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Understanding knowledge management

Understanding knowledge management

Aside from your employees, company knowledge is your organization’s most valuable asset. If yours is like most, the amount of […]


Category: Tag: RFX response

Understanding knowledge management

Understanding knowledge management

Aside from your employees, company knowledge is your organization’s most valuable asset. If yours is like most, the amount of knowledge accumulated over the years seems to grow exponentially until systems become bloated with duplicate and outdated information.

Traditionally, knowledge management was haphazard and siloed, with few auditing processes in place. AI-driven technology to the rescue! RFPIO’s Content Library is an AI-powered knowledge management database that helps democratize and organize information, benefiting anyone who needs it.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is about managing a company’s content repository policies, practices, and pretty much anything that is valuable enough for the company to keep. There are several ways to capture, share, and organize knowledge. Knowledge management is about organization, but it’s also about sharing, along with the process of recording and retaining. 

If you are unsure about the importance of a knowledge management system, read how one of the most technologically advanced organizations in the world dropped the knowledge management ball, with ramifications that still reverberate, half a century later

Did you know that the main reason NASA stopped sending crewed missions to the moon is poor knowledge management? If that sounds implausible to you, we don’t blame you. 

In the late 1960s-early 1970s, the United States invested billions of dollars and tapped into some of the brightest minds on the planet toward creating the Apollo missions. 11 iterations in, and several years later, U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The entire world was rapt.

After that, it seemed we might be on our way to regular, perhaps even civilian, trips to the moon. But suddenly, in 1972, the Apollo missions stopped, and we haven’t sent a crew to the moon in the 50 years since. Why? Well, in large part because they forgot to write things down.

Indeed, this is an oversimplification. Other factors, such as more advanced materials and technology, made replicating the Apollo crafts difficult. And Apollo blueprints aren’t exactly single-paged documents. However, even NASA admits that its knowledge management failure hurt future projects. 

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory CKO David Oberhettinger recalls, “No one thought to keep a copy of the drawing and design data for the gargantuan Saturn 5 rocket that brought us to the moon.”

Today, thankfully, NASA takes knowledge management very seriously. They have managed to recreate much of the technology, but the design for the Saturn 5 rocket is gone.

Your company might not be in business to send people to the moon, but as with NASA, moving forward sometimes means looking backward. Not only does company knowledge help you learn from your successes and failures, but it also helps forge a path toward the future. Can effective knowledge management help you avoid Apollo-sized failures?

Obstacles to a knowledge management system

People are often reluctant to share or may take for granted that the knowledge is already public, at least among stakeholders. Some people are more deliberate and have somewhat of an old-school mindset—that if they share too much knowledge, it will make them expendable.

How to encourage company buy-in

Minds don’t change overnight, and neither do work habits. The best approach is gradual. Don’t immediately change everything. Instead, record and organize what you’re doing for processes and how knowledge managers will be able to access information from multiple repositories across the company.

Pitch why it’s essential, such as simplifying the training process. Emphasize that intelligent knowledge management will save their time and keep them from having to pester subject matter experts (SMEs) by eliminating the need to ask for answers to questions the SMEs have already addressed.

What are the three types of knowledge management?

Knowledge management generally encompasses three main types of knowledge: tacit, implicit, and explicit. What are the differences?

Tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is as it sounds. It’s the knowledge that comes from years of experience but might not be easy to put into words. Still, the majority of company knowledge is in tacit form. 

Tacit knowledge might include negotiation skills, creative thinking, or knowing the company tone and voice in written correspondence. Because tacit information is by definition difficult to record, it’s best passed on through training, trial and error, and mentorship.

Additionally, tacit knowledge helps position people as industry thought leaders who can communicate with others in the industry on equal footing. 

Implicit knowledge

Have you ever tried to teach basic computer skills to someone who has never used a computer? It can be frustrating to both parties. Implicit knowledge is expertise that comes through training or practice to the point where you no longer have to think about what you’re doing. It can also refer to individual preferential processes. 

For example, how you start your workday—boot up the computer, check emails, check the calendar, etc.—might come from implicit knowledge if it’s a habit. Another example might be how you approach SMEs or make entries into the Content Library.

As with tacit knowledge, implicit knowledge is difficult to record, but it’s not impossible. Implicit knowledge is best passed along through training, which might include 1-to-1s or videos. It’s important to realize that not everyone is elbows deep in your day-to-day tasks, so thoroughness and patience are critical, as they are when you teach someone to use a computer.

Explicit knowledge

When most people think of knowledge management, they think of explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is written or otherwise documented, and easily stored in a knowledge database. 

Examples of explicit knowledge include profit and loss statements, your company’s mission statement, compliance documents, employee handbooks, etc. 

An effective management system should provide combined access to all types of knowledge across all organizational levels, especially since tacit and implicit knowledge can disappear after the knowledge holders leave the organization.

Both tacit and implicit knowledge become explicit when recorded. 

Why is effective knowledge management important?

According to a McKinsey survey, interaction workers spend about ⅕ of their time trying to locate internal information. The same study found that searchable knowledge bases can reduce that time spent by as much as 35%.

An IDC study found that around half of a data professional’s time is lost to improper knowledge management:

  • On average, employees who manage or use data spend 14 hours per week on data they can’t find, protect, or prepare.
  • They spend about 10 hours per week building information that already exists.
  • About 80% of businesses say that accessible, searchable, and accurate information is vital for operational efficiency, policy compliance, risk reduction, regulatory compliance, and increased revenue.

A well-developed, well-maintained knowledge management system has several tangible and not quite as tangible—but still key—benefits, including:

  • Improved efficiency – A well-managed knowledge management system eliminates redundancies, saves time searching for information, and generally empowers employees to do their jobs.
  • Retention of organizational expertise – People within companies have decades of information and historical data in their heads. Retaining the expertise helps prevent repeating mistakes of the past and contextualizes current actions and processes. 
  • Facilitates collaboration – A democratized knowledge management system helps tear down silos by letting people from anywhere in an organization access needed documents or other information for maximum collaboration. 
  • Enables data-driven decisions – A well-maintained knowledge database tracks changes within an organization. It even provides knowledge managers with the tools to see how much a particular part of the repository is used, how much things are utilized and not utilized, where there are knowledge gaps, etc.
  • Reduces the risk of a data breach – A single source of truth should have consistent security processes, such as two-factor authentication. Administrators should also control access. Browser-based access, as is available with RFPIO, lets employees access the knowledge base from anywhere without logging onto the company server.
  • Increases revenue – Accessible company knowledge empowers revenue teams to provide the information customers need and close more deals faster.

See how Crownpeak saw a 6x ROI within months of implementing RFPIO

What should be included in knowledge management systems?

Of course, every company defines critical knowledge differently, but there are some things that every organization should house in a secure, well-maintained company knowledge base. Some information might be closely-guarded, and some might be publicly available. Here are some examples:

  • Company information – Company history, mission, values, public product information vs. what’s on the roadmap for the future. Policies such as diversity, equity, inclusion, etc.
  • Sales enablement material – Product info, processes, sales cycles, relevant data, quotas, busy/slower seasons, customer service information, etc.
  • Internal FAQs – General HR questions, benefits, PTO, policies, product information, customer-facing information, mission values, etc.
  • Customer-facing FAQs – Values, mission, history, products and bundles, diversity, equity, inclusion, philanthropy, case studies, notable customers, etc.
  • Calendars – Major events of importance, quarterly all-hands, meetings from the CEO, events throughout the year, quarterly deadlines, sales cycle, etc. 
  • Marketing documents – Branded and ready-to-go content, brochures, case studies, logos, etc.
  • Product information – Historical and up-to-date versions of the product(s); some include product roadmaps, lists of subject matter experts, product onboarding and training materials, etc. 
  • Security information – Security policies and practices, depth of protection, due diligence questionnaires (DDQs), compliance information, etc.

Types of knowledge management systems

There are two main types of knowledge management systems, corporate wikis and internal knowledge bases. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Corporate wiki

A corporate wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. A wiki is truly democratized; anyone in the company can add to it or edit it. Corporate wikis shouldn’t house confidential information. 

Benefits of a corporate wiki

  • Enables increased employee engagement
  • Open source
  • Searchable

Downsides to a corporate wiki

  • Unreliable contributors and information
  • Difficult to audit
  • No defined page roles

Internal knowledge base software

Internal knowledge base software provides a controlled repository for information. It has defined access and page roles, and the content is generally reviewed for quality, accuracy, and timeliness.

Benefits to an internal knowledge base

An effective organizational knowledge management system should feature centralized accessibility, reusability, and efficiency. Intelligent knowledge management systems also include AI-powered automated response generation, real-time access, and auditing features. 

Knowledge management ensures that content is accessible and shareable within an organization and that there’s a clearly defined process for discovering and capturing knowledge. There are formal and informal ways of managing knowledge. Knowledge managers should look at what is being shared and what they need to capture.

How to develop a knowledge management strategy

Tools do not in themselves motivate people to share knowledge; however, a knowledge management strategy can support a cultural shift around sharing knowledge. Here are some steps for implementing a knowledge management strategy:

Identify organizational objectives

A knowledge management strategy should contribute to overall organizational goals, including organization objectives, culture, infrastructure, processes, etc. 

You can also break down your knowledge management practices, such as discovery, capture, organization sharing, etc.

Audit your current knowledge processes

Evaluating your current knowledge management system is necessary for benchmarking knowledge management capabilities. 

Questions you might ask to gain key insights into processes include: 

  • How effectively is knowledge currently accessed?
  • Where is knowledge presently stored?
  • Where do informational silos exist?
  • What gaps would exist if subject matter experts left and took their expertise with them?
  • What are common search terms?

Some information, such as company history, may be static, while other company knowledge needs regular updating. Setting regular—preferably automated—review cycles for existing data is essential. 

Capture and organize knowledge

As the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine. The same is true for knowledge management. Organizing knowledge as it goes into the database provides better searchability and optimized audit cycles. The best tactics for systematically codifying knowledge include:

  • Adding tags
  • Using templates for consistent formatting
  • Setting up custom fields and collections
  • Using filters for moderation
  • Restricting sensitive content visibility

Implement an accessible knowledge base

People often resist change, even if that change dramatically improves their work processes. The same is true with a knowledge management system. Rather than shock the company ecosystem, take it slowly. Tactics for rolling out a knowledge management system include: 

  • Establishing clear and transparent buy-in from departments – Include department heads in onboarding processes
  • Introducing the system to one department at a time for gradual expansion
  • Prioritizing departments in greatest need – For many companies, those in most need include revenue teams
  • Scheduling training for all users

Conduct regular audits

Advanced knowledge management systems are robust and intuitive, but when there are 1,000s of somewhat different answers to a single question, you might find yourself combing through them all. 

