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3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>If you’re reading this, then you’ve already bought into the importance of <a href=”https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/the-human-touch-at-the-center-of-customer-experience-excellence”><span class=”s2″>customer experience</span></a> in your […]


3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>If you’re reading this, then you’ve already bought into the importance of <a href=”https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/the-human-touch-at-the-center-of-customer-experience-excellence”><span class=”s2″>customer experience</span></a> in your sales cycle. A simple product backed by great customer experience will always have more conversions than a great product with a terrible customer experience. Many of the world’s leading enterprises concur. Data points that support customer experience are plentiful, indeed. The one that stands out to me is from<a href=”https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/library/consumer-intelligence-series/future-of-customer-experience.html”><span class=”s2″> PWC’s</span></a> Future of Customer Experience report: 73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision. </span></p>
<p class=”p3″>

73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision.

</p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Obviously, pre-sales is not solely responsible for good customer experience — that’s an organizational responsibility for every department, from legal and security to executive and marketing, to product development and engineering. Whether your <a href=”https://www.rfpio.com/blog/rfp-software-basware-language-translation/”><span class=”s2″>pre-sales function is its own entity</span></a> or a responsibility tacked on to product management or sales or <a href=”https://www.rfpio.com/blog/how-ownbackup-simplified-security-questionnaires-with-rfpio/”><span class=”s2″>technical support</span></a>, it can be solely responsible for strengthening (or damaging) trust with prospects and customers. </span></p>

<h2 class=”p4″><span class=”s1″>The pre-sales process: A quick level-set</span></h2>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>What is <a href=”https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/to-improve-sales-pay-more-attention-to-presales”><span class=”s2″>pre-sales</span></a>? The short answer is.. It’s complicated. Most organizations differ in how they define pre-sales and the pre-sales process. Often, the definition is intentionally vague to give teams the flexibility necessary to respond most effectively to a customer.</span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″> For the sake of this article, I’ll say the pre-sales process takes place from initial contact to demo or proof of concept (POC) presentation. From here, pre-sales hands off the relationship to the appropriate sales entity, such as a business development representative, a sales development representative, or even an account executive.</span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>The overarching key to customer experience success resides in every hand-off. Prior to presenting a recent webinar, I surveyed registered participants—most of whom were pre-sales professionals. Only 50% were confident that commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled. </span></p>
<p class=”p3″>

Only 50% of pre-sales professionals are confident their commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled.

</p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>The only way to make sure details don’t fall through the cracks, or that <a href=”https://www.zdnet.com/article/chief-customer-officers-define-four-strategies-to-connect-with-customers-in-the-next-normal/”><span class=”s2″>promises made by one department aren’t met by another</span></a>, or that any other pitfalls don’t derail the overall customer experience is through process. Process in a scaleup company is like a guitar string. If it is too tight, the quality of music is not great, and if it is too loose you cannot make any music at all. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>I apply an 80/20 rule to my pre-sales model. Basically, it means that 80% of the rules of engagement between teams during pre-sales are streamlined. The remaining 20% gives teams wiggle room to personalize customer buying journeys and react to exceptions pertaining to customer needs. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Keep this in mind as you consider my model for creating trust during the pre-sales process.</span></p>

<h2 class=”p4″><span class=”s1″>Step 1: Collect and analyze data</span></h2>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Remember that from the customer perspective, their experience needs to be seamless. They expect consistency across channels–but different internal owners of parts of that experience can cause inconsistency. Take a longitudinal view of the total experience to spot inconsistency.</span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Data-driven insight is just as valuable in pre-sales as elsewhere in the organization. It’s just that at the pre-sales stage, much of the customer interaction involves gathering data. In my webinar survey, 33.3% of participants agreed that access to customer feedback data that allows them to measure customer experience would be helpful. And only 9.3% said they always have access to up-to-date information to answer customer questions. Easier access to data about prospects and your product or solution will always help pre-sales stay a step ahead during the evaluation process.</span></p>
<img class=”alignnone wp-image-10841 size-full” src=”https://www.rfpio.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Blog-2021_Customer-Experience_Image-1.png” alt=”Most pre-sales professionals strongly agree developing customer trust is their top priority.” width=”3334″ height=”1126″ />
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″><b>Research the company, business model, values, and funding (if applicable) </b></span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Examine any existing CRM notes or call recordings all the way back to the first touchpoint. The first discussion should be as consistent as the most recent one. Get in sync by going through any previous activities and speaking to personnel who have been involved. Best practices say to automate this as much as possible through your CRM and other sales enablement tools.</span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″><b>Summarize and confirm findings-to-date during discovery</b></span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Get on the same page with prospects first, and then ask them if you have missed anything. Acknowledge their effort in the buying process so far. This is the first step in establishing trust and opens the door for a prospect to reveal new details because they view you as their advisor in the buying process. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Next, ask open-ended questions to unearth details you can use to personalize your demo or POC engagement with the prospect. This can range from getting their core triggerpoint to identifying the details of their standard buying process to gaining insight into high-value stakeholders. Document all the discovery details.</span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″><b>Analyze data to inform your personalized engagement plan</b></span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>You now have two critical data sets to help personalize your engagement and take the customer experience to the next level.</span></p>

<ul class=”ul1″>
<li class=”li1″><span class=”s1″>Research Data: Company, industry segment, persona role, timezone, culture, etc.
</span></li>
<li class=”li1″><span class=”s1″>Sales &amp; Discovery Data: Tone, intent, urgency, problems, specific features, success criteria, possible effort into evaluation, etc.
</span></li>
</ul>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Evaluate all of this data to develop a personalized engagement plan for each prospect.</span></p>
<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-10842″ src=”https://www.rfpio.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Blog-2021-Q1_Customer-Experience_Image-2.jpg” alt=”Step 1 to improving customer experience: Create a personalized engagement plan” width=”800″ height=”600″ />
<h2 class=”p4″><span class=”s1″>Step 2: Personalize engagement</span></h2>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>How does a touring stand-up comedian win over her audience in every new city by pointing out their local cultural idiosyncrasies? Carefully, respectfully, and by setting the right tone. In essence, this is what a pre-sales professional has to do: Point out what in the prospect’s process is not working to find the true selling opportunities. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″><b>Build your ‘Persona 360’</b></span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>So far, you’ve gathered intel on the prospect company and one or a few key individuals who have been involved in product evaluation to this point. Be transparent about the plan and share it with the prospect. For the demo/POC, expect additional stakeholders and testers to join the process. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Use the initial discovery call and LinkedIn to find out more about these new additions: </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Fill out your Persona 360, which is a combination of the roles, work locations, industry segments, cultures, time zones, ages (estimated, by Generation X, Y, Z, etc.) and more of the entire evaluation team. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>A day or so before the demo, resend the personalized engagement plan to update expectations. Be sure to mention new members by name and ask them if they would like to see something specific in the demo/POC. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″><b>Grow a library of demo/POC models</b></span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Always maintain a variety of demo/POC models. Match the most relevant version to the audience based on your Persona 360, weighting it for those who you deem to have the greatest influence in decision-making. Consult sales when you finalize your demo model. Each model may differ based on talktrack, flow, order of features shown, and time allocated to specific sections. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>The Persona 360 should also give you insights into optimizing the structure and timing of your demo/POC. You can personalize the demo/POC with prospect’s problem statements agreed upon during discovery and emphasize how your product’s features help them solve those problems. Educate the new audience without surprising the existing audience to further build trust. </span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″><b>Create personalized success criteria templates</b></span></p>
<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-10843″ src=”https://www.rfpio.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Blog-2021_Customer-Experience_Image-3.jpg” alt=”Improving customer experience is about showing your prospect you understand their needs. Do this by sending a personalized success criteria template” width=”800″ height=”600″ />
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>After the first demo with the majority of the evaluators from the prospect’s side, send them a success criteria checklist to illustrate how your product or solution directly addresses some of their key pain points. This checklist will also give the prospect an easy reference to compare how your offering measures up to a competitor’s.</span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>The more activity around this checklist the better. It’s a strong signal of their intent to proceed further with the evaluation or even to purchase. It’s not a mandatory touchpoint. If the prospect already has a standard process for evaluation, respect that and only suggest best practices as a trusted advisor. </span></p>

<h2 class=”p4″><span class=”s1″>Step 3: Prepare for hand-off</span></h2>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>When we board a bus or a train, we trust the vehicle will take us to our destination because:</span></p>

<ol class=”ol1″>
<li class=”li1″><span class=”s1″>The journey is short.
</span></li>
<li class=”li1″><span class=”s1″>The route (process) and destination (value) are defined.
</span></li>
</ol>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Length of the buying journey varies according to product and industry. Customers are more likely to notice when the journey is too long or arduous than they are to notice that it’s too short. In SaaS, the higher the price point, the greater the customer expectation that they’ll have ample opportunity to demo and evaluate if it’s the right fit. No matter how long the buying journey is in your customer experience, <b>always make room to deliver incremental value.</b></span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>A feedback call is a mandatory checkpoint after the initial demo/POC to determine where you stand on the overall evaluation. On the feedback call, be ready to review your account handbook, which covers relationship details from discovery, Persona 360, user journey, feature wishlist, and information about post sales implementation and support.</span></p>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>The account handbook documents any business case you can build with the prospect to help advance evaluation to purchase. It also shows the prospect everything that’s been accomplished so far on their buying journey and gives the impression that you’re ready to proceed to the next step. Perhaps most importantly, the account handbook can be used as a hand-off document to the post sales team to ensure a seamless transition for the customer. </span></p>

<h2 class=”p4″><span class=”s1″>If you want more details…</span></h2>
<p class=”p1″><span class=”s1″>Check out <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbUkpkDW2-w”>the webinar</a> I presented on the importance of pre-sales in providing a positive customer experience. You can learn more results of the participant survey (very enlightening) and access some of the nitty gritty details I didn’t have space for in this article. It’s especially valuable if you’re in B2B SaaS because I spend a lot of time discussing how to deal with feature requests throughout the customer experience.</span></p>

Are you asking too much of your RFP process?

