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How to create a great RFP response process

How to create a great RFP response process

RFPs are time-sensitive. They can be complicated. And they often require input from stakeholders across the organization. But even still… […]

Category: Tag: Winning RFP

How to create a great RFP response process

How to create a great RFP response process

RFPs are time-sensitive. They can be complicated. And they often require input from stakeholders across the organization. But even still… responding to RFPs doesn’t have to be a fire drill every time. All you need is the right process. To get you started, I’ve written a comprehensive guide for creating a great RFP response process, compiling everything I know about RFP response best practices into one place.

Look at the many types of processes you have at your organization today. Seems like we have a process for everything, right? Especially when it comes to sales, having a defined strategy is necessary for our survival. Yet for some reason, we don’t take the time and give RFPs the same level of attention. And, we end up feeling pretty lost without that process. An RFP arrives, and we are stuck in this reactive cycle when we could be more proactive.

At RFPIO, we hear this story all the time from customers who come to us looking for guidance. Today we’re helping you build your RFP response process, based on what we’ve seen working for other RFP responders. Ready to be more proactive with your RFP response process? Follow these RFP process steps to build a collaborative workflow with your team.

What is an RFP response process?

An RFP response process is an efficient workflow which clarifies roles, responsibilities, and timelines to help an organization meet the issuer’s deadline. A great RFP response process is practiced by the entire team. RFP contributors come together to build the process, and they follow it consistently.

RFP Process and Steps

The process covers who the key RFP contributors are and how they will respond to each question on time, with the goal of winning new business. An RFP response process doesn’t work without great people backing that process. The most successful organizations collaborate throughout the RFP project under a clear set of guidelines. Which is why—if you haven’t yet—it’s time to sit down with your team and hash out your RFP process steps.

RFP process steps for efficient RFP responses

For starters…get the RFP process steps down on paper. You have plenty of one-sheets for everything else—now it’s time to develop a strategy that covers your organization’s unique RFP response process. During this exercise, you will cover the internal workflow needed to respond to an RFP. Here is an example of RFP process steps you can follow:

  1. RFP Issued – Review RFP requirements, then assemble your response management team and schedule a kick-off meeting.
  2. Ready Forms – Fill out required forms (i.e. NDA), get approvals and signatures from stakeholders, and attach to the RFP.
  3. Respond to RFP – Repurpose past responses and tailor content—assign questions/sections to SMEs to ensure accuracy.
  4. Review / Revise RFP – Conduct internal reviews to produce a high-quality deliverable, engaging Marketing for final content approval.
  5. Submit RFP – Deliver RFP with supporting materials—follow up to confirm receipt and send a status report to internal stakeholders.
  6. Save / Audit RFP Responses – Save finalized responses in a centralized location (i.e. answer library) and commit to regular content audits.

Collaboration is the theme of any successful RFP response process. Even if you have a proposal manager running the show, you’ll walk away with a better strategy by bringing in more diversity from your team. Instead of one proposal manager typing this one-sheet up in a corner, call a meeting and have a focused brainstorming session. Invite a mixture of sales, marketing, customer success, executives, and subject matter experts (SMEs) to contribute to the process.

Who is involved in the RFP response process?

Since an RFP in business represents a significant dollar value in revenue, RFP response should be approached with a collaborative strategy. Having the right team in place makes a huge difference. If you have a process laid out without clarifying these roles, confusion will follow and things will slip through the cracks.

Companies experience positive results when key individuals own RFP process steps. Responding to RFPs requires multiple people in different roles and departments who contribute diverse viewpoints and expertise.

High-performing RFPs typically includes expert contributions from SMEs, salespeople, finance, legal, and IT. RFP responses are then reviewed and polished by bid writers, proposal managers, and marketing team members. Finally, approval comes from executive stakeholders. The idea is to produce compelling RFP responses that beat your competition. It truly takes a village working together to respond to RFPs effectively.

Strengthen your RFP response process with RFP software

RFP software is a stand-alone solution that helps RFP responders dramatically improve the way they manage and process RFPs. Responding to RFPs takes time and resources. On average, we’ve seen responders cut their response time in half with RFPIO.

The happiest teams we know practice a consistent RFP response process and maximize RFPIO features. For example, assigning reviewers sequentially ensure the deliverable is polished with the highest quality responses for each section. A proposal manager simply assigns users within the solution, so the timing of each task is clear for everyone.

