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

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

If you’ve ever responded to a request for proposal (RFP), you know they tend to be about 80-85% boilerplate content. […]


Category: Author: Ganesh Shankar

Ganesh Shankar is CEO and co-founder of RFPIO, the leading cloud-based response management platform. Together, with his co-founders, Ganesh has pioneered the most advanced technology for RFP responders, helping revenue teams respond to queries with maximum efficiency while creating higher quality responses and additional revenue opportunities. Connect with Ganesh on LinkedIn and Twitter.
RFP automation: What it is, how it works, and best practices

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

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

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

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

In this blog, we’ll cover:

What is RFP automation?

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

But let’s take a step back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you automate an RFP response?

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

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

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

marketing technology landscape

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

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

Benefits of RFP automation

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

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

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

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

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

RFP automation: Is it a good AI use case?

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

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

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

RFP automation best practices

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

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

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

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

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

The secret to RFP automation success: Organized content

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

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

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

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

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

How managers can set their proposal teams up for success

How managers can set their proposal teams up for success

In 2019, 23.8% of the total workforce in the US was working from home, according to the US Labor Bureau of Statistics. Although the Labor Bureau hasn’t released stats for 2020 yet, I think it’s safe to say that the percentage of remote workers will be significantly higher than 23.8%.

While the media published plenty of grim predictions about what the sudden shift to remote work could mean, the anticipated doom and gloom has yet to appear. In fact, the majority of Americans have embraced remote work with open arms—one recent survey found that 54% of Americans want to keep working remotely, even after offices can safely reopen.

As we all settle more comfortably into remote work, lots of managers are getting creative, looking for new ways to help their teams succeed when working from home. Once you figure out the right workflow for your team, remote work presents lots of opportunities for your team to grow and thrive.

A few weeks ago, I talked with Kevin Knopf, the Sr. VP of Marketing and Communications at Keenan & Associates. Before the imposed lockdowns, 95% of Kevin’s team was coming into the office every day. In one day, this percentage flipped on its head, where 100% of his team was suddenly working from home. As he navigated this new working environment, he learned three key things about setting his team up for success.

1) Make productivity a priority

The one thing Kevin knew for sure is that he needed to do everything in his power to make the transition as smooth as possible, while also keeping his team productive. He started by focusing on his people.

The first thing Kevin did was encourage his team to adjust their work schedules according to when they were most productive, instead of sticking to the regular 9 to 5 routine. This small change greatly boosted the team’s productivity and helped them to better serve their clients.

As a manager, it’s important to listen to your team members and understand what they really need. This might mean telling them to take tomorrow off when they’re stressed out. Or making sure they log off at their designated quitting time. Giving your team the chance to take some time off helps them recharge and to come back mentally refreshed, ready to do their best work.

It’s also important for managers to find ways to be flexible and go with the flow when unexpected things happen. Maybe your team member’s kids bounded into the room during a video call. Taking a moment to smile and greet them shows your team members that you care about them as people and spreads positive energy throughout the team.

2) Strengthen your response process

When you’re thinking about strengthening your response process, the first thing you should focus on his finding technology that works for your team. For Kevin, having a solution like RFPIO was mission-critical when it came to creating remote workflows.

RFPIO has made a huge difference, especially the project management features that enable them to set up tasks and checklists. In addition to helping them organize their RFPs and respond to them in record time, these checklists have helped team members keep track of each project.

While Kevin’s team had always valued technology’s role in the RFP response process, the transition to remote work encouraged them to further explore some of RFPIO’s features that make remote work easier, especially features that support collaboration and project management.

Another part of setting up remote-friendly workflows is finding an onboarding process that works. Kevin starts the onboarding process with a video series that gives new proposal managers a virtual tour of the RFPIO platform. Kevin also provides a PDF step-by-step manual that the managers can follow as they review the training videos.

This remote onboarding process has been hugely successful at Keenan & Associates, giving new team members a chance to quickly get comfortable with the platform.

3) Build connections with team members

Having a close-knit team that values cooperation and creative problem-solving is key for making remote work a success. And this process starts with establishing connections among team members.

Since positive teams are more productive teams, he stayed on the look-out for ways to bring his team closer together, even though they were no longer sharing a physical space. He set up an open Zoom meeting where team members were free to talk about life outside of work. He also organized different “theme days” on Fridays—one Friday, everyone showed up to the video call wearing their favorite tie-dyed shirt.

It’s also important to hold regular meetings at least once or twice a week to touch base and make sure everyone is on the same page. These meetings should cover each team member’s home life as well as their work life. Talk about what’s happening at home, and what non-work responsibilities they have to take on this week. Regular check-ins like these help team members to understand what’s going on in each other’s lives and helps bring them closer together.

Take your proposal team to the next level

Remote work is here to stay, which gives proposal teams plenty of opportunities to rise to the occasion and embrace innovation in the workplace. This is the perfect time to take advantage of technology solutions such as RFPIO to establish efficient RFP workflows that boost productivity whether working remotely or in the office.

Watch my full webinar, below, to learn more about how to take advantage of technology to best support your remote team. Or schedule a demo to learn about how RFP software can help your remote proposal team.

What response management software can do for your revenue team

What response management software can do for your revenue team

Since we started RFPIO, we have been on a mission to help RFP responders succeed. We have been a leader in this relatively new technological space, one of the first to bring efficiency to responders who had lived with a manual approach to everyday business.

As we move into a new year, we are redefining the way our solution supports everyone across the organization. Though our origins are rooted in helping teams respond to RFPs, what we began to notice along the way was the many use cases for our software.

To support you and your revenue team, let’s look at the vast potential of response management software like RFPIO. You’ll walk away with a more strategic approach to response management.

What is response management software (RMS)?

Response Management Software (RMS), helps companies create, manage, and automate responses to both long-form and short-form business inquiries at any stage of the sales cycle. These inquiries can range from formal business requests issued by buyers such as RFPs and Security Questionnaires, to informal questions submitted by prospects through chatbots or from customers through support tickets.

Response Management Software serves as an internal knowledgebase, integrating with CRMs, Content Management Systems (CMS), and Collaboration tools to capture and democratize subject-matter-expertise and content across multiple teams, business units, or companies.

RFPIO is the leading solution in response management, having pioneered the most advanced technology for RFP responders over the past several years. With process and technology improvements, responders are able to create higher quality responses and additional revenue opportunities.

RFP software vs. response management software

RFP software is fairly one dimensional in that responding to RFPs is the primary use case. With response management software, the technology supports many use cases. Content can be repurposed for responding to a multitude of business queries—RFx (RFP, RFI, etc.), statements of work (SOW), security questionnaires, CAIQ and grants.

In addition, organizations who think outside the box use our solution to store anything from sales follow-up email templates to onboarding materials. Content is engrained in all of our business processes. Response management software helps you organize, store, and execute from a single source of truth.

A response management software like RFPIO:

  • Is cloud-based, so you don’t have to navigate a maze of documents and folders—and find ways to store your content.
  • Uses patented import technology and exports back into templates and originals files to start and finish each project smoothly.
  • Includes a dynamic answer library, which serves as the hub for all of your organization’s content and company information.
  • Has an AI-powered content recommendation engine that makes finding your best responses easier.
  • Offers bi-directional integrations with your team’s favorite technologies, along with an open API, so everyone and everything is connected.
  • Allows you to search, select, and store answer library content across all web pages and applications through a Google Chrome extension called RFPIO Lookup.
  • Brings clear and instant visibility with reports and dashboards that help you track project status and progress and discover insights to make data-driven decisions.
  • Helps you respond to ANY type of query faster.

Let’s say you are a sales manager at an enterprise technology company with a high stakes deal on the table. The prospect you’ve been working with sends you a large security questionnaire, along with a DDQ (Due Diligence Questionnaire) that you must turn around by the end of the week.

Resources are spread very thin right now. You must complete the majority of the questionnaire on your own and engage subject matter experts (SMEs) sparingly. You have several new deals in the works that require your constant attention. You’re not sure how you’ll pull this DDQ and security questionnaire off before the deadline while keeping other opportunities on the right track.

