back to our customers.

Accelerate response time

Responding to complex order requests to remote destinations takes time, especially if fireworks are involved or the destination is not a physical address. Consequently, roadrunners have already passed the target zone by the time deliveries arrive, resulting in frustrated customers.

A time travel software solution can deliver significant efficiencies to address these concerns, as well as significantly improving the probability of upgrading orders to increase average order value.

Guarantee delivery to desired destination, no matter how remote

There’s nothing scarier than receiving a delivery request to a pin on a map. No address. No roads. And barely any landmarks to establish a frame of reference. Despite their name, roadrunners don’t always spend their time on main highways. Coyotes need to follow the scent no matter how treacherous the terrain.
With ACME’s Time Pause functionality, shippers can freeze time for up to 72 minutes and reroute our GPS satellite to the delivery site. From there, it’s just a matter of drawing a topographic map of the area and letting our AI-enabled drone army strategize a delivery plan.

“S” of NOSE: Presenting the solution

Paradocx’s Recommendation for ACME

Having diligently studied your requirements and challenges, stated above, we strongly urge ACME to invest in Paradocx’s Time Travel SaaS Platform.

Paradocx’s market-leading solution was designed with customer retention and improving service quality as priorities. Paradocx’s founders were career time travelers and therefore have firsthand experience of how to reset timelines while managing chaos risk. Simply put, our solution was designed by time travelers to help you control time.

Consequently, Paradocx will eliminate ACME’s past mistakes so you can reduce customer churn and begin increasing subscriber revenue. The core capabilities of our solution are highlighted in the graphic below:

Paradocx’s Key Functionality – An Overview

Analysis of the Past:

Without time-traveling software designed to analyze past transactions and identify the flashpoints that undermined your intended customer experience, you can spin your wheels for years. Even if you are lucky enough to find the right transactions, you still need the ability to travel backward and alter the outcome.

Paradocx’s Analysis of the Past allows you to alter only the outcomes that matter so that you don’t waste resources on those that don’t. This functionality also limits your risk of causing chaos or possibly opening a wormhole.

Timeline Correction:

Some say that there is inherent danger in changing the past and that doing so becomes an exercise in butterfly effect management. We agree.
Butterfly effect management is the difference maker in timeline correction. Following Analysis of the Past—when we’ve identified the most impactful flashpoints—our patented timeline correction process reverses results while limiting butterfly effect risk. Moving forward, butterfly effect management will result in fewer timeline corrections with future planning.

Future Planning:

It’s not enough to change the past and live in the now. Maintaining competitive performance for the long haul requires future planning based on insight into tomorrow.
In addition to identifying upcoming service interruptions and opportunities for customer rewards, future planning also monitors what will happen with Zambezi and other competitors. This level of insight is not available anywhere else because of Paradocx’s hold on a proprietary fixed point in spacetime.

Pause for Accuracy:

Customer expectations are off the charts. Packaging and/or shipping deadlines are bearing down. You’ve already used your monthly allotment of timeline corrections. Is there anything else you can do to accelerate response time?

Engage pause for accuracy, an up-to-72-minute dimensional freeze-frame in which you can still move around freely. Seems like a paradox. We thought so too until we accidentally developed it 7,000 years from now.

Data Security:

Customer data is the lifeblood of your business at ACME. Without pinpoint accurate location coordinates, payment information, and certification data at your fingertips, your deliveries are at risk.
We recognize how vital your data is and want to assure you that we’ve taken measures to keep it secure now, in the past, and in the future. And if there is a catastrophic breach? We’ll perform a timeline correction (at no extra cost) to fix it. Our security protocols meet the following standards:

  • SOC II
  • GDPR
  • ISO 27001

System Uptime:

At ACME, the shipping and packaging processes are mission-critical to your end-to-end services, so your chosen solution needs to recognize that fact. Paradocx is as reliable as it is secure.

Our Time Travel SaaS Platform is 100% cloud-based with redundancy provided by ultra-reliable Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosting infrastructure.

