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Response Management

9 Tips for Working With SMEs on Proposals

September 9, 2022

Subject matter experts (SMEs) are a crucial part of the RFP response process. The information they provide about your product is at the core of every proposal your team writes. Without them, you would not have the right facts, the answers to customer questions, or any of the information you need to build a strong proposal. 

Unfortunately, working with SMEs isn’t always easy. They’re busy people: SMEs can be engineers, product team members, researchers, or other of a number of roles. That means they’re often working on their own projects, and might be less responsive than you want when you’re sending them questions for an RFP response. They may also be working in other departments, under different leadership, which can hold up responses as well. Additionally, if they’re getting the same question multiple times, they might be slow to respond. 

All of this is stressful when your team is on deadline for a proposal. This article will help you work with your SMEs so that you can get your RFPs done on time without straining your team’s relationships with other departments. 

How to work more smoothly with your SMEs

  1. Get to know your experts: If someone only got in touch with you when they needed something from you, you probably wouldn’t like it. We’re not saying to annoy your SMEs with messages, or show up at their desks for coffee, but say hi when you see them, interact a little on Slack, and ask how their weekend was if you run into them in person. A little non-RFP communication can go a long way. 
  2. Know the chain of command: If you’re a new proposal manager, you’ll have to do some homework. Going to your SME directly may not be an option, because they may not be permitted to answer to anyone but their direct supervisor. Know who to ask for the information you need, and build those bridges before you’re on deadline.
  3. Give as much advance notice as possible: Be respectful of their time. Let your SMEs know the moment you know you need something from them. They have their own work to do, so make sure they have advance notice of what you need and when you need it. 
  4. Be clear with your request: Make things simple by explaining exactly what you need in your first message, and be clear about deadlines and anything else that’s expected of the SME. They should have all the information they need up front.
  5. Offer context: Make your SMEs’ lives as simple as possible by giving them the information they need to know in order to answer the questions. Don’t make them chase you for the information they need to fulfill your request. 
  6. Send a reminder: If your experts don’t get back to you right away, don’t be afraid to follow up, still leaving them plenty of time before the deadline. You can always ping them again, if they’re still not getting back to you. 
  7. Don’t send repeat requests: If your team is constantly sending requests for the same information to your SMEs, they’re likely to find that irritating. Make sure you’re not duplicating your team’s requests.
  8. Careful with your phrasing: When you’re on deadline for an RFP response, you might be stressed. You may not mean to come off as rude, but terse messages may be sent as you send follow-ups. Take a moment to re-read your messages to SMEs before you send them, just in case. 
  9. Don’t be afraid to use technology: RFP automation software can help both your proposal team and your SMEs by saving and organizing content so that it’s easily available when your team needs it. That means that SMEs answer a question once and only once. After that, the answer is stored in a central content library, like the one offered by Ombud, where writers can access it whenever they need it for an RFP response. 

Communication, communication, communication

When it comes to building strong relationships with your SMEs, communication skills are key. 

Often, however, there is a communication breakdown between departments that makes it difficult to get the information you need in a timely fashion. If that sounds like your organization, don’t worry: you aren’t alone. According to David Grossman, author of “The Cost of Poor Communications,” inadequate communication between employees can cost companies an average of $62.4 million a year. 

By improving communication and investing in automated tools that take the burden of constant responses off your SMEs, your team can write great proposals while maintaining good relationships with your subject matter experts. 

Learn more about Ombud’s RFP automation software and machine learning technology by requesting a demo here.

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