Response management software allows you to manage multiple queries at once. You can handle the entire family of possible requests during the sales process—the RFP (Request for Proposal), RFI (Request for Information), or DDQ (Due Diligence Questionnaire).

For the security questionnaire, use bulk answering to knock out sections at a time then call in your SME to fill in gaps and sign off. While all of this deal is in motion, you continue to nurture other prospects using RFPIO’s answer library to populate follow-up emails with relevant communication and high-performing sales content.

You submit everything with time to spare and keep moving other deals forward. That’s the difference between response management software and RFP software. This technology supports you throughout every stage of the deal. And, it’s there whenever you need support for other business queries that come up.

Strategic response management across revenue teams

Today’s revenue team isn’t the sales team alone. Revenue teams include sales, marketing, support, and customer success. To improve response management across revenue teams, it is equal parts process and technology.

Creating a great process is always step one. What we find is that even with the best technology, teams need to be united by a strategy in order to maximize the features and capabilities of the very technology their organization invests in. We recently created a user adoption strategy to help.

If you are leading the charge with user adoption, it’s important to know the benefits of the software and how one solution can be used in multiple scenarios and initiatives. Below we have outlined the many use cases of our response management solution.

This breakdown will help you understand the diverse capabilities of RFPIO. If you are an existing client, you will find new ways of using the solution. If you are searching for a comprehensive content management platform, you will see the many possibilities that will exceed your organization’s response and query needs.

RFx

RFPIO can be used for any RFx project. This includes an RFP (request for proposal), RFI (Request for Information), RFQ (Request for Quote), or a DDQ (Due Diligence Questionnaire). Some or all of these RFx documents come and go throughout the sales process.

Our response management solution allows you to respond to any of these documents in a collaborative ecosystem, making the process easier and efficient for your organization’s many contributors.

Security Questionnaires

A security questionnaire comes in many forms – Security Questionnaires Lite (Standardized Information Gathering Questionnaires), VSAQ (Vendor Security Assessment Questionnaire), CAIQ (Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire), and VSA (Vendor Security Alliance Questionnaire), NIST 800-171 (National Institute of Standards and Technology Questionnaire
CIS Controls).

One thing they all have in common? They are complex and time-consuming, without the right tools.

RFPIO greatly reduces completion time for buys teams, with auto-response and bulk answering doing the majority of the work upfront. This extra time allows teams to perform their due diligence with accurate responses that meet the issuer’s requirements.

After the responses are ready, teams export responses back into the original sources with clean data, eliminating the need to wrestle with editing and formatting.

Marketing Content

Often marketing teams think their involvement with response management software is limited to the RFx process. They come in at the end to perform a buff and polish, to prepare the deliverable.

Because RFPIO is a content management platform at its core, marketing teams can use the solution to store and create content, such as—brand guidelines, testimonials, press releases, and award submissions.

SOWs

To present the scope for a highly complex project, response management software is extremely useful for SOWs. Rather than using various documents and spreadsheets to piecemeal sections together, section templates offer standard content that can be reused and customized.

From content creation to the review process, the SOW workflow is easier when everyone has one tool to operate inside.

Grants

Time is money for any business, especially a non-profit who needs to stretch their budget and resources. With grant writing, teams strengthen their content by using the answer library to search and select the latest stats and financials.

Often sign-off from an executive or board of directors is needed with grants, and sequential reviewing clarifies the chain-of-command throughout this completion process.

Onboarding

RFPIO allows unlimited users, promoting wide-scale adoption throughout various departments, including human resources, support, and customer success teams. Because very little training is required, all teams can jump into the tool and customize it for their needs.

Organizations often use the solution to support their hiring efforts, as the content repository simplifies the constant need to add and update onboarding content. The same applies to support and customer success team members who need to be quickly brought up to speed.

Discovery Calls

Since RFPIO offers a single source of truth, sales teams lean on the power of the answer library every day for many other tasks outside of responding to RFx documents. An SDR can keep RFPIO open on his or her computer screen during discovery calls to find any company or product information immediately.

This ability makes sales teams nimble and confident during the discovery process. The prospect leaves the call informed and interested.

Proactive Proposals

To sell within a highly competitive industry, sales teams will sometimes turn to proactive proposals to beat their competition to the punch. Minimal effort is needed to pull together a proactive proposal within our response management solution.

Sales teams use the top content feature to select the best responses, then export everything into a branded, cleanly formatted template.

Sales Emails

The need for speed is perhaps the motto for any salesperson completing sales-related tasks. RFPIO Lookup recommends email content to help sales teams answer prospect questions.

When using a Google Chrome browser, this feature allows sales to access responses across web pages and applications. They grab the information they need and include it within the email, without losing time to hunt down the answer.

Knowledge Sharing

It would behoove us not to mention knowledge sharing as a whole. RFPIO’s answer library serves as the single source of truth for the entire revenue team: sales, marketing, support, and customer success.

Information silos disrupt your response workflow. Foundational company knowledge ends up in a variety of documents, from visual slide decks to data-heavy spreadsheets—stored on shared drives and folders. Rather than team members feeling they can’t access the information they need, RFPIO makes all necessary content available and ready so everyone can do their best work.

I always like to say: “Recycle, reuse, don’t reinvent.” Response management software allows you to put this mantra into action, so your organization spends more time on refinement and less time on repetition. With this advancement in your response process, your team will produce quality content that results in opportunities, revenue, alignment, and teamwork.

Start your year off with a strategic approach to response management. Schedule a demo of RFPIO.

6 ways RFP response software helps SaaS marketers save and win

6 ways RFP response software helps SaaS marketers save and win

Software as a Service (SaaS) is quickly becoming one of the global economy’s biggest contributors. Software’s impact on worldwide revenue is estimated to grow from $14 billion in 2018 to $46 billion by 2027. This means marketers are tasked with keeping their products at the forefront of their niche in the software market.

Since software RFPs give SaaS organizations the occasion to pursue new business and increase revenue, the quantity and quality of RFPs submitted is critical to your success. RFP response software allows responders to save time, preserve resources, and win business—adding value to your marketing team

Even in a crowded market, opportunities are aplenty. Recently we asked SaaS marketers to reveal their biggest challenges. Learn from their insights so you can use RFP response software to turn common challenges into golden opportunities. You’ll walk away with a renewed vision for marketing success.

Overcome marketing hurdles with RFP response software

1. Attracting and retaining customers

“Attracting customers and increasing retention is a common challenge in SaaS. Marketers must continually think about the top reasons their solution is beneficial, so customers stay and pay for the service.” – Josh Wardini, Co-Founder at Serpwatch

You know what “they say?” The day you get a customer is the day you start losing a customer. When it comes to SaaS products, competitors are always on your heels with updates and enhancements. It’s possible you will compete for your existing customer’s business by responding to an RFP (request for proposal) and/or RFI (request for information) during a subscription renewal.

Software RFP responses should succinctly articulate the client’s pain points, outline measurable outcomes, recommend specific solutions, provide relevant experience and differentiation—and let them know why they should choose to (or continue to) partner with your organization. Never let content in your RFP response software answer library be idle. You can always improve.

2. Good content management

“Good content production is the heart of raising visibility. Level the playing field by focusing on your buyers’ pain points. What is the problem they are trying to solve? How can you solve it for them? The answers to those questions can serve as a starting point.” – Adam Smartschan, VP of Innovation and Strategy at Altitude Marketing

Canned content may seem quick and easy when you’re only days—or even hours—from an RFP deadline. But, canned content won’t impress your prospects. From the executive summary to key differentiators, your responses should be carefully groomed so content engages potential prospects and existing customers.

Good RFP content management is easy with RFP response software. You have client-ready responses on-hand to reduce RFP response times and increase win rates. Content is also organized and centralized to help team members respond to an RFP or RFI quickly and accurately without losing time or missing deadlines.

3. Up-to-date marketing collateral

“In SaaS, the product you are offering changes so quickly that it is often difficult to ensure all of your marketing collateral is kept up-to-date. Depending on the degree to which your product changes, marketers spend most of their valuable time tweaking materials and creating new content.” – Patsy Nearkhou, Marketing Manager at Talkative

Successful organizations should conduct an RFP response content audit on an annual basis, if not more frequently. Why? Because having the best content at your fingertips improves your chances of winning software RFPs.