Are you asking too much of your RFP process?

There are many things your company can offer another, but offering everything in the world probably isn’t one of them. So, why are RFP process expectations so high?

It’s a sound question for a common problem. Unfortunately, this comes up A LOT in big organizations—spanning verticals from energy to government (and everything in between)—when there are small departments who aren’t aligned in their internal processes.

Every RFP consists of multiple layers, and it’s a collaborative effort that requires manpower and finesse. But those efforts are invested with the hope that the deal will close—even when those chances are slim.

But sometimes, even when you have the time and resources to respond, an RFP comes along that your company ultimately decides not to respond to. And, that’s because that other company is asking for too much.

I’ll share a little RFP story with you to show you what I mean…

This company asked too much of their RFP process

Another company (who shall remain unnamed) came to us, because they were looking for a better solution to help them manage a specific area of their business.

Instead of focusing on solving the problem, they decided to involve different business units to see if they could get all of them into a single software platform. Since each of the business units had competing interests, the RFP was a complete mess.

Mainly they were asking for something that didn’t exist. By the end of the call there were only a few vendors left, many of which were overstating their capabilities.

To be honest, they were using the RFP process as a means to generate a shopping list. It had nothing to do with evaluating pre-qualified vendors they had researched, with a phone call to know specific answers to outstanding questions. It was clear they just googled a term that brought them to our company and sent out an RFP to anyone they found within that search.

It was the perfect setup for an efficiency disaster, one that could have been avoided with a better process.

This is what will happen to that company

Because none of the vendors can do what this company is asking—except for those claiming they can and are misrepresenting their company—they are in for a wake up call.

This company is missing out on good qualified partners that can fulfill what they need, since they are overreaching and asking for too much. Vendors started dropping off a quarter of the way into the call, as they realized the deal was going to be a mess.

The wasted time and money, not to mention the all-around frustration, means expectations can not be met. As more departments are added, the wish list grows, as does the number of “mandatory” requirements that no solution can solve in one application. The worst case scenario would involve needing to replace the software suite again in a year or two.

How that company can turn things around

Believe it or not, all is not lost for this company. If you’re struggling with a similar situation of asking for the world in your RFP, it’s not too late to change your ways.

  1. Do your research. Figure out the specific problem you are trying to solve by creating a list of needs, and ask your team to weigh in to ensure you’re not overlooking anything. Break them down by priority, so you can focus on specific services that will provide solutions for the most pressing needs.
  2. Honor your budget. Review historical spend data to compare categories and vendors, so you know what to budget and how you want to divvy it up. While collaboration is good, remember to keep business units to a minimum to control scope creep. Involve only key players that will need to be active on the project.
  3. Explore your options. Once you have your priorities, budget, and team defined, create another list for vendor comparison. Check out their website and online reviews to narrow down the list. Before issuing the RFP, talk to potential vendors to decide if they are the best fit for your company without jumping the gun on the process.

Aligning your internal processes is a must well before it’s time for the RFP to go out. If you jump the gun, your company will risk not only spending valuable time and resources, you also won’t find the solution you’re seeking.

Get your team on the same page and know what the end-goal is. That’s the best way to find long-lasting success, and ultimately a better return on investment for your efforts.

20 stats proposal managers need before making that next big decision (new data)

20 stats proposal managers need before making that next big decision (new data)

The legendary Ted Lasso once said, “Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doin’ it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.” Proposal managers can relate, especially staring down the end of a pandemic-induced paradigm shift in collaboration, automation, and workflow.

Digital transformation in response management has replaced proposal managers’ old challenges with new ones. Gone are the days of stalking cubicles of salespeople and subject matter experts (SMEs) to keep a proposal on track, manually completing questionnaires, and storing content in file cabinets or on shared drives. Enter the challenges of working remotely, videoconferencing fatigue, and high expectations for personalized proposal content.

What can you as a proposal manager do to stay on top of a dynamic response management industry? Before you consider your next automation solution, team addition or subtraction, or learning opportunity, make a decision based on some facts. We took the liberty of gathering 20 of them for you here.

RFP project management

As we see it, the trend for proposal teams is to break even on headcount while relying on automation and collaboration to increase productivity. Doing more with less is nothing new to proposal managers, and RFP software can help accelerate response time, centralize content management, and unify collaboration. In one case, it helped to triple RFP volume and reduce turnaround time by 40%.

RFP project collaboration

  • “Distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.” – Harvard Business Review
  • “78% of survey respondents expect the amount of remote work to increase post-pandemic from its pre-pandemic levels.” – Verizon
  • “Organizations with dedicated proposal professionals submitted 3.5X more responses in 2020.” – Salesforce
  • “Today’s average proposal management team consists of: 1 person (6%), 2-5 people (33%), 6-10 people (24%), 11-20 people (16.5%), 21-50 people (12%), more than 50 people (8.5%).” – APMP

The way we work is changed forever. Whether you’re back in an office or embedded as a remote worker, you’ll be designating responsibilities that team members can accomplish onsite, on the road, or at home. We’ve all grown more familiar with remote work tools and have our respective cheers (e.g., accessibility) and jeers (e.g., too accessible). The upside is that your team will be able to adapt quickly to RFPIO’s @-mentioning functionality and its integrations with Slack, Salesforce, and more.

RFP response knowledge sharing

  • “The latest edition of Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends study ranks ‘knowledge management’ as one of the top three issues influencing company success, yet only 9 percent of surveyed organizations feel ready to address it.” – Deloitte
  • “40% of survey responders use RFPIO to manage company knowledge.” – 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey
  • “44% of employees are ‘poor or very poor’ at transferring knowledge.” – Ernst & Young
  • “Workers spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.” – Mckinsey Global Institute

Whether the proposal is being proactively generated by sales to get their foot in the door or reactively created for an RFP, you want the brand, expectation-setting, and peace-of-mind benefits of knowledge sharing from the RFPIO Answer Library. Make this dynamic warehouse of Q&A pairs and content available to everyone in the organization through our unlimited license model. Even as a small team, you can respond to multiple RFPs simultaneously, scaling with the personalization necessary to merit serious consideration.

RFP content management

  • “Companies with a designated RFP solution are 32% more likely to have strong content moderation procedures in place, with 90% reporting this being a priority for them.” – 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management
  • “The most frequently cited typical approach taken by content creators in their business (43%) was project-focused – content is created in response to internal requests.” – Content Marketing Institute
  • “If searching is difficult and the results are not highly valued, workers lose trust in the knowledge systems. This, in turn, makes them less willing to share personal knowledge in those systems, which reduces the quality of the content.” – Deloitte
  • “50% of proposal managers said keeping response content up-to-date and accurate is their biggest challenge.” – 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey

Second only to win rate, content carries the most weight when judging whether a proposal manager is a hero or a villain. How it’s created, maintained, stored, and accessed has a direct or indirect impact on almost everyone in the organization. Sales wants accurate, innovative content yesterday. Support wants content that accurately reflects service level agreements. Marketing wants content to be on-brand.

If you’re using RFP software, then you’ve gone to great lengths to curate the content library used to automatically populate proposals. Why not make that content available to the whole organization? With RFPIO Lookup, you can add a portal into your RFPIO Answer Library from everywhere your users work.

82% of our customers said managing response content all in one place is the primary way RFPIO helps them achieve success. Global organizations can take further advantage of separate content collections relevant to their region, which is especially beneficial for multilingual content.

RFP response efficiency

  • “On average, organizations with a designated RFP technology submit 306 proposals a year, while those without submit only 210 — a difference of nearly 43%.” – 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management
  • “86% of salespeople are looking for opportunities to shorten the sales cycle to close more deals. 79% of marketers are focused on using automated technology to execute more with less resource strain. 65% of subject matter experts aspire to increase efficiency through better processes.” – 2019 RFPIO Responder Survey
  • “85% of proposal managers work over 40 hours a week, with 11% working over 50.” – APMP
  • “Solutions based on natural language processing/generation and robotic process automation can help reduce the time it takes to draft requests for proposals (RFPs) by up to two-thirds and eliminate human error.”- McKinsey & Company

Efficiency is the numero uno KPI for RFP software. The benefit you realize depends on how you re-invest time saved through efficiencies achieved by state-of-the-art automation, knowledge management, and collaboration capabilities. For example, Lauren Daitz, Senior Manager of the Proposal Department at HALO Recognition, said about RFPIO, “We’re up 25% over our average volume for the last six years and our staffing is down 50% at the same time. And we were still able to deliver every RFP on time or early and with 100% accuracy.”

Proposal managers can never be satisfied with the status quo. Always look for new opportunities for learning and growth. As competition increases and digital transformation continues, it’s either move forward or fall behind.

Like Ted Lasso says, the happiest animal in the world is a goldfish because it only has a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish. His wit and wisdom know no bounds.

If you’re ready to learn how RFPIO can help make you a more effective proposal manager, schedule a demo today.