Try reviewing an RFP with thousands of questions by email. Yeah…it requires a ton of back-and-forth which takes extra time your team doesn’t have in the first place. You can certainly respond to RFPs without software, assuming you have a rock-solid approach that is humming along without inefficiencies. However, when you combine a strong process with RFP response software, progress will come.

15 RFP responders explain how to craft a winning RFP response

15 RFP responders explain how to craft a winning RFP response

RFP responders and issuers spend a lot of time in a world of documents that determine important business outcomes. Rarely do these professionals speak candidly with one another about the RFP response process—which is why we brought both parties together here on The RFPIO Blog.

Recently 10 RFP issuers revealed their definition of a standout RFP response. This time we asked RFP responders to chime in with what it takes to craft a winning response. Enjoy this insightful content advice from 15 RFP responders in the trenches.

Content advice from RFP responders in the trenches

Brian Fleming, General Counsel and Proposal Management Specialist at CaseWorthy

It starts with an excellent executive summary. Know exactly what the client is struggling with (current state) and what they seek to accomplish with the procurement (future state). The executive summary should have a simple structure that addresses how the vendor’s solution will not only accomplish the future state but exceed even the loftiest of future state aspirations.

The rest of the proposal should use the executive summary as a jumping off point for explaining how the vendor’s solution will be the best choice, all the while erring on the side of brevity and responsiveness with the supplemental strategies needed to win the deal.

Hope Sutton, Marketing Communication Coordinator at Alera Group

Excellent RFPs are driven by personalization. From the cover page to the content inside, the entire RFP needs to be prospect/client centric. Going the extra mile to show the company that you are tailoring your approach to their needs is a must in today’s competitive market.

David Rynne, Presales Global Content Specialist at Basware

A well-executed executive summary is like a good subject headline. Your executive summary must be personalized for your buyer personas with solutions to their unique challenges, or else it doesn’t give the prospect a reason to read further.

The executive summary is there to position your company as a problem solver that offers multiple benefits and value. The rest of the RFP is structured the same—and reiterates the bullet points of the executive summary, but in more detail.

Erica Taylor, Co-Founding Partner at TINSEL Experiential Design

  • Provide a working project timeline to the clients, which demonstrates the feasibility of your team’s involvement and insight into your team’s process, systems, and action steps.
  • Re-articulate KPIs and success metrics—if applicable, include other measurable data points that might be valuable and prove the ROI of the project.
  • Whether it’s requested or not, share other projects and case studies with proof points that share the same aesthetic style or scope. This helps clients feel secure in the fact that you have the experience and expertise needed to get the job done.
  • Include a section to reflect open questions, which demonstrates that you are thinking deeply and analytically about the project proposed in the RFP.

Tyler Sweatt, Managing Partner at Future Tense

Context and clarity will set your RFP responses apart. Too many organizations respond to RFPs with canned marketing language and limited substance, making evaluation and differentiation extremely difficult.

Contextualize your response to the actual challenges the organization you’re responding to is facing. Show them you understand how your solution must fit into their environment. Make it clear that your solution or approach is credible and relevant through cases studies or supporting data.

Frank Oelschlager, Partner/Managing Director at Ten Mile Square Technologies

To make an RFP response truly stand out, it must not only meet the bar for completeness, content quality, and qualifications—it must also provide detail into both “the what” and “the how.”

The best way to offer this detail is by directly connecting the proposed solution to the various parts of the problem statement and requirements laid out in the RFP. Create a narrative that allows the buyer to visualize their success as a result of your partnership.

Greg Githens, Author at Catalyst & Cadre

The strategic thinking micro skill of empathy is critical to a good response. Make your potential client the hero of the story. Show that you have an adequate understanding of the client and their business environment. Imagine the RFP issuer reading your proposal with a compliance matrix next to them, where they first evaluate whether you understand their needs then how well your offer fits.

Walter Wise, CEO at The BPI Strategy Group

Respond to every requirement, providing the exact information requested, using the format that was requested. Write in layman’s terms, typically 10th to 11th grade level, as that is easy to understand by the evaluators. I don’t use fancy covers, but I do use Johnson Boxes and specific proposal graphics when practical.

Ingrid Christensen, President at INGCO International

  • Give yourself enough time. It usually takes double the amount of time to prepare a quality response than you estimated.
  • Research who is on the decision-making panel and figure out their pain points. Customize your proposal to hit all the details requested in the RFP and tailor your communication to address all pain points.
  • Take time to read, reread, and reread again. Make sure you have several team members review the entire document.
  • Deliver at least a day early. You don’t want all of your hard work to go down the drain because your RFP didn’t arrive on time.