In fact, Paradocx has achieved 99.98% uptime since our inception, and we considered deploying timeline correction to bring it to 100%. However, future planning indicated doing so increased the possibility of an event horizon forming in the Southern Ocean if we had. Barring the possibility that doing so may end existence as we know it (in which case our services are moot), you can be confident that Paradocx will always be up when you need it.

“E” of NOSE: Providing evidence of your solution’s validity

Why should ACME partner with Paradocx?

We completely understand that ACME has a choice of vendors with whom you will partner. So, with several outwardly similar solutions on the marketplace to choose from, why should ACME select Paradocx?

ACME asked us to explain clearly how we are different from our competitors. While there are many differences between us and our competitors, we’ll highlight the four that are most relevant to ACME’s needs.

ACME’s Key Differentiators

We’re all still here

Paradocx is the only time travel software provider that has been used by our competitors to save existence from annihilation. The physics and mathematics driving our software development actually enable time travel capabilities for all our competitors. We invented it and made it openly available to the world.

Results are guaranteed

We’re not the largest, most valuable corporation in the world for nothing. Time is every company’s most valuable asset. What you do with it determines your success. It just so happens that we control it.

User-friendly, low-risk interface

All animations, binary songs, and gravitation wave rhythms are maneuverable through our proprietary touchscreen interface. Unlike competitive solutions that rely on messages in bottles and subliminal messaging through high-frequency radio waves, our insights come through loud and clear. And no timeline corrections can be made without judgement from the World Time Panel.

Only provider with privacy promise

Paradocx searches across time with full encryption with no need to rely on disguises to avoid butterfly effect events. At no time will any customer know that you peeked back or forward at them. Deja vu was eliminated with our 2.0 upgrade in 2019.

What Paradocx’s Customers Are Saying…

Paradocx is consistently the highest-rated solution in the market. But don’t just take our word for it. Here are some soundbites provided by three Paradocx customers.

Daffy’s Duck & Cover

“My company never used to get the respect it deserved. Online sales almost cost us our business. Thanks to Paradocx, we’re now the biggest sporting good retailer in all of hill country.”
Daffy Duck, CEO, Duck & Cover

Birdswing Emporium

“Many of our customers were placed in dangerous areas, at risk of attack or illness from the elements. Paradocx helped us reset some timelines that were real life savers.”
Tweety, VP Product Development, Birdswing Emporium

A Small World

“We somehow ended up in the wrong universe! Paradocx reversed the mistakes made by one of its competitors and rescued me, our IP, and, ultimately, our business. Oh boy!”
M. Mouse, CTO, A Small World

ROI

Based on ACME’s expected outcomes, the unlimited user pricing model that is optimal for your business, and the fact that we will perform a timeline correction for any time required for onboarding, we created the following ROI estimates.

Day 30: 10% ROI

Day 90: 50% ROI

Year 2: 248% ROI

We came to these numbers using our ROI calculator, which includes the following factors:

  • Avg. price per Rube Goldberg device
  • Avg. margin for shipping and packaging costs
  • Estimated customer churn reduced to 3% by day 90
  • Year-over-year increase in subscription rate f 7.3%

Paradocx Overview

Why choose Paradocx to help you with this important business initiative? Founded so far in the future that you don’t need to worry about it, we brought this technology back to 21st century earth through an Einstein-Rosen bridge to make a difference in how humans work, live, and play. Our platform has been designed and built from the ground-up by an extremely experienced and talented team of individuals who understand firsthand the demands of conducting business in linear time.

We are a financially strong, vibrant business, backed by unlimited financial resources and control of time. As the market leader, we provide time travel services to more than half of the Fortune 100.

We are consistently the highest-rated vendor on independent review sites such as TARDIS. We are the only time travel software endorsed by MIT and NASA.

ACME Customers

Paradocx provides services to more than half of the Fortune 100, nearly two-thirds of the Comprend Global 100, more than three-quarters of Forbes Global 2000, and a fruit farm in southwest Idaho.