Set aside some time to review all content stored in your answer library. As a marketer, it’s important to understand the nuances of how content appeals to your target customer. Once you’ve evaluated and improved your RFP responses, your team will have a much easier time using consistent and effective messaging for software RFPs.

4. Stellar content without resources

“The biggest challenge I face is competing in a highly-saturated market against competitors with large marketing teams. As we’re in the SaaS industry, our digital marketing footprint is crucial to our growth, which means our content has to be absolutely stellar.” – Craig Hynd, Marketing Executive at YouManage

Typically, RFP responders have other primary job responsibilities and are called in for the purpose of providing their expertise on software RFPs. That means you too, marketer. Your content expertise is needed to ensure brand consistency for the final deliverable. Yet, in this 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey, 43% of marketers said controlling content quality with RFPs is their biggest challenge.

RFP automation helps you maintain brand consistency, no matter how small or busy your team may be. The answer library makes the best and most relevant content accessible. RFP response software allows your team to customize responses, collaborate in a straightforward way, then export content into a format that adheres to your specific brand guidelines.

5. Meeting deadlines

“Fast turnaround time is a big challenge. By the time we receive RFPs, we have anywhere from 2-7 days to turn around a response. It makes creating a unique proposal a challenge.” – Dena Harris, Marketing Director at USA Test Prep

Imagine you have an entire library of all the best content your team has curated to date. Now imagine you can assign questions and tasks to certain departments or employees so that little time is wasted or lost when a deadline is looming. Take that one step further, and imagine you don’t even have to format all the information you’d like to include in your RFP response.

How much time would all of these innovative features save you? Would the time savings be enough to turn out several more high-quality proposals every month? You know the answer.

6. Working in silos

“A major challenge in marketing a SaaS platform is keeping up with rapid development cycles, which require a marketing manager to keep a very close ear to the ground with the development team. That’s not something we’re traditionally trained to do as marketers.” – Alex Chamberlain, Marketing Group Manager at ERA Environmental Management Solutions

When information gets stuck between departments that don’t communicate regularly, it disrupts the flow of information within any process. RFP response is a group effort and silos are the antithesis of teamwork.

RFP response software gives your team a centralized repository of content for convenient collaboration between departments. Information flows freely between all subject matter experts, allowing your response management team to achieve their best work together.

RFPIO helps you save time, preserve resources, and win business. Schedule a demo to better manage software RFPs.

Bid proposal software will transform your response process

Bid proposal software will transform your response process

The proposal climate is looking strong overall, as shown in the most recent APMP U.S. Benchmarks Report. Three-quarters of proposal professionals positively rated their organization’s performance in winning new business and expressed great satisfaction in regards to internal processes.

Bid proposal software is absolutely cultivating the well-being and success of today’s response management teams. Processes have been transformed by technologically advanced, collaborative work environments. And, we’re only beginning to scratch the surface.

5 transformative effects of bid proposal software

1. Project Management

When a proposal comes in, it seems like an ordinary business document. But this document contains a world of information, from timeline to scope. Your organization must stop seeing a proposal as a document and manage every proposal as its own RFP project. This mindset applies to any response management team, especially a team at an enterprise organization.

There is always a deadline looming. You have a small window to ask for clarifications—and important milestones to hit. RFPIO is a complete project management application, supporting your team of RFP responders from the time you receive a proposal to the time you submit.

“We had a smaller team last year, so we had to stop answering RFPs and focus on answering security questionnaires. We turned RFPIO on the day after Memorial Day, and since then we’ve worked on 129 projects.” – Elizabeth Duke, Director of Presales Support

2. Content Management

Because of the repetitive nature of proposals, content becomes sporadic with RFP responses stored all over the place. Using a combination of Google Docs or SharePoint does not mean your content is updated and accurate. You need an RFP content management system.

RFPIO workflows help your proposal team manage proposal content and keep responses up-to-date. No longer does Sales ask multiple SMEs to complete RFP responses in the eleventh hour.

Instead, RFPIO’s content review workflow allows the SMEs to review the content on a periodic basis defined by your content managers. This is outside of an RFP. Which means all the content is reviewed and approved by the SMEs beforehand, allowing proposal teams and sales teams to use accurate content that is needed to win the deal.

“Since I onboarded, RFPIO has saved my life. Before we didn’t have a tool at all, so I was manually searching through old RFPs that were stored on SharePoint. And now it’s cut our response time down by at least 50 percent.” – Alison Moeller, Team Lead – RFP & Sales Enablement

3. Collaboration

It truly takes a village to complete a proposal. One of our clients, a massive enterprise organization, involves forty different teams to complete RFPs. Perhaps you can relate. Even if one person is on each team, that means forty people must figure out a way to work together in a cohesive manner.

Teamwork is an integral component of a successful RFP response process, which is why RFPIO was built to foster highly collaborative work environments. The ability to have unlimited users within the platform makes it possible for substantial teams to complete substantial proposals with greater efficiency.

“RFPIO saved us from having to hire a new headcount by taking away a lot of the effort we used to put into coordinating RFPs. It allows us to get input from our subject matter experts faster and put together better quality proposals.” – Anthony Rossi, Sales Operations Specialist

4. Integrations

Proposal teams must communicate…and so must technology solutions. Bid proposal software should help your team communicate with each other inside and outside the platform. Additionally, your team should have full visibility and accessibility.

RFPIO is a system that integrates with your existing technology and content ecosystem. Store content in your favorite cloud storage solution (Google Drive, One Drive, Dropbox, Box, Sharepoint). Collaborate easily through Slack or Microsoft Teams. Align your sales teams with CRM integrations (Salesforce, Hubspot, Microsoft Dynamics, Pipedrive, PipelineDeals).

“RFPIO really has shifted the entire perception of our company in terms of how we gather content, what we do with that content, how we’re managing it, and really, the entire process of perceiving how RFPs should be responded to.” – Lori Coffae, Content Writer

5. Business Intelligence and Analytics

In most cases, only the person submitting the RFP knows why their RFP was selected or skipped. A lost RFP is always a black box, as SMEs and writers will never receive feedback on why the RFP was lost.

Visibility into the RFP response process is much easier with a response management platform like RFPIO. RFPIO has business intelligence and analytics, so you see the gaps and opportunities then take the necessary measures to improve.

RFPIO provides a detailed win/loss analysis that can be shared with contributors and executives. With trend analysis, RFPIO allows proposal managers to clearly estimate and predict the time it requires to complete various kinds of RFx documents.

Insights into capacity planning are available as well. Proposal managers and executives see the current workload of contributors and know exactly when it’s time to hire additional resources.

“I have been working in this space for about a decade and I’ve used a couple of different tools. RFPIO shows their commitment and innovation to those of us who are really in the weeds of the RFP world.”

– Alexandra Maddux, RFP/Sales Support Coordinator

What is the best bid proposal software?

Here’s a secret… there is no “best” bid proposal software. But there is bid proposal software that’s best for your team. As a rule of thumb, effective bid proposal software will have the following features:

As you’re evaluating bid proposal software, you should start by meeting with your wider team to identify problems you hope bid proposal software will solve. You can break it into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”. Your final list might look something like:

  • Improve collaboration on business proposals without relying on color-coded Word docs
  • Consolidate answers to common RFP questions in one place, so SMEs aren’t answering the same question over and over again
  • Create visibility, so leadership can easily check on proposal status

But before you decide on any bid proposal software, make sure you read reviews from verified customers. Sites like G2 and Capterra are great for that.

Here is a screenshot comparing four of the most popular business proposal software solutions:

the best bid proposal software

Transform your RFP response process with artificial intelligence

Automating your RFP response process can reduce your time spent responding to RFPs by 40%. If you respond to RFPs full-time, that could mean an extra 16 hours per week. Schedule a demo to see RFP automation in action—I promise you won’t be disappointed.

RFPIO headquarters outgrows office in under a year

RFPIO headquarters outgrows office in under a year

Just a year ago this week, we made the announcement that RFPIO headquarters had moved into a larger office to make room for growth. Well, surprise! We did it again, after only 11 months. This will be the sixth HQ space. As I write this, I’m proud to announce that we are also moving our Coimbatore office into its third new space. Hello from India!

