When a request for proposal (RFP) comes across your inbox, it might seem overwhelming. Some RFPs contain 100s of questions on 1,000s of pages (or vice versa). Your first instinct might be to set it aside in favor of more straightforward deals, especially if you’re in sales instead of on a dedicated response team.
RFPs might be long and complicated, but most high-value deals come through RFPs, so ignoring a viable opportunity could cost your company $10s of thousands of dollars or far, far more. Further, if the RFP comes from a well-known or enterprise organization, ignoring it could cost your company some coveted cache that could ultimately bring in more business through having that company on your customer roster.
Whether you’re a relative newbie to RFP responses or a seasoned professional, learning more about RFP management could help you win more bids. And while we can’t guarantee you’ll get a raise or promotion, winning a big deal is a big deal and might earn your boss’s respect.
What is a request for proposal (RFP)?
When a company needs to purchase a significant service or product, it will often issue a request for proposal (RFP) to collect bids from multiple vendors. Sometimes they solicit bids from specific vendors, and sometimes they open the bidding process to any potential fit.
RFPs are typically more than about getting the lowest price—we’ll get to that later in this article.
An RFP is often 100s or even 1,000s of pages long with questions as diverse as, well, diversity in hiring practices and whether the vendor complies with the customer’s regulatory requirements.
The primary purpose of an RFP is to help issuers determine which company is the best fit for their specific needs. An RFP also:
- Formally announces a project for bidding – An RFP is a little like a starting gun at the beginning of a race. Instead of the first to the finish line, however, the winner is the vendor that best suits the customer’s needs.
- Defines project for issuers and responders – RFPs offer detailed explanations of project requirements and expectations.
- Enables buyers to compare potential vendors – If you’ve ever shopped for a mattress, it’s almost like each retailer or manufacturer speaks a different language. If two stores carry the same manufacturer, the model names and numbers are entirely different. That’s intentional; it makes it really difficult to compare pricing and features when you’re comparing apples to watermelons. RFPs let the buyers define the parameters, and vendors (should) respond with specific and straightforward answers, which enable apples-to-apples comparisons.
Proposal manager: role and responsibilities
At the very surface, a proposal manager is the project manager for the RFP response process. When we dig a little deeper, though, we see that proposal managers are some of the most important and knowledgeable people in an organization.
When a proposal manager isn’t herding cats, their job is to know the organization’s who, what, where, when, why, and how, or at least where to find such information. A proposal manager:
- Is the point of contact for the organization – There to answer questions from RFP issuers, response teams, sales teams, executives, and SMEs.
- Aligns tasks and team members – Herding those metaphorical felines
- Facilitates team meetings
- Drives discussion and collaboration – Once those cats are in line (I think I’ve milked this metaphor dry), the proposal manager is responsible for ensuring that the right people are answering the right questions.
- Enforces timelines for project status – RFPs have strict deadlines. Proposal managers have the experience to know how to break the project up into manageable timelines to reach that final deadline.
- Verifies project compliance – Does the proposal answer the issuer’s questions? Can the company comply with their needs?
- Produces proposal submission – No matter how many stakeholders were involved in answering an RFP, it’s ultimately up to the proposal manager to ensure that it’s accurate, well-written, and on time.
An RFP response should be strategic and laser-focused on a single goal, winning those winnable bids. While it might sound straightforward, effective RFP management is akin to conducting an orchestra when the musicians are scattered throughout the music hall and even the world.
When a company specifically reaches out to your company for a bid, it’s sort of flattering, and the impulse is to answer the RFP. Many RFPs, though, are open to any bidder. A poorly-defined RFP management process might include answering the wrong RFPs and a disjointed response process, resulting in a low win rate.
That’s why a transparent, strategic approach is critical to managing RFP responses and fostering a more efficient proposal response process.
- Organize RFP response process – Is the RFP worth pursuing? If so, who are the key stakeholders, and what are their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?
- Establish a channel for accountability – RFPIO features communication and accountability tools to keep your team running smoothly and on time.
- Decrease response time – Save time with efficient communication and an AI-enhanced content management system that can answer up to 80% of an RFP with a few clicks.
- Improve response quality – Winning a bid is about far more than just price. Dramatically shaving time from the more monotonous parts of the response provides more time for crafting compelling stories and ensuring that the response is well-written, complete, and accurate.