Conclusion: Sign off with a thank you

Conclusion

Once again, thank you for considering Paradocx as a partner for ACME relative to your time travel software needs.

In conclusion, everyone at Paradocx is excited at the prospect of working with ACME, and eagerly anticipating welcoming you to the fast-growing list of Paradocx customers. We will work extremely hard to build a strong, long-term partnership focused on helping you achieve your customer churn and subscription objectives and exceed your expectations at every point along the way.

Next Steps

Download the complete executive summary example here. These templates will be a huge time saver for you moving forward. It takes a little longer to write the first one, but you’ll be able to rattle off those that follow in no time.

To learn more about the value of templates in RFPIO’s workflow, schedule a demo now. You can also see how Genpact’s bid team uses RFPIO® LookUp to download templates directly from their Content Library in this article.

What is an RFP?

What is an RFP?

RFP stands for request for proposal, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a plea for help, a clue to problems that need solved, and an opportunity to build pipeline. This article will take you from asking, “What is an RFP?” to knowing how to use RFPs to drive revenue in less than 1,500 words. Buckle up.

First, an assumption: If you came here because you want to know what an RFP is, then I’m guessing that a high-value target has decided to issue an RFP to find a solution to a problem you feel strongly about solving. When that target finally understands that you’re the answer to their problem, then you’ll pick up a sizable chunk of business. Now you just have to play the RFP game.

(Just in case you’re here because you want to know how to issue an RFP, check out this article instead.)

What is an RFP opportunity?

There are essentially two types of RFP opportunities: solicited and unsolicited. Solicited means that you’re invited to play the game. Unsolicited means you have to crash the game. You have a better chance to win when you’re invited.

That reminds me. There’s a fair bit of jargon in the RFP world. Here’s a short glossary of some common terms you’ll encounter often, including in this article:

  • RFP issuer: The organization that sends out the RFP. They have a problem, and they’re willing to pay someone to solve it, within certain parameters.
  • RFP responder: You.
  • RFP response: How you answer the RFP.
  • RFP proposal: Your response to the RFP.
  • RFP Q&As: Most RFPs present a number of questions that responders must answer. This section makes up the lion’s share of your proposal.
  • RFP win: You were selected by the issuer to solve their problem.
  • RFP loss: Happens to the best of us.

Back to more on “What is an RFP opportunity?”…While you can still win an RFP if you submit an unsolicited response, the odds are against you and you need to take an honest look at whether or not it’s worth it to respond.

RFP responses are not easy, even when you’re invited to partake. If you’re lucky enough to be alerted to an RFP on the day it’s issued, then you’re likely looking at a 3-6 week window to compose your response. Rarely are you so lucky. Sometimes it’s brought in with notice of a week or less, putting you on a tight deadline. The number of hours you’ll have to commit to building a proposal during that time will be determined by, among other things, team participation, content relevance and access, and how much you have to rely on manual processes to complete the response.

Now that you understand what an RFP is and the opportunity it presents, you need to put yourself on a path to respond only to those RFPs that you can realistically win. If this is one of your first RFP responses, then it could be a rabbit hole of unknown depths. Insert a go/no-go milestone before you go ask Alice. It involves asking yourself the following five questions:

  1. What was your level of involvement prior to the RFP being issued?
  2. Is your solution a fit (now, not at some squishy date in the future after you’ve had a chance to adapt it to what the problem calls for)?
  3. Does your price match the RFP issuer’s budget?
  4. Will winning the RFP be a strategic fit for your organization?
  5. Do you have bandwidth (to complete a competitive proposal, not to deliver your solution)?

As part of the RFP response process, you should have an opportunity to ask the questions necessary to fill in the gaps for your go/no-go milestone. Best-case scenario? Your sales team has already laid the groundwork for all of this with the issuer and it’s just a matter of taking their learnings and making them actionable.

It’s a “go.” Now what?