Sometimes people ask me if I had expected the company to grow this quickly. I may not have been able to see the future, but I always knew our product and our people would be successful. It’s no surprise to my team that my expectations are high, and they’ve consistently impressed me with their responses to the all the challenges that come with growing a company.

In the blog about last year’s move, we asked all the HQ employees what they thought of the new space. We couldn’t do that this year, or it would have been way too long. Instead, I want to talk about some of what’s changed and what hasn’t, and what you can expect from us in the future.

Holy Smoke RFPIO

Our India team observing the Holy Smoke ritual before officially moving in

How RFPIO has changed

Office Space
This new HQ office more than doubles our last space, giving us the room to accommodate almost three times as many people. We are already taking to it like fish to a fishbowl, and made a new hire in just the two weeks we’ve been here.

Now we are getting settled in to our new workspaces, taking in the magnificent Oregon views (a new benefit—lots of windows and outdoor space), and enjoying the extra room to stretch our legs. We’ve also upgraded some amenities. In the last office we were excited about having a sink and a full-sized fridge. Now we finally have a dishwasher. For a startup, these conveniences mean a lot!

Customers
Our user list has grown massively over the last year, in both volume and company size. We’re now at over 25,000 users on the platform and we’ve signed on Fortune 500 enterprise clients like Google, Visa, Salesforce, and Adobe. We recently announced a multi-year partnership with Express Scripts, one of Fortune’s top 25, and a major player in the healthcare industry.

Just this week we attended RSA 2019 to spread the word of our response management platform for security questionnaires and similar business requests. One of the things we were proud to share with conference-goers was our newly announced SOC 2 certification. This was a rigorous process that ultimately ensures our commitment to security for all of our customers.

Former Office RFPIO

We had to get creative about workspaces before the move

More change

Growth: Team and Revenue
In July of 2018 we announced our partnership with K1 Investment Management for a $25M round of funding. This strategic partnership has helped us scale the company wisely, while increasing our revenue ahead of schedule, keeping us in a strong financial standing. Our projections for growth have us more than doubling our revenue and current staff count by the end of 2019.

Honors and Distinctions
We know we’re a great company, but outside validation assures us that we’re on the right track. This year, RFPIO was named one of Oregon’s Top 10 Best Tech Startups, in good company with several local peers. We were given the distinction of market leader on G2 Crowd’s Best RFP Software grid, and have received almost 100 unbiased reviews on G2 Crowd and Capterra from our amazing customers.

RFPIO_James and Stephen

James and Stephen enjoying the view

How RFPIO has stayed the same

Customer support
We’ve added team members to all of our teams, which means that we can offer more to our customers than even before. The product is being innovated upon more rapidly, our internal processes have gotten tighter, and we offer more support services for all types of companies. Everything we do is in service to our customers and their needs.

Employee-focused culture
Much like our focus on customers, our employees make this company what it is. We still do quarterly philanthropy events, holiday parties, and team outings. Our benefit package has gotten more substantial. As a commitment to transparency we’ve implemented a monthly all-hands meeting and we’ve started a new lunch & learn program to keep everybody up to date on product news.

Convenience
Our new HQ office is located in the neighboring building to our former office. This means we are still in the heart of downtown Beaverton, which connects many public transportation options and major highways. We’d grown accustomed to our proximity to the neighborhood food carts, so our walkable lunch options remain close by.

New RFPIO Office_Hakeem

Hakeem getting settled in to his new space

The future of RFPIO

As I said before, I’m not sure exactly what the future holds, but I am confident that by this time next year we will be a bigger, stronger company with even more to offer. With teams across the U.S. and in India, we are innovating around the clock.

I’m so proud of what our technical, support, and revenue teams have built and introduced to the market. I’ve been humbled to hear customers say that we’ve brought them relief and have given them more time with their families—that’s the best compliment I can receive.

This new office marks a new chapter in RFPIO’s history, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. As I often say, folks, this is just the beginning!

If you’re in the area and would like to drop in, we would love to see you. The new RFPIO headquarters office is located at:

RFPIO, Inc.
4145 SW Watson Ave. #450
Beaverton, OR 97005

To become a valuable subject matter expert, think revenue

To become a valuable subject matter expert, think revenue

Take it from someone who’s been there: A subject matter expert, or SME (sometimes pronounced “smee,” like Mr. Smee from Peter Pan), is the person with the answers. The disconnect is that sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to sync up those who have questions with those who have the answers.

As a product manager, I spent 20 to 30 percent of my time responding to RFPs. I knew there had to be a better way for me as a subject matter expert to share my knowledge with the proposal and all other teams in the organization. That’s actually the driving force behind why I helped found RFPIO.

In this article, I want to delve into what subject matter experts do, how to become one, their importance in the sales process, and how knowledge sharing can help scale their expertise.

What is a subject matter expert?

A subject matter expert is the person that sales, proposal, and marketing teams rely on for their abundant knowledge and experience within a specific practice, process, technical method, or piece of equipment, according to Indeed’s career guide. They’re the specialist. They exist in every industry and discipline. They come by their expertise through either education, experience, or a combination thereof.

In addition to the product-side expertise, SMEs also possess expert insight into the prospect base. They may not necessarily know the details of every buyer persona, but they’ll understand the pain points of the prospect business case better than most in your organization. In many cases, they amassed their expertise working for one of your prospects or customers. They may have even used your product while working for a customer and became such an evangelist that they either sought you out, or you recruited them.

The EF Hutton television commercials in the 1970s and 80s are the epitome of a subject matter expert’s impact. In the ads, whenever someone utters the phrase “EF Hutton” everything around them comes to a halt, and people in the area unabashedly cup their hands behind their ears to listen in. The voiceover drops the tagline, “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.”

In the sales process, you want to enable open access to a subject matter expert when the prospect or customer is ready to listen. In an enterprise sale, there are likely multiple touchpoints where there’s a listening opportunity that can be seized by a subject matter expert.

How to become a subject matter expert

Learn, study, synthesize, experiment, test, and do. Subject matter experts are self-driven to become authorities in their chosen areas of expertise. Nevertheless, the strongest SMEs recognize that problem-solving is less about dictating expertise than it is about sharing expertise when the opportunity arises.

Subject matter experts need to develop superior listening skills so they’re able to absorb a client’s problem, synthesize it quickly, and respond in a fashion that is enlightening, while avoiding any hint of condescension. In other words, it’s not enough to be an expert on a particular subject matter and prospect base. SMEs must also be experts in sharing their expertise.

Colleagues may recognize them as an authority on specific areas and topics, but they may not know how to access them or their knowledge. SMEs need to be proactive in their involvement with RFP responses, sales and marketing strategy, customer support, and any other initiatives where their expertise is warranted.

Why SMEs are essential to winning new business

Sales and marketing may be the influencers, but SMEs are the experts…it’s in the name, right? According to Adweek: “Expertise is how someone reacts to your knowledge, whereas influence is how someone reacts to your status. People who have true expertise are inherently more influential, based on the power of that expertise.”

Responding to RFPs is one of the key opportunities for winning new business. They are a team effort on the grandest scale, requiring an organization to work closely together to submit a compelling deliverable.

The best proposal writer in the world won’t have the necessary expertise to fill in every detail. Even with attractive branding and the most driven sales team, a sales proposal still needs technical and strategic heart and soul. When it comes to response management, subject matter expertise holds the power to influence the entire deal.

Like the first whispers of a meme stock, once momentum starts, there’s no stopping it. When colleagues learn about SME availability, they’re going to find new ways to capitalize. Because buyers are more comfortable talking to SMEs; they know SME answers are the best answers, unfiltered by relationship-building concerns of sales or branding concerns of marketing. If a buyer is at the stage where they want to hear from an SME, then they want to be told rather than sold.

How to integrate SMEs into the sales process

Subject matter experts are the new rainmakers, with specialties that hold high value throughout the sales process. When SMEs are surrounded by support and resources, they can drive increased revenue goals.