But a knowledge base is supposed to save you time, right? It will, but like a garden, it needs regular pruning—we suggest monthly. Here are some of the content auditing best practices:

  • Conduct a duplicate report and delete or warehouse duplicate content.
  • RFPIO’s Content Library allows auditors to pull insights reports to see how often content is used. Archive any content that hasn’t been used in the last year.
  • Archive content that hasn’t been used at all.

Measure improvement

There are many intangible benefits to knowledge base software, such as better collaboration, fewer mistakes, higher quality proposal responses, less frustration on the part of SMEs, better engagement, etc. But executives generally want to see more. They want numbers. 

Scheduling regular Content Library health reports can assist in demonstrating ROI to stakeholders.

Fortunately, RFPIO’s internal knowledge base software capabilities allow for easy, quantifiable measurements of post-implementation success through a wide range of reporting features, including:

  • Content Library Insights Report – Track trends, win/loss analysis, etc. Content Library reporting is almost limitless.
  • Content Library Timeline – Are you meeting customers’ timelines or your deliverables?
  • Content Library Search Terms Report – What are frequently used search terms?
  • Projects – Which projects are currently being worked on and which are on hold?
  • User activity – Which employees benefit from which content, and what content do they use?

RFPIO’s reporting features are fully customizable if the pre-built reporting features don’t cover all of your company’s needs. 

Breaking down silos: How RFPIO can help

Farm country, as you’ve probably witnessed, is dotted with grain silos. Silos are effective at storing grain because they’re insular—there’s little chance of contamination or leakage. That’s great for grain but not so much for companies.

Unfortunately, many companies, intentionally or not, work in solos. Departments are isolated, and any knowledge they create stays with them. RFPIO addresses the barriers that keep people from effectively sharing knowledge, including:

  • Not enough time – You have too much going on to provide information to people who you don’t even know. With RFPIO’s Content Library, they can find it themselves.
  • Cumbersome processes – RFPIO’s Content Library lets you customize and streamline your operations.
  • Outdated relevancy – The Content Library helps you conduct periodic audits to keep content fresh and accurate.
  • Lack of trustworthy source – User permissions help ensure content reliability.
  • Inaccessibility – The RFPIO Content Library is open to any stakeholder in the company. RFPIO® LookUp provides access from any browser.
  • Lack of collaboration – Desiloing helps encourage collaboration.

Dynamic Content Library

Your company might send people to the moon, but your accumulated company knowledge is vital for your future. Knowledge hygiene, or ensuring your knowledge base is accurate, de-duplicated, and current, helps ensure that employees aren’t running around like proverbial headless chickens as they try to locate the tools to do their jobs. 

Easy Collaboration

Most company knowledge is hard to define as company knowledge since it exists inside people’s heads. RFPIO’s collaborative software facilitates sharing implicit and tacit information with tools to tap into experts’ minds. 

  • In-app mentions – Tag collaborative partners with a simple @mention, right inside the RFPIO app. 
  • Messaging app integrations – RFPIO seamlessly integrates with all the most popular messaging apps, such as Google Hangouts, Jira, Microsoft Teams, and Slack.
  • Task assignment capabilities – Assign tasks and track project status in real-time with advanced project management tools.
  • Eliminates the differences between formats – Whether your information is on a spreadsheet, a document, or a PDF file, RFPIO supports full searching and collaborative capabilities.

Integrations

We get that tech stacks sometimes grow out of control, and users having to check multiple apps throughout the day is a hassle. RFPIO seamlessly integrates with more than two dozen of the applications you already use. 

Discover how sales teams can benefit from a streamlined and effective modern tech stack

Additionally, RFPIO® LookUp allows for quick access to the most up-to-date information from any web-based software, such as Salesforce, Slack, Google Docs, etc. If you have a web browser, you can access RFPIO’s Content Library.

Manage smarter knowledge with internal knowledge base software

If your knowledge management system contains out-of-date or inaccurate information, is siloed inside departments or inaccessible applications, or if you don’t have a knowledge management system at all, schedule a free demo.

 

Knowledge management best practices

Knowledge management best practices

When a business is in its founding phase, it’s undeniably chaotic, but it’s also when company communication is at its peak. Everyone is on a first-name basis and working toward the same goal.

If Mark in sales needs financial information about the company for a potential customer, it’s easy to run down the hall to ask Bethany, the CFO. If Bethany wants next quarter’s marketing forecasts, Harper, the CMO, is just steps away.

Soon, though, the business grows, which of course, is the goal. Then the company hires an HR team, and the staff begins to expand. And then, perhaps without noticing, something happens—silos develop. 

Harper and Bethany might still know each other, but their employees may not. Sales, for example, becomes wholly removed from the people responsible for building the company’s products. They may even be siloed off from others involved in the sales cycle. 

The most significant loss in a siloed organization isn’t about names or distance to colleagues’ workstations; the most significant loss is democratized access to company knowledge. 

This blog will discuss best practices for transforming scattered company knowledge into a single source of truth, a.k.a., an intelligent Content Library. 

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management refers to how companies collect, organize, analyze, share, and maintain valuable company documents and data. The objective is to democratize knowledge and empower employees to accomplish more in less time. 

Knowledge management is also about ensuring that everyone in the organization is on the same page—a single source of truth. Effective knowledge management prevents miscommunication, incorrect information, and knowledge gaps. It also spurs productivity and helps connect, if not tear down, silos. 

Knowledge management systems

A knowledge management system is about managing a centralized repository of all of an organization’s information. It may include shareholder or annual reports, marketing collateral, sales enablement material, legal documents, contracts, company data, software documentation, operating procedures, etc. 

Knowledge, of course, is fluid—so is an effective knowledge management system. The software should prompt gatekeepers to run regular audits for inaccurate, non-regulatory compliant, or out-of-date files. It should also remind them when a record might need to be virtually shredded. 

Aside from its employees, internal knowledge is a company’s most important asset. Accurate and up-to-date knowledge management systems help executives, response management teams, sales, marketing, accounting, human resources, etc., do their jobs. Does that mean all employees should have access to the entire knowledge base all the time? Definitely not, but we’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

The importance of managing internal knowledge

We are in the midst of the Information Age. Nearly anything we’d want to know is a simple Google search away. But can we say the same about workplaces? As much as that might be the goal, for most organizations, the unfortunate truth is no. 

  • 75% of organizations qualify creating and preserving knowledge as important or very important.
  • Only 9% of those organizations say they are ready to address knowledge management.
  • About ⅓ of organizations haven’t leveraged any form of artificial intelligence (AI) for knowledge management.
  • Only 8% say they’re leveraging AI to a great extent.
  • More than half of companies’ data goes unused.
  • An employee survey showed that over 90% of respondents think it should be as easy to find company knowledge as it is to find information on Google.
  • Most think it’s easier for consumers to find information.

Advantages of developing a knowledge management system include:

  • Informed decision making – All the data and documentation is at decision makers’ fingertips.
  • Better strategies – Knowledge management systems provide click-of-a-button access to sales and market trends.
  • Increased revenue – Arm sales and response teams with the knowledge they need to win more business. 
  • Increased efficiency and productivity – No more searching for information.
  • Improved proposal quality – Content at your fingertips provides more time to write and edit a compelling, bid-winning story. 
  • Increased response accuracy – Reusing existing company-approved content is far less error-prone than rushing to compile information and provides more time to check work.
  • Trend analysis – Generate reports from anywhere.
  • Staying ahead of competition – Compile competitive and market research.
  • Expert knowledge retention – No one likes to answer the same questions twice (or more). 

What is content creation and reuse?

Content creation is about generating content that appeals to a company’s persona buyer. Content can come in written, visual, or audio form. 81% of organizations see content as a core business strategy.

A content management system allows users to create, collaborate, publish, edit, store, and catalog digital content right on the platform. Advanced content management systems help take work off of users’ hands, leveraging AI to read, catalog, and store uploaded documents. 

Then, instead of reinventing the wheel each time stakeholders need information, they can reuse and edit content as required. 

Best practices for knowledge management

Knowledge management aims to create an effective single source of truth, with accurate and up-to-date information. Whether a stakeholder works in sales, response management, legal, finance, or HR, the information should be easily searchable, consistent, and repeatable. 

But consistency and repeatability on their own aren’t enough. A knowledge management system needs to not only have the scalability to grow and change with the organization but also to help the organization grow and change. 

Determine the best type of management solution for your company

There are two main knowledge management solutions: company wikis and internal knowledge bases. Let’s delve a little deeper into which solution might work best for your organization.

Corporate Wikis

Did you know that the word “wiki” means “very quick” in Hawaiian? It sort of seems like an oxymoron for island life, right?

A corporate wiki is basically the same concept as Wikipedia. A wiki allows any employee to add, delete, or edit content. And surprisingly, most wikis are pretty quick.

Corporate wikis:

  • Are knowledge repositories – Employees add knowledge to the database as it becomes available.
  • Are searchable – As with Wikipedia, corporate wikis are easily searchable.
  • Save time – If the information is in the wiki, there’s no need to track down subject matter experts. 
  • Improve employee engagement – Since wikis are open to all employees, even relatively bottom-of-the-ladder employees can participate in information gathering, sharing, and utilization.
  • Support links – A single document or piece of content might have one or more parent or child records. Wikis let users link to related documents and content.
  • Some, but not all, wikis are open source.

Still, corporate wikis are not without their downsides, including: 

  • Unreliable contributors – Sometimes, knowledge can be too democratized, and contributors might not have the entire picture.
  • Inaccurate information – Wikis don’t generally have quality control measures in place.
  • Difficult to audit – Knowledge can have a short shelf life. Wikis aren’t famous for processes to weed out and update old content. Also, anyone can edit.
  • No way to define page roles – Wikis are open to all employees; there is no way to limit viewing or editing rights.

Internal knowledge bases

On the other hand, an internal knowledge base has more in common with a library, only without space limitations. Ideally, a knowledge base should house all company knowledge, and after an employee enters their login credentials, a library card of sorts, the virtual librarian directs the user to the content they need.

