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RFP process recommendations

RFP process recommendations

Drawing a clear line between business activities and profits is often challenging. But two things that have a clear impact […]


Category: Tag: RFP process

RFP process recommendations

RFP process recommendations

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.  

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Guide: How to Build and Use an RFP Response Template

Discover how to build better RFP response templates and get tips and insights on improving your RFP response process.

Get the guide

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.

RFP Process Example #1: 

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

RFP Process Example #2:

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

 

Considerations when creating an RFP process

Considerations when creating an RFP process

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”.

– Bill Gates

Do you know how you’ll approach the RFP that arrives in your inbox today? What about one that comes next week or next quarter? You might be tempted to say, “Obviously not, because each RFP is different.” If that’s your answer, it might be too late to win those bids. 

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Guide: How to Build and Use an RFP Response Template

Discover how to build better RFP response templates and get tips and insights on improving your RFP response process.

Get the guide

Let me ask a more personal question. Have you received a bill lately? You’re probably nodding right now. How do you plan to pay that bill? If it’s a fixed bill, such as insurance or your mortgage, you might set up automatic payments. If the bill is for something unexpected, say a car repair or vet bill, you might turn to your savings account or a credit card. 

What will happen if you don’t have the resources to pay that bill? 

What I just described are processes. Bill-paying processes ensure that you barely have to blink when paying expected bills and are prepared in the event of something unexpected.

What does that have to do with RFPs? Out of hundreds to thousands of questions in a typical RFP, most are, if not expected, standard. Much as you have systems to pay expected bills, a great RFP response process allows you to respond to those common questions in seconds. 

But what about the rest of an RFP? Certainly, cookie-cutter responses to complex questions aren’t going to win many bids for you. If you don’t plan for the unique parts of an RFP, you will spend more time on it, and there’s a very good chance you’ll lose your bid.

So, what should you consider when creating an RFP process?

What is an RFP process?

A request for proposal (RFP) is part of a broader category called RFx. RFx also includes requests for information (RFI), and requests for quotes (RFQ). It can also apply to other supplier questionnaires, such as security questionnaires and due diligence questionnaires (DDQ). 

An RFP process is a roadmap. It outlines the entire RFP journey, from how it’s received within your organization, whether to reply, who the stakeholders are, who is responsible for each task, when each deliverable is due, how and when to send the response, to how to record and organize the attached question and answer (Q&A) pairs and documents. 

An effective and efficient RFP process decreases response time, improves response quality, and is far more likely to get your responses to the top of the prospects’ shortlists. 

Designing a great RFP process

An effective RFP response process—assisted by industry-leading automation—has several quantitative and qualitative benefits, including:

  • Quantitative:
    • Faster responses – Set your stopwatch! A great RFP response process speeds up your response time.
    • More responses – Faster responses = more time to respond to RFPs you might have set aside. 
    • A higher win rate – The average win rate is about 45%. A great response process can increase that by 15% or more.
    • Significant ROI – See how one RFPIO customer saw a 6x return on investment within just months.
  • Qualitative: 
    • Better teamwork – Great RFP response processes help develop collaboration, even across silos. 
    • A comprehensive and up-to-date company knowledge base – A great RFP process includes knowledge management. Make sure to schedule regular audits.
    • Focus – When team members know what is expected of them, and when, they are far more likely to approach a goal with focus.
    • More opportunities to personalize and customize — Re-invest time saved to give every response a better chance to win.

Considerations when creating an RFP process

One of our most common questions from our potential customers is whether RFPIO integrates with their existing software. Since the platform seamlessly and scalably integrates with more than two dozen popular business applications, the answer is almost invariably “yes.” 

Companies understand the value of business applications, especially when it comes to sales. 91% of companies with more than 10 employees use CRMs in their sales departments, so why do only 16% of companies use RFP software? $11 trillion in annual revenue, and some of the biggest deals, come from RFPs. Shouldn’t RFP response processes be as big a priority as sales processes?

Part of the answer is undoubtedly within companies’ cultures. RFP response processes require expertise from people throughout an organization. Additionally, RFP response often has a haphazard rather than strategic approach. Defining processes before RFPs hit your inbox will help you to determine which RFPs are worth your time and how to focus your efforts

Getting buy-in from stakeholders

Unlike a straightforward sales deal, an RFP response requires multiple stakeholders. An RFP process could require buy-in from finance, HR, operations, security, purchasing and procurement, sales, R&D, manufacturing, IT, etc. In other words, stakeholders can come from anywhere in the company, and you will need their cooperation at some point. 

Getting everyone aligned on the process is an essential consideration in creating it. Fortunately, RFPIO can help make the case for you. 63% of salespeople say RFPIO gives time back to them, enabling them to close more deals overall. 

71% of marketing executives say RFPIO’s Content Library saves them time locating company knowledge, and subject matter experts (SMEs) gain back more than ⅓ of each day.

Quantity vs. quality

Is it better to submit more RFPs or focus on improving your responses? In an ideal world, the answer is both, but is that reality? Although both approaches could be suitable for companies, depending on their resources and RFP landscapes, a clearly-defined response process should help with both. 

Beyond question, a response manager should focus on crafting the best responses on the most winnable RFPs. Responses riddled with errors, typos, and incomplete answers are wastes of time. So, in that respect, quality wins out over quantity. 

That said, RFP responses are a numbers game. The more well-written responses you submit, the more revenue you will generate. Given a choice, however, it’s far better to submit a few great responses than many mediocre ones.

