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How to work with SMEs for a smooth sailing RFP process

How to work with SMEs for a smooth sailing RFP process

There are many ways to improve team collaboration in the workplace. Setting clear business objectives is a great place to […]

Category: Tag: RFP Response

How to work with SMEs for a smooth sailing RFP process

How to work with SMEs for a smooth sailing RFP process

There are many ways to improve team collaboration in the workplace. Setting clear business objectives is a great place to start with the why of your organization’s vision. Then, it’s time to move your team toward that goal with the how—using tools and technology that will help them succeed.

Healthy collaboration during the RFP response process is important for any organization working together with a unified vision. When an RFP is due in two days and it’s 100 pages long, it may feel like a feat of mythic proportions for you as the proposal manager.

“86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business.” – Salesforce

But if the experience is positive and seamless from the minute the RFP arrives, the team is already set up for success. If not, the opposite will happen.

You want to see your team work well together, and you definitely want the RFP response to go out the door on time. We drummed up a few strategies to keep in mind to help you optimize SME collaboration for smooth sailing.

SMEs have unique personalities

When interacting with technical experts and SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), it’s common for sales and marketing teams to forget they are working with people who have completely different personality types. There might seem like a disconnect with business priorities with these experts, because they are so engrossed in the very work they offer expertise in.

When your SME does find the time to contribute to the RFP, the response can be difficult to understand when it’s blanketed with technical details. These SMEs are passionate about what they do, but they don’t always realize the best way to frame the content to engage buyers.

rfp success

Source: Wrike

The language and tone will inevitably need to be tweaked to make your RFP response compelling. However, you will still need help from your SME during the review process to ensure the technical details are correct. You don’t want to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of a more enjoyable reading experience.

The answer to improved team collaboration resides in your answer library. How you organize your content and solidify the review process will help protect the time of everyone involved in RFP responses at your company. Spend time setting up a good answer library and keep your content fresh with regular content audits.

Overcoming different business priorities

Reluctance for SMEs to take on more work within a tight deadline is understandable given their busy schedules. When it’s time to respond to an RFP, they will deprioritize the task in favor of more important tasks on their plate.

“Just 42% of organizations report having high alignment of projects to organizational strategy.”      – Project Management Institute

Though responding to RFPs may seem like a lower priority to SMEs, the reality is that they help drive revenue for an organization. And so RFPs matter for everyone, regardless of their role, because winning an RFP equates to new business.

As the RFP lead, your job is to be clear about deadlines and expectations, and also to drive enthusiasm for the opportunity. Using RFP software can greatly reduce completion time and workflow constraints as it is a tool built to alleviate the complexities associated with a very complex process.

As always, the people behind the tool are what make it work. Teams need to be aligned—with the big picture business priorities front and center, and excellent technology that increases collaboration and efficiency.

Strategies to make the RFP effort easier

Now that you’re rethinking your collaborative mindset, it’s time to jump into some useful strategies that will help you get the RFP done effectively. Here are several simple ways to minimize the effort needed by the SME, so they can contribute their expertise willingly and on time:

  1. In your RFP solution, immediately assign tasks and deadlines to SMEs for the response. Give yourself wiggle room with the drop-dead RFP deadline, so you have plenty of time for revisions. If using a spreadsheet, highlight specific sections which need input and follow-up with a spirited communication cadence.
  2. Simple and concise instructions will make your SMEs life a heck of a lot easier, which will make them more likely to prioritize the task. Avoid overwhelming them with the entire RFP, by allowing them to focus on their assigned question only. This is easiest to organize in RFP software, but you can get creative with spreadsheets as well.
  3. Include guidelines to set expectations with the RFP response, including character limitations and branding preferences. This will save time during the review process in case your SMEs go overboard with techy content. In your RFP solution, you can export responses into a branded template to clean up the formatting so you can spend less time polishing the final deliverable…at midnight, on Friday.
  4. Avoid inbox clutter by replacing emails with communication tools, like Slack, and use groups to organize and track conversations. This will ensure your request doesn’t get missed or trashed, and it will minimize the back and forth. RFP software will have @-mentioning and even integrate with Slack to smooth out the process.

project alignment

Source: Wrike

Teamwork truly does make the dream work when it comes to the RFP response process. You need your SMEs to buy into the importance of RFPs, but you also need to fine-tune your approach to make things easier on them.