Rafe Gomez, Co-owner at VC Inc. Marketing

Don’t feature verbose, unnecessary, or extraneous components that make absolutely no sense from a selling perspective. You don’t need to tell the whole story—just tell enough to hook your prospect. By describing the exclusive benefits your organization can deliver as quickly, concisely, and convincingly as possible…you’ll have greater potential to win the deal.

Diane Callihan, President at Callihan Content Creation

I always feel a bit sorry for the person who has to wade through a number of RFP responses, because they are typically so dry and boring. To stand out, I make my RFP responses fun to read—not being afraid to include some personality, attitude, and humor. My agency was awarded a large project, and the client said it had a lot to do with the fact that my proposal made them laugh.

Joe Marchelewski, Sr. Account Manager at Juris Productions PR

Being meticulous with the response is absolutely necessary. Do your homework on the company. What exactly are they asking? Who has represented them in the past? What kinds of clues can you find from their prior representation? RFP responses need context. Context only comes from understanding…which only comes from research.

Ken Gaul, Director at Source One

Understand that there is a certain amount of “checking the box” that needs to be done. Answer the face value question concisely, then springboard into your solution to the question(s) behind the question. Beyond what your prospective customer is asking you for, what should they be thinking about?

To rise to the top of the scorecard, you need to be competitively priced but you also need the prospect to feel that you understand their challenges innately, and that you can guide them to the ideal solution. The premise is that your solution is the ideal one, and they just don’t know it yet.

This is, of course, assuming that you’ve already done your due diligence and qualified the opportunity. Is the person running the RFP going to properly represent your solution to the true decision makers? If not, maybe pass on it. Your time is better spent on prospects with whom you can develop a relationship.

Tamara Van Meter, Firm Principal and Head of Interior Design at SMBW

  • Follow their lead. Use the client’s RFP format, including the order and terminology, to make it easy for them to read and evaluate.
  • Incorporate performance results from past projects to demonstrate the value you bring to the table.
  • Avoid oversaturating each page with text. A good practice with proposal formatting is to use photographs or graphics with no more than three supporting points for a clear and succinct message.

Lisa Rehurek, Founder and CEO at The RFP Success™ Company

Give prompts to your technical writers for each question. Make it easy for them to give you what you need, and help them in the process. Prompt them with how to answer the question with more detailed questions, or provide them with a table that outlines exactly what information you want them to provide. This keeps them focused, it gives you more consistency across multiple technical writers, and it makes the process simpler on them.

Looking for ways to improve team collaboration for stronger RFP responses? Start using RFPIO to craft winning content with your team.

Increase your RFP success rate with relationship selling

Increase your RFP success rate with relationship selling

RFPs are a competitive knock-out sport: there’s only one winner who makes it to the podium. In my long experience as a senior account executive, there are ways to get an edge. Most elite sportsmen have some inside technique that just gives them a tiny advantage, but enough to win. I’m going to tell you my secrets for winning your next RFP.

The RFP has to show how you are the best fit for the job, right? That all starts with focusing on the relationship you have with your prospect.

Since Q4 is coming to a close, you need to make—or better yet—exceed your sales targets. It’s time to refocus on your prospect, so you can increase your RFP success rate and reach your sales goals.

Why do organizations lose RFPs?

That’s a big question, but here are some things I see consistently happening with organizations. The reasons are actually very simple…

  1. They don’t give themselves enough time.
  2. They don’t tailor their content.
  3. They don’t send the final draft.

As you have probably experienced firsthand, the time issue has an avalanche effect on everything else. The RFP quality just isn’t where it needs to be to win. There are so many people involved in an RFP response process. If you’re not on top of the process, it will show.

Part of the solution is improving your RFP response process as a whole. The other part of the solution falls in your court when you’re in sales. A couple of mistakes here and there might be overlooked if you have an established relationship with the prospect ahead of time.

A big reason why organizations win RFPs? They built a solid relationship.

Why the relationship is vital for RFP success

Establishing a relationship gives you the edge over your competitors. It also helps your potential client understand you, your product or service, and what’s in it for them. They’re not coming into this RFP blind. They will already have a knowledge of your product, personnel, and skills and they can see the benefits more clearly.

Ever heard of relationship selling? Hubspot describes it best…

“Relationship sellers prioritize their connection with the customer over all other aspects of the sale. They develop trust—usually by adding value and spending a lot of time with prospects—before attempting to close.”