Where to focus

When choosing where to allocate your RFP response resources, it’s best to institute a go/no-go evaluation process, which means only responding to RFPs you have a good chance of winning. You may ask about each incoming RFP:

  • Do you know the company sending the RFP? – Do you have an existing relationship with them? Were they referred to you? Your odds of winning a bid are much higher if there was a specific reason they sent the RFP to you.
  • Is yours the right company? – One of the biggest temptations among revenue-generating employees is to say, “Sure, we can do it!” While that might be true, RVP issuers aren’t looking for what you might be able to offer in the future; they’re looking for the here and now, preferably with a track record showing the ability to accomplish exactly what they are asking within their timeline. 
  • Can you meet their budget requirements? RFPs are not the time for guesswork. Consult with the right SMEs to ensure that the price you’re offering is competitive but also accurate. There might be room for some negotiation, but not for lowball bids. Suppose you happen to win a lowball bid. In that case, you risk alienating not just that customer but others in and around their industry, as well as your own company, as costs will undoubtedly escalate beyond the initial bid.
  • Is it an all-around strategic fit? – Do their needs match your organization’s business or product development strategy and vice versa? Is their industry one you know? 
  • Do you have the time? – How much is on your and stakeholders’ plates? Can you answer the RFP on time without affecting other responsibilities?
  • Have you won similar bids in the past? – Your chances of winning a bid go up when you’ve won and successfully fulfilled similar projects, especially from the same issuer.

Who’s on the team?

RFP response teams are as unique as their companies. Some, such as this RFPIO customer, have 2-person response teams. Others are larger, but the vast majority of RFPs require input from people outside the department. SMEs and other stakeholders vary from RFP to RFP, but you should have that all figured out before placing a bid.

Response managers are often known for their near-encyclopedic knowledge of their companies. They might not know every employee, but they know where to turn when they have questions. To ensure goodwill, make sure each stakeholder is aware of their roles and has the capacity to carry theirs out. 

Where is the relevant content?

Office workers report spending more than half of their time searching for information. Imagine how much more productive they would be if every bit of company knowledge existed inside a single, easily accessible, and searchable database. 

RFPIO’s search feature pulls relevant content from docs, spreadsheets, and even PDFs. RFPIO’s Content Library makes it easy to find RFP Q&A pairs, answers to security questionnaires, company history, etc. You can even store documents. 

Once you find the content you’re looking for, you can apply those answers as-is in a click or two or modify them as needed.

What else should an RFP process take into consideration?

Just as most sales departments couldn’t imagine achieving their processes without the help of their trusty CRMs, response teams should include advanced RFP software in establishing their procedures. RFPIO follows an RFP from inception to completion and even beyond. 

Whether you’re starting anew or you have an existing process, RFPIO can help by providing a framework for an optimal RFP process and the tools to get there.

  • Import an RFP from any format – Whether you receive the RFP via a document, spreadsheet, or PDF, RFPIO will capture the information and plug it into an intuitive UX platform, ensuring consistency and simplicity for each stakeholder.
  • Shred the RFP – With RFPIO, you can organize and section RFPs in the best way for your organization.
  • Analyze the project – RFPIO features built-in project management analytics to estimate the project’s time requirements and your likelihood of winning.
  • Answer all the questions you can – Tap into your Content Library to answer up to 80% of an RFP’s questions in seconds. 
  • Engage SMEs – For those questions that require additional input, RFPIO will suggest SMEs based on previous, similar RFP responses and the SMEs’ availability. Collaborate from around the globe with RFPIO’s translation tools and multi-language UI.
  • Track the project – RFPIO’s project management tools track each deliverable to ensure on-time delivery.
  • Submit the proposal – Design your customized branded template to ensure a professional and consistent look.
  • Store your new content – Once you’ve submitted the RFP, store all new content in your RFPIO Content Library for use next time.
  • Rinse & repeat – Time to start the next RFP.

Improve your win rate, organize your RFP response process, save time, and increase revenue using RFPIO. Take a few minutes for a free demo of RFPIO. 

As for Bill Gates, he’s not wrong, but RFPIO goes beyond just magnifying efficiencies. RFPIO helps response teams establish, as well as enhance, efficient processes. His brainchild, Microsoft, agrees. 

 

Benefits of a great RFP process

Benefits of a great RFP process

There was a time, I suppose, when major company purchases were relatively straightforward. If a company wanted to buy supplies, for example, they would simply contact vendors or put out the word that they were seeking bids. 

Then a salesperson answered the call with a detailed bid, including company information, product or service description, pricing, and timelines. 

Sure, there were some security concerns, as hacking and overall bad actors have been around for a very long time. Still, the regulatory environment was less rigorous, and it was generally easier to track down subject matter experts (SMEs). 

That’s not to say things were easy. Most early-day RFPs came from the government; enough said there, I assume. But response processes were somewhat less defined and usually handled by sales. 

Today, $11 trillion of revenue comes from RFPs. Many companies have entire response departments. Although nearly every other department, including sales, has software to help them become more productive, only about 16% of organizations use RFP software. 

Either organizations don’t see the viability in a robust RFP process, or it’s an issue of “why fix it if it ain’t broken.” The problem, though, is that it is broken. RFPs are tremendous revenue-generating opportunities, and a great RFP process can generate millions of dollars while saving valuable time and other company resources. 

If you are leaving viable RFPs in the virtual dustbin due to lack of time, or your win rate is in the tank, you need RFP processes. Processes will help you determine which RFPs you want to answer as well as organize timelines, key players, etc. Read on to learn more about how you can set up RFP processes for your company.

What is an RFP process?

In short, an RFP process describes the way a company responds to an RFP. It should define how you decide which RFPs are worth your time, organize the project, consult with SMEs, and determine how to manage any new content produced during the response. 

RFPIO’s response managers (yes, we answer RFPs too) use an 8-step response process which includes:

What makes a great RFP response process

The average RFP win rate is about 45%. A great RFP response process improves on that rate in a couple of ways—it allows you to zero in on winnable and profitable RFPs and spend less time on each response, thereby letting you focus on crafting winning bids for the desirable opportunities.  

Benefits of a great RFP process

A great RFP process doesn’t just benefit the response team; it benefits the entire organization with higher win rates, more revenue, and an organized and accessible knowledge base. 