It’s becoming more popular for presales teams to hire SMEs, illustrating a high priority on implementing subject matter expertise throughout the sales lifecycle. In the presales stage of the sales process, SMEs can act as solutions engineers or sales strategists. When preparing a demo or proof of concept (POC), SMEs are invaluable at uncovering pain points and feedback, which can then inform what to include in the demo or POC.

Presales SMEs can straddle relationship roles, taking the perspective of both the prospect and the provider. From the prospect’s perspective, a SME can be seen as an ally who truly understands their need and will fight to make sure the solution is the right fit.

Even if they don’t have a direct line to a sales team, top-performing SMEs see revenue support as an important function of their job. Other optimal sales process integration points include:

  • Handoffs: Even if the SME is not on one of the teams involved in the handoff (from security and compliance to CSM, for example), their presence may be a comfort to the customer. Again, the trust they’ve built during the sale can be used to engender long-term loyalty.
  • Account management check-ins: Periodic review of customer feedback helps in two primary areas. One, it helps close the loop on any concerns brought up during the presales stage of the process. Two, SMEs approach upsell or cross-sell opportunities with different eyes. Their experience with the customer as a prospect, overall experience with the industry, and interaction with the customer’s competitive landscape can lead to revelations an AM or CSM might not be privy to.
  • Implement a comprehensive knowledge sharing solution: While the subject matter expert may not always be available every time you need them, their expertise can. With a knowledge sharing solution like response management software, you can absorb and centralize subject matter expertise, and make it searchable from anywhere.

Knowledge sharing leads to viral expertise

Any subject matter expert will tell you that there’s far more to them than the sum of their extensive knowledge. Their demeanor, patience, and ability to establish rapport are vital to ingratiating trust with prospects and customers. In a perfect world, they would be available for every question, demo, or emergency that crops up. Since that’s not possible, making their expertise available 24/7/365 from anywhere is the next best option.

In response management, the answer library is the engine that drives knowledge sharing. That’s where question-answer pairs and other content created by SMEs are captured, curated, and shared with the rest of your organization. While building proposals, developing responses, creating new content, or trying to answer client questions in real time while you’re on the phone with them, you can tap into the subject matter expertise in your answer library.

In addition to daily sales process operations, the answer library is also essential to onboarding and training. As you hire new employees, they can reference the answer library to expand their understanding of products, capabilities, and your customers in context, making it a much more efficient learning experience.

Another advantage of knowledge sharing is that when subject matter experts move on, their expertise doesn’t walk out the door with them. Unfortunately, in this situation, you’ll have to find someone else who can pick up the subject matter expertise mantle and service prospects, customers, and the colleagues they need to support. But the transition will be easier with knowledge preserved from other SMEs who have come before them.

Knowledge management by response management

A response management platform like RFPIO has many benefits for organizations, yet only 43% use RFP-specific technology. One of the main benefits is streamlining the knowledge sharing process for everyone. Not only does it help you capture subject matter expertise, it also saves time, according to 82% of RFP software users, by providing:

  • A searchable information hub for all of your organization’s content called an Answer Library.
  • An AI-powered content recommendation engine that uses machine learning to always surface the most relevant answers.
  • Integrations with the most popular CRM, communication, cloud storage, and browser applications in use today.
  • Organization-wide accessibility through RFPIO LookUp, which allows you to search, select, and store answer library content from the applications where different users work.

An SME’s time is extremely valuable, second only to their expertise. Response management software is the ultimate solution that helps you get the most out of both.

Find out how to capture and use all of your organization’s subject matter expertise by scheduling a demo today!

How to cure your longstanding RFP headaches

How to cure your longstanding RFP headaches

From Selling Power, by Ganesh Shankar

In a recent survey of sales professionals, we found that a staggering 84 percent of companies are still using manual processes for RFP responses.

The reality is, the burden on internal resources can increase quickly when you take on an RFP. If gathering critical answers for your RFP response is more about begging for help rather than tapping into an efficient flow of information, it may be time to take a hard look at your RFP processes.

The problem with manual-based processes often comes down to an inability to make effective use of previous answers. Files are spread across disjointed and disconnected systems. Even when they are organized, manually hunting through thousands and thousands of answers quickly becomes an exercise in frustration.

Finding answers to common RFP questions

Odds are, many questions included in RFPs have already been asked countless times. Being able to find and reuse quality, up-to-date content can relieve quite a burden on key stakeholders, as they won’t have to spend cycles researching and answering repetitive questions. Ideally, when you come to them for help, you already have relevant answers in hand for them to quickly review and refine.

One company that upgraded from their manual RFP processes was MasterControl, a supplier of quality and compliance-control software in a highly competitive market involving many RFP and security questionnaire responses. To stay ahead of the curve, MasterControl decided the time had come to devise a faster and more efficient RFP process. The firm started by assigning the task of evaluating the proposal response processes to an analytically-minded sales operations professional.

His research showed it took the company 32 hours, on average, to complete an RFP response. In 2017 alone, the company answered more than 100 RFPs, at an estimated total cost of $3,200 each – a more than $300,000 hit to the bottom line. The actual cost across the entire organization was likely much higher.

After evaluating a range of alternatives, MasterControl turned to cloud-based response management software that incorporates a centralized answer repository combined with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. When responding to imported RFP questions, the AI tool automatically populates the best-fit response directly from an answer library. By typing one or two keywords into the search bar, potential answers instantly populate – saving time manually hunting through thousands of documents and answers.

Through using such a response management platform, MasterControl was able to reduce required staff cycles when responding to RFPs by an impressive 40 percent. Additionally, as resource costs decreased, the company was able to free up budget and staff time for other business initiatives.

Although cloud-based response management technology is still emerging as a product segment, a growing number of companies like MasterControl are finding that it allows them to reduce their RFP response times and increase efficiencies. What’s more, using an adaptive learning engine means that, as companies respond to RFPs, their answer library grows in scope and scale. With more content and scenarios on tap, recommendations become more precise and the RFP response process becomes that much more efficient. The response solution can also support other aspects of the business, such as completing lengthy security questionnaires.

Each year, some part of your revenue may come from how well you respond to RFPs. That means it’s worth your while to find ways to explore technology solutions that can help you improve your chances of winning new business while also lowering costs related to producing RFPs.

Using the RFP process to improve content effectiveness

Using the RFP process to improve content effectiveness

Our latest for The Marketing Scope, by: Ganesh Shankar (RFPIO) and Lori Coffae (SHI, International)

Do you develop content once and then walk away forever? Are your customer needs exactly the same from year to year? In your dreams maybe, but in reality, we all know those are ridiculous questions to even ask. As a marketer, you know your company’s content is never static. It gets developed, reworked, and revised constantly. Content requires attention, consideration and testing. It’s no simple task to stay on top of steady change and making sure that you are improving your content effectiveness as well as keeping sales teams up to date.

For many companies, the intersection where marketing content meets the field organization is the request for proposal, or the RFP. If you work in a company that responds to a large number of RFPs, one surprisingly effective way to curate, manage and share content – one that is often overlooked – is through this very process: the RFP response.

The RFP response process can give marketers a chance to gain valuable feedback from your most important audience – your potential customers – on the impact of the company’s content. Sound like a stretch? Today, proposal managers (professionals who own the RFP response process for a company) gain deep insight into the content that leads someone to action compared with content that doesn’t initiate any type of result. Put simply, marketers can use the RFP process to improve content effectiveness.

Taking advantage

The RFP process can help create cohesion to your content across a variety of elements like voice, message development, and tone. When content is moved to a centralized answer library, you can start to compare and assess content effectiveness based on what really matters – win rates. This assessment is enabled through the use of response management software with an intelligent, centralized answer library. With such a system in place, marketing and sales teams can begin to learn the effectiveness of various messages with different types of customers, helping shape future responses in unexpected ways.

Marketers can use the RFP process to ensure that sales teams are armed with the latest answers – even technical content – reducing the need to call a scarce resource like a technical expert every time.

When integrated into sales tools like Slack or Salesforce, an answer library becomes a single source of truth for responses to customers. Having a repository of content to address specific questions becomes an increasingly valuable asset over time. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel every time your company responds to an RFP or launches a new email marketing campaign, they can go into the content repository to tap into the strength of your most powerful content.