But there’s more to an internal knowledge base than gatekeeping and pointing users in the right direction. A true internal knowledge base should have several key features, including:

  • Built-in smart search feature – Leverage AI assistance for fast and accurate searching.
  • Custom fields – No two companies are alike; they should be able to create fields that match their company needs.
  • Multi-format capability – An AI-powered internal knowledge base should support both written content such as question and answer pairs, and uploaded documents.
  • An intuitive and easy-to-navigate user interface – What good is an internal knowledge base if it’s difficult to use?
  • Tagging – You would never just throw files in a file cabinet. Think of your knowledge library as a sophisticated file cabinet. All content should be tagged and, if applicable, attached to parent and/or child folders.
  • User restrictions – Content creation and editing are reserved for verified specialists.
  • Simplified auditing – Function within the parameters of a content strategy with regular audits.
  • Scalability – A knowledge management system needs to grow as your company grows. 

Implement change in gradual steps

Too much change all at once is a shock to the system. Prioritize departments in need and introduce the system to one department at a time. Gradually expand as you dial in training, word of mouth circulates about how great the system is, and you have success stories to share with new departments and executive sponsors.

Showcase improvement metrics

Internal knowledge base software capabilities allow easy, quantifiable measurements of post-implementation success. The functional value of knowledge management will rapidly become apparent to end users in how they can execute their responsibilities. 

See how Genpact increased efficiency by up to 35% with their RFPIO-powered knowledge base.

They’ll be able to build better proposals faster, respond to prospects and customers with greater accuracy in near real-time, and gain contextual insight into all the content relevant to their role.

The strategic value of knowledge management is that you’re able to show the system’s value to your leadership team so that they can trust your reporting accuracy. Numbers don’t lie, but you need measurement capabilities to get the numbers. Plus, it makes it easier to measure ROI. You have to communicate the value of your single source of truth.

Internal knowledge base software easily allows you to measure success post-implementation. I’ll call out three of my favorite RFPIO reports that help illustrate its strategic value:

  • Content Library Insights Report – This dashboard connects you to insights on your Content Library, including content moderation and usage, content owners, and content moderators.
  • Content Library Timeline – More of a tool than a report, this allows you to proactively set SME schedules, so content auditing responsibilities are parsed out manageably instead of piling on hundreds of questions at the end of the year. From a reporting standpoint, it shows leadership how SMEs use their time.
  • Content Library Search Terms Report – Which terms are end users searching but receiving zero results for? This report delivers instant insight into which content you need to develop to meet user—and ultimately prospect and customer—needs.

Ensure that your team can access the knowledge they need for shared success

If knowledge is not accessible and usable at scale, then it’s probably not worth managing. Sales teams need content to answer tough prospect questions in near real-time and build personalized presentations. Proposal teams need on-demand knowledge to answer questionnaires and create engaging proposals. Support teams need access to knowledge from wherever they’re working without toggling between applications to improve the customer experience.

This can only happen with open access to the knowledge management system. That’s why RFPIO provides unlimited user licenses, so everyone who can benefit from knowledge can also access knowledge. Technical, product development, sales, marketing, legal, security…all of this content has value and will strengthen your knowledge management. The right system will help you restrict access to sensitive content that may include private, confidential, or proprietary information.

Managing organizational knowledge with RFPIO® LookUp

Remote work and distributed workforces are the new norms, so why should employees have to go to the office to access the knowledge database? 

RFPIO’s internal knowledge base software enables better organizational knowledge management. RFPIO® LookUp provides team-wide access to RFPIO’s Content Library from anywhere and from preferred productivity tools, such as:

  • Google Chrome
  • Chromium Edge
  • Google Hangouts
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Slack

Whether from a salesperson in the field or a response manager who works from home, enhanced accessibility helps facilitate content reuse, enable real-time access to corporate expertise, improve response time, and scale the ability to respond to RFPs from wherever they have access to a computer. 

See RFPIO® LookUp in action

I often say that RFPIO’s robust, scalable Content Library is like Clark Kent—bookish, a little nerdy, but incredibly smart and has the strength of a superhero. RFPIO® LookUp removes the metaphorical glasses and lets the Content Library fly to any destination at the speed of, well, the internet.

If you’re interested in learning how RFPIO’s Content Library, teamed with RFPIO® LookUp to let your company knowledge fly, read more about it. You can also schedule a free demo.

 

Reducing RFx response time for a health insurance company from days to hours

Reducing RFx response time for a health insurance company from days to hours

Improving RFx response outcomes through automation, advanced content management, and winning trust from all users.

Health insurance is one of the most established industries in the U.S. With an ever-changing regulatory environment and evolving healthcare challenges, agile and prompt response processes are critical to insurance companies’ business models.

Despite being well-versed in building complex business relationships, one large regional nonprofit health insurance provider struggled with slow, siloed response management processes.

For years, they had been using requests for proposals (RFPs) as an essential business development strategy. For commercial and government bids, they used old RFP software that was universally despised and not at all user-friendly. Additionally, content could not be shared, and there was no transparency.

The proposal manager for the company recalled one instance where a subject matter expert (SME) was reviewing an answer and asked, “Who said this?” After too much time spent digging through past email chains to track down the source, the manager discovered that the source of the original answer was the very same SME.

Overall, the old RFP response system simply wasn’t working. Even though they were implementing best practices, it wasn’t getting at the root cause of what was happening and wasn’t addressing the pain points that RFP coordinators were seeing. The manager said, “When we took a holistic look at our entire process, we knew we needed to do something different. We had to change how we looked at RFPs from the culture side. And we had to change the technical side—the process.”

Sales departments complained about the system’s inefficiency. Everyone involved in the RFP process worked in a silo and had no idea what was happening elsewhere in the organization. The only way for sales to stay up to date on an RFP was to ask the proposal team to send over the most recent version.

SMEs—also working in silos—would send information to the proposal team, where it would vanish into a black hole. Because they couldn’t access in real-time any progress made on RFPs, they couldn’t know how the RFP response ended, whether it was successful, or whether the right content and messaging were being used.

There was no feedback in any direction. Email chains were too big and unmanageable—and usually got lost among the hundreds of emails everyone received every day. Requests to provide the same information over and over again were commonplace.

Solution: Automate to improve the user experience organization-wide

At the end of 2018, the manager realized it was time to take the company’s RFP response process to the next level and their current RFP software wasn’t going to solve their problems.

Initially, her primary goals were to automate the RFP response process and enable a more user-friendly experience for the proposal team, sales, and SMEs. After learning more about RFPIO’s functionality, she discovered many other ways the platform could improve systems within her organization.

Of RFPIO’s many applications at this health insurance company, perhaps the most shocking is that first drafts of requests for information (RFIs) that once took as many as five days to complete now take just a few hours. That was just one of the many unexpected benefits.

By bringing in RFPIO, the health insurance company improved their RFP response process with:

  • Content Management: They removed the proposal team as the “middleman” for content creation, review, and management. RFPIO enables SMEs to own their respective content; they now use the correct content version every time.
  • Intuitive Workflow: RFPIO is designed to be a response platform. Features such as the Content Library are flexible and adaptable. In this case, the Content Library adapted to how the health insurance industry thinks. For example, sometimes, a question requires a different response depending on who’s asking and in what context. RFPIO leverages AI to make response management intuitive and seamless.
  • Import/Export: Now, they can easily upload questionnaires into RFPIO and then download responses in their own branded templates.
  • Collaboration Tools: All communication for each RFP is captured and acted upon within RFPIO. Even if an SME or salesperson responds via email, RFPIO logs the response. There are no more long email chains, no more lost version control, and no more inefficient reviews. An added benefit is that SMEs can learn from each other. As they review other comments from all departments involved with the RFP, they can gain new perspectives on their own responses.
  • Sophisticated Tracking & Reporting: RFPIO tracks and monitors all content and communication related to each project and allows any user to check the project status. The platform automatically creates a log of all discussions, comments, and content.
  • Salesforce Integration: RFPIO Salesforce integration enables the organization to launch RFPIO projects, track progress in real-time and at every level, and submit bids directly from Salesforce.

RFPs were just the beginning: RFP software also helps with RFI response and content management

“When we realized we could finish the first draft of an RFI in hours rather than days, it was like the clouds parted and the angels sang.”

The company rolled out RFPIO in September 2019, intending the entire focus of the platform to be on RFPs. However, January 2020 marked the beginning of their RFI season. After the first few started trickling in, they decided to try putting the RFIs into RFPIO.

“We realized that RFPIO is brilliant for automating RFI response,” said the company’s proposal manager.

RFIs involve hundreds of questions and must be completed at least annually, sometimes multiple times a year. Rarely are there any changes from one RFI to the next. Most new RFI data are updates, built on the idea of review and update.

When an 817-question RFI arrived one day at 11:30 a.m. and was in the SME’s hands for review by the end of that same day, the manager was ecstatic. “When we realized we could finish the first draft of an RFI in hours rather than days, it was like the clouds parted and the angels sang.”

Another RFPIO use case included managing content related to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. From the beginning of the pandemic, there was confusion, constantly changing content, and breakthroughs about testing, treatment, and vaccinations. Brokers and employer groups needed regular updates on how to handle all of this new information.

To help ensure the health insurance company maintained consistency in messaging both internally and externally, they developed a COVID-specific content collection in RFPIO. The collection enabled the company to track whether something had been reviewed, was ready to publish, or had already been published.

It also helped them keep up with constant updates to content that SMEs owned and could share company-wide, avoiding any missteps such as publishing May 2020 messaging, despite a June 2020 update. The collection allows the company to update in real-time as talking points change.

“I tell people when I’m training them that you can’t break RFPIO, and it tracks everything,” the proposal manager said. “That gave people the comfort and freedom to get creative with the platform.”

The health insurance company continues to expand its RFPIO collections. Recently, they built one for their provider team to track their responses for health systems. Another separate line of business has its own unique collection because it’s not quoted very often. The RFPIO collection provides access to content and assigns owners for updates and tracking.

Content transparency starts with unlimited user access

With their old system, the company had to purchase hundreds of licenses to give salespeople and SMEs access to the platform.“To pay that just to give people access, it wasn’t a good way of going about it,” they said.

With RFPIO, everyone can have access without needing to purchase individual licenses. And everyone does have access—beyond the proposal team. Underwriters, sales, SMEs, and security all use RFPIO. The more it’s used, the more other departments want to take advantage of its capabilities.