- Create a centralized database of assets and resources – Save subject matter experts (SMEs) and team members from having to duplicate their efforts by recording responses in a centralized database of assets and resources.
- Increase bid win rate – Respond to the right RFPs instead of more RFPs to increase your bid win rate.
There are three primary options for managing RFP proposals. They include outsourcing responses, manual responses, and RFP software.
Outsourcing the response process
Many companies choose to outsource their response process, especially if they’re relatively small or their employees are strapped for time. While outsourcing has significant advantages, there are some steep downsides to watch out for.
Advantages of outsourcing
- Saving time – Outsourcing does save significant company time. Proposal managers can step into more of a supervisory role and let the contractor do all the labor-intensive work.
- Improved response quality – Outsourcing lets you pull the response manager out of the weeds and allows them to focus on the final drafts instead of each iteration.
Disadvantages of outsourcing
- Risks confidential information – Providing outside access to proprietary information is risky. Hackers and cybercriminals could intercept even if the contractor is fully screened and has an airtight NDA.
- Loss of business knowledge – RFP contractors don’t generally update a company knowledge base, meaning any information provided to them will be lost to the next person who needs it.
- Big financial investment – Outsourcing the response process could pay for itself, if you answer a lot of RFPs each year. Otherwise, it’s much cheaper to keep it in-house.
- Time spent tracking down stakeholders – The further a contractor is removed from your company’s infrastructure and org chart, the more time spent tracking them down.
Smaller companies, or those who haven’t found the right RFP software fit, may still use manual response processes. There’s often a reluctance to let go of manual processes, which we completely understand.
Are you working harder than you need to? As the response manager, you’re tasked with juggling all of a response process’s moving parts. It’s up to you to stay on top of everything, including sending emails, managing all authors and SMEs, reviewing each Q&A pair, and ensuring deadlines are met.
Still, there are some benefits to sticking with manual processes:
- Requires no upfront investment – Manual processes utilize the tools you already have, such as document and spreadsheet software and PDF readers. And let’s not forget the most essential tool of all, human power.
- Familiarity with tools and processes – If you’re already used to manual processes, there’s no learning curve.
- No uplift – You’ll never have to worry about software price increases.
Still, it’s pretty hard to make the case that manual response management processes are the ideal solution for any company. They are:
- Time-consuming – You have to answer how many questions? How many times can you answer the very same question? Why is pinning down SMEs so complicated?
- Repetitive – How many times can you answer the very same question? Oh wait, did I just ask that?
- Decentralized – Financial statements, diversity policies, data compliance assurance, timelines, pricing…an RFP will include information from multiple departments and sources. Do you have to chase each one down?
- Collaboration inhibitors – Poor and non-existent communication and project management tools make collaboration challenging.
- Response capacity killers – The more time you spend stalking stakeholders for information, the less time you have to craft a compelling response, and the less time you have for answering other RFPs.
Leveraging RFP software
RFP software is designed to organize and simplify the RFP response process. Most importantly, advanced RFP software lets you respond to more of the right RFPs, increasing your proposal win rate and producing a hefty ROI.
Recent statistics show that:
- 77% of proposal professionals say that their response process could use some improvement.
- 75% of proposal teams with fully-adopted response technology say they always respond on time.
That’s not to say all RFP software is the same, but there are some standard features.
Features of an RFP response tool
The core features of RFP software include:
- Automation – RFP software should help make your entire response process more productive by automating as many tasks as possible.
- Content library – A content library is a centralized resource, a single source of truth, that holds assets in a single, easily accessible location.
- Collaboration tools – RFP response software should foster collaboration through notifications and efficiencies with repeatable tasks.
Integrations and extensions
Advanced RFP response management software has features that level up the response process with integrations and AI-powered intuition. An automated response process has demonstrable benefits, including faster response times, more accurate and better-written responses, higher win rates, and a substantial ROI.
Competitive advantages of automating the response processes with RFPIO include:
- Efficient response management – Streamline the response process with project management features, accessible and searchable content, reporting, and intuitive automated responses that answer the majority of questions with a click of a button.
- Improved response quality – Simplified collaboration and automated responses gives back time to response managers, allowing them to fine-tune their proposals.