RFP vs RFQ vs RFI: How response management reflects sales success

RFP vs RFQ vs RFI: How response management reflects sales success

There are more responses in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your RFx, to badly paraphrase Hamlet. In an enterprise sale or government bid, you’re likely to run into one or more of the following: request for proposal (RFP), request for quote (RFQ), and request for information (RFI). How your organization responds to these requests has direct implications on your sales process: Improve how you respond, improve how you sell.

What is an RFP?

RFP stands for Request for Proposal.

For the proposal team, this is the be-all, end-all of responses that stirs up everything you can possibly imagine about your organization. Pricing, functionality, technology, security, company basics, competitive differentiators, case studies, references, implementation, SLAs…phew! As the owner of the RFP response process, the proposal manager must ensure that ALL of these questions are tackled.

For the deal that’s already several touchpoints in the making, this response can either help seal it or kill it for the sales team. The importance of the RFP in the overall sales process varies according to industry. But across the board, it’s one of the touchpoints—along with product demo, pricing, and references—that every stakeholder will take into consideration when deciding on vendor selection.

Bottom line? No matter how awesome a response turns out, it alone cannot win the deal. Alas, a subpar response can indeed kill a deal all by itself.

What is an RFQ?

RFQ stands for Request for Quote.

If you receive an RFQ, then one of two things have likely happened. One, your RFP passed muster and you’re a finalist. Or two, there never was an RFP and you’re being approached because yours is a known solution for one reason or another. Either way, details are important in an RFQ. The issuer wants to know exactly what they’re getting at what price.

Lean heavily on subject matter experts (SMEs) to ensure accuracy. In some cases, you may need to complete a table of specific line items and include a cost for each. Your industry dictates your details. The point is that you need to be ready to deliver those details in an RFQ. There’s usually no room for creativity like you might have in an RFP. And remember, anything you commit to in the RFQ will have to be backed up down the line during implementation and support. You’re setting up expectations for the customer experience moving forward, after the hand-off from sales.

What is an RFI?

RFI stands for Request for Information.

There are two schools of thought regarding RFIs. The first school says an RFI is a fishing expedition for organizations who have questions but don’t know who to ask. In this case, RFI responses usually end up forming the basis of an RFP.

The second school says that RFIs are closer to RFQs and are used only with RFP finalists. In this case, the open-ended questions may try to clarify something in your RFP or may give you an opportunity to explain use-cases of how your solution solves specific challenges.

The RFI is usually more casual than the RFQ and will give you room to be creative. In some cases, it can even be your last opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition. End on a high note!

What is the difference between an RFP, RFI, and RFQ?

Obviously, there are many differences, based on the definitions above. But the biggest difference between these three requests is in the content of your response.

  • RFQs will be structured; content will likely be technical, financial, and legal.
  • RFIs are more casual; content will be more along the lines of solution briefs, case studies, and custom answers to open-ended questions.
  • RFPs will be structured and formal, but they’ll also provide opportunities to show off your creativity and competitive differentiation. Content will be in the form of answers to many, many questions. Hopefully you have a response management solution in place to automate and manage content. It makes your life much easier.

Ways RFPs, RFQs, and RFIs help your sales process

Back in the days of paper forms and manual processes, if an RFP was involved, then you could count on a long wait before knowing if you won the deal. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Digital transformation has introduced three new trends with regards to the RFP as it relates directly to the sales process.

  1. Deadlines are sooner: Issuers expect vendors to have technology and expertise in place to turnaround RFPs faster than ever. Besides, in some instances, the ability to respond fast may be part of an issuer’s filtering process.
  2. RFPs are more complex: Lots of reasons for this. More complex problems, competitive industries that have more vendor options, and the ability for issuers to do a lot of research on solution providers prior to launching an RFP (thanks a lot, Internet) are the biggest, in my mind.
  3. Globally, more organizations and agencies are using them: Actually, there’s a flip side to that idea, too. More solution providers are able to respond to global RFPs. Few of us are limited by borders anymore when it comes to conducting business. If you offer a product or service that the world needs and you can deliver it, then go after the business!

Regardless of your RFP vs RFQ vs RFI predicament, if you work on the following two things, your sales process will be the better for it.

#1 Know your competitive differentiators

There’s a high probability that you will be asked to state your competitive differentiators when responding to an RFP. Here are some examples of how that might look:

  • What is the competitive advantage of your solution?
  • Describe your competitive position relative to your competitors.
  • When comparing yourself to the market, what are the unique selling points?
  • Briefly state how you are differentiated from any competitors.
  • Why should we work with you instead of one of your competitors?

A generic RFP response to any of these will only benefit your competitors who are able to dazzle the issuer with a great response. Instead of using jargon-y adjectives that everyone else uses, focus on demonstrating the value your solution provides.

Knowing company differentiators is half the battle for many organizations—take the time internally to explore what these are and how to communicate them. Once you have these locked down, make sure the best versions are readily available for your team to grab and tailor appropriately.

“A value proposition offers clients something they want and gives them a good reason to choose you over your competitors. In the executive summary and in your full proposal, communicate a strong value proposition that matches your client’s needs and demonstrates your unique offer.”

– APMP Body of Knowledge

#2 Build and use an answer library

How do you make sure the best versions of your competitive differentiators are easy for your team to grab and tailor? Make sure they’re in your answer library, of course. It won’t be long before response management software will no longer be a choice; it’ll be an imperative.

Most RFP-specific technologies include an answer library component. This is where all the content is stored and organized for use in RFPs or other responses, depending on the flexibility of the solution. Much of the content in these libraries exists as Q&A pairs. For the sales process, using AI functionality from an answer library improves:

  • Repeatability: Build your response process around the foundation of your response management software. It will help establish steps for how you develop a response, access content, and collaborate with writers, editors, and experts time and again.
  • Efficiency: Make everything easier and faster—from finding content and assembling documents, to working with collaborators. Teams that do so are often able to increase efficiency by 40%.
  • Quality: With much of the time-intensive activities of responding offloaded to AI-enabled software and rock-solid processes, you can spend more time on personalizing responses and generating revenue.

Improve how you respond, improve how you sell

We found that organizations using RFP software submitted 43% more responses in 2020 than those without. We also found that organizations averaged a 45% win rate in 2020. From a sales perspective, that’s a huge opportunity for improvement: submit more responses, win more deals.

To learn more about how response management can benefit your sales processes, schedule a demo today!

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

How to write a proposal cover letter [with example]

Like the devilishly tempting Hostess Ding Dongs treat, a proposal cover letter has to be short, sweet, and dense. Unlike that aforementioned hockey puck of delectability, proposal cover letters cannot be mass-produced. To write a proposal cover letter with nary a wasted word, you first need to understand its strategic significance in the overall proposal.

I’ve spent more than 17 years on proposals and have written hundreds of proposal cover letters. When I started, we printed out proposals and created huge binders to share with reviewers. Reviewers would open the binders to see the proposal cover letter, then an executive summary, and then dig into the proposal itself. Binders are part of a bygone era; there’s been a big digital shift since I started.

Requests for paperless submissions and the growing popularity of online portals has altered the strategic significance of the proposal cover letter. It’s gone from a “must-have” element, to a “nice-to-have” one. My background is predominantly healthcare and insurance. Anecdotally, maybe only 30% of requests for proposals (RFPs) in healthcare and insurance request executive summaries while most volunteer that a cover letter is optional. If they give you an option, take it.

Some online portals don’t even give you an opportunity to include extra documents like cover letters. In such cases, you now have to include the cover letter as part of your proposal PDF. At the same time, RFPs are more complex than ever, requiring more details in submitted proposals. Issuers expect you to have your content in order, and a lot of it.

Speaking of issuers and what they’re looking for in proposal cover letters: They don’t need information that they can find on your website, that they can Google, or that sounds canned. They want to make sure you’ve reviewed the RFP requirements, and it’s absolutely essential to hit them with that up front, in your proposal cover letter. Especially if your solution meets all of the issuer’s requirements. Emphasize that fact simply and directly.

What is a proposal cover letter?

The proposal cover letter is meant to frame up your RFP proposal. It’s not a rehashing of the proposal or executive summary. It’s a vehicle to thank the issuer for the opportunity to respond, to say, “We’ve seen your business requirements and composed this proposal because we think we’re the best partner for you.” Think of it as the bow on your RFP proposal package.

Whether paper, PDF, or stone tablet, one thing that hasn’t changed about the proposal cover letter is that it’s your first opportunity to declare the value propositions that differentiate yours from competitive proposals. These value props will be the threads that weave through your proposal, from cover letter, to executive summary, to answers to questions.

As far as length, I aim for a page and a half when I write proposal cover letters. Try to keep it under two. Go longer only if a template or specific framework for the cover letter is provided by the issuer, which is sometimes the case in government RFPs.

Why a good proposal cover letter matters

RFP reviewers will be looking for deviations in responses. Deviations among responders as well as deviations from their (the issuers) requirements.

When you can write a cover letter and state, “After reviewing the RFP, we are confident that our solution meets all requirements and detail that fact in our proposal,” you make a compelling argument for reviewers to concentrate on how your proposal illustrates how you solve problems. They’ll notice cover letters that do not mention something that direct, and will review those proposals to look for where the solutions fall short.

When should you write the proposal cover letter?

It’s page one so it should be written first, right? Not necessarily. I’m a proponent of writing the executive summary first, the cover letter second, and then building the proposal. Certainly review the RFP first so you can determine what it’s asking for. But don’t just jump into a response from there. Take the time to establish the value props that will make it a cohesive proposal.