“For us, it’s really gone beyond just responding to RFPs. It’s using it to collaborate and track and respond to the market,” the manager said. “The more we use it, the more I hear, ‘Hey, it would be great if we could use RFPIO for this.’”

Are you ready to respond to RFPs faster and gain control of your content? Get started by scheduling a demo today.

Due to privacy and confidentiality restrictions, RFPIO is not disclosing the company name or the names of interviewed case study participants.

 

 

 

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Closing a sales deal is a big win. And that’s especially true for businesses selling complex products to other businesses. It takes a lot of work to reach the point where a team of buyers is ready to invest in your product. As you navigate the sales journey, you may find yourself wondering what is sales vs. presales?

But beyond the point where a prospect says “yes,” a sale could still go wrong. If a new client has trouble making your product work with the technology and systems they already use, then the hard work your salespeople put into landing that deal could be wasted. To avoid that, many companies now have multiple teams involved in the sales process: the traditional sales team we’re all familiar with and presales professionals who play a crucial role.

But for anyone new to the concept of presales, or still trying to figure out where a presales team would fit in, you may wonder what the difference between sales vs. presales actually is.

Sales vs. presales: The short answer

The main difference between sales and presales is that sales is responsible for developing customer relationships. In contrast, presales is involved in helping with the technological side of the sales process. Sales is concerned with the customer fit—ensuring a lead falls within your target audience and is likely to buy. Presales is concerned with the solution fit—ensuring your product is a good solution for the customer’s pain points. 

While the two roles are distinct, they’re both important. 

What is presales?

The B2B sales process is long, complicated, and often too much for a salesperson to handle alone. A presales team takes on a number of steps to allow the sales team more time to focus on building the relationship with prospective customers. 

In particular, presales engineers handle parts of the sales process that involve advanced technical knowledge. It’s their job to understand the product well enough to grasp precisely where it will fit into a customer’s tech stack and answer any technical features and implementation questions. Your typical sales representative doesn’t necessarily have the specialized training for that. Presales enables them to do their jobs more effectively and ensures they don’t inadvertently mislead customers about technological features they may not understand. 

Common presales responsibilities

Each company can work out how to break down responsibilities between sales and presales. There’s no one right answer here. But to give you an idea of the kind of work presales professionals typically take on, some common responsibilities include:

  • Sending discovery emails
  • Setting up and/or joining discovery calls
  • Hosting demos
  • Providing proof of concept
  • Drafting sales proposals
  • Working on RFPs (requests for proposals)
  • Completing security questionnaires
  • Helping with instance configuration and setup
  • Building documents for sales and other teams that support a seamless transition

Presales may work alongside a sales representative on some of these tasks, and take on others independently. You’ll want to create a clearly defined presales process that outlines their responsibilities and priorities.

What is sales?

Sales is responsible for gaining a lead’s trust and convincing them that they’re in good hands if they choose your product. They’re in charge of the process’s more persuasive and personality-driven parts. The work presales does leaves the sales team with more time to focus on their primary job: building relationships with prospects and convincing them to buy.

Common sales responsibilities

In some companies, sales representatives may be involved or in charge of some of the tasks listed above. But generally, their most important responsibilities are:

  • Performing prospecting work to identify clients who are a good fit for your product based on factors like budget, size, and need
  • Deploying negotiation tactics to prime prospects for a sale
  • Closing deals
  • Providing ongoing support to customers to keep them happy after purchase (and drive retention)

That list may look short at a glance, but each responsibility is a big one that takes a lot of time and work. By taking on a portion of the sales process, presales ensures sales representatives have the time they need to successfully tackle each step. 

Defining the rules of engagement for presales and sales

Collaboration between sales and presales is key to both teams accomplishing their goals. But you must ensure both teams understand when and how to work together. For that, define clear rules of engagement to avoid any confusion around who’s responsible for what. 

Think through every step in the sales process. Then create clear guidelines for who should be involved in each step, along with instructions on when and how to bring others into the process to fulfill their roles. You can break this down based on the stage in the sales process, the type of customer involved, and/or specific types of sales tasks. Make it clear to sales when they should be reaching out to presales to help with something and vice versa. 

Clarity here ensures people are in charge of the tasks they’re best suited for. And it helps you avoid conflict that can arise when there’s confusion around who’s responsible for what. Both teams depend on each other for success, so you want a system that makes cooperation seamless.

Technology enables sales and presales collaboration

A strong, well-defined process is the best way to ensure sales and presales work together effectively. But the right technology can make collaboration easier. RFPIO provides RFP software that helps sales and presales teams work better together. The content library lets you track common questions you receive from prospects, then easily save and access the best answer to each one. The internal communication features enable natural handoffs between team members and helps you keep customers from falling through the cracks. And RFP automation features cut down on hours of work spent on proposals and answering questions.  

Are you ready to build a better process for aligning sales and presales on content and engagement? Schedule a demo to see how RFPIO can help.

 

Get started on your RFP solution journey with this ROI calculator

Get started on your RFP solution journey with this ROI calculator

Even with the growing amount of technology options, the majority of companies are still using manual processes to respond to RFPs. The time-consuming process of hunting through documents and spreadsheets for past responses when a deadline is looming can be a lot of pressure for any team.

Improve your win ratio with RFP automation

With fluctuating costs and increasing regulations, RFPs are longer and more complex. Answering them requires someone to lead the way and to collaborate with multiple subject matter experts (SMEs) to capture the responses. Most of us know that a well-executed response has a higher chance of winning than a hasty proposal that is rushed out the door.

Poorly executed RFP responses result in low close rates—typically less than 5%—an investment that is off-balance when you calculate the required time and resources. And though the right RFP response at the right time has the power to win new business, when team members are aware of the low probability of a win, they often push RFPs aside in favor of other more realistic priorities.

It’s an understandable dilemma, but one that is possible to overcome. One of the best ways to increase efficiency of the process and improve your win ratio is to invest in RFP automation.

Make a case for a new addition to your sales stack

As technology stacks grow, proving the case for adding another tool is a necessary step. A good place to start gathering the numbers is to calculate the return on investment, and see how much the manual process is costing your team.

Crownpeak, a digital experience management platform, spent a lot of time spinning their wheels with long and complicated RFPs–and two-thirds of their enterprise deals started with an RFP. Crownpeak didn’t have a single repository for their information, so their response specialists had to search scattered sources, including their executives’ heads, to find the intelligence they needed.

RFPs, especially in tech, are getting longer all the time, thanks to increasing regulation and complex compliance requests. In short, RFPs were taking too long to fill out and they were losing deals because of it.

That’s when Paul Taylor, Crownpeak’s VP of Solutions Engineering, knew it was time to automate their processes, but first he needed to justify the cost. Using our ROI calculator, Taylor calculated impressive returns, but was blown away by the actual results. Today they are enjoying a spectacular 6x ROI!

We know time is at a premium for most people in business these days—and pulling together the data to back up your story can be stressful to think about—so we created a handy ROI calculator to help get you started!

CALCULATE YOUR ROI

Ready to start increasing your ROI?

Schedule a Demo

 

How to build a presales process

How to build a presales process

In most companies, no one questions the importance of the sales team. The entire company depends on new sales to keep running, so the people closing the deals are (rightly) valued. But what about the people that help the sales team get prospects to that point? 

The role may not be as flashy, but many of those deals would never get off the ground without the work of a presales professional. And a good sales and presales team doesn’t just need the right skills and knowledge to work effectively; they also need a presales process that sets them up for success. 

What is presales?

In the B2B (business-to-business) world, the sales process is slow and involves complexity. Reaching the point of purchase requires a lot of steps, and some of them involve work that the sales team lacks either the time or the knowledge to manage on their own. That’s where presales comes in.

Presales professionals take on some of the most important steps of finding and nurturing prospects leading up to the close of a sale. The presales process involves learning the details and needs of each opportunity and providing the sales team with the information they need to do their jobs effectively. Responsibilities range from answering complicated product questions to joining or running sales demos to helping with proposals. 

4 Benefits of a presales strategy

The more complicated a sales process is, the more valuable a presales strategy is. Creating one leads to a few notable benefits.  

  1. A presales strategy produces higher conversion rates in the early funnel stages – Most salespeople report that fewer than 50% of their leads are a good fit. If they devote time to every one of those leads, that’s a lot of wasted time that they could spend pitching relevant prospects. They’ll close more of them when they have more time to spend on quality leads.
  2. Presales provides important sales enablement – A presales support team enables the sales team to work smarter rather than harder. They possess the product knowledge needed to provide personalized, accurate information to every prospect. When customers have a technical question, presales helps sales find the correct answer faster. Shorter response times translate to a faster sales process, and happier leads are more likely to turn into customers.  
  3. A presales strategy contributes to an improved customer experience – “Presales” can be a bit of a misnomer. While most of the presales process occurs before a prospect becomes a customer, presales is also frequently involved in helping clients set up and use the product after purchase. That leads to a better customer experience, which is essential for ongoing retention. 
  4. Presales leads to higher profits –  By helping sales close more deals and keeping customers happy enough for improved retention, presales contributes to the most important goal of all: higher profits. Put simply, presales is good for the bottom line.

The benefits of a presales strategy only come about if you manage to build an effective presales process. 

Define your target customer – B2B products tend to have a very specific customer base. Salespeople waste their time focusing on prospects outside their ideal base. To enable sales to focus on the right prospects, clearly define your ideal customer. Look at current customer data to understand which companies most need and value your product. Pay attention to your most valuable customers (those who spend the most and consistently re-subscribe). Note what they have in common for insights on what makes for a valuable lead.

Use that information to create a detailed customer persona to guide your marketing and sales efforts. Then also apply your analysis, along with input from the sales team, toward creating clear criteria for qualifying leads. If you prioritize attracting the right leads, and consistently weed out those that aren’t a good fit, your sales team will be able to focus their time on those most likely to convert.

Clarify presales priorities – Presales can get chaotic. Part of what a good presales process accomplishes is bringing order to the chaos and making sure the presales team spends their time wisely. To achieve that, start by thinking through the various tasks that make up a typical presales process and assigning priority value to each. If a presales engineer is torn between multiple competing priorities, they need a way to determine which should take precedence. Should that proposal be the top priority, or can it wait until after their scheduled sales demo?

This process should involve all the departments that depend on presales, so they can weigh in on the relevant importance of various tasks. But you should also look at your data: what does it tell you about which tasks are most likely to lead to successful outcomes like sales and retention?