Take a good look at your existing RFP workflow with your SMEs and see how you can improve it. Organizations aligned around a common vision—with technology that supports collaboration—will ultimately save teams time and help them reach success together.

10 resources to level up your RFP response game

10 resources to level up your RFP response game

No matter your industry or role, we are a self-educated bunch in the business world. Thanks to the rise in digital content over the past decade, we can hunt down a multitude of resources in seconds, find answers to the most random questions, and research anything we want before we decide to buy.

But, for those of us in RFP response…well…things are different.

Unlike most spaces that are noisy and plentiful with phenomenal content, the RFP industry is still very new. And, finding useful tips about responding to RFPs is even harder, because a lot of what is out there is on the issuing side (i.e. How to Write the Best Proposal Ever in 5 Steps).

The irony is that RFP response is complex, and if anybody needs a helping hand, it’s RFP responders. The majority of companies are still wrestling with a manual process. Project managers are doing their best to gather input from SMEs and sales teams are spending precious hours answering repetitive questions when they should be focusing on selling.

All of this is a fine orchestration that can mean the difference between winning and losing business. No pressure, right?

Know that you’re not alone. There are, in fact, resources that can help your team overcome these challenges with RFP response. And, there are a couple of great RFP events coming up, where proposal managers can unite, network, and share tried-and-true tips from the RFP response trenches.

Without further ado, here are some of our picks for winning RFP resources and events to help you take your RFP response prowess to the next level.

rfp content

8 great RFP response blogs that are worth a read


What Does the Client Want to Know
By Civil+Structural Engineer
RFP Takeaway: Show that you understand the company’s challenges.


10 Ways A Positive Attitude Can Help Proposal Managers
By AOC Key Solutions
RFP Takeaway: Stay positive to keep your team motivated.


How to Write and Respond to RFPs: Some Best-Practices
By MarketingProfs
RFP Takeaway: Be clear, concise, and on time to beat your competition.


The 10 Things You Need to Know When Responding to RFPs
By Entrepreneur
RFP Takeaway: The better prepared you are, the easier RFPs will be.


The Cut-and-Paste Conundrum: Why Responding to RFPs on Autopilot is a Mug’s Game
By McKenzie Pitch
RFP Takeaway: You won’t win RFPs if you respond on autopilot.


Is It Worth Responding to RFPs?
By Quickbooks
RFP Takeaway: Pros and cons to help you decide if an RFP is worth the effort. (We think it is!)


6 Seemingly Harmless Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Proposals
By Hubspot
RFP Takeaway: Treat your RFPs like the strategic tools they’re meant to be.


RFPs & Proposals: Much More Than a Necessary Evil
By Sales Initiative
RFP Takeaway: Streamlining RFP processes is the key to success.

rfp events

2 Exciting RFP Events That Are Worth Your Time


The RFP and Client Servicing Boot Camp – West
San Francisco
By Financial Research Association

This event is all about best practices for winning and retaining clients, including tailoring RFP responses to stand out from the competition. An RFP Bootcamp – East will happen in Boston in June.


Bid & Proposal Con
New Orleans

This event is the world’s largest of its kind for proposal pros. Proven strategies and best practices will help you manage RFPs more efficiently so you can win new business. You’ll find the RFPIO team in New Orleans this year, so we hope to see you there!

3 steps to help you complete your RFP on time (every time)

3 steps to help you complete your RFP on time (every time)

Admit it, you’ve missed out on RFP deadlines once or twice in your life. Sometimes the RFP preparation itself is so overwhelming that we have no clue where to begin. Other times trying to gather answers from our team to complete the RFP becomes the hang-up.

No matter the size of your team or company, the RFP process is never easy. It requires hours of work, reading through countless documents, and coming up with an effective response strategy that will win attention and business.


inefficient sales processSource: Salesforce

But, what is the point of that valiant effort if it isn’t done on time? When you’ve spent hours and resources creating an RFP response, you want to do everything in your power to submit before the deadline—to have a chance at winning.