Writing the executive summary first helps you formulate your argument and determine which content you’ll need for the proposal. Once you know what you need to be persuasive and how you can solve the issuer’s problem, then you can develop the three-to-five value props (I try to boil it down to three solid, unique value props) that you can define in the proposal cover letter.

Who signs the proposal cover letter?

Notice I didn’t title this section, “Who writes the proposal cover letter?” The person who writes it and the person who signs it may not be one and the same.

If your proposal team is fortunate enough to have a dedicated writer, then have them write the letter based on input from the frontline sales rep. Whoever writes the letter must be fully informed of response strategy and have intimate knowledge of the proposal and executive summary. Strategy, voice, and style need to be consistent across all documents (cover letter, executive summary, and proposal).

Who signs it depends on a variety of factors. In most cases, the frontline sales rep will sign the proposal cover letter. They have the relationship, own the strategy, and likely conducted the discovery that informed the proposal. However, it’s not uncommon for an executive sponsor such as a VP of sales to sign. The thinking being that executive reviewers may appreciate seeing a proposal that’s been vetted by a fellow executive.

There are also those cases when the executive of executives, the CEO, signs the letter. There are two common scenarios for this play. One, the RFP may be large enough to represent a significant percentage of a responder’s annual revenue. Two, the responding organization is concerned with appearing relatively small, and in an effort to improve its stature, seals the proposal with a CEO’s signature.

There’s definitely some gamesmanship at play here. Even so, the name on the letter will never overshadow the content of the proposal.

7 steps to write a proposal cover letter

The compact nature of the proposal cover letter makes it difficult to fit everything in one or two pages. Good writers are valuable assets in these instances. Every proposal cover letter should contain the following sections:

  1. Thank the issuer (and broker, where applicable) for the opportunity.
  2. Recite your understanding of the opportunity to validate that you reviewed the RFP requirements.
  3. List your abilities to meet requirements. If you can meet all of them, lead with that fact.
  4. Describe your value propositions. You’re trying to portray that, “This is what we bring to the table, and that’s why we’re the best choice.”
  5. Provide a high-level future snapshot of what business will look like after your solution is chosen.
  6. Conclude with a persuasive delivery of your understanding of next steps: “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further.” Show that you’re able and willing to move forward in the sales lifecycle.
  7. Sign it from the frontline sales representative or executive sponsor. This should not look like a form letter from the organization as a whole.

3 common mistakes to avoid

Beyond the mistakes of not including a proposal cover letter at all or writing one that’s too long, proofread your next letter for the following mistakes before sending it.

  1. Avoid repeating anything from the executive summary or proposal. Those documents need to live on their own, just like the proposal cover letter.
  2. Don’t waste space with your resume. Something like this…

    RFPIO’s growing list of 600+ clients including 40+ Fortune 500 organizations continue to take advantage of our one-of-a-kind Unlimited User licensing model, expanding their usage on the platform to scale organizational success. With RFPIO as their team’s support system, every day they break down silos by facilitating collaboration and efficiency in their RFx response process
    ….is boilerplate that can appear elsewhere in the proposal or not at all, given that it’s likely available to the issuer on your corporate website.
  3. If a broker is involved, thank them, too. The proposal cover letter is also an opportunity to directly address the issuer. This can be particularly valuable when a broker is involved. Some issuers rely on RFP brokers to sift through responses to make sure only the best possible solutions get serious consideration. Ignore these brokers at your peril. While the response and executive summary will address the issuer and the problem at hand, the cover letter is where you can give a nod to the broker. Acknowledging their involvement in the process and thanking them for the opportunity as well will at the very least alert all reviewers that you paid close attention to the RFP requirements.
  4. Don’t guess. Make sure you or someone on your team does the legwork and discovery to inform your response strategy. The more you have to guess, the longer the letter will take to write.

Proposal cover letter example

Feel free to use the proposal cover letter example below as a template for your next letter. One of the many advantages of proposal building software such as RFPIO is the automation of the cover letter process. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to write it, but RFPIO helps:

  • Access and write in the template within the platform (no need to toggle back and forth between a word processor and whatever application you’re using to build your proposal)
  • Include identical brand elements as the proposal and executive summary
  • Add the cover letter to the front of the proposal and/or executive summary when you output it for submission

When you use the following example, you’ll need to swap out the RFPIO-centric items with your own company and solution information as well as the custom value props for that specific proposal. The three value props highlighted in the example are Salesforce integration, data security, and customer support. For your letter, these will be specific to your solution and the problem stated in the RFP.

Hi [Issuer(s) first name(s)],

Thank you for considering RFPIO as your potential vendor for RFP automation software. We are cognizant of the effort it takes to make a selection like this, so we very much appreciate the opportunity. First and foremost, RFPIO meets all of the requirements detailed in your RFP. That’s illustrated in greater detail in this proposal. In the meantime, the following capabilities make us confident that RFPIO is the most qualified company and solution for [issuing company name’s] [RFP title].

  • Helping businesses improve and scale their RFP response process for greater efficiency. The time and resource savings reported to us from our clients has allowed them to participate in more proposals and provide high-quality responses that create additional revenue opportunities.
  • Automating the import and export functions, centralizing content for RFPs, and facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders.
  • Managing knowledge and content through our AI-enabled Answer Library.
  • Giving clear visibility into the entire RFP process through reports and dashboards—including project status and progress, and analytics for actionable insights.

We know that it’s important for [issuing company name] to find a solution with a strong integration with Salesforce. This proposal details RFPIO’s integration with Salesforce, and how it will work for you. In addition to that, RFPIO’s open API allows for integrations with many other technologies for cloud-storage, collaboration, and other desired platforms.

We also take your data security concerns highlighted in the RFP very seriously. You can be assured that your data will be safe and accessible. We work with a variety of enterprise customers and understand the necessary level of security that is required. From the beginning, we made it a priority to build security right into RFPIO’s technology, which we continue to maintain. We are SOC 2 and ISO27001 certified, while continuing to pursue other best-in-class certifications to ensure security.

Regarding your requirement for ongoing support following implementation: When it comes to customer support, our technical and account managers are high performers. We have an expert group of 110 nimble programmers and developers who are always ready to provide quick technical fixes (that you can request right within the solution). Our reliable and attentive account team is ready to fully support [company name] should we move forward as your vendor.

Upon deploying RFPIO, it’s intuitive user experience is simple to get used to. You’ll also get free access to RFPIO University for all your training needs, now and in the future. Getting started is as simple as loading that first project. The whole team will be collaborating from there. As your Answer Library grows, machine learning will provide more and more automation opportunities. It won’t be long before you see a drastic uptick in proposal quality and number of proposals submitted.

If you’re interested in comparing our solution to other comparable tools, we recommend that you visit software review platform G2 Crowd’s top RFP Solutions grid. This information is based on user satisfaction and places RFPIO at the top in all categories.

We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further. We appreciate your consideration, and wish you luck on your selection.

Thanks,
[Signee’s name]
[Signee’s title]

You should have it “cover”-ed from here

If you’ve done your research and client discovery, and you know the value props specific to the RFP that you’ve already reviewed, then letter writing will go fast. The better you know the client and people involved, the easier it is going to be for you to tailor the proposal cover letter, the executive summary, and, most importantly, the RFP proposal.

To learn more about how RFPIO can help you write better proposal cover letters, schedule a demo today!

How proposal teams can prepare for 2021

How proposal teams can prepare for 2021

How is technology aiding the request for proposal (RFP) response process? To find out, we surveyed members of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) to gain insight into current and future trends in proposal management processes across 10 industries. The resulting data has been compiled and analyzed for you in the 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management.

The clash of trend and reality

No doubt about it, the events of 2020 greatly influenced B2B sales — and proposal management for many organizations was not immune. In 2021, as we all seek more certainty, the most consistent trend we’ve spotted is that digital transformation in sales, marketing, and proposal management assures generic proposals will never again make the shortlist. Budgets in 2021 will be tight, and each new business purchase will involve increased scrutiny and justification. So how can your proposal be competitive?

For any proposal to have a chance, it has to illustrate how your solution solves the issuer’s specific problem, and it has to speak to proposal reviewers and decision-makers alike. This requires your organization to focus on responding only to the requests that you think you can win. It also helps to have dedicated proposal writers experienced in developing content that appeals to your target audience.

Both of these considerations clash with two trends our research identified: the need to respond to more RFPs in 2021, paired with a resistance to increasing headcount. The research shows that many organizations understand that they need to respond to more RFPs in 2021 in order to play the odds and generate revenue. With RFP opportunities averaging between $1M and $3M (according to RFPIO data), each one has the potential to make a significant impact.

But how can you respond to more requests, while simultaneously focusing only on the requests you have the best shot at winning? RFP technology enables organizations to efficiently invest time in the RFPs they go after, increasing the rate at which organizations can generate proposals. Some RFP softwares, likeRFPIO, even enable data-driven analyses of the characteristics common to all the deals you win, helping you focus your time where you have the greatest possibility of success.

It’s concerning, however, that proposal team headcount is expected to remain at its 2020 status quo throughout 2021. This indicates proposal managers will have to learn to do more with less. It also means that unless you already have proposal writers on staff, you’re less likely to hire any this year. You may want to buck that trend because our research also found that organizations with dedicated proposal professionals lap competitors by 3.5X.

75% of organizations plan to respond to more RFPs in 2021 than 2020. But only 37% plan to increase staff.