Analyze and define process steps for each priority task – Now we reach the inception stage of building a presales process (processeption?), where you want to define all the smaller processes that make up your larger process. Defining process steps ensures everyone involved is on the same page and understands their role in the broader sales process.

For every priority task on your list, sit down and work out the ideal approach. Include:

  • Documenting typical steps and timelines – What does the process of completing each task look like? What steps have to occur, and in what order? How long does each one typically take? 
  • Defining the roles and responsibilities – Who’s in charge of what? What does the presales team need from other contacts to do their part well? And what will they need to provide to others to adequately support them? 
  • Establishing communication methods – A lot of presales work requires collaboration, and finding the right communication channels can be vital to keeping the lines of communication open. What’s the preferred channel for each team and contact? Should presales communicate with sales within a project management tool, email, or meetings?

Use tech to make the process smoother– Clarifying these steps can also make it easier to see how tech can improve your processes. Are there tasks presales spends hours on now that could be automated by technology? Are your current communication channels working, or do you need a better tool for collaboration? Do you have a solid process in place for recording and reusing knowledge, or is presales having to answer every question anew each time it comes up?

Matching the right tech to your processes can cut down on the time spent on each task while also increasing success rates. 

Analyze and improve over time – Another benefit to establishing a transparent process is that it helps you spot opportunities to improve. Some of the technology you use to facilitate your presales process will also collect data on your typical actions and results. Use that information to strengthen your process over time.

Building a pre-sales process has never been easier with tools like RFP software. By recognizing and addressing all stages of your customer journey, your business will be able to become more efficient while wasting less money and time.

RFPIO provides features that help presales teams:

  • Capture knowledge and share it with the right internal contacts
  • Make answers easy to find to cut down on answering the same questions on repeat
  • Automate much of the process of responding to RFP’s, RFI’s, and Security Questionnaires.
  • Simplify collaboration between individuals and departments
  • Track data on the presales process to better understand how well it’s working and how to make it better.

Set up a demo to learn more. 

 

The proposal management plan for a one-person team

The proposal management plan for a one-person team

An effective proposal management process is like a jigsaw puzzle; it takes multiple pieces, and they have to fit together just right. If you’re a one-person team, putting all the pieces together can be a challenge, but it’s manageable, at least if the right processes are in place. 

With small and medium-sized businesses, it’s common for one-person teams to manage the entire proposal management process. However, they can hopefully count on support from collaborators, such as the sales team and subject matter experts (SMEs).

If you’re a one-person team, you might have other job responsibilities on top of responding to RFPs. In addition, a proposal manager can oversee many different aspects of the RFP process. 

If that’s you, we’re here to help you bring order to the chaos, starting with incorporating these factors into your proposal management plan—powered by collaboration and automation.

How a proposal team of one can optimize the proposal process

A proposal manager is in charge of the proposal management process. Whether they are a one-person team or the head of an entire department, an effective proposal management process incorporates three essential factors: 

  1. Saying “no” as part of your proposal management plan
  2. Engage your sales team
  3. Leverage subject matter experts

There are many aspects to the proposal management process. Let’s dig into three of the most critical and why they matter.

Saying “no” as part of your proposal management plan

RFPs are a great opportunity—and maybe your CEO has the impulse to throw a hat in the ring for each one. That might sound like a great strategy, but it’s also a way to rack up a lot of losses. 

Sometimes your product or service isn’t what the customer is looking for. Responding to poorly-qualified opportunities can put well-qualified prospects at risk because they pull resources from winnable bids.

Establish a go/no-go process to focus your organization’s efforts on suitable proposals.

Work with sales and executives to perform a win-loss analysis on past bids. Understand the likelihood of winning business when new deals are on the table by researching the requirements before writing a single sentence of an RFP response.

A viable proposal management plan is based on data and research. Rather than reactively pressing “go” every time an RFP arrives, pause and analyze to ensure the opportunity is the right fit. Taking this extra time will ensure your time is optimally spent.

Engage your sales team

Salespeople are motivated to sell, and they have a lot to keep up with, so responding to an RFP may not be topmost on their list of selling activities. Yes, you need their support with response content, but what level of support are you offering them in exchange?

Proposal managers can provide a lot of value to their sales teams.They can help sales with time management, content management, and seamless collaboration. With proposal automation in place, you’ll enable your sales colleagues to respond to RFPs faster and more effectively.

Your response process will run smoothly when salespeople have instant access to high-quality content in the Content Library. Since RFPIO® LookUp is accessible via a web browser or CRM, the same content library will come in handy for them on discovery calls and prospecting.

Using proposal automation software, your sales team will collaborate using the same communication tools they’re comfortable with, including CRMs such as Salesforce and HubSpot, and communication solutions such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.

By showing sales teams the value you can provide, they’ll be more willing to help you out, so get sales on board early and use RFPIO proposal automation software as their support system. Show them how they’ll save time and improve client-facing communication.

Many subject matter experts are a one-person show, just like you. Proposal automation makes their lives easier by reducing time spent responding to RFPs and other internal queries. An important aspect of your role as a proposal manager is to continue improving your process to minimize unnecessary SME involvement and protect their time by bringing them in only when necessary.

SMEs are process-driven individuals; they expect clean processes and clearly defined responsibilities, tasks, and deadlines. Your response process will be most effective when your subject matter experts’ time is protected and valued. Proposal automation offers a more intelligent approach to response management, allowing SMEs to contribute and move on with their day.

The first step to transforming your proposal management process into a well-oiled machine is to consolidate all of your organization’s content in one place. Whether you are an enterprise or a small business, proposal software is key to a well-run process. 

The Content Library offers standardized and curated content, effectively breaking down information silos and saving time. You can automatically fill in most of the RFP responses with help from the Content Library and save SME contributions for any revisions or customizations.

Once an SME has provided expertise on one RFP, the proposal manager can seamlessly update the Content Library with the new answer. 

The next time you have an RFP that includes similar queries, RFPIO’s AI-driven content management system and answer recommendation engine will automatically present the responses for your approval, further reducing the time SMEs spend responding.

Successful response management revolves around processes and people. As a team of one, you lead the charge by creating a viable proposal management plan and providing value to colleagues that support you. How can you make collaboration easier? What steps can be automated? Stay focused on plan improvements to keep your team happy, supported, and productive.

The next step in your new and improved proposal management plan is bringing on RFPIO. See how proposal automation allows you to thrive as a team of one. RFPIO can help proposal managers thrive, no matter the resources. 

 

The proposal manager’s success guide for stronger RFPs

The proposal manager’s success guide for stronger RFPs

You are the glue holding everything together for a critically important process. Winning an RFP means winning new business. It’s that simple. What isn’t simple is how you get to that win.

Responding to RFPs isn’t always a high priority for other teams at your organization. Your email gets ignored. The deadline is missed. Shinier work wins their attention over an RFP most of the time. But, for you, proposal manager? RFP response makes up a significant (too significant, sometimes?) part of your world.

Rest easy, hard-working proposal manager. A hyper-efficient response management process is now absolutely possible with the right technology. Best-in-class organizations know this already and they are choosing proposal management tools like RFP software to support their efforts.

By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you’ll understand that:

  1. A manual approach to RFP response used to be the inefficient norm
  2. AI-enabled technology is making the proposal management role more important that ever across organizations
  3. Proposal managers find the support they need in RFP software
  4. Each RFP project’s import and export is a time-savings opportunity
  5. Better RFP project management is possible with the right tools
  6. Knowledge sharing makes your organization more successful
  7. You have the power to lead a stronger RFP response process

proposal manager role

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report

What does a proposal manager do?

If you’re like most of the proposal managers I know, you have days when the more appropriate question is, “What do proposal managers not do?” Sometimes it feels like you’re the symphony conductor as well as every musician in the orchestra, pinballing around from instrument to instrument, struggling to achieve a harmony that seems just out of reach.

There are survival guides out there that help you wrangle the RFP process. This is different…this is your success guide.

By taking time out of your hectic day to read this guide, you’ve already made the choice to become the kind of proposal manager that leads your organization to greater heights with RFP response. Let’s discuss how to make it all happen with the most advanced proposal management tools you can get your hands on.

Life for proposal managers during the pre-technology era

Once upon time, there were no proposal management tools. For the sake of this dramatization, we’ll call it the Dark Ages for RFP responders.

The plague was an inefficient manual process, one involving complex spreadsheets and documents that infected the health of entire organizations. Responding to RFPs took too long to complete and deadlines were inevitably missed.

SMEs (subject matter experts) and proposal managers found it difficult to collaborate. They rushed the deliverable and submitted outdated, boilerplate responses instead of customizing the strongest possible content for each prospect.

Eventually this plague of RFP inefficiency caused a famine for organizations. They responded to fewer RFPs, and they did not win the RFPs they did submit. No matter how hard the proposal managers tried, they couldn’t manage on their own.

“Boilerplate responses end up providing generic, basic, and bland information. They do not help the team win proposals. In fact, over-reliance on boilerplate responses can actually decrease pWin (Probability of Win).” – Kevin Switaj  

What does a proposal manager do when backed by AI?

Thankfully, we’re not in the Dark Ages anymore. There is a wealth of technology available to support the RFP response process. However, a surprising 84% of proposal managers are still using a manual approach with RFPs today. The question is: Why?

manage rfps

As with many other industries, technology is causing an important shift in the proposal management industry, empowering teams to be more successful. Technology allows proposal managers to:

  • Do more with less and become experts at efficiency. “Doing more” might mean the ability to submit more RFPs, which translates to additional opportunities for generating revenue. The “with less” part of this equation might mean fewer hours required from SMEs to pursue these opportunities.
  • Establish a collaborative ecosystem that works. Collaboration is a necessary step in every RFP project. Having an easier way to communicate makes the entire process run smoother, whether you need to ask sales to contribute to a section or ping marketing for the final buff and polish.
  • Achieve more quality control, and more wins as a result. Quality responses separate winning organizations from the rest of the herd during vendor selection. More time to focus on creating the best content will help you stand out as the partner that cares, versus another who cuts corners.

The initial investment into a proposal management system is ultimately worth it when the organization saves time and resources. With a good solution, typically these benefits are visible as early as the first RFP project. Response teams see an immediate increase in productivity, so they can do more of their best work.