It’s key to have a relationship ahead of time—at the very least to have had one conversation so you know where this RFP is coming from. If you receive an RFP out of the blue, contact the person issuing it and find out the background.

Is the opportunity worth pursuing? Or is this one of those situations where the issuer simply needs some bids to fill a procurement quota? Once you’ve decided to continue forward, it’s time to gain as much information as possible so you can start your RFP at a distinct advantage.

Research absolutely matters for your RFPs

Be diligent in your research. Increasing your RFP win rate involves a little homework upfront. This helps you make the most out of every conversation you have with a prospect, so you can tailor your RFP responses in the best possible way.

My own research process includes tracking LinkedIn profiles. Usually, there are two people you’re speaking with during the sales process. On LinkedIn, look both of them up and find out how long they’ve been at the company.

Sometimes if your prospect is a newbie, they may see this particular RFP as their big initiative to make an impression. It’s going to be very important that they put a good foot forward during this RFP evaluation process and select the proper vendor.

Put a little extra thought and time into that research phase—and be sure to check their previous companies and roles. When you do your research, it gives you a few more talking points so you can build a little rapport. People tend to respond better when they recognize the extra effort. It’s also easier to follow up with them later on.

Ask great questions to show quick value

From your research, create a list of detailed questions beyond merely the scope of the RFP. There is only so much you can find out with digital detective work. The best way to find out the answer to an unknown is to ask your prospect directly.

“Act like a win for your prospect is a win for you. Together, you’re trying to find the best possible outcome.” – Hubspot

Often times you will discover vital information as I did recently with a prospect. I asked a fairly simple question about their current RFP process to see how our response management platform might fit in. They told me this: “We’re moving to a cloud model and migrating all of our content to SharePoint.”

This helped me understand exactly which features I needed to share about RFPIO so they quickly understood the value of our solution. I didn’t mess around with features they wouldn’t care about.

Knowing these specifics made the conversation worthwhile for both of us. Then, I was able to communicate that sales intelligence to our RFP writers so they could create better content.

After you submit the RFP, follow-up

There are some practical steps you can take to ensure your RFP has the best chance of winning. And, these steps are often missed by organizations because they don’t build a follow-up strategy into the master plan.

This first follow-up step may sound like a no-brainer, but I’ll say it anyway. After you submit your RFP, confirm that the issuer received it. This follow-up is an opportunity to continue the dialog with the decision-maker. That quick email gives them the impression you are eager to do business with them.

Sometimes they don’t let you know you have moved on to the second round promptly, so again a quick call can help. Use that time to briefly reinforce how your service or product plays in with their future plans.

You always need to have a plan for following up, and maybe sending additional information if needed. Think of the issuer’s needs, and you’ll always know what those content assets look like. When you’re proactive about following up, it shows the issuer that you want the deal. So, do what it takes to stay top of mind.

“The main principle underpinning relationship selling is simple: Always think about the long-term impact of your actions.” – Hubspot

RFP software keeps track of the entire deal

From a sales perspective, it’s nice to have a system like RFPIO that allows you to communicate and have a forum to discuss issues internally among your team. RFPIO allows you to keep track of all your notes about the sales process and the deal. Not necessarily just about the content of the submission, but also collating all the other information surrounding the proposal.

One of RFPIO’s most important features for you is Salesforce integration. Since the RFP is being worked on by other people in your organization, tracking progress is key. With RFPIO, just look in your Salesforce dashboard to find out that information quickly and easily.

You want to have a system that can automatically alert you about different tasks and follow-ups and things that you need to do. For example, if I need to send somebody an email in three weeks, there’s zero chance I’m going to remember that unless I have a system in place that alerts me. So, having all sorts of tasks set up within RFPIO is extremely helpful.

Winning RFPs is significant for your company’s bottom line. If you look at the dollar amount of the total projects you could win, it might be huge if you are consistently winning bids with perfectly-tailored proposals.

The relationship is an important part of both your RFP process AND your sales process. Put some time and energy there and you’ll see the pay-off.

Use this security questionnaire template to win back time

Use this security questionnaire template to win back time

Ask someone who responds to security questionnaires how many questions they see, and they’ll casually reveal a number that’s somewhere in the realm of well over a thousand questions. Any vendor offering a SaaS solution will face the Standardized Information Gathering (Security Questionnaires) at some point. Depending on the version of the Security Questionnaires, it typically clocks in around a few hundred questions.

Today 97% of organizations use cloud services, according to McAfee’s Practical Guidance and the State of Cloud Security Report. With that widespread adoption comes more security questionnaires for SaaS vendors to respond to.