Organizations with dedicated proposal professionals submit 3x more RFPs than those without

Survey says: Douse proposals in fresh-baked cookie scents RFP software is an advantage

“With RFP competition predicted to increase, and teams already being challenged to do more with less, keeping proposal team staffing at 2020-levels only adds pressure. Proposal teams will need to invest in technology and automation to scale their responses, enhance efficiency, and maximize output.”

Fewer than half of the respondents to our survey currently use RFP software. This is surprising, considering the fact that those that use RFP software were able to submit 43% more proposals in 2020. Technology is transforming the proposal management landscape, making it easier for organizations to efficiently create their first proposal draft, thus giving them back the time they need to personalize responses to win effectively.

Only 43% of companies use RFP-specific technology today

We also discovered that organizations not using RFP software instead used, on average, nine solutions to compose their RFPs, compared to only five for those with a dedicated RFP tool. One study found that workers estimate switching between apps wastes up to 60 minutes of each day. Yet another asserts that up to 40% of a worker’s productive time is lost while switching between apps, a loss of focus it attributes to “context switching.”

For the sake of productivity, efficiency, personalization, as well as to help keep up with steeper competition for each request, organizations that want to take advantage of more revenue-generating opportunities will need to streamline their technology and automation to be effective in 2021 and beyond.

Check out the full report to learn more about the state of proposal management, including our four recommendations for success in 2021. If you’re one of those organizations trying to keep up without RFP technology, schedule a demo of RFPIO today. If you are already an RFPIO user looking to streamline your tech stack to increase efficiency, fill out this form to schedule time with your Account Manager.

Download Benchmark Report

6 RFP response email samples to steal and send

6 RFP response email samples to steal and send

Every piece of communication during the RFP response process matters. Something that doesn’t get as much attention…the emails we write. Since an RFP response email will be sent to one of your potential clients, it should definitely be handled with care.

No matter what your role is during the RFP process, you likely partake in email communication with key contacts and decision-makers outside your organization at some point. You send repetitive emails for different scenarios—and half the time you don’t know whether you’re saying the right things when you land or lose a deal.

Normally we stand behind a less email approach around here at RFPIO, because we’re big fans of communication integrations we have within our platform. The reality is that writing emails is a core part of the RFP process—be it responding after receiving an RFP or sending an email for a proposal submission—regardless of how many integrations you have. Just like the RFP responses we work so hard to craft, the emails we send off should be just as concise and engaging.

To help you improve your communication in other parts of the RFP process, we’re showing you 6 request for proposal email samples that you are more than welcome to steal and send. Start saving time with prospects by copying and pasting—and, of course—making these emails your own.

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” – Jim Rohn

Request for proposal email sample: Send after receiving RFP

Hi [first name] –

I am honored that [RFPIO] has been selected to respond for [Company]’s business through an RFP. We look forward to showing [Company] and the whole evaluation team why [RFPIO] would be a strategic solution to address the current and future challenges that [Company] is facing in their RFP process.

Based on the current status in the request, I will show how [RFPIO] will help to: create a more consistent process across international regions, save individuals time to focus on other initiatives, and provide insights into all RFP analytics across your organization.

I will follow up within the next week with any questions we have about the RFP.

Thanks again for the opportunity!
Konnor

ProTip: Provide three specific pain points you will solve to show you are the right partner.


Request for proposal email sample: Send to clarify RFP project

Hi [first name] –

It is apparent that [name(s)] spent a lot of time putting this request together. Thanks for sending us such an organized RFP outline…they aren’t always delivered this way!

At this time we are still reviewing, and the requirements are aligning well with [RFPIO]’s offerings. We have outlined a few comments and questions. We would like to schedule a one-hour review session with your team to cover everything.

Is your team available at [11:30 am PST] on [Friday] for this review session? Please confirm and I’ll send over a calendar invite.

Thanks and talk soon!
Konnor

ProTip: A positive tone is always key with clarification requests.


Request for proposal email sample: Use for proposal submission

Hi [first name] –

I trust you are well and busy as you receive and review multiple RFP responses. Attached, you will find the following files and folders to accompany the RFP response from [RFPIO]:

  • [Relevant File / Folder]
  • [Relevant File / Folder]
  • [Relevant File / Folder]
  • [Relevant File / Folder]

Our team would be honored to earn [Company]’s trust and business as a result of this RFP submission. The connection we have with [anecdotal personal point, story, business fact, mutual customers, relevant content identified in the sales process] makes the potential of our doing business together that much more exciting.

We look forward to the next steps to come as we continue this process together. I will be standing by for any follow-up questions from your review.

Thank you!
Konnor

ProTip: Bring in a personal touch to avoid a bland RFP submission.

 benchmark-blog-report

The 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management

Learn about the state of proposal management, and see what teams need to do to be successful in 2021

Read the report


Request for proposal email sample: Send to follow-up on proposal submission

Follow-Up #1 – When you haven’t heard from the prospect, and the deadline has not passed.

Hi [first name] –

I trust this finds you well and in the throes of the RFP review. As we approach your review timeline of [August 1], I wanted to check in proactively on [RFPIO]’s submission.

Are there any follow-up questions or clarification points needed from [RFPIO]? I would be happy to hop on a quick call or share a sample of our work to clarify any other functional requirements you might have.

Speak to you soon,
Konnor

Follow-Up #2 – When you still haven’t heard from the prospect, and the deadline has passed.

Hi [first name] –

I’m reaching out to see if I can get an update on [RFPIO]’s recent RFP submission. We passed our deadline of [August 1], and I haven’t heard from anyone at [Company] yet.

Perhaps the project is hung up due to competing priorities, the project is taking a different direction, or another vendor has been decided? Whatever the case may be, any updates would be greatly appreciated.

Speak to you soon,
Konnor

ProTip: Keep your first follow-up message brief and polite. On the second follow-up, gently back away to see if that draws them in.


Request for proposal email sample: Send after winning proposal

Hi [first name]-

I was thrilled to learn that [RFPIO] moved forward in the selection process. I speak for the entire team when I say that we appreciate the opportunity to earn your business.

Per the outline of the RFP process, the next step is an onsite presentation for the last week of [August]. I am available [Mon-Wed] in the [afternoons]…do any of these times work for your team?

Very excited, thanks!
Konnor

ProTip: Show your enthusiasm and keep the momentum going to move the project forward.


Request for proposal email sample: Send after losing proposal

Hi [first name] –

Thank you for the update. I am surprised by this result as I remember specifically how well the demo went with your team, and the excellent fit between [Company] and [RFPIO].

I absolutely respect your decision, and I only ask for some additional feedback so I can understand how [RFPIO] can continue to improve. Let’s schedule a few minutes to chat, so I can better understand the specifics you were looking for. Any feedback I can glean in this scenario is very valuable.

Thank you very much,
Konnor

ProTip: Lose gracefully, but demonstrate complete confidence in your solution until the end. You never know…they may be back!

We know you’re busy, and now you have some request for proposal email samples to make your job a little easier. Depending on the situation, what you say in that email could be the final step in closing that deal.

Don’t dismiss the importance of your response to an RFP email and remember to take your time before you hit send.


Want to respond to 80% of an RFP in a few seconds?

RFPIO’s AI-enabled software makes it easy for proposal teams to consolidate knowledge, collaborate with team members, and create their best proposals. Schedule a demo to see how it works.

9 key RFP metrics for minimizing risk and enhancing efficiency

9 key RFP metrics for minimizing risk and enhancing efficiency

When I first started responding to RFPs, few people were paying attention to RFP metrics. Sure, there were definitely some trailblazers who were measuring performance, analyzing wins and losses, and optimizing efficiency… but I certainly wasn’t one of them. For me, responding to RFPs was less of a process than a mad scramble to the deadline.

Since then, my approach to RFP response has evolved. Admittedly, this is likely aided by co-founding a company that streamlines the response process via automation and analytics. This article will focus on the latter.

If you do it right, data-driven management can help sales teams sell smarter. But it can also provide insights into how proposal teams can identify—then either avoid or plan around—process challenges, such as resource management challenges, reduced ROI, missing deadlines, and inefficient content development.

By the end of this article, you will understand which RFP metrics you should be tracking—and how to use these metrics to minimize risk and enhance efficiency.

RFP metrics overview

Responding to RFPs can be an expensive undertaking. When you’re working with limited time and resources, you need to be strategic about which projects you take on. Improving your odds of a win starts by determining whether you’re a good fit, and identifying risk factors early so you can avoid surprises and plan for success.

Don’t let dollar signs, commas, and zeros distract you from what’s possible. Go for that big deal, but don’t do it just because of the logo or the dollar value. Do it because the data tells you, “You have a great shot at winning!”

For answers about your future, look to the past. Use data from past wins, losses, and incompletes to determine whether a project is worth pursuing. When you capture an RFx and upload it as a new project to RFPIO, the system will evaluate past projects for comparison and provide a dashboard that gives you an idea of what to expect.

Here’s a small taste of some of the data points that will help you enhance efficiency and gain new insights throughout your response process:

Project Type: Segment your RFP data according to project type. If you respond to RFPs, Security Questionnaires, and DDQs, then you can set each of those as a project type so you’ll be able to compare apples to apples. You can also segment based on industry, size, geo, and more.

Segment your RFP data according to project type
Focus on Wins: How many similar past projects have you won? Lost? Understanding what kinds of projects have been submitted and won helps you focus your efforts only on projects you’re most likely to win moving forward.

Focus on RFPs you're likely to win
Project Scope: Identity total volume of work required to complete the project.

Identify project scope before starting any RFP
Time to Completion: See the shortest, longest, and average times for similar past projects. In a recent survey, we found that 57% of proposal managers said their primary goal is to improve the proposal management process to save time.

