Responding to requests for proposals (RFP) can be stressful for sales teams. Because there’s such a tight turnaround for many requests, teams can feel like they’re constantly caught in a hectic cycle, trying to get one proposal in on time before starting on the next one.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. By focusing on specific parts of the RFP response process, you can streamline your workflow and take more time answering each RFP.
1. Create an RFP response process
When an opportunity comes across your team’s desk, do you have a consistent approach to answering each RFP, or do you find yourself scrambling to respond to RFPs. If you don’t have a consistent, well-planned process in place when it comes to proposals, you probably aren’t creating bids in an organized fashion, and that can lead to problems. Information can get lost, deadlines can be missed, and everyone is stressed. If that sounds like you, it’s time to sit down and design a workflow that helps your team easily answer RFPs and other requests from customers.
A workflow, or business process, is a start-to-finish sequence of activities that must take place in order to complete a task. Unfortunately, business processes tend to develop organically at most organizations, and rarely do they scale well. The RFP response process that works for a brand new startup probably won’t work for a more mature company. For this reason, it’s important to thoughtfully build out a workflow that helps your proposal team, rather than hindering it.
You can get started by creating a checklist of what’s supposed to happen when an RFP needs to be answered. By thinking through each item on the list, and asking your team for feedback, you can come up with an efficient process for proposals. This will also set expectations for your team; everyone will know exactly what’s supposed to happen at each step of the response process, and they’ll have a better understanding of their role in the process as well.
2. Be choosy about your opportunities
It’s tempting, especially for new companies, to try to respond to every likely RFP — you’d hate for a business opportunity to get away, after all. Slow down, though. You don’t, and should not, try to bid for everything. For one thing, you’re not the right vendor for every client. For another, due diligence is increasing this year, and if you overbid, your proposal team will be completely overwhelmed.
Instead, you need to qualify your opportunities to make sure you’re right for your prospects, and also to make sure they’re right for you. If you’re winning the wrong business, you may end up overpromising, underdelivering, or with an alienated customer. You might make your quota in the short term, but an unhappy client is bad for business in the long run.
The qualification process might look different in different organizations, but basically you’ll want to ask some questions about each RFP:
- Can we fulfill the requirements in the RFP?
- Would winning this contract further our goals as a company?
- Does the client have the budget to fund the project?
- Do we want to work with this client?
- Can we win this bid against our competitors?
The qualification process is your chance to choose the customers that align best with your organization’s goals and values.
3. Make life easier for your SMEs
Subject matter experts (SMEs) are an integral piece of the RFP response process, but working with them isn’t always easy. Proposal writers find themselves chasing information from SMEs on deadline, sending email after email trying to get the detailed information they need from an expert who is busy doing something else.
Here’s the thing, though. SMEs are very busy themselves. They’re engineers, product managers, sales engineers, and other experts. Proposals aren’t their job — they’re yours. They may bristle if they’re constantly being hounded for iterations of the same information they’ve given previously.
By being considerate of their time, and investing in tools that help SMEs work more collaboratively with your team, you can make this process much easier for everyone. Ombud’s platform, for example, allows writers to assign content and RFP questions to SMEs, so that SMEs can simply update information in a content library. This makes collaboration simpler for everyone. If you’d like more suggestions, check out Ombud’s detailed list of ways to make your SMEs jobs easier.
4. Collect your institutional knowledge
Every organization has a lot of institutional knowledge, but unfortunately, that information often ends up in silos.
Knowledge silos happen when one person or department in an organization has knowledge no one else shares. If someone else needs that information, they need to find the person who controls it and ask for it.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that knowledge is being deliberately hoarded. It usually just means that a department has worked in isolation, and institutional knowledge has been collected there. Unfortunately, if you need the information in that silo for a bid, you’ll have to find a way to break in and get it.
Knowledge silos are detrimental to a company; institutional wisdom is every company’s greatest strength. If it’s in a silo, it’s possible your company doesn’t even know that knowledge is there, and sadly it can’t be used. Tools like Ombud’s content library can help break down silos by putting all of an organization's institutional knowledge into one company-wide intelligent database so that everyone has access to it, while allowing the information’s owner to retain ownership.
5. Leverage automation
Embracing automation is an important step in eliminating some of the more time-consuming and tedious tasks your team members have to complete. Many people get nervous when they hear “automation,” worrying that they might be put out of a job. That, however, is not what automation does, especially not in this context.
Ombud’s solution, for example, automates the content collection process by creating a content library made up of sales knowledge contributed by SMEs across your organization. This means that your writers simply search for the knowledge they need. The platform then selects the answer that best matches their needs. It can also take the first pass at a draft of a proposal, creating a document that your writers can then fine-tune to fit a specific client’s needs.
By putting thought into your proposal process, you can create a workflow that helps your team get through proposals quickly and confidently, and adopt tools that help you achieve your goals: writing strong proposals that win your company business.
Interested in improving your workflow? Learn more about Ombud’s RFP software here.