It’s a process deal. Doesn’t that take the pressure off?

I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the RFP process here (you can do so here if you’re ready to start now), but I will touch on the value of efficiency. Even if this is your first RFP, you’ll want to go into it as prepared as possible to save you and your team some pain and give your organization its best shot at winning.

Break down your efficiency goals into three main categories: project management, content management, and proposal quality. Before you start checking boxes under these categories, you need a team. Part of that team has likely already formed. The salesperson at the tip of the spear will be your subject matter expert (SME) for issuer-related questions and perspectives. The rest of the team will come together based on your review of the RFP. What questions need answered? Who has the answers? Who has the design and technical chops to build the proposal?

After you identify potential team members, dig into their availability and try to build a schedule to complete the response by deadline, preferably before deadline to give yourself some buffer. Then schedule a kickoff meeting with all team members to get their buy-in to process details for the following:

  • Project management: You’ll be the lead for collaboration, assigning tasks, and driving the schedule.
  • Content management: You’ll need content creators, content reviewers, and a storage system for a content library (if you’re gathering all this valuable info for an RFP, you’ll want to save it for repurposing; even if this will be your only RFP response of the year, the info will be useful for business proposals, answering prospect and customer questions, and training new hires).
  • Proposal quality: Answering RFP Q&As won’t be enough. You need to personalize the proposal to make it stand out.

Remember, the issuer is using the RFP process to identify its optimal vendor. They’re inciting competition, so you need to play to win. Second prize doesn’t even get a set of steak knives.

Beef up your sales pipeline

Now that you’ve discovered RFPs and the opportunities they can offer, you may want to evaluate how they can help you achieve your sales goals. 69% of B2B salespeople do not have enough leads in their pipeline to meet quota. Pursuing RFPs can build up pipelines fast: Globally, $11 trillion of revenue is won through competitive proposal processes (i.e., RFPs) every year.

Obviously, you’re not going to win every RFP. We found the average win rate to be 45%. However, RFP opportunities can cost as much as 5X more than traditional sales opportunities, which makes your process and your sales tech stack your best friends when it comes to response efficiency.

Automate to dominate

The optimized sales technology stack is a hot point of conversation these days. With so many software solutions, it’s easy for sales teams to overspend on solutions they barely use. A recent Harvard Business Review article cites a survey where 62% of B2B companies were not satisfied with their sales technology return on investment. It also found that:

“The winning companies in our analysis were 1.4 times more likely to fully deploy sales technology tools and 1.9 times more likely to fully integrate them…By taking the time to embed these technologies properly into its sales processes, the [SaaS] company was able to increase revenue growth by 200 basis points within a few weeks.”

RFP automation offers a massive competitive advantage for responders. It saves time, improves proposal quality, and helps companies create their best work by activating their company knowledge. Companies with RFP-specific technology responded to 43% more RFPs in 2020 than those without a designated RFP tool. “With RFPIO, I would say we have increased our win rate by 15%,” said Grégory Saive, IBA global director of sales support and tender management,

But it has to be the right RFP automation technology for your sales tech stack. It has to be able to manage your entire response process — from building proactive proposals to answering prospect and customer questions on the fly and responding to questionnaires — while integrating seamlessly with the other applications you rely on, such as your CRM, communication, and cloud storage solutions.

What’s next? Demo.

We started with “What is an RFP?” and made it all the way through to the value of RFP automation. Once you win one, you’re going to want to win more. Since I’m almost at my promised 1,500-word cap, I’ll wrap it up with a tip on your next step: Schedule a demo. It’s the fastest and easiest way to find out if RFP automation is right for you. Even if it’s not, you’ll get some valuable response tips from our process experts.

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

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Benefit

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

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

Business Case: The Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Case: Being Respectful of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Case: Improve Content, Improve Proposals

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

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

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

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

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

How proposal teams can prepare for 2021

How proposal teams can prepare for 2021

How is technology aiding the request for proposal (RFP) response process? To find out, we surveyed members of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) to gain insight into current and future trends in proposal management processes across 10 industries. The resulting data has been compiled and analyzed for you in the 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management.

