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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 […]


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.

10 simplified RFP response examples that will help you nail it

10 simplified RFP response examples that will help you nail it

If you responded to 100 RFPs this year, you might be in a situation where the number of wins can be counted on one hand. Since the win rate for RFPs tends to be on the low side, it’s up to RFP responders to do everything in their power to change that statistic. That starts with the quality of your RFP responses.

“Too many opportunities are lost because of ambiguous and overly complex language, long and dense sentences, and vague, lifeless prose. Clear writing, in contrast, makes its points simply, demonstrating a bidder’s competence and quality.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

We all repurpose and customize historic RFP responses. Succeeding in the request for proposal process means taking a long look at the content sitting in your answer library to see how you can make these foundations stronger. Much of that strength will come from the simplicity of your messaging.

Ready to say the right thing and land your next big deal? Here are several simplified RFP response examples that will help you nail it.

Remember the goal of each RFP response

Before we get into the examples, let’s slow down and remember why we’re responding to RFPs in the first place. The goal of each RFP response is to win new business. If you want to win, you need to put your best foot forward anytime you are communicating with a prospect.

That means customizing each RFP response, versus throwing in boilerplates every time. That means performing a thorough review cycle, versus shipping a deliverable that isn’t client-ready. Time is always a factor, which is why using technology like RFP software is advantageous. An answer library helps you select top content in a matter of seconds. Navigating a maze of spreadsheets and emails for previous responses can take hours.

A full RFP process may take up to three months. That is a lot of time for both organizations to invest in the process. Since you are making the effort anyway, you might as well make it count.

Have an RFP response process in place that defines roles and responsibilities—from proposal writers to proposal managers, from subject matter experts who contribute to executives who give approval. And, consider bringing in RFP software to support that process.

Let’s keep your eyes on the prize and dig into some of the messaging principles and RFP response examples that will drive success for your organization.

RFP response example: Focus on humans

We’re all people here. Focus on the human subject of your proposal, whether you are talking about your team or the team you want to work with. Use actionable verbiage to show results succinctly, like so…

Don’t write it this way: Software features were the result of requests from end-users.
Instead, write it this way: Our developers deliver features your team needs, such as x, y, and z.

In the first poorly written example, you have a few different things going on. First, it shows as if the software development team just did what the ask was, without going above and beyond. Rather than using action words, the writing is passive.

Focusing on the human subject showcases action for the end-user. Here are a few more similar examples:

Don’t write it this way: Each team member has the experience to meet your every need.
Instead, write it this way: Our highly-experienced team delivers results. (Include real client example.)

Don’t write it this way: Manufacturing decisions were made based on requested specifications.
Instead, write it this way: Our manufacturing team creates quality and efficient products that help you achieve x, y, and z.

Don’t write it this way: The expense management software has helped each customer reduce fraud.
Instead, write it this way: This is how our expense management software combats your fraud risks. (Include results and/or testimonial.)

“Every reader, even a technical expert, appreciates clarity. Use the same style of English you use in conversation to make your proposals more open and accessible to a wide range of audiences.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

RFP response example: Be succinct and real

Every single reader of an RFP response enjoys succinctness and clarity. They also want to get to know you and understand what your real voice is. We often spend too much time trying to sound fancy in an RFP response, trying too hard to impress.

Get to the point and show the prospect what you sound like as a human. If you win the proposal, that is the true beginning of your relationship.

Here are some winning RFP response examples to help with succinct, real voice usage.

Don’t write it this way: The engineering team is top-class and has expertly designed systems to meet specifications.
Instead, write it this way: Our top-class engineering team designs systems to meet your needs.

Don’t write it this way: The software development process we follow meets milestones timely and delivers on each requested business requirement.
Instead, write it this way: Our software developers deliver value on time.

Don’t write it this way: We approach each project in a systematic way. We follow three phases where we gather requests, develop, and then deliver. We implement each project and validate that it has met the needs of the customer.
Instead, write it this way: Our project management team is agile. We build, test, and deploy to deliver value.

In each of the examples above, you see situations where there are too many words. You also see cases where the real voice of you begins to shine through. Focus on how you talk and seek clarity in the messaging you deliver. Remember, every word counts.

“Your goal is to make readers spend less time untangling your meaning and more time reviewing your solution.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

RFP response example: Cut unnecessary words

You want to speak with action in your RFP responses and cut out words that weaken the statement. Avoiding the passive tense is critical to the win. Here are some examples of cutting out the passive and reducing the word count.

Don’t write it this way: We have been the best software developer for the past three years.
Instead, write it this way: We are an award-winning software developer.

Don’t write it this way: It is believed our engineering solution is the best.
Instead, write it this way: Over 200 users are happy with our engineering solution. (Provide short testimonial.)

Don’t write it this way: The last real estate project we finished was completed on-time.
Instead, write it this way: We finish each real estate project within 3 weeks.