Technology also can prevent the need to send countless emails back and forth, reduce the number of internal meetings, and facilitate final content review and approval by the response manager.” – Steve Silver, Forrester Research

How proposal managers lead the charge with RFP response

You’ve probably heard some negative things about RFPs from your peers and colleagues. It’s common for professionals to dislike RFP projects because of the inefficiencies they have faced firsthand over the years.

But, the importance of responding to RFPs cannot be stressed enough—they are a must for any growing organization. If you want more sales wins, you have to do the work. And, teams have to work together.

But those teams need a leader. Organizations with dedicated proposal managers submit up to 3.5x more responses than those without. Give those proposal managers RFP-specific technology and they can submit 43% more proposals per year than those not using RFP-specific technology.

All the more reason to get the support you need to handle everything, right? RFP software helps you with:

  1. Importing and Exporting – Importing from any file source (yes, even PDFs and spreadsheets) and exporting back into the original source or customized template allows you to focus on a quality deliverable.
  2. Knowledge Sharing – Bringing greater accessibility to company information not only promotes collaboration on RFP projects, it also breaks down document silos across departments and even the organization.
  3. Project Management – Being able to track real-time progress of RFx completion helps you see when sections are being taken care of. Communication with SMEs is quicker without email, since you can use @-mentioning and Slack.

It’s not easy to be in your shoes, dear proposal manager. You handle the complexities of RFP responses and it’s up to you to keep your team motivated. If you bring in a proposal management tool to support your RFP response process, then your job becomes a lot easier.

Start each RFP project right and finish brilliantly

The bane of pretty much any proposal manager’s existence is the import and export process with RFP responses. When an RFP lands in your inbox, it should be cause for rejoice. Responding to an RFP is a chance to win new business, after all.

Yet, when starting an RFP project, you’re working with a source document that could be anything from a long-winded Excel spreadsheet to a pesky PDF. Copying and pasting, organizing and filtering suddenly fill your days as you try to ready the documents for your SMEs.

It’s the end of the RFP project, now you’re ready to rejoice. Or, so you thought…now it’s time to export everyone’s responses back into the prospect’s source file.

Exporting is the stage where hours slip by as formatting blunders take over the Wednesday evening you were hoping to spend at home cooking dinner with the family. Instead, even though you thought you had this project under control, you’re at the office trying to submit an RFP right before the deadline.

proposal manager hours worked

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report

How RFP software makes importing and exporting easier…

Every import and export is actually a time-savings opportunity.

Finding content and information is a significant productivity obstacle for sales teams.” – Phil Harrell, Forrester Research

RFP software allows you to start your RFP project off on the right foot by importing effectively from any source—docs, spreadsheets, even PDFs (RFPIO is the only solution that imports PDFs). Instead of copying and pasting like crazy, you can simply pull the source document right into the platform and start organizing and assigning sections to SMEs.

Exporting back into the original source or a template of your choosing ensures consistency with your deliverable, without the manual labor.

We’ve heard plenty of disheartening stories from proposal managers who stay after-hours or work weekends to submit an RFP before the deadline. With the exporting capabilities you enjoy with RFP software, you will dramatically speed up this process so you can have more work-life balance, even if you’re a one-person team.

Break information silos with easier knowledge sharing

Information silos are truly a point of weakness for any organization. When teams don’t have equal accessibility to important company content, it causes inefficiencies well beyond the RFP response process. On the flipside, organizations with centralized information promote collaboration and growth.

With RFPs, the expertise SMEs provide is indispensable. They harbor technical specs and product information that you certainly don’t know, because those details are outside your domain—not to mention, this information is practically a foreign language.

As long as SMEs contribute to RFP responses regularly, you’re fine, right? As long as they don’t leave and take that knowledge with them. Workflow is fragile business with RFPs, so you want to do everything in your power to store company information in a place where anyone can find it quickly.

How RFP software makes knowledge sharing easier…

The way we share information impacts the way we work.

RFP software promotes a culture of knowledge sharing, and ultimately strengthens communication companywide. An RFP content library eliminates document silos entirely, because it offers one place for company content to live. Instead of being in Google docs or email folders, RFP responses are organized with tags and star ratings to help you and your team find the best content in seconds.

The great thing about having all company information handy like this is how easily you can improve the quality of your content. Performing regular content audits ensures that you keep your most valuable RFP responses up-to-date and ready to grab on the go.

“Workers spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. A searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35%, the time employees spend searching for company information.” – Mckinsey Global Institute

Better RFP project management is all yours

Effective project management is truly the heart and soul of the RFP response process. Every RFP project requires multiple team members to share their expertise, as a proposal manager only knows so much about the organization.

size of proposal organization

Source: APMP U.S. Compensation Report

This is where the SMEs come in to offer their support. But trying to track them down often proves difficult for proposal managers. SMEs are busy and they have other high-priority projects on their plates. With a manual RFP process, collaboration with team members is more challenging because much of the communication happens through email and meetings, which get missed or forgotten.

Protecting the time of your team—and your time as well—comes down to the technology you’re leveraging to achieve maximum efficiency. Here’s some good news from a survey conducted by Project Management Institute: “75% of senior executives said investing in technology to better enable project success was a high priority in their organization.”

How RFP software makes project management easier…

You don’t want to just get the job done, you want to get it done well.

Having full visibility into the RFP project means you know which SME is handling specific sections, so you can keep tasks and owners straight. With the project overview dashboard, you’ll see where SMEs are in terms of progress so you can avoid beating down their office door when the deadline is looming.

Integrations with Slack and Salesforce make communication more seamless for busy teams, with less of a chance for an important email to be missed. Fewer emails and meetings keep SMEs focused on what they need to accomplish so they can share their input and move on to other priorities.

success for proposal managers

“Without access to effective tools that support and reinforce the business development lifecycle, companies cannot maintain a managed, repeatable business acquisition process—thereby reducing their overall chances of winning business.” – APMP’s Body of Knowledge

Lead your team to success with RFP response

The proposal management industry continues to evolve with advances in technology. No longer do proposal managers need to feel alone, and no longer do SMEs need to dislike contributing to RFP projects.

Knowledge sharing and collaboration are becoming more common among organizations who recognize the need to band together to be more successful with RFP response. This improvement in teamwork positively affects multiple aspects of the business, far beyond the next RFP project.

RFP response is your business—more so than anyone else’s at your organization. Be the leader that takes charge with your RFP response process and guide your team toward greater success.

It’s time to take this success guide a step further. Schedule a demo to learn how RFPIO will make your RFP response process a mighty one.

Best new product features for 2022

Best new product features for 2022

We all knew that 2021 was going to be a major upgrade to 2020. There was nowhere to go but up. But, wow, it ended up being a huge leap forward for RFPIO and our customers. Here are the 2021 RFPIO new product feature highlights that will make 2022 a banner year for all RFPIO users.

RFPIO® LookUp activated knowledge management

Answer Libraries everywhere came alive when RFPIO® LookUp released in early 2021. The ability to search your Content Library without leaving any of these applications…

  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Chromium Edge
  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Slack
  • Google Hangouts

…put curated, response-ready knowledge at the fingertips of every RFPIO user with the integration.

“We were able to retire a Business Applications chatbot we built for the field. RFPIO® LookUp is available right from Microsoft Teams and surfaces content from all of our content collections without the maintenance overhead.”
-Vicki Griesinger, Director of Business Strategy, Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft   

Autograph accelerated response and increased control

Autograph is a new standalone e-signature module, easily accessed from your RFPIO interface. With Autograph, any RFPIO user can upload and sign documents themselves or prepare and send documents for signature to colleagues or external non-RFPIO user contacts.

The RFPIO dashboard allows you to keep track of document status at a glance and maintain a record of signed documents.

Our unlimited user model means that folks elsewhere at your organization can take advantage of this. For example, contract teams and legal teams could acquire signatures on NDAs and other agreements with Autograph.

I highly recommend you give Autograph a spin in 2022 if you didn’t get a chance to try it in 2021!

Step 1: Open the document for signing

New Projects experience improved usability

We snuck this one in just under the wire in December 2021. The New Projects experience provides major upgrades to usability, including:

  • A Recent Projects bar that shows what you’ve been working on most recently.
  • New functionality to sort and filter the projects list.
  • Freedom to customize the columns displayed on the projects list.
  • The ability to customize the number of items on the page and click the left and right arrows to move through the list.
  • The new My Work option allows subject matter experts to only see questions assigned to them and move through questionnaires more quickly.
  • Customization options allow for a Projects table view that makes the most sense for you.

New Projects makes experienced users more productive and helps new users get up to speed faster.

RFPIO University launched, providing expansive online user training

With every product upgrade comes new best practices on how to get the most out of it without compromising your current experience. RFPIO University is our new platform for communicating those best practices so experienced users can easily stay up to date and new users can target what they need to learn first.

RFPIO University offers Content Management and Project Management learning paths where users can build knowledge incrementally through short online video sessions. It also includes microlearning videos for quick tips on features such as answering questions or assigning authors. The training platform is free to all RFPIO users.

RFP360 acquisition brought RFP management full circle

RFPIO closed the loop on the response management lifecycle with its acquisition of RFP360. The move strengthened RFPIO’s position as the leading provider of response management software, while expanding RFPIO’s offering to include a strategic sourcing solution, bringing to market the most efficient and proactive request for proposal (RFP) solution.

For companies that both issue and respond to RFPs, unifying purchasing and response functionality through a single provider offers many efficiencies.

Most popular customer request? Spelling & grammar check!

The most popular product update request from customers was for the ability to check spelling and grammar within RFPIO. I’m happy to say that through the basic and full rich text editor you can now scan for spelling and grammatical errors. Proofreading just got a whole lot easier!

More product update highlights from 2021

Many other updates resulted from your feedback, via the “SUBMIT IDEAS” button in the bottom left of your RFPIO UI. In fact, more than 900 updates came from you! Thank you! This process really emphasizes the value we place on community, and RFPIO wouldn’t be the G2 leader three-years running without our customer support.

Submit Ideas

To learn more about the following 2021 updates, check out my webinar. Some are now application defaults, some can be turned on or off, and some are available for an additional fee. Reach out to your account manager if you have any questions.