Avoid missing or delaying opportunities

RFPs are like the lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play. If your RFP pipeline is backed up to the point where you’re missing or delaying viable opportunities, a great RFP process will help you break through the clogged pipeline by allowing you to triage opportunities and get the right RFPs into the right hands. 

Higher win rate

If you’re responding to a lot of bids without the revenue to match, it’s time to focus on your win rate. An effective RFP response process lets you spend more time on viable RFPs and less time spinning your wheels. 

Focus efforts in the right place

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” – Kenny Rogers  

Do you play poker? I don’t, but I know enough about the game to know that if you go all-in on every hand, you’ll probably lose all your money early in the game. If you take a strategic approach, however, and only bet on the hands you think you could win, the odds tilt in your favor. 

Your boss probably doesn’t want to hear this, but RFPs are a lot like poker. Indeed, there are very few royal flushes—or guaranteed wins—but laying your time and resources on the table for a less-than-viable RFP leaves you a lot less time and fewer resources for the ones you might win.

Learn to evaluate which RFPs fit with a go/no-go qualification system in place.

  • Do you know the customer? – Do you have an existing relationship with the prospect, or did they choose to send you the RFP for specific reasons? If so, your chances are much better than if it’s a more open bidding process.
  • Is yours the right company? – If your solution doesn’t fit the customer’s needs, you should pass. Even if you spend time trying to make their round peg requirements fit into your square hole solution, you’d be wasting the prospect’s time, and you could end up annoying them.
  • Can you match their budget? – Pricing is a tricky tightrope. On the one hand, you want to win the bid, but on the other, the deal should be profitable for your company. If your SMEs in charge of pricing say they can’t fulfill the customer’s needs within a reasonable price range, listen to them. 
  • Can your company meet their needs? – Do you realistically have the time and resources to onboard and support the customer?
  • Do you want the business? — Business opportunities are a two-way street. Does the company fit your product development or business strategy? 
  • Do you have the bandwidth to answer the RFP? – If you think you’re swamped now, the number of RFPs issued is increasing every year. Sometimes, even winnable RFPs have to take back seats to better opportunities. 

Less time per proposal means more proposals

This is a no-brainer. If you answer RFPs in a streamlined, more efficient way, you will have more of that aforementioned bandwidth for more RFPs.

Revitalized internal knowledge 

RFP response teams are perfectly positioned to become the gatekeepers of company knowledge. When they record and regularly audit answers in a centralized company knowledge base, it gives executives the information they need to make more informed decisions. It also provides quick answers to anyone who needs it, including other revenue-generating teams. 

Team building 

Team-building exercises are generally either fun or downright silly, not that downright silly can’t be fun. But you don’t have to fall backward into coworkers’ arms to find camaraderie. When a team works together toward a common goal, trust and friendships are bound to develop.

Even beyond that, RFP responses require input from multiple people spread across the organization. An effective response process helps tear down silos. 

Generate more revenue

I saved this one for last because if your bids aren’t generating revenue, there’s really no point. A great response process helps you identify the opportunities that will increase revenue. 

Why a company might want to reevaluate their response process

Maybe you know your response process isn’t working for you, but even if you feel it is, maybe there’s room for improvement. Here are four scenarios that should encourage you to take a deeper look at your processes:

  • You hired a new proposal manager – A new proposal manager taking over is a great time to reevaluate your processes using fresh eyes. 
  • Your current process is—shall we say—lackluster – Is your current process winning bids for you? Is your team working hard but bored out of their minds answering questions they’ve responded to 1,000 times before? Are your processes scalable so you can win future bids?
  • Your company merged with another – Which company has better results from their processes?
  • There was a significant change in your business – Do you have new products to offer? Have your products changed? If so, your RFP Q&A pairs will change as well. Sometimes a clean break is in order. Introduce new processes to go with your new everything else. 

Examples of high-quality RFP processes

All organizations benefit from high-quality RFP response processes, but not necessarily in the same ways. Here are a few real-world examples of our customers’ benefits after moving their processes to RFPIO.

  • An insurance company proposal manager said about RFPIO, “When we realized we could finish the first draft of an RFI (request for information) in hours rather than days, it was like the clouds parted and the angels sang.”
  • IBA, a medical device manufacturer in Belgium, increased its win rate by 15%.
  • TOMIA, a software company, streamlined processes, and improved company collaboration.
  • Genpact, a global professional services firm, dramatically improved proposal quality.
  • Microsoft (I assume they need no introduction) estimates they saved $2.4 million in the first 18 months after implementing RFPIO.
  • On average, it takes about 8 days to complete an RFP, and that’s when there’s a fairly sizable team. That’s about 8 RFPs per quarter. RFPIO helped this two-person team answered double that, 16, in the first quarter after implementation. 
  • Let’s cut to the chase. Your boss wants to know about ROI. Well, Crownpeak, a digital experience management platform, realized a whopping 6x return on investment with RFPIO. 

Want to make your RFP process great?

Now that you know the importance of a great RFP response process, where do you start

  • Set goals – Companies talk a lot about customer pain points, but what are your pain points? Would you like a new RFP response process to decrease your response time? Could the quality of your responses improve? Are you being taken out of the running too quickly?
  • Develop a checklist – My mother is a big list-maker. I’ve never been as organized as my mother, and I blame my lack of list-making. Be my mother. Here is a somewhat typical checklist, although yours might look a little different:
    • Identify key stakeholders – Your stakeholders won’t be the same for each RFP, but having a list of stakeholders will save you from having to reestablish roles each time.
    • What is your average timeline? – Having this as a benchmark will help you figure out where your bottlenecks lie.
    • Get company buy-in – A new process is only as good as the number of people willing to adopt it.
    • Figure out if an RFP is worth answering – See above.
    • Locate and evaluate content – Most often, this is the most time-consuming part of the RFP process. 
  • Consider RFP software – Okay, I’m biased, but RFPIO wouldn’t exist without a real need for better RFP processes.