Here are 3 steps to take well before the RFP lands in your inbox, so you can meet your deadlines every time.

Step 1: Bridge the communication gap between RFP leads and SMEs

Because the RFP process is such a huge undertaking, usually a dedicated proposal manager or lead is the point person. SMEs also play a key role in defining RFP responses by offering their expertise.

Problems arise when the lead is not clear on what the requirement is, making the SME more likely to ignore the request. Open and transparent communication among stakeholders is key for keeping the RFP process on track.

sales process

Source: Salesforce

The RFP lead needs to be clear on expertise needs from SMEs by asking clear questions and keeping SMEs informed about open items. Scheduling frequent review cycles and assigning specific areas of the RFP will ensure a smooth and faster completion of the RFP response to help bridge the communication gap.

Step 2: Work smarter within SME time constraints

SMEs offer valuable input for RFP responses, however spending time on RFPs is a low-priority task on their full plate. An often overlooked solution is scheduling time with SMEs to work on the proposal collaboratively —a 10-minute face-to-face discussion is a lot more efficient than an email request that is pushed aside for days or weeks on end.

An SME’s assigned section of a sales proposal is often technical, and the jargon comes with that territory, making it difficult to write and to consume. Requesting a high level outline of the response is helpful in creating an efficient response, rather than depending on the SMEs for the whole write-up.

Whether it’s a proposal writer, marketing team member, or the RFP lead, having a savvy writer polishing SME responses is the better way to go for the sake of a deadline. Your team will be happier if you leave the writing to the writers!

sales admin tasks

Source: Salesforce

Step 3: Use visual data to encourage the pursuit of new opportunities

Most organizations have multiple projects happening simultaneously, with resources being utilized across tasks. Responding to RFPs almost always takes a backseat, because the team doesn’t understand the purpose of spending long hours on a proposal that has slim chances of winning.

It is the responsibility of the RFP lead to drive communication about deadlines, but also to promote enthusiasm for the opportunity. Responding to relevant proposals that your company has a greater chance of winning is critical to your win rate success, but also in building trust with your internal team.

Show them why you are pursuing this business, and how that can be reflected in potential revenue. An RFP management solution will help you track and measure these efforts, but without a tool, you can share the data from your CRM’s pipeline dashboard or create a quick chart in a spreadsheet with historical data and predictions. Hard data in a visual dashboard is an easy way to align a busy team to aim for the right objectives.

Responding to RFPs differs greatly from one organization to another, but aligning efforts is a non-negotiable to complete an RFP response on time. Stop and look around—see how you can take steps that will not only improve your process but also create employee advocates who understand why RFPs are golden opportunities worth pursuing.

Do you have any tips or tricks that work with your team? We’d like to hear what’s working at your organization to submit your RFPs on time!

How an RFP solution dramatically reduced completion time

How an RFP solution dramatically reduced completion time

Spending precious hours rifling through Word docs and spreadsheets is a common story for businesses. A typical response for Josh Itzoe of Greenspring required 20-40 hours of work—it was clear this wasn’t a good practice for maximizing the value of his time and skills.

Enduring the manual execution firsthand prompted Josh to find an RFP solution that would not only significantly decrease RFP completion time, but also deliver seamless accessibility for his team to make the approach more scalable and effective.

Josh’s team sought to improve their RFP process in 3 ways:

  1. Locate similar questions and answers he could easily replicate to save 20-40 hours for each response.
  2. Maximize the value of his time and skills to be able to spend more time on other business priorities.
  3. Delegate proposals to other team members to grant access to their knowledge base for a more sustainable process.

These 3 factors contributed to Josh’s newfound success with RFP response:

  1. Eliminating the information hunt became possible with a repository.
  2. Automating responses overcame delays to meet short deadlines.
  3. Reducing response time to less than 5 hours offered growth opportunities.

“In our business, we’ve found that the sales process for RFPs is very much a numbers game, but before RFPIO we were much more limited in the number of RFPs we could respond to. RFPIO enables us to have more ‘at-bats’ and I expect this will positively impact our revenue growth.”

– Josh Itzoe, Greenspring

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