In addition, marketing leaders can cultivate accountability, ownership and responsibility for teams owning the content. Marketers can assign someone on the team to be a reviewer of a particular piece of the content. This way, the rest of the team has visibility into who added or edited the content, changes that were made and when. With a good content library, you’ll see who is working on what content, and you can assign a moderator to ensure facts are facts and company branding is on point.

Take measure

A good first step is to set aside a few hours to review all of the materials in your content library. Why? Because identifying and using your best content will improve your chances of winning RFPs. But for marketers, the key is understanding the nuances of how content resonates with target audiences. A good rule of thumb is to do a content audit at least once a year to keep your content fresh and increase content effectiveness.

Marketing owns a company’s brand and the key messages that can be delivered through a variety of channels including the website, social media, white papers, case studies, YouTube, public relations and email campaigns. Once you have a better idea of which content is valuable, you’ll be in a much better position to update your content library so that everyone in the company is able to provide consistent messages to your audiences.

When you review your content, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the content address your customer’s business challenges?
  • Is the value that your company’s products or services offer coming across clearly?
  • Does the content read well? Does it tell a cohesive story?
  • Is the tone of the content consistent throughout all of your marketing materials?
  • Has the content performed well in RFPs over the past year? How much interest has there been?

Final thoughts: It’s like gardening

As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, content is never static. It requires attention, consideration, and cultivation. It’s like being a gardener where your content answer library acts as your greenhouse, housing your content, keeping it protected from the elements, and providing it a fertile environment in which to grow. By thinking about your precious content like a garden, you’re being sensitive to its environment – what grows in Florida doesn’t work in upstate New York.

While the RFP team may reach out to the leaders of the marketing department to participate in an RFP, marketing executives should also see the opportunity that an RFP presents to fine-tune marketing content and messaging and increase content effectiveness.

Looking forward after securing $25 million in series A funding

Looking forward after securing $25 million in series A funding

Closing Series A funding is a big deal for any company. Which is why I am proud and happy to announce that RFPIO is beginning a thrilling new chapter. We have secured $25 million from K1 Investment Management (K1), so that we can further revolutionize the proposal management industry.

Did I ever think RFPIO would grow to this point? The answer is yes.

Even when I was running demos by myself in our first office, an 84-square-foot closet, I had no doubt that we would become such a compelling force. I recognized the growth potential in every team member who drove our mission forward and every client who was positively impacted by our dedication.

As I look back at the mere 18 months of our company’s existence, I am very grateful. As I look at the road ahead, I’m excited to see RFPIO’s growth story truly unfold.

Growth highlights from an unforgettable first 18 months

It’s hard to believe that this great journey with RFPIO began 18 months ago, with only four of us: AJ Sunder as CIO, Sankar Lagudu as COO, Manish Bafna as VP of Technology, and myself as CEO.

Every workweek was a learning experience for us, and there were many memorable “firsts” that got us to where we are today…

The first paying customer

After running a successful beta program for six months, we won our first paying customer, Stephen Marsh from Smarsh. Stephen was so impressed by RFPIO’s ease of use and intelligent capabilities that he decided to sign on and invest in our company through Archivist Capital. It was the best validation we could have asked for. Today we have hundreds of happy customers.

The first employees

It gave us immense pride when we hired Mitchell Hipp as Senior Account Executive at our Beaverton headquarters, and Emmanuel Rajayah as Senior UI Developer at our Coimbatore office in India. This was the first time people put their trust in our leadership team. We have not lost a single employee since we started RFPIO.

rfpio team's funding celebration

The first Fortune 500 company

Signing a Fortune 500 company made our team feel like we could conquer the world. LinkedIn was the first enterprise company to use RFPIO, and many others have followed: Google, Adobe, Atlassian, Change Healthcare, ServiceNow, Siemens, Tenable, Zoom Video.

The first 1,000 users

The day we realized RFPIO had 1,000 users was just cause for celebration. Our users feedback has helped shape and strengthen RFPIO’s platform and that will carry on as we reach unexplored heights. Now we have more than 12,000 users.

Series A funding: The ingredient we needed to scale

While the Seed round of funding through Elevate Capital was primarily focused on building a strong foundation, this Series A round will be more of a strategic partnership for our organization’s next big leap.

Our new investor, K1 Investment Management, is completely dedicated to funding and supporting SaaS companies. The K1 team uses RFPIO for managing their own RFP responses—early on, they believed in RFPIO’s mission and wanted to help us succeed. We were drawn to their expertise in the software industry, so it was a natural partnership. This Series A funding will allows us to make an even bigger impact.

We are looking at scaling the entire business, to include not just revenue and customer base growth but company expansion as well. As the India and Beaverton teams grow, our focus will be on establishing a solid middle management team. Global expansion is happening as well, and we are looking at options for another RFPIO office where our second largest customer base is located in Europe.

RFPIO is already the first artificial intelligence (AI) enabled solution in our industry, and we have dramatically improved the way organizations respond to RFPs. Being able to invest heavily on the product side will allow us to enhance our technology, then move into offerings in adjacent areas of proposal management. This funding gives our product more horsepower to fuel our customer’s goals and aspirations.

We’re just getting started

As we enter this new world of growth and expansion, we remain loyal to our people. The key to RFPIO’s success is the team standing proudly behind us. Every one of us is driven by passion for our product and our clients. The positive vibes we have in our office speak through our technology and service.

We are an intrepid team. Everyone here is invested in RFPIO’s success.

Read more about RFPIO’s $25 million funding announcement on:

The Wall Street Journal

The Oregonian

Fortune

Portland Business Journal

GeekWire

Take control of your next security questionnaire with RFP software

Take control of your next security questionnaire with RFP software

Lucky you. A security questionnaire with 467 questions just landed in your inbox and it’s due in two weeks.

But you don’t use RFP software, so you’re looking at about a week and a half of completion time. Since responding to security questionnaires isn’t your primary job responsibility, you will have to make time in between other high priority tasks. You stay after hours or work weekends to meet the looming deadline.

You meet the deadline, just barely—but you don’t feel confident that you answered the questions as effectively as you could have with more time. You wonder: Are we going to lose this deal now?

If you had RFP software to support your process? Hate to be the one to break it to you, friend, but that menacing security questionnaire probably would have taken you a few hours instead.

Understandably, many brave responders take a negative mental turn with security questionnaires—and even dread them. We won’t make outlandish claims, like comparing responding to vendor assessments to a leisurely stroll on a summer day. What we can do is steer you in the right direction, so you gain the upperhand and take control.

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

  1. RFP security questionnaires are complex, but manageable
  2. Various security questionnaires benefit from an RFP response solution
  3. Each completed security questionnaire will throw the deal or land it
  4. RFP software alleviates time and team friction
  5. The majority of a security questionnaire can be completed for you
  6. A specific RFP response solution feature set will help you take control
  7. Time is on your side with RFP software

It starts now, with understanding how technology like RFP software can help you navigate the nuances of security questionnaires. And, rest assured…the next time you’re responding to hundreds or thousands of questions will be better.

The nuances of RFP security questionnaires

As complex as security questionnaires can be, there is a bright side too. Yes, there are gigantic spreadsheets involved. But, it’s a pretty standard set of questions you’re working with.

Sure, you might see variations of the questions or see subsets of a question. You might be facing a Security Questionnaires with what seems like a million questions. Still, the questions are pretty much the same old song and dance. Security questionnaires generally deal with privacy. Compliance, infrastructure security, and data protection fall under that privacy umbrella.

“Only a third of organizations believe they have adequate resources to manage security effectively.” – Ponemon Institute

A team of security subject matter experts (SMEs) sprinkled across multiple teams and departments is often required to respond to these security questionnaires. Answering the same questions repeatedly can become tedious for anyone, no matter how dedicated they are to the organization.

For example, if a proposal manager assigns the same hundred questions to a security architect ten times, friction will inevitably follow. Presumably, that security architect will stop answering them and choose to fulfill other high priorities on his or her plate. He or she may become unresponsive whenever their support is needed for security questionnaire ever after.