RFPIO is an ideal tool for RFP response processes. 

  • RFPIO cuts response time by an average of 40% by answering up to 80% of an RFP’s queries using machine learning.
  • RFPIO simplifies data-driven decision-making with RFPIO’s customizable reporting dashboard.
  • RFPIO’s industry-leading Content Library democratizes knowledge management organization-wide.
  • RFPIO® LookUp gives any authorized user with a browser company knowledge at their fingertips, even if they are traveling or out in the field.
  • RFPIO integrates with more of the apps you’re already using than any other response platform. Use RFPIO within your existing CRMs, sales enablement, productivity, and vendor assessment apps. Communicate with stakeholders using your company’s favorite communication tools. Your IT team will be relieved to know we offer the same SSO authentications your company already uses.

Maybe your RFP response processes need a complete overhaul or a few tweaks here and there. Regardless of your needs and goals, see how RFPIO will quickly help you drive revenue and improve your processes. Schedule a free demo now.  

 

Understanding RFP management

Understanding RFP management

When a request for proposal (RFP) comes across your inbox, it might seem overwhelming. Some RFPs contain 100s of questions on 1,000s of pages (or vice versa). Your first instinct might be to set it aside in favor of more straightforward deals, especially if you’re in sales instead of on a dedicated response team.

RFPs might be long and complicated, but most high-value deals come through RFPs, so ignoring a viable opportunity could cost your company $10s of thousands of dollars or far, far more. Further, if the RFP comes from a well-known or enterprise organization, ignoring it could cost your company some coveted cache that could ultimately bring in more business through having that company on your customer roster.

Whether you’re a relative newbie to RFP responses or a seasoned professional, learning more about RFP management could help you win more bids. And while we can’t guarantee you’ll get a raise or promotion, winning a big deal is a big deal and might earn your boss’s respect.

What is a request for proposal (RFP)?

When a company needs to purchase a significant service or product, it will often issue a request for proposal (RFP) to collect bids from multiple vendors. Sometimes they solicit bids from specific vendors, and sometimes they open the bidding process to any potential fit.

RFPs are typically more than about getting the lowest price—we’ll get to that later in this article.

An RFP is often 100s or even 1,000s of pages long with questions as diverse as, well, diversity in hiring practices and whether the vendor complies with the customer’s regulatory requirements.

The primary purpose of an RFP is to help issuers determine which company is the best fit for their specific needs. An RFP also:

  • Formally announces a project for bidding – An RFP is a little like a starting gun at the beginning of a race. Instead of the first to the finish line, however, the winner is the vendor that best suits the customer’s needs.
  • Defines project for issuers and responders – RFPs offer detailed explanations of project requirements and expectations.
  • Enables buyers to compare potential vendors – If you’ve ever shopped for a mattress, it’s almost like each retailer or manufacturer speaks a different language. If two stores carry the same manufacturer, the model names and numbers are entirely different. That’s intentional; it makes it really difficult to compare pricing and features when you’re comparing apples to watermelons. RFPs let the buyers define the parameters, and vendors (should) respond with specific and straightforward answers, which enable apples-to-apples comparisons.

Proposal manager: role and responsibilities

At the very surface, a proposal manager is the project manager for the RFP response process. When we dig a little deeper, though, we see that proposal managers are some of the most important and knowledgeable people in an organization.

When a proposal manager isn’t herding cats, their job is to know the organization’s who, what, where, when, why, and how, or at least where to find such information. A proposal manager:

  • Is the point of contact for the organization – There to answer questions from RFP issuers, response teams, sales teams, executives, and SMEs.
  • Aligns tasks and team members – Herding those metaphorical felines
  • Facilitates team meetings
  • Drives discussion and collaboration – Once those cats are in line (I think I’ve milked this metaphor dry), the proposal manager is responsible for ensuring that the right people are answering the right questions.
  • Enforces timelines for project status – RFPs have strict deadlines. Proposal managers have the experience to know how to break the project up into manageable timelines to reach that final deadline.
  • Verifies project compliance – Does the proposal answer the issuer’s questions? Can the company comply with their needs?
  • Produces proposal submission – No matter how many stakeholders were involved in answering an RFP, it’s ultimately up to the proposal manager to ensure that it’s accurate, well-written, and on time.

Managing RFPs

An RFP response should be strategic and laser-focused on a single goal, winning those winnable bids. While it might sound straightforward, effective RFP management is akin to conducting an orchestra when the musicians are scattered throughout the music hall and even the world.

When a company specifically reaches out to your company for a bid, it’s sort of flattering, and the impulse is to answer the RFP. Many RFPs, though, are open to any bidder. A poorly-defined RFP management process might include answering the wrong RFPs and a disjointed response process, resulting in a low win rate.

That’s why a transparent, strategic approach is critical to managing RFP responses and fostering a more efficient proposal response process.

  • Organize RFP response process – Is the RFP worth pursuing? If so, who are the key stakeholders, and what are their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?
  • Establish a channel for accountability – RFPIO features communication and accountability tools to keep your team running smoothly and on time.
  • Decrease response time – Save time with efficient communication and an AI-enhanced content management system that can answer up to 80% of an RFP with a few clicks.
  • Improve response quality – Winning a bid is about far more than just price. Dramatically shaving time from the more monotonous parts of the response provides more time for crafting compelling stories and ensuring that the response is well-written, complete, and accurate.
  • Create a centralized database of assets and resources – Save subject matter experts (SMEs) and team members from having to duplicate their efforts by recording responses in a centralized database of assets and resources.
  • Increase bid win rate – Respond to the right RFPs instead of more RFPs to increase your bid win rate.

There are three primary options for managing RFP proposals. They include outsourcing responses, manual responses, and RFP software.

Outsourcing the response process

Many companies choose to outsource their response process, especially if they’re relatively small or their employees are strapped for time. While outsourcing has significant advantages, there are some steep downsides to watch out for.