“Applying principles of clear writing will make your proposal easy to see, follow, and understand, making it easier for your readers to say yes.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

Write every single RFP response with the intent of winning, but also write the same way you would talk to someone. Focus on everyday language, as if your customer was sitting across from you and you were having a conversation.

Leave plenty of time to review each RFP response to make sure you’re nailing that message. If you are continually rushing and skipping a thorough review, RFP software is here to help you and your team be more efficient with your entire process.

Schedule a demo of RFPIO and we’ll show you how RFP software supports your process, allowing your success rate to skyrocket.

RFP answer library: 10 before and after RFP software stories

RFP answer library: 10 before and after RFP software stories

What do buyers really think of bidding organizations? Well, er…some of the results from this survey weren’t so favorable for RFP responders. At the end of the day, nearly half of these buyers felt that bidders just didn’t do themselves justice in their proposals. However, there is light at the end of your RFP answer library.

With any organizational challenges, identifying the root cause of the issue is the best way to create a long-term solution. Buyers think RFP responses are not up to snuff because—let’s face it—they probably aren’t as amazing as they could be. RFP software gives your team more time to do a better job…your answer library is ultimately the key to your success.

Because you all love seeing real examples in the RFP response world, we combed through tons of RFPIO user reviews to gather and share authentic RFP content management solutions. What follows is a snapshot of RFP responders’ lives, before and after RFP software.

Customer-centric RFP responses increase win rate

Before RFP software

A proposal manager spent most of his time researching multiple documents and resources to eventually produce an “okay” answer. His SMEs were always short on time—they either provided rushed responses or ignored his emails when he needed input. They could never get ahead of the RFP deadline, no matter how many times they repeated the process.

After RFP software

An RFP answer library offered the gift of speed. Centralizing responses and organizing them with tags helped his team respond accurately in a client-focused manner. Instead of spending hours researching and gathering information, he used that extra time to focus on an RFP response strategy. In a short time frame, this organization improved its win rate with customer-centric responses that helped them stand out in a competitive market.

High organizational productivity to process more RFPs

Before RFP software

A director of presales support saw that her entire organization had room for improvement with their process for answering security questionnaires, RFPs, and RFIs. Since everyone was piecing content together in their own silos, her team produced less effective responses as a result. They didn’t accurately track the effort of their work, but they knew their RFP response time could be more efficient with a team solution.

After RFP software

All business units started contributing content to a centralized RFP answer library. She trained employees worldwide to use the application, integrating users from: IT, HR, Legal, Finance, Professional Services, and Education Services. RFx documents became consistent, and she was able to track progress. High productivity helped her team process more RFP projects than before.

Convenience improves RFP response completion time

Before RFP software

A senior solutions engineer typed the same RFP responses over and over again with every new business opportunity. The repetition should have made his job easier. Yet he still had to dig for historical responses to copy and paste them in the RFP. He used multiple computer monitors to find the information he needed as quickly as possible, using the Control+F function.

After RFP software

No more Control+F! With a searchable RFP answer library, he easily pulled information from a single source. Since he no longer depended on extra monitors to complete RFPs, he took advantage of working remotely— at home, or when he had downtime at the airport. This convenience made it easier for him to complete RFP responses on his preferred schedule to meet the deadline.

Time to tailor RFP responses for a stronger deliverable

Before RFP software

A business analyst identified key issues that could only be solved by an investment in an RFP content management solution. RFPs consumed too many resources and took too long. It finally got to a point where SMEs (subject matter experts) didn’t want to contribute, because they answered repetitive questions constantly.

After RFP software

An RFP answer library was the missing ingredient all along. Auto-response filled in repetitive questions with historic RFP responses for him upfront, lightening the workload for busy SMEs. Rather than starting from scratch each time, answer recommendations provided relevant content and SMEs only had to perform a quick review for accuracy. This saved hours for everyone, which they reallocated to tailor content for a stronger RFP deliverable.

An RFP answer library breaks down information silos

Before RFP software

A senior sales engineer saw that his team continually came up with workarounds to manage RFP and sales content. Information silos were prevalent across the organization, and it was slowing down their entire sales process.

After RFP software

His team quickly realized the functional opportunities with their new RFP answer library. IT team members loved how much time they saved just by looking up previous RFP responses. An added bonus they discovered was using the content library to store all internal FAQs, giving every team member one access point for company information whenever they needed it.

Approved content in an accessible RFP answer library

Before RFP software

A proposal manager felt that the quality of her organization’s RFP response content wasn’t up to par. She did her best to organize RFP responses in a series of Word docs and spreadsheets. She kept up with a spreadsheet of approved responses, but team members continued copying and pasting from various RFPs, resulting in copying and pasting errors and inconsistencies.