- Easier collaboration – Communicate across verticals, state lines, and oceans. Compile responses right inside your favorite communication app with RFPIO’s seamless integrations. We integrate with Slack, Microsoft Teams, Jira, and Google Hangouts. Unlimited user access ensures that all stakeholders are included.
- Standardized formats – RFPIO supports importing RFPs, security questionnaires, and DDQs from any format (such as Word, Excel, PDFs) and plugs the questions into your preferred template. From there, you can export using white-labeled templates or the source format (usually a spreadsheet).
- Consistent deliverables – RFPIO’s project management features keep projects on track and on time.
- Cost savings – Most SaaS products have subscription-based pricing models, which is costly, especially for smaller companies. RFPIO has a unique pricing model; instead of charging a subscription fee for each user, RFPIO charges based on the number of projects during any given time.
- Increased revenue growth – Better bids translate to a higher win rate which translates to higher revenue.
There are some challenges to implementing RFP management software, although they don’t have to be deal breakers.
- Demonstrating ROI – Demonstrating ROI to decision makers who may not even know what a response team does can be tricky. RFPIO makes it simple to make the case.
- Securing an increased budget for an RFP management solution – Securing budgets, especially in a tight economy, is challenging, even with a proven ROI. Your company already knows the value in sales enablement tools. RFPIO adds value to your existing CRMs and the rest of your tech stack with industry-leading integrations.
- Onboarding RFP response team – There is a short ramp-up time to learn how to use RFP software, and RFPIO’s integrations help set your team up for a smooth transition.
Tips for improved RFP management
Whether you are full-time or an accidental response manager, and whether or not you use RFP software, follow best practices for facilitating more effective proposal responses by taking time and care when there’s an opportunity.
- Develop an efficient go/no go process – Start by deciding whether an RFP is even worth it with an efficient go/no go process. Can you meet the customer’s needs? Do you want to meet the customer’s needs? What is your track record with similar RFPs?
- Leverage automation to streamline workflow – Automated project management processes ensure that each deliverable is met. RFPIO’s automated Content Library does up to 80% of the work for you.
- Create a quality content library – RFPIO’s Content Library is a single repository for all company knowledge, but it needs regular maintenance to deduplicate and ensure accuracy. Conduct regular audits; audit new clients more frequently and old customers less frequently.
- Utilize branded response template – As much as we’d love you to sing our praises to all of your customers, responses come from you, not us. Add your brand to your preferred templates.
- Consider an all-in-one software solution – RFPIO offers nearly anything you might want to see in an RFP response solution. If there’s a feature you don’t see, ask us.
The challenges of RFP response management
Additional challenges to the RFP response process include:
- Labor-intensive processes – RFP responses are labor intensive, but proposal software can dramatically cut the number of hours.
- Tight deadlines – If a proposal is due at noon on Wednesday, it’s due at noon, not 12:01, and definitely not Thursday. RFPIO’s project management features will help you meet that deadline.
- Disorganized proposal content – Data professionals spend around half their time trying to find, protect, and build content. Having that content in a single, easily searchable place saves hours each week.
- Collaboration – Everyone, it seems, is either busy or far away. RFPIO’s collaboration tools take the hassle out of working together.
- Security – Protect your data with RFPIO’s SSO Authentication.
How RFPIO can help
RFP response management software is a more efficient way to create quality responses. RFPIO utilizes advanced technology, including machine learning, and a unique pricing model to remain at the forefront of RFP response management software. We help companies overcome challenges with our:
- Centralized proposal knowledge library – Most questions already have answers somewhere within your organization. Keep them all in one easy-to-find place with RFPIO’s Content Library.
- Automated proposal responses – Let us answer the common and easy questions while you focus on the dealmakers.
- Streamlined workflow and task management – Use RFPIO’s project management features or use RFPIO within your existing task management software.
- Simplified communication – Gone are the days when we run down the hall to ask a question. RFPIO lets you ask any question or anyone in the organization at any time.
- Integrated data protections into your management solution – RFPIO takes security very seriously.
Improve your RFP response process with better management solutions
Improve your work processes and impress your boss(es) with RFPIO’s all-in-one RFP management solution. Schedule a Free Demo to learn how.