Advantages of outsourcing

  • Saving time – Outsourcing does save significant company time. Proposal managers can step into more of a supervisory role and let the contractor do all the labor-intensive work.
  • Improved response quality – Outsourcing lets you pull the response manager out of the weeds and allows them to focus on the final drafts instead of each iteration.

Disadvantages of outsourcing

  • Risks confidential information – Providing outside access to proprietary information is risky. Hackers and cybercriminals could intercept even if the contractor is fully screened and has an airtight NDA.
  • Loss of business knowledge – RFP contractors don’t generally update a company knowledge base, meaning any information provided to them will be lost to the next person who needs it.
  • Big financial investment – Outsourcing the response process could pay for itself, if you answer a lot of RFPs each year. Otherwise, it’s much cheaper to keep it in-house.
  • Time spent tracking down stakeholders – The further a contractor is removed from your company’s infrastructure and org chart, the more time spent tracking them down.

Manual responses

Smaller companies, or those who haven’t found the right RFP software fit, may still use manual response processes. There’s often a reluctance to let go of manual processes, which we completely understand.

Are you working harder than you need to? As the response manager, you’re tasked with juggling all of a response process’s moving parts. It’s up to you to stay on top of everything, including sending emails, managing all authors and SMEs, reviewing each Q&A pair, and ensuring deadlines are met.

Still, there are some benefits to sticking with manual processes:

  • Requires no upfront investment – Manual processes utilize the tools you already have, such as document and spreadsheet software and PDF readers. And let’s not forget the most essential tool of all, human power.
  • Familiarity with tools and processes – If you’re already used to manual processes, there’s no learning curve.
  • No uplift – You’ll never have to worry about software price increases.

Still, it’s pretty hard to make the case that manual response management processes are the ideal solution for any company. They are:

  • Time-consuming – You have to answer how many questions? How many times can you answer the very same question? Why is pinning down SMEs so complicated?
  • Repetitive – How many times can you answer the very same question? Oh wait, did I just ask that?
  • Decentralized – Financial statements, diversity policies, data compliance assurance, timelines, pricing…an RFP will include information from multiple departments and sources. Do you have to chase each one down?
  • Collaboration inhibitors – Poor and non-existent communication and project management tools make collaboration challenging.
  • Response capacity killers – The more time you spend stalking stakeholders for information, the less time you have to craft a compelling response, and the less time you have for answering other RFPs.

Leveraging RFP software

RFP software is designed to organize and simplify the RFP response process. Most importantly, advanced RFP software lets you respond to more of the right RFPs, increasing your proposal win rate and producing a hefty ROI.

Recent statistics show that:

  • 77% of proposal professionals say that their response process could use some improvement.
  • 75% of proposal teams with fully-adopted response technology say they always respond on time.

That’s not to say all RFP software is the same, but there are some standard features.

Features of an RFP response tool

The core features of RFP software include:

  • Automation – RFP software should help make your entire response process more productive by automating as many tasks as possible.
  • Content library – A content library is a centralized resource, a single source of truth, that holds assets in a single, easily accessible location.
  • Collaboration tools – RFP response software should foster collaboration through notifications and efficiencies with repeatable tasks.

Integrations and extensions

Advanced RFP response management software has features that level up the response process with integrations and AI-powered intuition. An automated response process has demonstrable benefits, including faster response times, more accurate and better-written responses, higher win rates, and a substantial ROI.

Competitive advantages of automating the response processes with RFPIO include:

  • Efficient response management – Streamline the response process with project management features, accessible and searchable content, reporting, and intuitive automated responses that answer the majority of questions with a click of a button.
  • Improved response quality – Simplified collaboration and automated responses gives back time to response managers, allowing them to fine-tune their proposals.
  • Easier collaboration – Communicate across verticals, state lines, and oceans. Compile responses right inside your favorite communication app with RFPIO’s seamless integrations. We integrate with Slack, Microsoft Teams, Jira, and Google Hangouts. Unlimited user access ensures that all stakeholders are included.
  • Standardized formatsRFPIO supports importing RFPs, security questionnaires, and DDQs from any format (such as Word, Excel, PDFs) and plugs the questions into your preferred template. From there, you can export using white-labeled templates or the source format (usually a spreadsheet).
  • Consistent deliverables – RFPIO’s project management features keep projects on track and on time.
  • Cost savings – Most SaaS products have subscription-based pricing models, which is costly, especially for smaller companies. RFPIO has a unique pricing model; instead of charging a subscription fee for each user, RFPIO charges based on the number of projects during any given time.
  • Increased revenue growthBetter bids translate to a higher win rate which translates to higher revenue.

There are some challenges to implementing RFP management software, although they don’t have to be deal breakers.

  • Demonstrating ROI – Demonstrating ROI to decision makers who may not even know what a response team does can be tricky. RFPIO makes it simple to make the case.
  • Securing an increased budget for an RFP management solutionSecuring budgets, especially in a tight economy, is challenging, even with a proven ROI. Your company already knows the value in sales enablement tools. RFPIO adds value to your existing CRMs and the rest of your tech stack with industry-leading integrations.
  • Onboarding RFP response team – There is a short ramp-up time to learn how to use RFP software, and RFPIO’s integrations help set your team up for a smooth transition.

Tips for improved RFP management

Whether you are full-time or an accidental response manager, and whether or not you use RFP software, follow best practices for facilitating more effective proposal responses by taking time and care when there’s an opportunity.

  • Develop an efficient go/no go process – Start by deciding whether an RFP is even worth it with an efficient go/no go process. Can you meet the customer’s needs? Do you want to meet the customer’s needs? What is your track record with similar RFPs?
  • Leverage automation to streamline workflow – Automated project management processes ensure that each deliverable is met. RFPIO’s automated Content Library does up to 80% of the work for you.
  • Create a quality content library – RFPIO’s Content Library is a single repository for all company knowledge, but it needs regular maintenance to deduplicate and ensure accuracy. Conduct regular audits; audit new clients more frequently and old customers less frequently.
  • Utilize branded response template – As much as we’d love you to sing our praises to all of your customers, responses come from you, not us. Add your brand to your preferred templates.
  • Consider an all-in-one software solutionRFPIO offers nearly anything you might want to see in an RFP response solution. If there’s a feature you don’t see, ask us.