To top it all off, there is the compliance aspect of security questionnaires. Teams must answer accurately and honestly—and be able to backup their response should an issuer decide to audit. An RFP software solution is the kind of technology that can handle the nuances of security questionnaires. A great solution will help you solve inefficiencies within your process.

Various security questionnaires you will encounter

“61% say their organizations evaluate the security capabilities of cloud providers prior to engagement or deployment, according to Gemalto’s 2018 Global Cloud Data Security Study. Although these security evaluations are increasingly relying on contractual negotiations and legal reviews, 34% of organizations still require the formality of security and compliance questionnaires. That means you need to prepared (not surprised) when a security assessment arrives.

cloud provider security evaluation

Source: Gemalto

Being prepared isn’t as easy as it sounds. We can write an entire blog—scratch that—a novel about the different types of RFP security questionnaires you might stumble upon. While a security questionnaire has many names, it also has many types.

Here are various security questionnaires you will encounter:

  • Security Questionnaires and Security Questionnaires Lite – Standardized Information Gathering Questionnaires
  • VSAQ – Vendor Security Assessment Questionnaire
  • CAIQ – Consensus Assessments Initiative Questionnaire
  • VSA – Vendor Security Alliance Questionnaire
  • NIST 800-171 – National Institute of Standards and Technology Questionnaire
  • CIS Controls – Center for Internet Security Questionnaire

No matter the type of security questionnaire, the need for a complete RFP response solution along with a reliable internal process can’t be stressed enough. Without this dynamic duo, you run the risk of losing valuable hours with an inefficient approach—but, you also risk losing potential business if the responses are not executed accurately and well.

Why you should take each security questionnaire seriously

The short version? Because you don’t want to be the one that throws the deal. You want to be the one that helps land it.

Whether you’re a cloud provider or an on-premise provider, security questionnaires are a key requirement in this leg of the sales process. Organizations care a great deal about data security and they scrutinize vendors like you to make sure you are the partner they can trust long-term.

Cloud Providers

As a cloud service provider, your customers entrust their organization’s most sensitive data with you. There’s a very strong chance that the solution you provide is a mission critical application for them. That’s why they want to hire your services in the first place.

Since you make everything available in a publicly shared infrastructure, the controls need to be that much more airtight. There are plenty of control frameworks that govern cloud security. However, lack of visibility leads by a wider margin in SaaS than IaaS, with almost one third of organizations having difficulty getting a clear picture of what data is in their cloud applications.

cloud security concerns

Source: McAfee

It’s important for your customers and prospects to feel confident that you have the proper control in place, so their data isn’t compromised. Proper controls protect a data leak from happening, regardless if it happens accidentally or through malicious attacks.

On-Premise Providers

At one time on-premise solutions used to be less of a concern. People used to believe that security within an infrastructure behind firewalls was more secure. In the last decade, things have changed dramatically.

In some ways, on-premise solutions are more vulnerable than cloud solutions. When customers use a cloud-based solution, their data is likely hosted with a reputable, secure cloud hosting service provider like Amazon or Google or Microsoft or IBM.

With on-premise, frequently the compromise comes from within—through social engineering, through employees making mistakes. So, on-premise security is something buyers are aware of and really paying attention to.

EU GDPR Requirements

On May 25th, 2018 the EU is rolling out GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the penalties are pretty severe, with the potential to cripple organizations who do not take these requirements seriously.

In McAfee’s 2017 study, Beyond the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), more than 80% of organizations said they expected help from their cloud service providers to achieve regulatory compliance. Yet only half of the respondents stated that all of their cloud providers had a plan in place for GDPR compliance.

GDPR cloud investments

Source: McAfee

How will GDPR affect cloud investments? Fewer than 10% anticipate decreasing their cloud investments as a result of GDPR. Even still, take the right measures and demonstrate that you have made every effort you possibly can to keep your customer’s data secure. Starting with how you respond to security questionnaires.

Security questionnaires: The culprit of time and team friction

Organizations understand that data security is highly valued by their customers, so they respond to security questionnaires to build confidence in their solution. The complicated part for you and/or the team completing these vendor assessments…the time factor.

When responding to RFP security questionnaires, security experts are brought into the process to ensure accuracy. Since security encompasses many different aspects of an organization, multiple team members must work together to answer their respective questions and sections.

Typically these SMEs work in understaffed conditions, where time is truly limited for additional responsibilities outside high priority tasks. If this is all hitting close to home, then you know exactly how challenging it is to respond to hundreds and hundreds of security questionnaires under a tight deadline.

RFP software like RFPIO helps you do the job right the first time. Technology allows you to reuse historical content and customize as needed, while encouraging stronger collaboration for a more efficient process.

ProTip: “Be self-aware of both your strengths and your limitations in your responses. If you don’t have something, don’t lie, but don’t over-emphasize your own deficiencies. Devote your time to addressing the issues the customer will be most concerned with.” – Ken Stasiak, SecureState’s Guide to Responding to 3rd Party Questionnaires

How RFP software increases efficiency levels

A security questionnaire is basically a massive spreadsheet with hundreds of questions on the lower end and thousands on the higher end. You need to be able to answer volumes of questions quickly, but with incredible accuracy. Such is the beauty of RFP software.

Recently our CIO, Sunder, had a lengthy security questionnaire to complete on his own. (Yep, we have to respond to these just like any other cloud solution provider.)

RFPIO’s auto-response feature filled in 74% of the questions for Sunder. About 11% of the questions needed to be tweaked, because some of the controls had changed. The remaining questions didn’t need to be touched at all, and he had very few questions to respond to manually. Something that would have taken our CIO about a day or two to complete was done within an hour.

A team of one can benefit from RFP software as can a mid-sized or enterprise organization. A larger organization will require several review cycles, but still the time-savings is noticeable for all contributors. This technology, in combination with close collaboration and an established RFP response process, is a game-changer for anyone completing security questionnaires.

When you’re searching for an RFP response solution to help you streamline the security questionnaire process, having a few key features will make a difference in productivity improvements.

“Our immediate instinct with Security Questionnaires was that the Excels were too macro-heavy. It was going to be a huge challenge for us to solve. But, like so many of our clients, we’ve gone through this pain enough and we figured we might as well solve it. RFPIO’s advanced security questionnaire functionality makes the response process much easier for teams.” – A.J. Sunder, CIO at RFPIO

Security questionnaire features to look for in RFP software

As with any solution you add to your growing technology stack, you want to make sure the investment is worth it. What are your pain points? What are your aspirations and objectives? The needs of your organization always come first, which is good to remember when you’re hunting for a solution.

If you’re answering security questionnaires regularly, you need RFP software with built-in features to support that effort. These are specific RFPIO features that help you take control…

Security Questionnaire Import

An RFP security questionnaire project can start off on the right foot…or the wrong one. With RFP software, the import should be painless for your team—it doesn’t matter if it’s a macro-heavy Excel with 799 security questions.

Even some of the most sizable Standardized Information Gathering (Security Questionnaires) can be imported into RFPIO with a single click. You upload the right template for the job (CAIQ, Security Questionnaires– Core, Full, or Lite) and import directly from your local computer or cloud storage provider.

Read How RFPIO’s Security Questionnaire Template Helps You Win Back Time

security questionnaire template
Answer Library

Have a wealth of historical responses from previous security questionnaires? Rather than being lost in a maze of online folders, all of your content is centralized in an answer library. Easily accessible content means a proposal manager or proposal management team can take the vendor assessment to a certain level of completion before calling in the security SMEs.

This way SMEs can focus on reviewing and revising specific questions or sections, versus answering hundreds of repetitive questions they’ve seen before. Over time, as your team responds to more security questionnaires within the solution, the answer library will continue to expand. If cared for properly, this knowledge repository will flourish.

Being that your answer library is the heart and soul of your RFP response solution, managing this content well is a must. From encryption technology to infrastructure, security controls and standards change often. As long as that information is current, security SMEs will not need to do as much heavy lifting with responding. Content audits should be routine at your organization.

Auto-Response

From this expansive knowledge base, an auto-response feature brings up relevant responses to answer the majority of the questions for you. Proper algorithms find the best match, so your auto-response needs to be reliable.