The clash of trend and reality

No doubt about it, the events of 2020 greatly influenced B2B sales — and proposal management for many organizations was not immune. In 2021, as we all seek more certainty, the most consistent trend we’ve spotted is that digital transformation in sales, marketing, and proposal management assures generic proposals will never again make the shortlist. Budgets in 2021 will be tight, and each new business purchase will involve increased scrutiny and justification. So how can your proposal be competitive?

For any proposal to have a chance, it has to illustrate how your solution solves the issuer’s specific problem, and it has to speak to proposal reviewers and decision-makers alike. This requires your organization to focus on responding only to the requests that you think you can win. It also helps to have dedicated proposal writers experienced in developing content that appeals to your target audience.

Both of these considerations clash with two trends our research identified: the need to respond to more RFPs in 2021, paired with a resistance to increasing headcount. The research shows that many organizations understand that they need to respond to more RFPs in 2021 in order to play the odds and generate revenue. With RFP opportunities averaging between $1M and $3M (according to RFPIO data), each one has the potential to make a significant impact.

But how can you respond to more requests, while simultaneously focusing only on the requests you have the best shot at winning? RFP technology enables organizations to efficiently invest time in the RFPs they go after, increasing the rate at which organizations can generate proposals. Some RFP softwares, likeRFPIO, even enable data-driven analyses of the characteristics common to all the deals you win, helping you focus your time where you have the greatest possibility of success.

It’s concerning, however, that proposal team headcount is expected to remain at its 2020 status quo throughout 2021. This indicates proposal managers will have to learn to do more with less. It also means that unless you already have proposal writers on staff, you’re less likely to hire any this year. You may want to buck that trend because our research also found that organizations with dedicated proposal professionals lap competitors by 3.5X.

75% of organizations plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021 than 2020. But only 37% plan to increase staff.

Organizations with dedicated proposal professionals submit 3x more RFPs than those without

Survey says: Douse proposals in fresh-baked cookie scents RFP software is an advantage

“With RFP competition predicted to increase, and teams already being challenged to do more with less, keeping proposal team staffing at 2020-levels only adds pressure. Proposal teams will need to invest in technology and automation to scale their responses, enhance efficiency, and maximize output.”

Fewer than half of the respondents to our survey currently use RFP software. This is surprising, considering the fact that those that use RFP software were able to submit 43% more proposals in 2020. Technology is transforming the proposal management landscape, making it easier for organizations to efficiently create their first proposal draft, thus giving them back the time they need to personalize responses to win effectively.

Only 43% of companies use RFP-specific technology today

We also discovered that organizations not using RFP software instead used, on average, nine solutions to compose their RFPs, compared to only five for those with a dedicated RFP tool. One study found that workers estimate switching between apps wastes up to 60 minutes of each day. Yet another asserts that up to 40% of a worker’s productive time is lost while switching between apps, a loss of focus it attributes to “context switching.”

For the sake of productivity, efficiency, personalization, as well as to help keep up with steeper competition for each request, organizations that want to take advantage of more revenue-generating opportunities will need to streamline their technology and automation to be effective in 2021 and beyond.

Check out the full report to learn more about the state of proposal management, including our four recommendations for success in 2021. If you’re one of those organizations trying to keep up without RFP technology, schedule a demo of RFPIO today. If you are already an RFPIO user looking to streamline your tech stack to increase efficiency, fill out this form to schedule time with your Account Manager.

Download Benchmark Report

How response management supports your team

How response management supports your team

Since our founding, we have been on a mission to help RFP respondents succeed. As a leader in this relatively new technological space, we’re one of the first to bring efficiency to responding teams limited by a manual approach to everyday business.

Now we are redefining the way our solution supports everyone across the organization. Though our origins are rooted in helping teams respond to RFPs, what we began to notice along the way was the many use cases for our software.