After RFP software

The RFP answer library and section templates allowed her team to save questions and blocks of boilerplate text. Managing and auditing RFP content was easier, so she was able to make approved content easily accessible for her team. Compared to copying and pasting, searching for the best response became a fast and intuitive practice for everyone.

Better RFP responses and better sleep patterns

Before RFP Software

A senior solutions executive realized tracking down past responses in his labyrinth of Google Drive folders took several hours for every RFP. He always questioned his selections, wondering if what he did find was the best possible response—or if the better option was buried deep in another folder. Unable to handle his workload during business hours, he worked late at night to submit RFPs at the eleventh hour.

After RFP Software

He fundamentally changed the way his team managed RFPs with an answer library. No longer did he burden valuable internal resources with repetitive questions. By leveraging the tagging and star system, his team felt more confident about their choices. He used search functionality to find answers in seconds instead of hours. Since he didn’t have to work late anymore on RFPs, overall he felt more rested and productive.

Cost savings on RFP response team resources

Before RFP software

A senior proposal manager recognized the rising internal resource costs of their RFP response process. On average, this organization responded to 2-4 RFPs per month and spent about 80-100 hours researching and answering highly technical questions. With employee hourly rates ranging from $25 to $50 per hour, resource budgets were out of control.

After RFP software

The cost savings on resource hours far outweighed the cost of the RFP software he purchased. When responding to imported RFP questions, answer recommendations automatically populated the best-fit response directly from the answer library. Typing in one or two keywords into the search bar produced accurate results. Resource costs decreased exponentially, freeing up the budget for his other business initiatives.

Complete control over the RFP response process

Before RFP software

A strategic sales support manager did not have a formal RFP response process or an RFP content management tool at her organization. She tried using other content management systems to organize their Q&A pairs but often ended up with duplicate answers. It was difficult to repurpose variations on the same RFP responses, so her team ended up customizing the answer every time.

After RFP software

A smarter approach to RFP content management brought immediate time-savings benefits to her RFP response team. She added alternate questions and answers with customized names (short response, excel response, division-specific response, etc.) She gained complete control over their RFP content and she felt new responses were stronger than in previous RFPs.

Winning more deals with quality RFP responses

Before RFP software

An enterprise account executive responded to many RFPs, RFIs, and VSQs. It was the nature of their business, and his team worked hard to meet short turnaround times in the hopes of gaining new business. Since numerous departments were involved in RFP responses, they couldn’t respond to as many opportunities and they weren’t reaching their sales goals.

After RFP software

A new ability to collaborate in real-time reduced turnaround on these RFP requests. The answer library stored typical Q&A pairs that could be added and customized in a few minutes. This improved process allowed his team to take on more RFPs than before. Responding faster—with more consistent RFP responses—helped them win more deals at a higher rate.

Rushing an RFP out the door doesn’t exactly leave much time for fine-tuning the deliverable with a strategic mindset. The good news is that we can positively shift the buyer’s perspective if we improve the way we manage our RFP content library. That means saying goodbye to your labyrinth of Google drive folders and being more methodical with RFP software.

Join thousands of other RFPIO users to become our next before and after RFP software success story. Schedule a demo of RFPIO to manage your RFP content like a pro.

7 RFP response messaging rules for submitting impressive content

7 RFP response messaging rules for submitting impressive content

An RFP deliverable must always be dressed to impress. The whole branded package should be presentable, as well as engaging. The true wow factor comes through in the way we communicate with our prospects…through RFP responses.

There are a multitude of content resources that exist for sales and marketing purposes, but rarely do they include guidelines for RFP responders. Whether you are a proposal manager or a marketing manager overseeing content during the RFP response process, you likely turn to these content resources to cherry-pick semi-relevant best practices.

Ready to go beyond “better” to develop the best RFP responses? If so, here are some simple messaging rules you can follow on your next RFP to ensure your branded voice is consistent and compelling.

Yes…Content impacts your RFP win rate

The point of an RFP response is to win new business. We all know this when we’re spending countless hours as a team enduring the submission process for tens or hundreds of RFPs every year.

Did you know? 51% of organizations respond to more than 50 RFPs annually.

Landing the deal will only happen when your submission is better than your competitors. Shortcuts won’t produce quality responses. Yet cutting corners happens habitually for organizations who tend to rush through the RFP response process due to lack of time and resources.

Your RFP content must resonate with the issuer—and, also make sense. For technical questions, you will call upon your product or solution team members to contribute their expertise. It’s up to you to find ways to maintain the integrity of their content, while making it more accessible for the person reading these RFP responses.

The 7 rules for impressive RFP response content

While general content best practices will certainly help take your RFP deliverable across the finish line, they won’t necessarily help you medal. Winning just any medal isn’t good enough when you’re racing against similar companies.

If you’re prepared to go for the gold, consider these RFP response messaging guidelines as a way of training for your next submission.