  • Guest Response Portal: Simplified user experience for external SMEs who need to respond to a question but don’t have an RFPIO account.
  • Microsoft Word Import/Export Formatting: Table style and list formatting now imports. Checkboxes import and export, too.
  • Content Library Custom Field: Mark as mandatory or optional to quickly categorize and organize content.
  • Content Library Merge Tags: Enhanced to display the value name instead of the name of the tag. For example: [ClientName] would now display the client’s actual name.
  • Rich Text Styles Toolbar: Find and apply styles easier and quicker.
  • Teams as Content Owners and Moderators: Teams can be assigned to content in the Content Library and Content Library with content owner and moderator privileges. There’s an option to indicate if content needs to be reviewed by any team member or all team members.
  • Highspot Integration Update: As an expansion to the Highspot integration, users can now export response packages from RFPIO into Highspot.
  • Export Response Package to Cloud Storage: Responses from a project can now be saved to cloud storage services, allowing you to store the content in folders on Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive.
  • Whistic Integration: If you respond to a lot of security questionnaires…from their Whistic interface an RFPIO user can select the RFPIO Create Project button to create a mirror questionnaire in RFPIO. Then, users can complete the questionnaire in RFPIO (where they can access all the curated content in their Content Library) and when done, sync the completed questionnaire back to Whistic with the click of a button.

To learn more about all of these updates, please visit the Help Center or contact your account manager. Be sure to stop by RFPIO University for on-demand video sessions on implementing best practices around these features, including for importing, exporting, Merge Tags, and much more!

Prepare for 2022 with our top blogs from 2021

Prepare for 2022 with our top blogs from 2021

It’s that time of year again… Time to snuggle into our houses, light the fire, find a warm nook, and wait for spring.

If anyone is in the Pacific Northwest like me, you’ve probably been enjoying two solid weeks of rain. If you aren’t in the Pacific Northwest, please don’t rub it in.

As we near the end of the year, we like to reflect on the year we’re leaving behind. For our small but mighty content team, that means better understanding our readers—and seeing how we can improve for next year.

In 2021, our blog posts were viewed more than 200,000 times… a 50% increase from the same time period in 2020, when we recorded just under 150,000 views on our posts.

From those 200,000 views, we learned a lot about you, our readers.

First, you love learning, growing, and improving. Almost all of our top blogs offer strategies, templates, and best practices for up-leveling skills, streamlining processes, and improving collaboration.

Second, you’re looking for new ways to collaborate with your team (and your boss). Nearly 50% of our top blogs touch on improved processes, strategies for better collaboration, and tactics for having tough conversations with your boss.

Finally, you are careful readers. The average read time for some of our blogs is upwards of six minutes (industry average for blogs is 2-3 minutes).

With that, let’s get to the good stuff! Here are our 11 most popular blogs from 2021.

Follow along as I craft an RFP executive summary

Your executive summary needs to persuade your reader (usually an executive) that your product or service is exactly what they need to solve their problem. And you need to do it in just a few pages.

In this blog, our Senior Sales Director, Keith Norrie, shares an example of a beautifully crafted executive summary—based on the executive summary writing guidelines he outlined in the prequel to this blog, “How to write a winning RFP executive summary—er, briefing.”

Ready to home your executive summary writing skills? Read our blog(s) to learn how to write an awesome RFP executive summary that blows your reader away.

Read it now

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

​​RFPs are issued as questionnaires of up to thousands of questions and requests for specific content. If your company has a solution to the problem put forth by the issuer, then you respond with a proposal that includes all the answers and requested content.

The issuer compares your RFP response with all of the other RFP responses received from your competitors.

In order to have a chance to be on the shortlist, you have to compose an RFP response. Read this blog to learn how to put your best foot forward, every time.

Read it now

Guide to a great RFP response process

Bottom line: Responding to RFPs is easier if you have some kind of process in place. The better the process, the easier the response.

If you don’t have a process, but want one, how do you get started? If you have a process, but it’s not that great, how do you make it better?

This blog—written by Tara Konlinsky, an APMP-certified Customer Success Manager at RFPIO—answers all those questions and more.

Read it now

How to improve your RFP response process in 5 simple steps

If you have an RFP process, that’s great news. You’re already a step ahead of the game.

Now you need to think about how to turn your RFP response process into the best one that ever was.

Read this blog for our 5 simple steps to create an RFP response process that others will drool over.

Read it now

E-signature for sales and proposal teams: Autograph

This year we released our snazzy new e-signature feature—and our readers wanted to learn all about it.

This blog explains what e-signature is, and how you can use Autograph to sign contracts, proposals, and all kinds of other documents.

Read it now

How proposal teams can prepare for 2021

How is technology aiding the request for proposal (RFP) response process? To find out, we surveyed members of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) to gain insight into current and future trends in proposal management processes across 10 industries.

If you liked this blog, keep your eyes peeled for new research debuting in 2022. 👀

Read it now

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

A proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. To write a proposal cover letter with nary a wasted word, you first need to understand its strategic significance in the overall proposal.

In your proposal cover letter, you need to demonstrate you’ve reviewed the RFP requirements and that your solution meets all those requirements—that is key.

Read this blog learn how to write a proposal letter that blows your issuers away.

Read it now

5 steps to healthy RFP collaboration between sales and presales

Friction can be a good thing. With the right amount, sales and pre-sales teams share productive exchanges, respectful pushback during disagreements, and shared admiration for jobs well done on all sides.

Too much, and those relationships can quickly flare up with resentment or burn out in an unwinnable blame game. Too little, and silos develop, making collaboration difficult and agility nearly impossible.

How do you maintain that ideal level of friction? Glad you asked. Read this blog to find out.

Read it now

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

For those of us in the weeds of proposal development, it’s fairly obvious that there’s so much an RFP content manager can do for an organization.

That’s why it can be especially difficult to justify the need for one with upper management.

Read this blog to learn how you can help change mindsets that dedicated RFP content managers aren’t just a “nice-to-have”—they’re a “need-to-have”.

Read it now

Improve user adoption in 7 steps

Introducing new software into your sales enablement tech stack and workflow is no joke.

As soon as I get my chance to work with the person or team in charge of deploying RFPIO, I recommend inhabiting the following mindset: “How do I set myself up for success?”

My answer? Follow 7 steps to improve user adoption. Read this blog to roll through them.

Read it now

Internal Knowledge Base: What it is, how to use it, and how to create one

Knowledge is a company’s most valuable asset, and being able to access it quickly and easily is essential to enhancing productivity and achieving goals. To make that a reality, you need to create and maintain an internal knowledge base, also known as a company knowledge base.

This is a guide to making that happen.

Read it now

What is RFx? Do the math for sales and procurement

What is RFx? Do the math for sales and procurement

What is RFx? In this case, it’s proof that Mrs. Vickers, my pre-algebra teacher, was right. She assured me that algebra would come in handy in my adult life. It only took 35-ish years, but it turns out Mrs. Vickers’s crystal ball wasn’t so foggy after all.

Back to the original question: What is RFx? It’s the shorthand for your “Request for” category of procurement and sales processes and documents. Solve for x.

  • RF(Proposal)
  • RF(Information)
  • RF(Quote)
  • RF(Application)
  • RF(Bid)

Explanations and definitions of these are insightfully encapsulated here (processes) and here (glossary). However, if you want an overview of how you can use any of these RFx varieties for your business — either in procurement or business development, then you’re in the right place.

Using RFx for procurement

If you use RFx for procurement, then you’re the issuer creating the RFx. Typically, you’ll submit requests in the following order:

  1. RFI
  2. RFP
  3. RFQ

Ultimately, you want to play your RFx cards to select an ideal vendor using strategic sourcing. The RFI will be high level, probing to see if a problem can be solved. It will help narrow down providers to whom you’ll want to submit the RFP, which will be much more detailed and a heavier lift for you to evaluate.

Your RFP will ask for in-depth problem analysis, what it will take to solve the problem, how a vendor proposes they’ll solve the problem, proof of solving similar problems in the past, and, possibly, an estimate on cost. It may also inform responders how responses will be evaluated (e.g. cost = 35%, experience & performance = 35%, response quality 30%), budget expectations, and timing details.

From your pool of RFP responses, you’ll submit an RFQ to one or two providers to finalize your costs. At this point you know the exact product or service that you want so you request a price quote for that specific solution.

“RFB” is also known as “invitation to bid.” While this terminology does appear in the U.S., it may be more common internationally, where issuers post “tenders,” and responders submit “bids” in response to those tenders.

RFAs are associated with government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Funding has already been set aside for a specific requirement and now agencies or organizations are seeking recipients of funding. Agencies want to solve a very specific problem, such as building the capacity for drinking water systems. Nonprofit organizations have grant money available and seek applications to distribute the grant, such as for placing veterinarians in underserved areas.

Using RFx for business development

For the 69% of salespeople who do not have enough leads in their pipeline, RFx opportunities are an opportunity to drive revenue. When you use RFx for business development, then you are the RFx responder. Response teams require expertise from multiple areas, including sales, product development, product marketing, finance, contracts, and more, depending on the product or service you sell. It’s up to you to respond appropriately in an attempt to put your product or service at the top of the list for RFx issuers.

If you’re lucky, then you have a unified content repository of some sort to reference for your responses. Many sales professionals still work from personal content libraries they’ve amassed on their own, which is problematic for brand management and onboarding new employees. If you’re even luckier, then you represent one of the 43% of organizations using RFP-specific software, which helps automate response processes.

Responding to an RFI will get your foot in the door. Hopefully, it’s something you do regularly and doesn’t take up a lot of bandwidth, for you or any other response team members. This will be early on in the sales process, possibly too early to even count toward your pipeline. When an RFx is not certain of gaining revenue, then you want to minimize resources spent on responding.

However, once you’re selected to respond to an RFP, you can add prospective revenue to your pipeline. This will also be the largest investment as far as resources that you’ll commit to responding to an RFx.

The RFP is your opportunity to lay all your cards on the table. Show the issuer what you can do, how you can do it, and why you can do it better than anyone else. Expect to be evaluated on your experience, your price tag, and the quality of your response. By evaluation, I mean you’ll be measured against all other responders in as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as the issuer can comprise based on the complexity of the response.

The RFQ will be the final deal number, if it wasn’t already requested in the RFP. It will highlight the solution you’re providing within the issuer’s budget. If your RFP solution comes standard with additional functionality beyond the scope of what the issuer originally requested (e.g., integrations with other software, free training, or VIP support), the RFQ is a great opportunity to call that out.

What is RFx automation?