Understand the shortest, longest, and average times for similar past RFPs.
Resource Needs: Examine content that may need to be created or moderated. Identify primary authors and moderators from past projects.

Identify primary authors from past RFPs.
Content Needed: Understand what kinds of questions are being asked, and whether you have that information on hand.

Clearly understand the content available in the library
Taken in isolation, each of those data points means very little. Homing in on a single datapoint is just like trying to ride a bike with just the wheels—you can’t get anywhere without the pedal, seat, and handlebar.

Instead, it’s best to approach RFP metrics in context of the greater RFP response process. The trick is learning how to apply insights from each individual data point in a way that enhances efficiency and reduces risk.

To make this easier on you, this blog breaks down the RFP metrics you should be paying attention to according to how they fit into the RFP response process:

  • RFP metrics to inform bid/no-bid decisions
  • RFP metrics for planning, implementation, and finalization
  • RFP metrics for ongoing optimization

By the time you finish reading, you’ll understand which RFP metrics you should be tracking and how to track them.

RFP metrics to inform bid/no-bid decisions

The first step of the RFP response process is figuring out whether an RFP is a good fit. Is this RFP worth the time and resources it’s going to take to complete?

In making your fit analysis, you need to be selective. You don’t want to waste time and resources on an RFP you’re probably not going to win. But you also don’t want to walk away from a potential opportunity, and leave money on the table.

RFP metric #1: Determining whether you’re a fit

While this isn’t *technically* a metric, decomposing the RFP to determine whether you’re a fit is extremely important to the bid/no-bid decision making process, and worth mentioning here.

Before you spend anytime answering a single question, the first thing you’re going to want to do is determine whether your solution is in line with the key requirements. Do a quick scan to see if anything pops out at you.

What problem is the issuer looking to solve? What are the features and functionalities on their “must-have” and “should-have” list?

This is also a great way to determine whether you’re dealing with a wired RFP, where an incumbent exists and the issuer is just going through the motions. If there are a considerable number of requirements that seem irrelevant or very far off base, that’s a good sign the issuer isn’t interested and the RFP might not be a good use of your time.

If your solution isn’t in-line with the issuer’s needs… go ahead and throw it on the “thanks, but no thanks” pile.

Remember: Your time is valuable. Don’t spend it on proposals you’re not likely to win.

Even if you are a good fit, you may still decide it’s a no-go due to other priorities, deadlines, and resource commitments.

If you do find you’re regularly passing up potential opportunities due to bandwidth, you might consider a proposal automation solution. According to a recent survey, organizations using RFP-specific technology submit nearly 50% more RFPs than those who don’t.

RFP metric #2: Do your homework on the RFP issuer

Yes, okay, we’re two for two for metrics that aren’t technically metrics. But you’re going to want to do a background check on the RFP issuer before you do a single iota of work. Nothing is worse than putting the final touches on an RFP, only to discover you already submitted a near-identical RFP two years ago.

Once you’ve determined the decomposition of data is a fit, there are a few questions you’ll need to answer:

  • Has this company previously issued RFPs?
  • If yes, did you win? Were you short-listed?

If you did submit an RFP for this particular company before—and you lost—it might not be worth your time. But if you were short-listed, and the company ended up going with another vendor, it could indicate that they weren’t happy with the other vendor’s solution… and this might be your chance to shine.

If you have submitted an RFP for this particular company before, pull that old RFP from the archives, and examine it with a critical eye. What did you do well? What can be improved? You don’t always get a second chance to demonstrate your competitive advantage—don’t let this opportunity slip you by.

RFP metric #3: Analyzing past wins based on company profiles

Compare company size, project value, and vertical to your typical customer profile. If you usually work with enterprise companies, and the RFP you’ve just received is from a startup, your solution might not be a good fit.

Save yourself some time in the future by tracking these data points as you go along. Each time you receive a new RFP, make a note of the parameters you want to track. As a starting point, I would suggest tracking*:

  • Vertical
  • Company Size
  • Product Line
  • Project Type*
  • Project Stage*
  • Number of Questions*
  • Project Value*

*RFPIO tracks project type, stage, number of questions, and project value by default. You can track vertical, company size, and product link by creating a custom field.

Be diligent about tracking each parameter whenever you receive a new RFP. Over time, you’ll see how well you perform for each of your chosen parameters.

If you’re using RFPIO, you’ll get a performance snapshot each time you import a new project, including project status (e.g. won, lost), time spent, and answer library usage (i.e. how many of the questions were answered using Auto Respond).

With RFPIO, you'll see a performance snapshot each time you import a new project.

RFP Metric #4: Tracking your average RFP response rate

Your average RFP response rate is a function of the number of outgoing RFPs divided by the number of incoming RFPs.

Average RFP Response Rate = # Outgoing RFPs / # Incoming RFPs

There is no rule of thumb for what your average RFP response rate should be. For some companies, an 80% response rate is too low; for others, a 30% response rate is too high.

One thing that can be said for certain is that if every RFP that comes in is being responded to, something is off. It means you’re not qualifying what’s coming in. By going after everything, you end up wasting time and effort on deals you’re probably not going to win.

You can adjust your average RFP response rate as you go along. If your win rate is astronomical, it could be a sign that you want to start responding to more RFPs (and vice versa).

On the flip side, if you’re responding to 50% of RFPs, and your win rate is abysmal, it could be a sign you need to better qualify the deals you’re going after.

RFP metrics for planning, implementation, and finalization

Once you’ve decided this RFP is a go, it’s time to get to work. That means building out your team, keeping your project on track, and submitting a polished final product.

RFP Metric #5: Determining Workload

Before you do anything, check the project size (i.e. number of questions) and the due date. This will give you a general idea of how much work you’ll have to do based on past performance.

After that, you can start assigning work out to your team. As you’re choosing SMEs, the most important metric to track is current assigned workload. If one of your SMEs has four projects due by the end of next week and you’re adding another one, you’re just asking for trouble. That’s the time you proactively find an alternate SME.

If you’re using RFPIO, you can check current SME workload right in the application. The system will tell you how much work is assigned to which SMEs, what the workload looks like, and if there is any overload.

If you’re not using proposal management software, you can also keep track of SME workload using spreadsheets; you’ll just have to make time to keep your spreadsheet up to date.

RFP Metric #6: Readability Score

If a proposal is difficult to understand, it increases the cost for bidders during the procurement process. Confusion leads to delays. Delays drive up costs. And everyone loses.

Most people read at a 10th grade level. Make life easy for your buyers by writing at that same level. Avoid delays by calculating readability as content is being added, using an editing tool like the Hemingway App or the Flesch reading ease test.

RFP Metric #7: Probability of Win Score (PWIN)

Here’s where you take an honest look at your work so far and ask yourself: How can I increase my odds of winning?

A PWIN (Probably of Win) score is calculated based on the answers to a variety of questions designed to best determine how well the company’s team, experience, and contacts match those required for the opportunity. The higher the score, the better chances of winning the contract will be.

Ask questions like:

  • How does the language compare to previous projects? Is it accurate, positive? Does it align with winning RFPs from the past?
  • Have you answered all the questions? Have you met all the required conditions?
  • How often do you answer in the affirmative vs. negative?

Be honest with yourself. Have you said “no” to a certain percentage of must-have or should-have requirements? Are you qualifying too much, or agreeing to build too many features? It might not be worth the final proofing and polishing to primp your proposal to perfection.

Just because you’ve spent a lot of time getting your proposal this far, it doesn’t mean you need to spend even more time getting it over the finish line. Your time is valuable. It’s okay to throw in the towel.

Regardless of whether you decide to submit the proposal, make note of the requirements you’re missing, and coordinate with your product management team to get them into the roadmap.

RFP metrics for improving win rate and optimizing efficiency

You should constantly be looking for opportunities to optimize efficiency and improve win rate. Tracking metrics and analyzing the data can help you do that.

RFP Metric #8: Identify Content Gaps

Auditing your Answer Library is an art unto itself. From an RFP metrics perspective, RFPIO includes an insights tool that helps you identify content gaps, content that needs to be updated, and content that needs to be created.

What terms are being used in search? What’s being found? What’s not being found? Let’s say a security product company is seeing a lot of requests for “zero trust” but no content exists because it’s new terminology that has quickly become industry norm.

The insight tool alerts content owners that content needs to include “zero trust” in order to stay relevant—and could provide insight to leadership and product teams on where the market is headed.

Sometimes you just need new content in your library. For example, if a lot of people are looking for information about “outages” (i.e., what has been your longest outage?), but turning up empty-handed, it might be a good idea to reach out to your product team to let them know new content is needed.

RFP metric #9: Determine content library health

To determine how healthy your content library is, see what percentage of RFPs can be completed with auto-respond, as opposed to manually creating answers from scratch. With a well-curated Answer Library, 40-80% auto-response is realistic. 30-40% of content exists but needs editing. 20-30% needs to be brand new.

If your auto-respond is hovering below 40-50%, that’s a good sign you’re in need of a content audit. If this sounds like you, check out our guide on how to conduct a content audit in 3 steps.

4-Step RFP Content Audit

Future impact

There’s more to discover after delivering a project. Before you even know if you won or lost, you can start mitigating future risk based on what you learned during this project.

How long did it take (longer/shorter than average)? How many deadlines were missed? How much content was re-used? How much content was missing? Set up a feedback mechanism to share these findings with content owners and SMEs so you can continue to improve knowledge management and the response process.