To support you and your revenue team, let’s look at the vast potential of response management software like RFPIO. You’ll walk away with a more strategic approach to response management.

What is response management software?

Response management software helps companies create, manage, and automate responses to both long-form and short-form business inquiries at any stage of the sales cycle. These inquiries can range from formal business requests issued by buyers, such as RFPs and security questionnaires, to informal questions submitted by prospects through chatbots or from customers through support tickets.

An internal knowledge base

Response management software serves as an internal knowledge base, integrating with CRMs, content management systems (CMS), and collaboration tools to capture and democratize subject-matter-expertise and content across multiple teams, business units, or companies.

With process and technology improvements, respondents are able to create higher quality responses and additional revenue opportunities.

RFP software vs. response management software

RFP software is fairly one-dimensional in that responding to RFPs is the primary use case. Response management software supports many use cases. Content can be repurposed for:

  • Responding to a multitude of business queries—RFX (RFP, RFI, and so on)
  • Statements of work (SOW)
  • Security questionnaires
  • CAIQ
  • Grants

Organizations who think outside the box use our solution to store anything from sales follow-up email templates to onboarding materials. Content is engrained in all of our business processes. Response management software helps you organize, store, and execute from a single source of truth.

Essentials for RFP response management software

How can you tell when a platform has everything you need to optimize your response management process?

Response management software…

  • Is cloud-based, so you don’t have to navigate a maze of documents and folders—and find ways to store your content.
  • Uses patented import technology and exports back into templates and originals files to start and finish each project smoothly.
  • Includes a dynamic Content Library, which serves as the hub for all of your organization’s content and company information.
  • Has an AI-powered content recommendation engine that makes finding your best responses easier.
  • Offers bidirectional integrations with your team’s favorite technologies, along with an open API, so everyone and everything is connected.
  • Allows you to search, select, and store Content Library content across all web pages and applications through a Google Chrome extension called RFPIO Lookup.
  • Brings clear and instant visibility with reports and dashboards that help you track project status and progress and discover insights to make data-driven decisions.

Example

Let’s say you are a sales manager at an enterprise technology company with a high-stakes deal on the table.

The challenge

The prospect you’ve been working with sends you a large security questionnaire, along with a DDQ (due diligence questionnaire) that you must turn around by the end of the week.

Resources are spread very thin right now. You must complete the majority of the questionnaire on your own and engage subject matter experts (SMEs) sparingly. You have several new deals in the works that require your constant attention. You’re not sure how you’ll pull this DDQ and security questionnaire off before the deadline while keeping other opportunities on the right track.

The solution

Response management software allows you to manage multiple queries at once. You can handle the entire family of possible requests during the sales process—the RFP (request for proposal), RFI (request for information), DDQ (due diligence questionnaire), or security questionnaire.

With bulk answering you knock out sections at one time then call in your SME to fill in gaps and sign off. While all of this deal is in motion, you continue to nurture other prospects using RFPIO’s Content Library to populate follow-up emails with relevant communication and high-performing sales content.

You submit everything with time to spare and keep moving other deals forward.

Use cases for response management across revenue teams

Even with the best technology, teams need to be united by a strategy to maximize the features and capabilities of their tools. We recently created a user adoption strategy to help.

If you are leading the charge with user adoption, it’s important to know the benefits of the software and how one solution can be used in multiple scenarios and initiatives. So let’s take a look at different use cases across the team:

  • RFX
  • Security questionnaires
  • SOWs
  • Grants
  • Onboarding
  • Discovery calls
  • Proactive proposals
  • Sales emails
  • Knowledge sharing

This breakdown will help you understand the diverse capabilities of RFPIO. If you are an existing client, you will find new ways of using the solution. If you are searching for a comprehensive content management platform, you will see the many possibilities that will exceed your organization’s response and query needs.