RFx automation reduces the manual processes required to issue and respond to any RFx. For issuing, RFx automation streamlines how requests are created and organizes the evaluation process for you. For responding, RFx automation uses artificial intelligence to Auto Respond to any RFx based on content in your Content Library. Organizations that use RFP-specific software are not only able to respond to 43% more RFPs than those without a designated RFP tool, they’re able to turn around each response 40% faster.

RFx response automation can also extend to responding to security questionnaires, due diligence questionnaires (DDQs), scopes of work, and whatever else you may be requested to respond to in your sales or client support lifecycles. The functionality can also serve you well for proactive proposals, where you need to deliver a proposal or presentation even though one wasn’t specifically requested. This is common in business proposals when a prospect wants something in writing to share with management or the C-suite to build a business case for adding your solution.

Whether you want to use RFx for procurement or business development, if you’re going to do it for the long term, then RFx automation will be a boon to your workflow, morale, and bottom line. The math works out. Mrs. Vickers says so. Learn more about AI-enabled RFx management by scheduling a demo.

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

If you’re new to the proposal or bid process, then you’ll need the request for proposal (RFP) basics. Even though, like all business processes, the request for proposal process has changed over the years, many of the basics have held true.

This article will brief you on what you need to know about requests for proposals so you’ll be ready to take on the response process with aplomb.

What does RFP stand for?

RFP stands for request for proposal. As a remnant of government contracting processes, it’s no wonder “RFP” is more popular as an acronym. After all, in byzantine bureaucratic processes, responding to an RFP from the DoD is the only way to share your KSP with a VIP who prefers to keep their ID on the QT until they determine ROI. And this all started before texting and social media! LOL!

Why do RFPs exist?

Organizations and agencies issue RFPs as part of their vendor selection process. It’s an attempt to create parameters that enable apples-to-apples comparisons of solutions to a particular problem.

Outside of the United States, RFPs are also known as tenders. Instead of “issuing an RFP,” organizations “run a tender.” Instead of “responding” to an RFP, vendors “bid” on a tender.

Other RFP-related terms

To learn more about common RFP-related terms, you have 3 options. One, check out the quick definitions below (it’ll take less than a minute). Two, read my new screenplay for the short film, “Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process,” later in this article (it’ll take you 3-5 minutes). Three, do both! Note: If you are an artist who can help me storyboard the movie, let’s talk (think low-budget, though).

Proposal
The proposal is your response to an RFP. If an organization or agency asks, “How can I solve X?” in an RFP, then your proposal is the answer: “I propose this solution to X.” Like Dr. Barbay’s single question for Thornton Melon’s academic evaluation that ended up having 27 parts, your RFP proposal can be hundreds, if not thousands of pages long.

RFP Executive Summary
The RFP executive summary sets the tone of the proposal. It’s usually written first, by the salesperson in charge of the relationship. It will summarize the highlights of your proposal. There are occasions when it will be the only part of your proposal that some of the issuing stakeholders will review.

RFI: Request for Information
RFIs, or requests for information, are more casual than a request for quote and more generic than an RFP, RFIs are either a fishing expedition or a clarification exercise.

RFQ: Request for Quote
When someone issues an RFQ, or request for quote, they want you to tell them how much your product or service will cost. Lowest price definitely does not always win. This is an opportunity to illustrate everything included in your offering as well as prospective ROI.

DDQ: Due Diligence Questionnaire
DDQs, or due diligence questionnaires—not to be confused with a security questionnaire (see below)—are all about compliance. You might see one as part of the RFP process, but it’s also likely you’ll be filling these out throughout your partnership with the issuer. With increasing scrutiny on data security and privacy, you may be filling them out more often, too.

Security Questionnaire
This will be one or more standardized questionnaires designed to assess risk of taking you on as a vendor. Popular questionnaires include SIG, SIG-Lite, VSAQ, CAIQ, and more.

When to use an RFP

Say you’re an enterprise or government agency. Through research and experience, you’ve identified five possible vendors that may be able to help solve a particular problem. Now you can issue an RFP to gather everything you need to know about the solution, its cost, and its impact on your operations after selecting a vendor. The level of complexity, number of questions, and deadline will vary greatly depending on your industry and the sophistication of the solution.

When to respond to an RFP

There are several factors to consider when determining whether or not to respond to an RFP. We recommend that your standard RFP intake process include a go/no-go step. Only respond to RFPs that you can win:

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

When to use RFP software

If you’re responding to a couple of RFPs, a few security questionnaires, and spend most of your time sending out direct responses to RFQs, then RFP software may not be the best fit.

RFP software falls into a new category of software known as response management. Response management software’s primary value is efficiency. How you repurpose time saved will determine much of your success. Some organizations seek to respond to more RFPs, others seek to improve response quality. Most want both.

If you think RFP software and its automation capabilities would help, then it’s important to consider your entire response universe when selecting a vendor. For example, do you only want help responding to RFPs? Or do you want to automate responses to security questionnaires and DDQs, too?

What about proactive proposals? Do your sales, presales, and support teams want a better way to respond to prospects and customers?

RFPs are sales vehicles, and how your organization responds is a sales support function. The response management solution you choose will be determined by how much sales support you want to offer.

Sometimes you wonder if life is a movie…

Me, too! So if you had to break down RFP basics into a scene in your life’s movie it might look like…

“Once Upon a Time in an RFP Process”

By Sue Donim

[LOCATION: HOME OFFICE OF “KEYES,” THE SALES MANAGER/PROPOSAL MANAGER/MARKETING MANAGER HERO. KEYES LOGS ONTO A VIDEO CONFERENCE WITH “BOSS.”]

KEYES: Hi, Boss. Nice virtual background. That’s the most artistic rendering of taxidermy I’ve seen in some time.

BOSS: Cut to the chase, Keyes. I’ve grown weary of these online meetings. Unless you have a solution to our revenue and inefficiency challenges, I’d rather you send me an email.

KEYES: You’re in luck, sir. It just so happens that’s why I requested this meeting.

BOSS: That’s what I like about you, Keyes. Always presenting answers instead of complaining about problems. Proceed.

KEYES: We can increase revenue by streamlining our RFP process.

BOSS: Brilliant! I like it…no, I love it! Let’s start immediately. Now…

What is an RFP again?

KEYES: An RFP is a Request for Proposal…when a company needs services and products like ours, they issue an RFP to identify the optimal vendor.

BOSS: Sounds like a no-brainer. Why haven’t we been doing this the whole time?

KEYES: We have responded to RFPs in the past, but it’s not exactly a turnkey process…yet. RFPs can be thousands of pages about pricing, functionality, technology, security, company basics, competitive differentiators, and more. Responding puts a strain on our subject matter experts, sales teams, and anyone else who needs to carve out extra time to help with the process.

BOSS: That doesn’t sound efficient at all.

KEYES: Well, then you have to take into consideration RFIs and RFQs, too.

BOSS: Enough with the acronyms, Keyes.

What’s an RFI? What’s an RFQ?

KEYES: Sorry, Boss. Request for Information and Request for Quote. RFIs tend to appear early in the vendor-selection process. Companies issue them to find out if any vendors can help them solve a particular problem. They’re more generic and open-ended and would likely be used to craft a more targeted RFP. RFQs usually show up later in the vendor selection process, usually after we’ve submitted an RFP. This is when the company wants to know specifics on how much our solution will cost.

BOSS: RFPs, RFIs, RFQs… anything else I should know about? Wait, what’s that?!

How to write executive summary
KEYES: Good eye, Boss. That’s a cheat sheet on writing an executive summary. The executive summary is high-level content that covers the issuer’s challenges and demonstrates how our products and services will help.

BOSS: Sounds like a cover letter.

KEYES: That’s a common misconception, Boss. The executive summary is different from the cover letter. In an executive summary, we provide an executive-level summary of how our solution fixes their problem. In a cover letter, we talk about how great we are.

BOSS: I’m better at that than most.

KEYES: Of course you are.

BOSS: And what do our RFP-winning executive summaries look like?

KEYES: I’ll let you know when we win one.

BOSS: I was afraid you were going to say that.

KEYES: Don’t get discouraged, Boss. I have a plan to turn it around. The right RFP automation software will help us write RFP-winning executive summaries. Just like it will help with DDQs and security questionnaires.

BOSS: What did I just say about acronyms?

What’s a DDQ?

KEYES: Sorry. Last one. The DDQ is the Due Diligence Questionnaire. It’s usually one of the last stages of the response process. In fact, it may come after we’ve already been selected, when the company is doing their final due diligence. It typically involves a few hyper-specific points as part of their standard vendor onboarding protocol.

BOSS: And how is that different from a security questionnaire? In fact….

What even is a security questionnaire?

KEYES: Great question, Boss. Privacy is a hot button, and any company we work with wants to make sure we meet their privacy standards. Security questionnaires generally deal with privacy issues such as compliance, infrastructure security, and data protection. Depending on the company, this questionnaire can be a few hundred or a few thousand questions.

BOSS: Yowza. How long does it take to complete that?

KEYES: Weeks, if we don’t have a response process in place.

BOSS: Excellent. Let’s get it implemented. I’m putting you in charge of it, Keyes.

KEYES: I think that’s a good call, Boss. We’ll start with the 8-step RFP response process.

[CUT TO GRAPHIC OF 8-STEP RFP RESPONSE PROCESS]

RFP process and steps

BOSS: Looks like I put the right person in charge. You have all the answers, Keyes.

KEYES: Speaking of answers, that reminds of something else that’s essential to a smooth-running RFP process machine.

BOSS: Yes, yes, that’s why I brought it up. What’s on your mind?

KEYES: The Content Library, Boss. It’s the secret to more efficient RFP content management. It’s what makes massive questionnaires answerable in a few clicks. It’s where content is marketing-approved and always ready to share. And if it’s intelligent—as it should be—it’s able to make recommendations along the way so that we can easily customize every RFP response. Plus, once a subject matter expert answers a question it stays in the library forever. From then on, they can take a reviewer role, saving them time and keeping them focused on their primary job duties.

BOSS: That’s it! You’re the winner, Keyes! Best video conference of the day.

KEYES: Thank you, Boss.

BOSS: No, thank YOU! Now, how do we get started. Will you—dare I ask—issue an RFP? Ha!

KEYES: Good one, sir, but no. I already have someone in mind.

[FADE OUT OF VIDEO CONFERENCE CALL AUDIO. ZOOM OUT TO SEE THE BACK OF KEYES. CUT TO BLACK. ROLL CREDITS]

[END]

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