Auto-response cuts down completion time dramatically from the first RFP security questionnaire project—and efficiency levels increase with consistent use. Essentially, the solution does a majority of the responding for you.

automate security questionnaires
Communication Tools

Strong collaboration is behind every great RFP response process. Your RFP response solution must have communication features that promote a collaborative environment. Proposal managers should be able to reach out to security SMEs in a low-touch manner, and vice versa.

Team members should be able to easily leave comments and @-mention for clarification as needed. Built-in chat features and Slack integration are additional ways to help teams work together easily, with less emails and fewer meetings.

Source Export

At the end of the RFP security questionnaire, every team wants to finish up and move on with their lives. However, like the import, the export can really be a time-consuming challenge with large spreadsheets. Being able to easily export back into the original source with clean data is a necessary feature of RFP software, especially with security questionnaires.

“We appreciate the lengths RFPIO has taken to accommodate the Standardized Information Gathering (Security Questionnaires) tool. They have been incredible in their help addressing the Security Questionnaires’s imbedded scoping and automation abilities within the spreadsheet to preserve the purpose of the document. RFPIO’s efforts to research and develop a new upload specific to the Security Questionnaireshas been invaluable to MGIC.” – Vickie Kusch, Vendor Due Diligence Liaison at Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation 

Bulk Answering

Repetitive questions are the name of the game with security and compliance questionnaires. Bulk answering does exactly what you think it does…answers in bulk! (Didn’t see that coming, did you?)

As you respond to a Security Questionnaires, a solution like RFPIO understands how the macro is programmed and aligns with your selection process. If you answer “yes,” it knows the dependencies and presents those 300ish questions to you. If you answer “no,” it knows not to show irrelevant questions.

Audit History

Sometimes security questions aren’t black and white. Teams must use their best judgement and answer only what they can backup. An audit history shows who answered the question, so they can “backup” or explain their response if a situation should arise with the issuer.

Sometimes an issuer will add a clause in the contract that mentions their right to audit in fine print. You want to be ready for this, and an audit trail will help you tremendously.

Time is on your side now, responder

The dark days of losing hours and sleep are all over. The next security questionnaire that lands in your inbox will be a piece of cake—er—okay, it will certainly be easier than before when you didn’t have your trusty automated technology friend.

So, there you have it. RFP software isn’t just for RFPs. Take control of your next security questionnaire with RFPIO.

4 positive effects that happen when you respond to RFPs

4 positive effects that happen when you respond to RFPs

A lot of companies stay away from RFPs. A lot of people think RFPs are a waste of time. However, those who consistently prioritize and pursue RFPs are successful organizations seeing positive effects.

RFP response often bears a negative feeling for teams, but it certainly doesn’t have to. A new perspective coupled with technology are necessary if you are ready to make changes that will benefit your organization.

An RFP isn’t bad—far from it, in fact. It is a great opportunity for your company if you have the right tools. These are a few of the positive effects RFPIO’s clients have experienced—and you can too, once you see RFP response in a different light.

Responding to RFPs creates more opportunities

When an RFP arrives in your inbox, it’s a business opportunity. If your team doesn’t participate in RFPs, you risk losing the opportunity to the organization that goes after it. Let’s say you are participating consistently in RFPs. Are you putting your best foot forward to win? Or, are you going through the motions just to get the RFP project out the door?

As with any pursuit, competition can be fierce. The only way to see the positive effect with opportunities is to outshine your competitors with the quality of your submission.

The goal with every submitted RFP is to make your organization stand out as the obvious partner. Everything from the executive summary to key differentiators should be carefully crafted and tailored for your prospect.

Boilerplate content won’t win anyone over. Think about the last time you received anything automated and impersonal, even if it’s an email. You likely already forgot that company, or you ignored the email and never saw the message.

This is where RFP software comes in to help teams leverage technology for a stronger deliverable. Your answer library stores all of your company information in Q&A pairs, so you can quickly search for responses in one place—not fifty places—such as folders, emails, and spreadsheets.

Tags make searching easier for your team and star rating influences the recommendation engine to highlight the best responses. After repurposing this content through the answer library, you can customize the response for the individual prospect to impress them. Use any sales intelligence to make your content relevant, and have marketing do the final polish for readability, brand alignment, and engagement.

Responding to RFPs revitalizes internal knowledge

Company information changes constantly, whether you have a team of 50 or 50,000. A product company will have new features, technical specs, and updates, while a government organization will have security and compliance standards to maintain.

Staying on top of the latest internal knowledge is critical for anyone at an organization who is involved in responding to RFPs. When companies rely on a manual approach, responses often end up buried in a spreadsheet without being updated consistently. Outdated content works against the end goal of any RFP…to win business.

RFP software includes an answer library to centralize your company’s internal knowledge base, making the information easily accessible the next time an RFP, security questionnaire, or unsolicited proposal come up.

Regular content audits ensure the most updated responses are front and center. With RFPIO, you can set up alerts to help admins remember to comb through the answer library, to clean up the content and make pertinent updates.

Having this knowledge repository goes far beyond an RFP response project for your sales team. If you’re just selling on your own path, having this wealth of information handy refreshes company knowledge, security policies, and processes at a glance.

Frontline salespeople are using RFPIO to answer technical or product questions on sales calls. They don’t need to tell the prospect to hold on while they try to find the information—or say they need to follow up or have someone get back to them. Many sales teams, including our own, leave the answer library on the screen during the sales call to share information that bolsters the conversation.

manage rfps

Responding to RFPs generates more revenue

The reason any organization responds to RFPs is in the hopes of generating more revenue. But, companies turn away from RFPs because of the time commitment they don’t want to invest for a potentially low win rate.

This is an understandable challenge for companies. The thing they all have in common is they are still working with a manual RFP response process. In our RFP response habits survey, we learned that only 16% of organizations are using RFP software.

We have seen companies using RFPIO cut their response time in half. The time-savings is experienced companywide—from the SMEs taking time out of their day to contribute information to the proposal manager wrangling with a needlessly difficult import and export process.

Being able to save time allows teams to prioritize other high-priority tasks, but also to respond to more RFPs. Without automating repetitive tasks, a team can only take on so many RFP projects. When the majority of the responses are populated by intelligent technology, that speeds up the process exponentially.

Win rates are also positively impacted with RFP software—the Smarsh team reported a significant win rate increase with RFPIO. How? More time can be spent polishing the deliverable, so you submit a winning response. When your team isn’t rushing, they can focus on the quality.

“Our company’s sales team uses RFPIO because it saves us a significant amount of time on RFP projects and, giving us the opportunity to participate in more RFPs with higher quality responses that ultimately help us win more business,” said Stephen Marsh.

Listen to the podcast to find out how Smarsh wins more deals.

Responding to RFPs brings teams closer together

Every RFP is a team effort, requiring expertise and strategy from diverse groups inside an organization. Marketing and sales, IT and product management—teams who work together in an office, and those who work in global locations.

Silos happen, especially with information. These information silos can bring the RFP response process to a standstill. Information might be exchanged well within departments, but an RFP project pushes these boundaries so that teams must work together effectively.

A centralized answer library is a key piece of the collaboration puzzle. Teams using RFP software will have an easier time accessing the right information, whether they are on opposite sides of a building or a map.

Communication is another area that proves challenging during the RFP response process. Again, this goes back to a manual process. Teams are depending on emails or meetings to work on RFP responses together. Emails can be missed and meetings can take too much time.

team communication rfps

RFPIO brings easier communication between teams with @-mentioning within the solution, along with Slack integration. It’s simple to assign SMEs to a certain section of an RFP, so they can jump in and share their contribution. It’s also easy to ask for clarification on a response to speed up the review process, versus following up constantly by email.

Collaboration always has room for improvement at an organization. Responding to RFPs is a great exercise for breaking down barriers and opening up the line of communication.

From easier access to internal knowledge to better verbal communication, a stronger RFP response process delivers ongoing positive effects that trickle down into the daily lives of your team.

Successful response teams are using RFP software to be more productive and do their best work. Since RFPs are a key part of the sales process, this elevated approach leads to greater opportunities and revenue.

Responding to RFPs will make your team more effective as a whole when you are using technology that enables them to succeed.

See the positive effect of RFP software in action. Calculate your ROI in a few seconds.

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