The challenges of RFP response management

Additional challenges to the RFP response process include:

  • Labor-intensive processes – RFP responses are labor intensive, but proposal software can dramatically cut the number of hours.
  • Tight deadlines – If a proposal is due at noon on Wednesday, it’s due at noon, not 12:01, and definitely not Thursday. RFPIO’s project management features will help you meet that deadline.
  • Disorganized proposal contentData professionals spend around half their time trying to find, protect, and build content. Having that content in a single, easily searchable place saves hours each week.
  • Collaboration – Everyone, it seems, is either busy or far away. RFPIO’s collaboration tools take the hassle out of working together.
  • Security – Protect your data with RFPIO’s SSO Authentication.

How RFPIO can help

RFP response management software is a more efficient way to create quality responses. RFPIO utilizes advanced technology, including machine learning, and a unique pricing model to remain at the forefront of RFP response management software. We help companies overcome challenges with our:

  • Centralized proposal knowledge library – Most questions already have answers somewhere within your organization. Keep them all in one easy-to-find place with RFPIO’s Content Library.
  • Automated proposal responses – Let us answer the common and easy questions while you focus on the dealmakers.
  • Streamlined workflow and task management – Use RFPIO’s project management features or use RFPIO within your existing task management software.
  • Simplified communication – Gone are the days when we run down the hall to ask a question. RFPIO lets you ask any question or anyone in the organization at any time.
  • Integrated data protections into your management solutionRFPIO takes security very seriously.

Improve your RFP response process with better management solutions

Improve your work processes and impress your boss(es) with RFPIO’s all-in-one RFP management solution. Schedule a Free Demo to learn how.

How to improve your RFP response process in 5 simple steps

How to improve your RFP response process in 5 simple steps

Let’s start with the good news: You have an RFP response process. You’d be surprised to know how many companies don’t even have that. If you don’t have a process yet, then I recommend reading How to create an RFP response process as well.

Now the bad news: It needs work. I can help. Let’s look at how to improve your RFP response process.

blog

Guide: How to Build and Use an RFP Response Template

Discover how to build better RFP response templates and get tips and insights on improving your RFP response process.

Get the guide

First, take inventory: How are RFPs viewed within your organization?

Before you improve, take a look at what you have and why. Does your organization view RFPs as a strategic revenue stream or a box to be checked? If the latter, are executive sponsors in place to help you lead the process change?

Change management is real. If past attempts to prioritize RFPs in the sales process were mishandled, then you may still be feeling the pain. If this will be your first sales process change as it pertains to RFPs, then how it’s managed will be just as important as what is implemented.

One advantage of improving your RFP response process now is that salespeople and customers are more open to change than they may have been prior to the pandemic. As people quickly adapted to a “new normal,” Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said, “We saw two years of digital transformation in two months.”

However, if you’re like most organizations, the change will need to take place while maintaining current staff levels. According to our 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management, 75% of organizations plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021, but only 37% of organizations plan to hire more RFP response staff.

5 steps to improving your RFP response process

  1. Only chase RFPs you can win
  2. Focus on content
  3. Set clear definitions of roles and responsibilities
  4. Get to know your resources
  5. Rinse & repeat

Perfection is unattainable. There’s always room for improvement. I’ve seen organizations improve their RFP response process and see big gains within a year. One 2-person team successfully responded to 16 RFPs that were stacked on top of each other a year after having to push back on the same expectation. Hopefully these tips will help you attain the same kind of results.

Step 1: Only chase RFPs you can win

One of the best ways to make your RFP response process more effective is to stop wasting time on unqualified RFPs. Do this by setting up a qualification step or a go/no-go decision. Consider the following during this step:

  • What was your level of involvement prior to the RFP being issued? RFPs are not the optimal time for cold calls. Odds are definitely better when you’ve been invited to respond to an RFP because sales or presales has developed a relationship with the prospect or you already responded to a request for information (RFI) or the prospect has done extensive research on you and your competitors.
  • Is your solution a fit? At minimum, it needs to meet the mandatory requirements. Everyone’s agile. Everyone’s flexible. Issuers already know that. You need to be able to prove that you have a battle-tested solution. If proof isn’t required in the RFP, then it will be at onboarding or implementation. RFPs fall into the category of “under promise, over deliver”; doing the opposite will sabotage future support, renewal, and upgrade efforts.
  • Does your price match the prospect’s budget? Of course there’s give and take when considering the opportunity and what it means to your business now and in the future. Nevertheless, the issuer will expect your solution to come with everything promised in your response. Whatever the cost to deliver on expectations, make sure you’re being fair to your prospect, your product, and your team responsible for supporting those expectations.
  • Is it a strategic fit? RFPs take a lot of time and effort, but not nearly as much time and effort as onboarding and supporting a customer that doesn’t fit your business or product development strategy. There are few things more frustrating than submitting and winning an RFP only to find out that you cannot follow through because it’s not a strategic fit for you or the issuer.
  • Do you have bandwidth? Too often, this consideration gets pushed to the side. It’s especially important if you’re responding to unqualified bids! It’s completely understandable to want to respond to more RFPs (we found that 72% of companies plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021 than they did in 2020). But don’t do it at the expense of response quality or your proposal team’s, sales team’s, and subject matter experts’ valuable time.

Step 2: Focus on content

Are you working from a content library, or are you still chasing down content ad-hoc? If you have a content library, make sure it’s up to date and that content is clean and reusable. Develop content so that it has the flexibility to either be easily customized or used in its generic form. It should all have a consistent voice to reduce editing and review time on the back end.