1. Avoid overused words and phrases

Some things can’t be helped when they relate specifically to your product or service. Since we are an RFP software company, you can imagine the word “RFP” comes up plenty of times in our own RFP responses (guilty, we just used it three times in this sentence).

Repetitive words and phrases have a way of annoying the reader—which you obviously want to avoid with a potential client. So, it’s your job to find creative ways of spinning your messaging to keep the content experience fluid. Thesaurus.com and Related Words are trusty tools that will help you brainstorm alternatives for some of your favorite overused words and phrases.

2. Beware of jargon

Sometimes RFP responses contain language that is technical by nature, and can only be communicated a certain way. Other times we’re weaving blah-blah adjectives into our content that reek of jargon. The goal with RFP responses is to speak the language of business without sounding like a business book.

Opt for plain language over jargon whenever possible. Saying “use” instead of “leverage” sounds more human. Where you have to use jargons, use (don’t “leverage”) the most current versions of those words. Replace “intelligent” with “AI” or “machine learning.” Rather than claiming that your company is “innovative,” demonstrate how you innovate in your RFP responses.

plain language
Source: Professional Communication OER

3. Speak the RFP issuer’s language

“Know your audience” is one of the most relevant practices we can borrow from content marketing. With RFP responses, that audience is the issuer. What are their challenges and aspirations? Your RFP should address the issuer’s needs in words that speak directly to them.

Use language that is consistent with the requestor’s language and avoid your internal terminology wherever there is a conflict or difference. Repurposing historic RFP responses is an acceptable strategy, as long as you’re tailoring them for each prospect. Above all, follow the issuer’s requirements closely so you don’t disqualify your organization.

4. Don’t bury the numbers

While the words you choose for your RFP responses are critical to your organization’s win potential, so are the numbers. Sadly, oftentimes the most impactful data responders share is buried in the middle of wordy paragraphs.

Where numbers and quantities are expected, make sure they stand out. Bulleted lists are a great way to feature this data so the issuer can easily scan and consume. Visual graphics are another method for highlighting numbers and breaking up some of the monotony of RFP content.

Use This RFP Executive Summary Template for Stronger RFP Responses

5. Be informative and concise.

The best RFPs strike a winning balance by providing in-depth RFP responses that get right to the point. This is your organization’s opportunity to shine, so use all of the available content real estate to share your message. Rather than simply saying “yes, no, or N/A,” give more to bolster your RFP response.

…but, not too much more. Being concise is just as important. You don’t want to bore the issuer, you want to keep them entertained. If you come across a lengthy RFP response during the review process, find ways to chop without remorse. Repetition is probably the content culprit, so start there.

6. Use localization.

What is localization exactly? It’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit, so here is a definition from the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA):

“Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. The aim of localization is to give a product the look and feel of having been created specifically for a target market, no matter their language, culture, or location.”

Let’s say your company is headquartered in California. Is your prospect on the East Coast? When answering a question about customer support hours, respond in Eastern Time. Is your prospect in Germany? When answering a question about pricing, respond in Euros. These details are yet another way to incorporate personalization into your RFP responses.

7. Review and revise.

This last rule is one that absolutely must be followed, dear RFP responder. It’s easy to skip over this important step when you’re trying to submit the deliverable before the deadline. Allow yourself some time during the RFP process to have a proper review cycle.

RFP responses are just like any other content. A fresh set of eyes or a different perspective will only strengthen your deliverable. Since so much is riding on the quality of your RFP responses, you want to submit the best version possible that is both grammatically sound and impactful.

RFP software helps you deliver high-quality RFP responses

You know just how important delivering high-quality RFP responses is for the ultimate success of your organization. As much as you would like to spend lots of time tweaking and polishing content until it’s perfect, that isn’t usually the reality when you have other priorities to tend to. With technology like RFP software, you have the power to automate much of the RFP response process.

A good RFP content management system like RFPIO allows you to draw from quality content that is curated and readily available. The quality of your RFP responses remains high—even when you have limited time, even when you’re under pressure to submit your RFP deliverable.

RFP software helps you…

  • Manage – A centralized RFP content library corrals historic responses in one platform, versus spreadsheets, Google folders, emails, email folders…and the list goes on.
  • Review – Assigning reviewers in the optimal order ensures that each response is positioned for accuracy from SMEs, then signed off quickly for final approval.
  • Audit – To keep the best RFP responses accessible for your team, automatic reminders alert you when it’s time to clean up the content library at your preferred cadence.
  • Finalize – The final deliverable is polished and consistent, with a smooth export process back into the original format or a branded custom template.

After your SMEs contribute their expertise, the magic truly happens during the buff and polish of your deliverable. The next time you’re reviewing an RFP, follow these RFP response messaging guidelines to increase chances of success with your future clients.

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