RFX

RFPIO can be used for any RFX documents throughout the sales process.This includes:

  • RFPs (request for proposal)
  • RFIs (request for information)
  • RFQs (request for quote)
  • DDQs (due diligence questionnaire).

Our response management solution allows you to respond to any of these documents in a collaborative ecosystem, making the process easier and efficient for your organization’s many contributors.

Security questionnaires

A security questionnaire can come in many forms:

  • Security questionnaires lite (standardized information-gathering questionnaires)
  • VSAQ (vendor security assessment questionnaire)
  • CAIQ (consensus assessments initiative questionnaire)
  • VSA (Vendor Security Alliance questionnaire)
  • NIST 800-171 (National Institute of Standards and Technology questionnaire CIS controls)

One thing they all have in common? They are complex and time-consuming without the right tools.

RFPIO greatly reduces completion time for busy teams, with auto-response and bulk answering doing the majority of the work upfront. This extra time allows teams to perform their due diligence with accurate responses that meet the issuer’s requirements.

After the responses are ready, teams export responses back into the original sources with clean data, eliminating the need to wrestle with editing and formatting.

Marketing content

Often, marketing teams think their involvement with response management software is limited to the RFX process. They come in at the end to perform a buff and polish, to prepare the deliverable.

Because RFPIO is a content management platform at its core, marketing teams can use the solution to store and create content—brand guidelines, testimonials, press releases, and award submissions.

SOWs

To present the scope for a highly complex project, response management software is extremely useful for SOWs. Rather than using various documents and spreadsheets to piecemeal sections together, section templates offer standard content that can be reused and customized.

From content creation to the review process, the SOW workflow is easier when everyone has one tool to operate inside.

Grants

Time is money for any business, especially a nonprofit who needs to stretch their budget and resources. With grant writing, teams strengthen their content by using the Content Library to search and select the latest stats and financials.

Often, sign-off from an executive or board of directors is needed with grants, and sequential reviewing clarifies the chain-of-command throughout this completion process.

Onboarding

RFPIO allows unlimited users, promoting wide-scale adoption throughout various departments, including human resources, support, and customer success teams. Because very little training is required, all teams can jump into the tool and customize it for their needs.

Organizations often use the solution to support their hiring efforts, as the content repository simplifies the constant need to add and update onboarding content. The same applies to support and customer success team members who need to be quickly brought up to speed.

Discovery calls

Since RFPIO offers a single source of truth, sales teams lean on the power of the Content Library every day for many other tasks outside of responding to RFX documents. An SDR can keep RFPIO open on his or her computer screen during discovery calls to find any company or product information immediately.

This ability makes sales teams nimble and confident during the discovery process. The prospect leaves the call informed and interested.

Proactive proposals

To sell within a highly competitive industry, sales teams will sometimes turn to proactive proposals to beat their competition to the punch. Minimal effort is needed to pull together a proactive proposal within our response management solution.

Sales teams use the top content feature to select the best responses, then export everything into a branded, cleanly formatted template.

Sales emails

The need for speed is perhaps the motto for any salesperson completing sales-related tasks. RFPIO Lookup recommends email content to help sales teams answer prospect questions.

When using a Google Chrome browser, this feature empowers sales to access responses across web pages and applications. They grab the information they need and include it within the email, without losing time to hunt down the answer.

Knowledge sharing

RFPIO’s Content Library serves as the single source of truth for the entire revenue team: sales, marketing, support, and customer success.

Information silos disrupt your response workflow. Foundational company knowledge ends up in a variety of documents, from visual slide decks to data-heavy spreadsheets—stored on shared drives and folders. RFPIO makes all necessary content readily available so everyone can do their best work.

Final thoughts

I always like to say: “Recycle, reuse, don’t reinvent.” Response management software allows you to put this mantra into action, so your organization spends more time on refinement and less time on repetition. With this advancement in your response process, your team will produce quality content that results in opportunities, revenue, alignment, and teamwork.

Start your year off with a strategic approach to response management. Schedule a demo of RFPIO.

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