Drawing a clear line between business activities and profits is often challenging. But two things that have a clear impact on the business bottom line are: the number of RFP (request for proposal) responses you complete, and the quality of the proposals you submit.
Every time you fail to respond to an RFP by the deadline, that’s a sale you’ve lost. And any time you send a lackluster proposal because you were rushed and sloppy in getting it out (relatable though that may be), your chances of landing that sale don’t improve by much.
Even understanding the value of a competitive RFP response, many companies struggle to complete persuasive proposals in a timely manner. If every RFP at your business requires internal scrambling and stress, that means you lack a strong RFP process. And that lack is costing you.
What is an RFP Process?
An RFP process consists of the steps your company takes each time you respond to an RFP, the tools you use to enable those steps, and the people who complete them. Establishing a clearly defined process for RFP responses is crucial for getting more proposals out on deadline and ensuring each one is high-quality.
Designing a Great RFP Process
At companies that lack a clear RFP process entirely, the response to an RFP can tend toward disorganized chaos. But while any RFP process is better than no process at all, a weak one can still leave your team unorganized, unprepared, and overwhelmed. That won’t improve your results by much.
A great RFP response process is one that’s clearly defined, efficient, and consistently produces strong proposals. You’ll know you’re on the right track when collaboration between team members starts to run more smoothly, you increase the number of RFP responses submitted, and the workload of completing each one decreases. Oh, and when you start to win more of those RFPs, of course. That’s the best part.
7 RFP Process Recommendations
To create the kind of RFP process that achieves those results, you’ll want to follow a few main RFP process recommendations.
1. Determine the right tools for the job
The tools you use impact what your RFP process will look like. Many companies default to using the basics:
- 28% rely on spreadsheets to capture information
- 54% use email for communication and shared folders like Google Drive to share information
- 84% stick with a manual process for RFP responses
In some cases, those tools do the job just as well as you need them to.
But if you’re struggling to stay on top of RFPs using the tools you have now, this is a good opportunity to consider whether it’s time for an upgrade. As you develop a clear RFP process—or work on updating the one you have—consider what needs you have that a new product (or a couple) could address.
If the stakeholders involved in your RFP response process can’t seem to get on the same page, you may want to go beyond email and invest in better collaboration tools. If your SMEs (subject matter experts) bristle at having to answer the same questions over and over again with each new RFP, a good knowledge management tool will help them reuse the work they’ve already done.
And if your team is letting relevant RFPs slip by because you can’t get them done in time, RFP automation software can considerably cut down on the time and work each proposal requires. Companies that invest in RFP software manage to submit 43% more RFP responses than those without.
Be careful here not to confuse picking a product with solving your RFP response issues. The right tool has to be matched to the right process to make a meaningful difference. But once you’ve identified the tools that best address the RFP process challenges you face now, you can develop a more effective process based on the features you gain.
2. Evaluate RFPs strategically
Even with an awesome team and the right products, you won’t be able to respond to every single RFP that comes your way. Crafting a strong proposal takes time, and submitting a sloppy one isn’t worth the effort. To keep the work manageable, an important RFP management best practice is developing criteria to determine which RFPs are worth your time.
Some useful questions to consider at this stage are:
- Is our product even a fit for this RFP? You’re not going to win an RFP if your product doesn’t meet their needs. And you wouldn’t want to—trying to make your product stretch to do something it’s not meant for would be a bad experience for both of you. If you’re not the right answer to what they’re looking for, skip the RFP.
- Is this company in our target market? Some prospects are worth more to your business than others. If you haven’t yet, define your ideal customer. Then weigh RFPs against how closely the company matches your target market. You may find it worthwhile to respond to RFPs for companies that don’t exactly match your ideal customer profile, but any time you have to choose between RFPs based on your capacity, it will help you prioritize your options.
- Can they afford us? Don’t go through the whole process of responding to their RFP and pitching your product, only to learn that their budget is far too small. Consider this question upfront, so you don’t waste your time.
- Do we have a relationship with the company? Any good salesperson can tell you that who you know is a big part of how sales get made. If the company issuing the RFP already has a prior relationship with your company, then you’ve got a bit of a head start.
- Can we realistically meet this deadline? There’s no point in devoting the hours and work to starting on an RFP that you don’t have time to finish. If you can’t realistically meet the deadline with the resources available to you, let that RFP go.
One of the fastest ways to make your RFP process more efficient is to weed out the bad-fit RFPs early on. That frees up time and resources to focus on the ones you most want to win.
3. Design your process to prioritize speed
RFP responses require a lot of labor hours. But when deadlines loom, taking the care you need to get every part of the RFP response just right can feel out of reach. And since your salespeople and SMEs have other important obligations, you can’t ask too much of their time without it costing your organization in other ways.
A good RFP process has to find the balance between working fast and doing good work. If you can hire more people to help, that’s one easy solution. But it’s an expensive one that isn’t always an option. If you’re at one of the 63% of organizations with no plan to increase staff, you have to look for ways to make your process more efficient.
Some of the RFP process recommendations on this list will help with this part, but additional tips to consider for efficiency:
- Commit to moving fast to get started once an RFP makes it through your evaluation process.
- Create standard answers for as many common parts of the RFP as possible, so part of the work is already done. Something like company information doesn’t need to be written from scratch every time, when it mostly stays consistent.
- Establish the priority level for RFP responses throughout the organization, so everyone involved in a response knows not to let it sit on the desk for weeks. Establishing a service level agreement (SLA) between departments can help with this.