Time matters

Our success metric is not to have users spend more time in our platform. This is not social media. We want users to be able to work responses faster and more effectively than they’ve ever thought possible. Which brings me to the last RFP metric I want to mention here: how well you’re using your team’s time.

Generate an Application Usage Report to gain insight into which modules (Project, Answer Library, etc.) your users spent their time. Compare that time spent against past similar projects. Did you save the team time? Did it take longer than average? From here, you can dig into why and start minimizing risk for the next proposal.

Gain insight into which modules your users spend their time
Schedule a demo today to see how to use some of the RFP metrics mentioned in this article to improve proposal management.

How to build an effective & scalable proposal program

How to build an effective & scalable proposal program

Everyone has a proposal program. How do you differentiate yours to stay competitive?

Many companies want to respond to more proposals faster. Many are using proposal automation software like RFPIO as the platform to accelerate their RFP process. The competitive differentiator is how your company builds and manages the program around the proposal automation software.

Overall, you want to build a program that gives you the flexibility to complete what you need now but can also grow with your business in the future. Build for nimbleness. Make it moldable. Fit it around the people and programs that are already in your organization. Build an open architecture so you’re able to accomplish future goals that you’re not even going to be aware of at your initial launch. You also want to make sure your program addresses these seven considerations to optimize your chances of success.

#1 Crafting a mission statement

The mission statement is your proposal team’s anchor. Without it, your program is unmoored. The mission statement gives you the lens you need to see how your program is progressing.

It describes your areas of focus to your team and your customers (the rest of the company). Think of the results you want to realize. How will you impact sales productivity, mitigate bid risk, and minimize subject matter expert (SME) disengagement, for example?

For reference as you compose yours, here’s a sample proposal team mission statement:

Increase sales productivity and empower SMEs by providing the people, processes, and technology to efficiently manage proposal content services while delivering high-quality professional support to the field and partner ecosystem via solicited and unsolicited bids.

  • Create a centrally managed and continually validated repository
  • Become a one-stop shop for proposal content.
  • Scale the delivery of our proposal services globally and efficiently.
  • Develop a reputation for first-class proposal services.

#2 Building the proposal team

Who you decide to put on a team is critical. If you’re trying to improve proposal quality, then you have to have quality people on your team. You need people that can do something with the time savings that the technology platform produces. These are people that can synthesize information, that can build a comprehensive win theme, that understand how to write and edit. They’re learners because they need to understand your business and put it together in a cohesive package. They also need to partner with the sales team. In a way, this is a sales support role, but it’s much more than copy and pasting sales presentations into proposals.

As far as experience, recruit experienced writers and editors who know how to put together a story. If they already work for the organization then all the better—you have “bench depth” that you can turn to for help. These are people that already know your products and services well. If you don’t have existing bench depth, then you need to recruit writers and editors with proposal experience. It’s important to establish credibility and show immediate value across the organization. If team members have done it before, then they’ll be fast learners who can synthesize information into a story.

Your goals for a team culture are collaboration and ownership. For example, if yours is a global company, set up team leads in each region. Provide the collaboration tools, time, and opportunities so leads can meet and work together as mutual resources for troubleshooting issues.

#3 Staying flexible with the right tools

Whether you’re considering RFPIO or another platform, there’s one major consideration you have to address, according to FireEye proposal manager Brian Trigg: “Technology can either lock you in or open you up…the value of proposal technology really is in its ability to aggregate all of this information together, quickly access that knowledge, provide it across all the people that need to know or have input on this information…If you can’t do it openly and easily, then your technology is locking you up.”

#4 Building procedures based on mission

Consider your mission statement when defining your procedural objectives. Policies and procedures need to be set up to help you accomplish your mission. For example, if your mission statement includes emphasis on SME engagement, then you may want to consider implementing procedures that allow SMEs to define their own review cycles. Not only does this check off a key procedural step, it also engenders ownership of the overall program among SMEs.

#5 Showing value through metrics & reporting

Measure your engagement, open pipeline, impact to organization, won deals in number and dollars, content items under management, completed reviews, etc. Set up reporting for these and any other metrics where you can show your value back to the organization.

#6 Flushing out your content library

How do you get new content and fill up your Answer Library? One, create it from scratch (always awesome, but it can be time and labor intensive). Two, use old content, but be careful that it’s not outdated. Three, reverse engineer questions and answers based on message source documents, value discovery guides, data sheets, service descriptions, white papers, and any other marketing materials your company provides.

If your company doesn’t have these, then developing your proposal program gives you the leverage you need to drive their creation. Pitch it as a way that other departments in the company can contribute to consistency of message.

#7 Getting your booster rockets ready: Launch!

Hopefully, you’ve already put in in motion whichever mechanisms you need to solicit executive buy-in on your proposal program. At launch, executive support is essential to establishing company-wide credibility (aka, the booster rockets you need to get your program off the ground). Identify key stakeholders and communicate the benefit of the proposal program. Sell your mission statement through the perspective of how it will help them as executives as well as the company as a whole.

Bend, don’t break

Remember to iterate your program. It’s not going to be a perfect launch. Set up a program that you can flex into, something that you can change easily as you grow.

FireEye’s Trigg sums it up nicely: “Creating a flexible model, providing opportunities for ownership, driving engagement, and designing your content capture strategy properly are going to enable you to scale and synthesize your proposal team from more than a knowledge bank to a strategic part of your approach to market.”

If you would like to consult on how to build your proposal program for long-term success, schedule a demo today.

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

RFP 101: Request for proposal basics

What’s an RFP? What’s an RFI? What’s a DDQ? Follow the journey of a manager learning about the intricacies of the RFP process for the first time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is an RFP again?

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

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

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

BOSS: That doesn’t sound efficient at all.

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

BOSS: Enough with the acronyms, Keyes.

What’s an RFI? What’s an RFQ?

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

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

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

BOSS: Sounds like a cover letter.

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

BOSS: I’m better at that than most.

KEYES: Of course you are.

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

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

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

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

BOSS: What did I just say about acronyms?

What’s a DDQ?

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

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

What even is a security questionnaire?

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

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

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

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

KEYES: I think that’s a good call, Boss. We’ll start with the 6-step RFP response process.

[CUT TO GRAPHIC OF 6-STEP RFP RESPONSE PROCESS]

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

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

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

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

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

KEYES: Thank you, Boss.

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

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

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

[END]

How is your RFP process performing? Schedule a demo to see how RFPIO can help transform your RFP period piece into an action-packed RFP-process blockbuster.

Everything you need to know about the RFP process

Everything you need to know about the RFP process

Much like a human, every RFP is different. However, from an anatomical perspective, there are also similarities. Each RFP response your team creates will impact your organization’s win potential. Knowing how to respond to an RFP effectively can increase your chances of landing a deal.

By no means an extensive list of every question that you will encounter as an RFP responder, we picked a few RFP questions and themes to explore. The goal is to help you know what’s coming ahead of time, so you are more prepared with a stronger foundation.

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

  1. Timing is the main difference between an RFP, RFI, and RFQ
  2. There is an effective way and an ineffective way to respond to an RFP
  3. Understanding the anatomy of an RFP helps you create stronger responses
  4. Team success happens by combining process with technology

Once you’ve completed this “lesson,” you’ll have the necessary anatomical background to respond to RFP questions with precision. And, you’ll also understand why RFP software is the primary set of tools you need to operate.
[toc]

What is the difference between an RFP, RFI, and RFQ?

It’s true…a lot of acronyms get thrown around during the sales cycle. You need to know how to respond well to each request, so you have a better chance of making it to the next part of the process—and eventually, that happy day when you close the deal.

The difference between an RFP (Request for Proposal), RFI (Request for Information), and RFQ (Request for Quote) involves timing during the sales process. An RFP is issued early on when Company A needs a diverse, in-depth set of information about Company B to aid their vendor selection process. An RFI or RFQ occurs later when Company A needs additional information or specific requirements beyond the RFP.

RFP (Request for Proposal)

While RFI and RFQ can be classified together, an RFP is really in a category of its own. This document is typically lengthier than an RFI or RFQ, because it stirs up anything you can possibly think of that relates to your organization. Pricing, functionality, technology, security, company basics, competitive differentiators…phew! We’re barely scratching the surface here. And you as the RFP responder must tackle ALL of these questions.

RFI (Request for Information) and RFQ (Request for Quote)

An RFI and RFQ can be classified together in regards to sales process timing. They usually show up later when an organization is close to making a final decision. This might happen after you’ve completed an RFP. Or, if you skipped responding to an RFP because you already made it to the final stage of the selection process, you may see an RFI or RFQ at that point instead.

Still with us? It’s time for the bonus acronym round…

DDQ (Due Diligence Questionnaire)

Similar to an RFI, a DDQ arrives much later in the sales process. In fact, it might even come after they’ve selected you as a vendor when they haven’t signed agreements yet and they’re doing their final due diligence. This document inquires about a few hyper-specific points as part of their standard company protocol.

RFx (Request for…)

An RFx is a term for the entire “request for” family of documents. This is important to know if you’re looking for technology like RFP software to help you respond to multiple documents. When you need to handle the entire family of possible requests, a solution like RFPIO can help you with these variations.

How to respond to an RFP effectively

Now that you feel confident about the definition of these wonderful sales acronyms, you have a better idea about which document will be coming your way—and when. As you can tell, of the potential request documents that might be issued to your organization, the RFP will likely require the most effort.

So, the question is: Do you know how to respond to an RFP? There’s really an effective way and an ineffective way to respond to an RFP.