Your content library also needs to have an organizational structure that helps with searching. With RFP software such as RFPIO, you can use tags, collections, and custom fields. It might help to organize content to match the structure of the RFPs you receive. What sections do you always see? Sections common in many RFPs are:

  • Company overview
  • Training & implementation
  • Security
  • Software/Functional/Technical
  • Biographies
  • Case Studies

If you’re not using RFP software, organizing your files and documents this way will help reduce the need to chase down content for every new RFP.

Step 3: Set clear definitions of roles and responsibilities

Have a project plan that emphasizes expectations. Someone has to own it and drive it to hold team members accountable to deadlines. If you don’t have a full-time proposal manager in place, then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better reason to hire one than to improve and own your RFP response process.

Initiate a kickoff meeting for every response to discuss strategy and expectations with the entire response team. Surface scheduling conflicts, content gap concerns, or issues with deadlines to avoid surprises. Find a way to get visibility over the whole process.

Step 4: Get to know your resources

The better you know your resources, the better you are at going to the right person at the right time. Establish their preferred communication channel and respect it. RFPIO has integrations with several channels to make it easier, including email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Jira. Maybe you have an SME who hates writing. Call him up and have him talk out the answer, then you write it out. Putting in the legwork to build relationships with your resources will pay off at crunch time.

Step 5: Rinse & repeat

Any improvements need to be repeatable. For example, if you bring in a contract proposal manager for a response, then be prepared to do so every time. This is a process you will cycle through for every RFP. If it works as well as it should, then you may want to carry the process over to other responses, such as security questionnaires or due diligence questionnaires (DDQs).

 benchmark-blog-report

The 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management

Learn about the state of proposal management, and see what teams need to do to be successful in 2021

Read the report

8-step RFP response process

  • Qualify RFP: Insert a go/no-go evaluation at the beginning of the RFP response process. Sales will be the loudest voice, but proposal teams, SMEs, and executive sponsors will need to weigh in to evaluate risk, timing, and strategic fit.
  • Kick-off project: Provide clarity and accountability to the full response management team, including strategic objectives that everyone can work toward.
  • 1st response: Make an initial response pass based on reusable content. This step is much faster with RFP software.
  • 2nd response: Tap into resources for new questions, and assign segments that require customization to respective SMEs.
  • Review & revise: Conduct internal reviews to ensure a high-quality proposal. Link review requests to specific purposes (i.e., Are strategic objectives met? Are responses accurate and high quality? Did we fully answer the question?)
  • Submit: Deliver polished RFP with reviewed supporting materials. Follow up to confirm receipt. Keep internal stakeholders abreast of progress.
  • Save & audit: Save finalized responses in a centralized location and commit to regular content audits.
  • Post-mortem: Winning doesn’t always mean content was perfect. Losing doesn’t mean it was a bad response. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t.
    Bonus step: Get a good set of tools

RFP process and steps

Bonus step: Get a good set of tools

RFPs are becoming more complex. As technology has evolved, expectations have risen. With the capacity to answer more questions, issuers want to ask more questions.

In the past, RFPs were issued with the issuer not knowing if a solution even existed, let alone the company that could provide it. Now there’s a lot of research done online. Typically, there are multiple touchpoints with a prospective solution provider before an RFP is even issued.

In 2021, companies that use RFP-specific software responded to 43% more RFPs than those who use other solutions or techniques. They were also 25% more likely to agree that their processes are streamlined enough to make time to tailor their proposals to the issuers’ specific use-cases.

RFP software can contain and drive your response process. In RFPIO’s case, AI-enabled automation and collaboration begin at intake and carry all the way through to your postmortem.

For those increasingly popular but sometimes maddening online response portals, RFPIO® LookUp can help. The theory behind online portals is that they make RFPs easier. For the issuers, maybe. But not for responders. Even though you can have as many proposal team members respond as you want, there’s no visibility. If multiple responders are updating and changing answers then version and quality control are at risk. RFPIO® LookUp lets you work directly from your Content Library to fill out the online portal without having to leave your browser.

I hope this helps you formulate your next steps for improving your RFP response process. Eventually, you’ll be able to respond to more RFPs or improve the quality of your proposals, or both! You’ll also have a transparent, repeatable process that your proposal team and organization as a whole can rely on to push RFPs as a strategic revenue stream. Schedule a demo of RFPIO to see if it’s the process improvement driver you’ve been looking for.

RFP automation: What it is, how it works, and best practices

RFP automation: What it is, how it works, and best practices

If you’ve ever responded to a request for proposal (RFP), you know they tend to be about 80-85% boilerplate content. The remaining 15-20% is where you really have the freedom to adapt your proposal to a client’s specific needs.

This skewed structure means you might spend 80-85% of your time responding to repeat questions. Subject matter experts (SMEs) could spend up to 30% of time they didn’t have to spare responding to RFPs. Valuable time is spent on repetitive tasks. Information and departmental silos keep teams from reaching their fullest revenue-generating potential as a collaborative unit.

But with RFP automation, the story changes. Automating the RFP response process means less repetitive labor, more time for other high-priority tasks—and the chance to make each RFP you submit pack a bigger punch.

In this blog, we’ll cover:

What is RFP automation?

RFP automation is a cloud-based B2B sales technology that helps teams maximize resources and time being spent on RFPs. As a result of these time savings, team members are able to return to other high-priority tasks.

But let’s take a step back.

Billions of years ago (in the late 2000s), marketing automation caused an important shift in email marketing. Automation allowed marketers to achieve more as a team and make a bigger impact on revenue.

Over the past few years, the proposal management industry experienced the same transformative effect with RFP automation.

It’s a collective effort to respond to an RFP, with involvement from multiple departments—sales, marketing, legal, finance, product, compliance, IT—and the list goes on. Often (but not always) there is a dedicated proposal manager directing these projects to keep everyone moving toward the same target…a timely, quality RFP response.