Considering efficiency as you define your process will pay off in faster and easier responses as you enact it.
4. Clarify roles and responsibilities
When it’s time to move forward with an RFP, if you have to stop and figure out who should be assigned to each part of the process, that’s time wasted. If you then have to spend time convincing them to do their part, you’re facing an unnecessary bottleneck to the whole process—one that will lead to missed deadlines.
Instead, do this part in advance. Clarify who will consistently take charge of each part of the process. Figure out who the right SMEs are for each RFP section, so you always know who to turn to. Then make sure everyone knows their role and understands the importance of the process.
Once you have your team clearly defined, ask them to provide their input on the RFP process. What would make their job easier? How can you best enable collaboration and communication between the whole team? Letting the key stakeholders weigh in will help you create a process that works for all of them.
5. Use the content you already have
A smart way to cut down on the work and time involved in a RFP response is to use the content you already have. Answering every question in an RFP from scratch every time is extremely time and labor intensive. Consulting a Content Library to see if a good answer already exists is much faster and easier.
In order for this to be a useful part of your RFP response process, you do need to create and maintain a Content Library. Establish a library that collects all the best answers to the common questions you encounter in one place. Then think about how best to organize it so those answers are easy to find the moment your team needs them. Employing features like tagging, custom fields, and collections can improve discoverability, which is especially valuable when your team is in a time crunch.
Having a well managed content library only matters if people use it. Make it part of your established RFP response process to look for any answers that already exist. The team will often want to tweak existing content to make it more relevant to the specific RFP they’re working on, but that’s still a lot faster than writing up a new answer from scratch.
6. Agree on clear metrics to evaluate your RFP process
No matter how much thought you put into developing a strong RFP process now, there will be room for improvement. Think through what a successful RFP process means to you, then select the best metrics to evaluate your success.
Tracking relevant metrics enables you to spot ways the RFP process falls short, so you can improve it over time. And it’s how you gain proof of improved results, which is key for keeping (or gaining) the support of your executives and SMEs.
Some RFP process metrics to consider include:
- Number of RFP responses
- Average response rate
- Average response time
- Time spent per RFP
- RFP win rate
You’ll want to include metrics that measure process efficiency, as well overall results. A faster process is only valuable if quality doesn’t suffer as a result.
7. Evaluate and improve
Anytime you get complacent, you stop improving. Make evaluating your process a regular part of the process itself. Review your metrics to determine if you’re meeting your goals. Check in with all stakeholders to gain feedback on their experience. And update your RFP process as needed to incorporate what you learned.
Continual RFP process improvement will lead to a number of benefits that go beyond the RFP process itself. You’ll strengthen your Content Library, improve the relationship between internal teams, and increase overall revenue for the company. But getting those results requires doing the work to analyze how well your process works and strengthen your approach over time.
Examples of high-quality RFP processes
Does putting all of this work into creating a great RFP process really make a difference? A number of companies have put that question to the test and seen notable results.
Between entrenched silos and outdated software (that everyone involved in the process hated), a health insurance company realized their RFP process was an inefficient mess. Getting RFP responses out was too slow, and none of the stakeholders involved ever knew enough about what was going on. They decided to address the issue by reworking the process to make it more user friendly. They incorporated RFPIO AI-powered automation into the process to save stakeholders time on the more tedious tasks, and made collaboration easier between team members.
With a new, improved process powered with better tools, they:
- Improved collaboration between team members and opened easier lines of communication, so that everyone involved could keep up-to-date on the status and results of each RFP
- Created a content library that helped them create consistent messaging and re-use quality content that’s already been created
- Reduced the time it took to complete the RFI (request for information) portion of the process from around five days to just a few hours
Small teams often feel buried under the work RFPs require, but hiring more people isn’t always an option. A two-person team at a growing software company could never manage to keep their content library up-to-date, because the process of manual updates was slow, and chasing the next RFP kept them too busy.
But responding to those RFPs without an up-to-date Content Library to pull from was a slow and tedious process. They were stuck. So they looked at their RFP process.
They changed the system they used for updating their Content Library by introducing RFPIO response software that made adding new content much easier. And instead of asking SMEs to provide answers to RFP questions in color-coded spreadsheets—a system that caused a lot of confusion and wasted time—RFPIIO allowed the proposal team to assign questions to each SME that would show up for them in an email. Much easier for all involved.
As a result, they:
- Doubled the content in their library within a few months, ensuring future RFPs are easier to respond to
- Enabled their tiny team to manage more RFP responses at a time, while keeping track of where they are in all of them
- Managed to submit 16 RFPs on deadlines in the first year of using their new RFP process—not bad for a two-person team
Creating a more effective RFP process
Whatever your particular challenges and needs, better RFP results start with developing an improved process. Many aspects of that process will be easier, faster, and produce higher quality RFP responses if you choose the best tool for the job.
RFPIO offers features that help with several parts of the RFP process. Some highlights include:
- Collaboration tools that allow stakeholders to communicate with each other, clearly understand their role in the process, and stay updated on each RFP’s status
- Automation tools that do a portion of the work of each RFP for you, significantly cutting down on the time commitment
- A Content Library that enables you to easily update and organize your knowledge base in ways that make reusing existing content and finding the best answer every time fast and easy
- A system that automatically tracks the most important RFP process metrics, so you can evaluate and improve your process with minimal extra work
Creating the right RFP process for your organization will work a lot better if you have the right tool for the job. To get started on your new, improved RFP process, get in touch with RFPIO’s team.