The effective way to respond to an RFP

  1. Exceptional teamwork happens with every RFP project.
  2. Communication is clear and easy for all contributors.
  3. A documented RFP process serves as the anchor for your team.
  4. Content is easily accessible in an answer library.
  5. The answer library is always relevant to ensure quality.
  6. There is plenty of time to spare before the deadline.
  7. Branding and messaging is on point every time.
  8. A healthy percentage of these RFPs result in business won.

The ineffective way to respond to an RFP

  1. Teams and departments work in distinct silos.
  2. SMEs feel frustrated to contribute because of inefficiencies.
  3. Nobody owns the RFP response process.
  4. Responders can’t find content when they need it.
  5. Spreadsheets, emails, and online folders “store” historic responses.
  6. RFP contributors work after hours and weekends to meet deadlines.
  7. Inconsistent fonts and language are compromising the deliverable.
  8. A high percentage of these RFPs result in business lost.

The effective way is made possible with both a great internal process and technology that offers continued support. The ineffective way is the result of a manual RFP response approach where a lack of direction, process, and accessibility cause great inefficiencies.

Teams using RFP software experience a much more streamlined process. They not only cut their response time down, they also improve the quality of the responses to win more deals. Yet, only 16% of organizations are using RFP software to support their efforts.

This is a disservice to busy teams, who can benefit from a tool that helps them manage a lengthy document like an RFP. As we dig into the anatomy of an RFP, it’s easy to see just how many sections there are to handle—and how technology is really the right move here.

Understand the anatomy of an RFP response

Ready for your RFP anatomy lesson? From “head to toe,” here are some questions you will likely come across in an RFP.

Your homework as a responder is to familiarize yourself with the nuances of an RFP, so you can pass your prospect’s test with flying colors. Analogies aside, understanding these different questions and themes will help you craft stronger responses to win the next opportunity.

Company Information

“27% rated project management flow during the content creation process as ‘fair,’ revealing that some projects moved along efficiently but they faced bottlenecks.” – Content Marketing Institute

Though it may seem like a basic part of an RFP response, company information can be tough for teams. This content includes all of the foundational pieces for your organization: company name, address, annual revenue, employee count, website URL, year founded, etc.

While HQ’s address is an easy one, the employee count is not. Depending on company growth the number of employees might change dramatically every year or even every quarter. RFP software automates this basic content in your answer library, ensuring the most accurate information is on-hand for team members.

Executive Summary

Responding to an executive summary is tricky in an RFP, but it’s also one of the factors that affects your organization’s chances of winning. Though usually an optional section, this particular content section allows you to stand out by adding some flavor to your deliverable.

All too often responders mix up the RFP executive summary with the cover letter—but they are two distinct sections. An executive summary is high-level content that covers the issuer’s challenges, and demonstrates how your solution will help. While a cover letter is more of a conversational introduction that mentions your reason for responding and what you are providing in your RFP response.

Need a cheat sheet for your next RFP executive summary? Enjoy…

Competitive Differentiators

There’s a high probability that you will be asked to state your competitive differentiators when responding to an RFP. Here are some examples of what that question might look like:

  • What is the competitive advantage of your solution?
  • Describe your competitive position relative to your competitors.
  • When comparing yourself to the market, what are the unique selling points?
  • Briefly state how you are differentiated from any competitors.
  • Why should we work with you instead of one of your competitors?

Speaking of competitors…a generic RFP response to this particular question will only benefit your competitors dazzling the issuer with a great response. Instead of using jargon-y adjectives that everyone else uses, focus on demonstrating the value your solution provides.

Knowing company differentiators is half the battle for many organizations—take the time internally to explore what these are and how to communicate them. Once you have these locked down, make sure the best versions are readily available for your team to grab and tailor appropriately within your answer library.

“A value proposition offers clients something they want and gives them a good reason to choose you over your competitors. In the executive summary and in your full proposal, communicate a strong value proposition that matches your client’s needs and demonstrates your unique offer.” – APMP Body of Knowledge

Our Approach

The approach question is a seemingly straightforward inquiry. However, similar to competitive differentiators, this is another RFP response that teams struggle to execute well.

If someone were to ask who you are as a person, how would you answer them? You might go with a safe answer about your line of work and what you do. Or, you might share a little bit about what you value and believe in. There is no right or wrong way to answer this, because you are made up of all of these things.

When you respond to the approach question of an RFP, think about who your organization is along with what you do. Explain your methodology and how your solution benefits your customers. Also demonstrate why you do what you do to show your greater purpose behind offering the solution.

Branding

How does content impact an RFP response? Majorly. Which is why marketing teams often own this piece. Branding isn’t a specific question per say, but more about how the final RFP deliverable is presented. Messaging, font style, and any visual design must align with your brand.

Due to the collaborative nature of RFP responses, you end up with many voices and styles from SMEs who don’t always have their pulse on branding guidelines. Random fonts and bullet points combine with an ancient logo from eight years ago for a big design headache. Technical jargon makes sense to the expert, but isn’t engaging for the issuer reading the response.

To achieve a consistent look and feel when it’s time to wrap up the RFP project, manually fixing the branding bloopers can cost marketing a lot of time. RFP software helps teams save hours during the export process with templates that ensure consistency for a higher quality deliverable.

Learn How RFP Software Empowers the High-Performing Marketer

rfp response marketing

Security

Security is a concern for modern organizations and this topic is becoming more and more common in RFPs. You will either need to address your internal processes by responding to a specific section of the RFP or you may need to respond to a separate security questionnaire. It’s also quite possible that you will do all of the above.

A security questionnaire might arrive at the same time as an RFP, or along with the DDQ if you’re further along in the vendor selection process. Depending on your industry, a security questionnaire might have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand questions.

security questionnaire template

RFP software supports teams who are responding to these massive spreadsheets. Auto-response fills in the majority of questions from the start of the project. A template designed for even the largest Security Questionnaires imports the content in a single click. Technology makes a big difference in time-savings and providing the most accurate responses.

Pricing

To share pricing or to not share pricing…that is the question. As an RFP responder, you must answer this one way or another. There is a strategic decision to be made about pricing depending on many factors.

If you provide pricing in your RFP response upfront, you have less control over the conversation around pricing. Negotiation and discussion are replaced by numbers on a page. So, you might decide to hold off on providing pricing until you have advanced further in the RFP response process.

Like anything else, as long as you show the value of your product or service, the pricing should not disqualify you. In this case, you could get away with maneuvering around this question by sharing benefits of your pricing model without getting into exact numbers. It’s really up to your organization on this one, and you could test RFP responses over time to see if the price reveal is working for you or against you.

Support / Customer Service

Today’s buyer has many, many choices. When they choose your solution, they want to make sure they have a partner who will stick around to offer support long after the purchase. Your response is an opportunity to make your organization stand out as the obvious partner.

This is a great time to take advantage of subject matter experts from your appropriate service department to clearly explain these benefits. Do you have a help center where they are able to self-educate? Do you offer onboarding sessions and in-depth webinars to ensure they start and continue on the right path? When you respond to this question, you can highlight your service in a number of ways.

More powerful than your voice is the voice of your customer. So, another good move is to share validation from your happy customers. This could be a review or customer success story that covers the positive experience they had while working with you. Like this one…

“RFPIO’s customer service is amazing! Between weekly training and addressing questions with platform improvements in a matter of days, onboarding has been a pleasure rather than a chore.” – Lauren Daitz, Senior Manager at HALO Recognition

Including a great review can make a big impact with an issuer. All of your competitors are answering this same question—and they might be answering it the same boring way, with a generic rundown. Play to your strengths and to their emotions with a little storytelling.

Legal

With RFP responses, your legal team will be involved at some point. Specific wording must be used to stay in line with certain legalities. Legal might come in during the review process or to answer legal questions.

Collaboration with your legal team is much easier with RFP software. There is always a healthy amount of redlining in Google and Word docs when legal chimes in with feedback. This can all be handled within a solution to make communication and finalization easier on everyone.

Past responses that are “legal team approved” can be stored in your answer library as well to populate responses with correct information. That way legal only has to perform a quick review rather than repeating themselves every time a similar question arises.

General Requirements / Situational Requirements

Speaking of repetition, general requirements are the questions you have answered thousands of times on every other RFP for your product or service. They can be disqualifiers or “knock-out” questions you plow through quickly.

On the other hand, situational requirements are gaining popularity with RFPs. With these questions you respond to a scenario, rather than just saying “yes” or “we have this feature.” The issuer might spell out a problem and ask you the following:

  • How would your software handle this situation?
  • How would your solution solve this problem?
  • How would your approach alleviate this issue?

…no pressure, right?

Situational requirements require a thoughtful response that demonstrate how your solution is the right choice for them. As such, they take more time to craft and refine. These responses should reinforce some of the strongest parts from your competitive differentiators and approach.

Again, RFP software is highly useful for knocking both general requirements and situational requirements out of the park. All content is already stored in the answer library. Search functionality helps you select the most relevant response in seconds, versus endlessly digging through emails and folders—or rounding up a committee of SMEs and marketing to constantly create fresh content.

Combine a great RFP response process with technology

Nice work, RFP responder! You made it through your RFP response anatomy lesson. We hope you feel more confident about the next RFP that lands in your inbox.

By combining a great RFP response process with technology, your team will submit a quality deliverable that has a higher potential to land the deal. And, it will all happen in less time so you and your team can operate with greater precision and move on to other priorities.

Ready to improve RFP response operations? Reach out and we’ll show you how RFPIO can help you manage everything.

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.

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