We speak from personal experience, because we are a SaaS vendor who has been in your shoes. We too must respond to security questionnaires constantly. In our world, a smaller security assessment will usually contain 250 questions, a mid-sized questionnaire will have 650, and the largest assessments have about 2500 questions.

security questionnaire template
The advantage for us—and for our clients—is that we leverage RFP software to overcome inefficiencies. Everyday we talk to organizations who struggle with a manual RFP response process when they can greatly improve productivity with an automated solution.

This month we released an exciting new feature that allows you to import Standardized Information Gathering (Security Questionnaires) with one click. Here is some information about RFPIO’s Security Questionnaires template import and how it will solve inefficiencies to help you win back time.

The first critical step in every RFP project is the import

A Security Questionnaires is a massive security and compliance questionnaire—figuring out where to begin can be an overwhelming task. When using RFP software, importing is the first and arguably most critical step, because it sets the tone for the entire project. If the import causes any friction, teams will spend time they don’t have to spare.

With intelligent RFP technology, an import is actually a time-savings opportunity for teams. That even applies to spreadsheets with thousands of questions. Based on your personal history with large scale vendor assessments, it’s likely difficult to imagine importing such a sizable spreadsheet into your RFP response automation solution quickly.

After enduring our own inefficiencies over the years, we found a way to load the information in one click with the Security Questionnaires template import. Long days in the office spent responding to our most recent Security Questionnaires pushed us over the edge, and inspired us to do something about it.

How the security questionnaire template solves inefficiencies

A Security Questionnaires is a very macro-heavy Excel, and traditionally it’s been a challenge to bring it into any automated RFP response solution. Excel macros are built into how the dependent questions come up and how the completion metric is calculated. Because you’re working with a standard template, you as the responder must answer the same questions repeatedly.

In other cases, standard questions might be seen as a good thing—but not with a Standardized Information Gathering Questionnaire. These security assessments are clearly exhausting for anyone tackling thousands of questions. No other RFP automation solution is currently in place that can solve this Security Questionnaires situation, and that leaves you searching for alternatives that are less than desirable.

One option is to hire interns as users to do a comparison and transpose the answers. Another option is to submit a previous version of a Security Questionnaires that you responded to, and see if the issuer will accept it. However, typically issuers add their own questions, and you might lose the deal because your responses aren’t up to snuff.

SIG template import
As you respond to a Security Questionnaires, RFPIO understands how the macro is programmed and works with your selection process. If you answer “yes,” it knows the dependencies and presents those 150 or so questions to you. If you answer “no,” it knows not to show irrelevant questions.

RFPIO goes through the Security Questionnaires on its own, to learn which questions need to come after which answers. RFPIO helps you take control of the most complex security assessments, because the technology is able to handle multiple levels of dependencies and then translate and automate that for you. The key is then being able to export your responses back into the original format, so you’re not having to do any work when you’re done in the application.

“Completing security questionnaires used to be an extremely time-consuming process for our team. RFPIO offers a one-click Security Questionnaires template import, in addition to auto-response and bulk answering features that promote speed and accuracy. What used to take days—or even weeks—now only takes us a couple of hours.” – Mandana Salehi, Director of Sales at Zapproved

Standardized information gathering questionnaires in one click

Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for…Standardized Information Gathering questionnaires can be imported into RFPIO with a single click. You upload the appropriate template (CAIQ, Security Questionnaires – Core, full, or lite). You can import directly from your local computer or cloud storage, such as: Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or Box.

From here, you can move on with your day, since the project’s primary contact receives an email notification once the import process is completed. Meanwhile, RFPIO configures questions, sections, and subsections on your behalf. Once the import is finished, it’s time for you to jump back into the project to review questions and sections.

This is where auto-response works its magic to populate your Security Questionnaires  with the most relevant matches from your answer library. The standardized nature of these questionnaires makes this response process very efficient through automation. You then customize as needed to ensure accuracy, or to add any necessary flourishes to wow that particular issuer.

Last, but certainly not least, you export everything back into the template of your choosing and send off to the issuer. Overall, less time will be spent on sizable vendor assessments so you can focus on other priorities.

There really is no need to dread the next massive Security Questionnaires that comes your way. With RFPIO’s Security Questionnaires template import, you and your team can use speed and accuracy to compete thousands of questions to land the deal.

Ready to take our Security Questionnaires template out for a spin? Schedule a demo to win back time.

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