In the olden days, an RFP would come in. The proposal manager would “shred” it and assign questions to an SME—the all too familiar questions the SME had answered many times before on other proposals.

The SME then would spend too much time looking through folders and documents to copy and paste previous responses. There would be little time to ensure quality control.

With RFP automation, an SME only has to answer a question once, and then it’s captured in a Content Library. The proposal manager can then reference the Content Library to populate the responses with relevant content. SME involvement consists only of oversight, making sure the content is accurate and optimized.

Automation helps teams maximize resources and time being spent on RFPs. Time savings allow team members to return to other high-priority tasks. Some of your most valuable and costly resources are involved in RFP responses. If you respond to 100 RFPs in a year, this really adds up. To calculate your RFP automation cost savings, check out our ROI calculator.

How do you automate an RFP response?

Automating an RFP response comes down to two main things: Artificial intelligence and content. AI-enabled RFP automation technology uses AI to match existing content with new incoming RFP questions. The more content you have, the more accurate the result.

When we set out to build a consolidated (and better) solution for RFP response management back in 2015, over and over we heard that responders wanted a platform that would help them improve collaboration and automate workflows.

A few RFP automation solutions existed, but they weren’t easy to use. And these solutions didn’t integrate with systems that teams were already using across an organization, including CRMs like Salesforce, communication tools like Slack, or cloud storage like Google Drive. With more than 8,000 solutions in the marketing technology landscape, the last thing an organization needs is a solution that doesn’t play nice with other technology its stack. 

marketing technology landscape

To make sure we built a solution for proper RFP automation, we focused on three aspects:

  • Artificial intelligence: (AI) is changing the way we all work, including how proposal management teams “shred” their RFPs. It’s easier to break up relevant sections, auto-identify response content, and assign questions to subject matter experts.
  • Integrations: Our integrations keep all team members working in their preferred tools. Salespeople don’t want to leave their CRM to respond to RFPs and they no longer have to. SMEs are unreachable by email, but they’ll engage through Slack.
  • Content management: The Content Library is the content management hub—not only for RFPs, but for all company information. Anyone has access to the latest and greatest content, which can be easily searched, selected, and inserted into a variety of business documents…even emails.

Benefits of RFP automation

Achieving more with RFP automation also means responding to more RFPs. Organizations that use RFP software respond to 43% more RFPs per year, on average. Because the time-savings realized from automation can be re-invested to maintain or improve response quality, imagine what this scenario, based on data from our research, would do to your revenue forecast:

  • Prior to RFP automation, let’s say you responded to an average of about 50 RFPs every year.
  • Each RFP win equals, on average, $1-3 million.
  • Add 43% more responses per year with RFP software.
  • At an industry average of 45% win rate, that equates to 22.5 more wins per year.

In this scenario, your revenue forecast from RFPs could increase upwards of $22.5 million to $67.5 million in a year!

Without automation, response management teams can only dream of increasing RFP responses, let alone revenue forecasts. They respond to RFPs in a reactive state, which, of course, is not the way to produce a quality deliverable for the prospect.

Saving time through efficient processes turns into extra hours to consider viable business opportunities—perhaps even breaking into new markets. RFP automation gives your team the space to establish a proactive process, where technology handles much of the heavy lifting. Team members are brought in to use their strengths to strengthen the content—and the chances of winning the deal.

RFP automation: Is it a good AI use case?

Someone has to say it. Doc Brown of Back to the Future fame wasn’t a scientist. He was a tinkerer who built Rube Goldberg machines. Everything from his dog Einstein’s automatic feeder to the Delorean’s lightning rod was an overly complex chain-reaction contraption. Until he invented the Flux Capacitor. That was the real science that made time travel possible.

How is Doc Brown’s evolution from tinkerer to scientist relevant to automation? In the case of responding to RFPs, you cannot simply automate all of the manual tasks that go into a response. If you do that, then you’ll end up with an RFP Rube Goldberg machine that may not be as reliable as the manual processes you’re trying to eliminate. But in situations where AI is appropriate? That’s the real science that makes automation possible.

As promising as AI is, it’s still just plain hard. Projects are costly, unwieldy, and difficult to complete. Only 53% of AI projects make it into production, and those that do are only profitable about 60% of the time.

RFP automation best practices

In the case of RFPIO’s Auto Respond functionality, AI-enabled automation:

Populates the “first pass” of responses of an entire project or section of a project References Content Library records in conjunction with a series of filters and the ranking of metadata Uses a recommendation algorithm to prioritize and rank the results Allows results previews so users can decide whether or not to use the answers

To do this, AI operations factor in, among other things:

  • Access to the Content Library content by user
  • Similar questions or alternate questions in the Content Library
  • Answer Type/Compatibility
  • Content-to-search match percentage
  • Star rating (content quality)
  • Used count (how often the content is used)
  • Last used date
  • Last updated date
  • Exact word/phrase match

When effectively executed, AI enables RFP automation because the solution has been built by qualified data scientists, extensively tested, based on accurate data models, and designed to scale. It’s also important to note that AI isn’t meant to be used to replace humans; it’s intended to enhance us.

The secret to RFP automation success: Organized content

Even artificial intelligence needs a brain. Don’t worry. This isn’t a Skynet scenario. For RFP automation, the brain is your content library. More specifically, in RFPIO this is known as the Content Library.

With a robust, well-maintained Content Library as a resource, your AI can grow in sophistication from machine learning. Users will be able to filter at higher levels, access the cleanest Q&A pairs, and move faster through the response process. Additionally, time saved from RFP automation can be re-invested into developing better content and curating existing content to improve its quality.

A long-term benefit of RFP automation is increased visibility into which content is most popular and where you have gaps. Data from these insights will be valuable in your content strategy moving forward.

So through RFP automation using a reliable Content Library you get to create better content and find time to continuously organize content, all while responding to more RFPs. That sounds like a profitable use case for AI.

Are you ready to see if RFP automation is right for you? Schedule a demo to find out.

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