Today’s business environment presents many challenges in delivering an effective RFP response process.
Tightening budgets and an uncertain economy have made it hard to win the business you want, while the sheer number of RFPs you receive remains high and buying committees grow larger.
But there are a few steps you can take to ensure you are focusing on the opportunities you want—and winning them.
This starts with defining your RFP response process and optimizing it for success.
Why Optimizing Your RFP Response Process Matters
While the overall RFP process refers to the work that goes into compiling an RFP and sending it out to vendors, we’re going to focus on the process of responding to an RFP.
Modern, productive proposal teams will oversee dozens, even hundreds of RFP responses every year. Many of these proposals will be vital to the success of their business. Competition is also fierce, with the average RFP receiving several responses, while the average win rate for the proposing side is somewhat depressing at less than 50%.
Ensuring a well-established, consistent RFP response process helps teams deliver quality responses that win new business on tight deadlines.
RFP Response Process – Steps to Success
Before diving into how you can optimize your process, or how to write a proposal, we first must understand the process that is going to secure “a win” for your team.
Let’s go over a few steps in detail so you can begin thinking about how to build your RFP response process, or expand on the one you already have in place.
What Tools Will Your Team Use?
Thanks to modern proposal software solutions, many teams can automate important steps in their RFP response process. Despite this, many teams still use a combination of spreadsheets and manual processes. The problem with this is that it often creates silos where important information, like winning content from previous responses, is lost in an individual’s folder or spreadsheet, never to be found again.
Many leading organizations today use RFP automation software to speed up their process. For example, Qvidian customers boost their content creation rates by 40% and cut response times by 30% on average. Many customers derive even greater wins! Take Rehmann, for example. One of the top 40 largest financial services firms in the U.S, Rehmann was able to decrease RFP response times by 54%.
When choosing the best RFP software for your team, it’s important to consider some relevant topics:
- The vendor: Are they here for the long haul? What’s their history? Are they able to continue to enhance and support their software?
- What is the support like—both during and after implementation? Does their team have experience with organizations like yours?
- Does it enable collaboration with subject matter experts both for updating content in the software and content specific to an RFP response?
- Does it allow your team to track data and analytics?
- Will it automatically format your documents?
- Will it help you easily add new and revised content to the database?
- Does it have flexible permission settings to ensure users only see the content and features they need to do their work?
Having the right RFP automation software for your operations can make the rest of the RFP response process go more smoothly.
What is Your RFP Intake Process Like?
One of the most critical aspects of ensuring success for your response efforts is making sure you are spending your precious time on qualified deals. But to get to this step, you must first make sure you aren’t missing anything.
Failing to have an effective RFP intake process in place could result in missing key opportunities for your business.
So how do you ensure you aren’t missing those key opportunities? One easy way is through an intake form. Set up within your existing CRM, an intake form can enable your team to stay on top of those hot opportunities and perform triage, so you put aside less important deals for a rainy day.
Qualifying the Deal
As you will see, the RFP response process is quite involved. This means that you are going to want to make sure you spend your time on the opportunities that are the best fit for you. To do this, there are a few key questions to ask yourself about any potential opportunity:
- Is this an opportunity you want? When it comes to adding a new name to your list of happy customers, it pays to be selective. If it’s difficult for you to see the mutual benefit of having a long-term opportunity with the buyer, it might be best to pass on the opportunity.
- Is the opportunity for real? Try to get an understanding of whether the buyer is serious about finding a vendor. Sometimes, RFPs are issued for reasons apart from seeking an actual solution. Put your sleuthing hat on and do your best to gauge the realness of the opportunity.
- Can you close it? Although it sometimes pays to be optimistic, with so many RFPs to consider, don’t waste time chasing “stretch” opportunities. You should feel confident about your ability to beat the competition when choosing which RFPs to respond to, and which to walk away from.
- Do you have the resources to succeed? Lastly, you don’t want to respond to RFPs requesting work you can’t deliver. This could be for any number of reasons, like the request being just outside your area of expertise or having too many resources devoted to other projects already in progress.
RFP Response Process – What Comes Next?
Once you’ve gotten your intake process in order, and you’ve qualified the opportunity, what comes next? You respond, right?
Not so fast!
The RFP response process is not so simple. Your proposal isn’t just a formality—it is an integral part of the sales journey. You need your proposal to be so good that it will persuade the readers to believe in you, your business, and your solution.
To achieve this, there are several things you need to do before you click that “submit” button.
Read the RFP, Then Read it Again
RFPs include complex, and often exact information on what they are looking for, down to the formatting required for the proposal, and details on exactly how and when to submit.
- Does your legal team need to review documents?
- Do you need to send an Intent to Bid?
- When are clarification questions due?
- In what format should your response be?
- Do you need to submit a hard copy? (Yes, people still ask for these now and then!)
You will need to understand all this information entirely before moving forward with the nitty gritty of writing your responses.
Analyze the Competition
As an RFP professional, you’re more than a fantastic writer. You’re a general—and you need to prepare your proposal for the upcoming battle it will inevitably face. Competition is so fierce that nothing but the most mind blowing, powerful proposal will suffice. But just like a general who scopes out the battle field ahead of the conflict, you’ll need to get a sense for who your proposal will be competing against.
Getting this intelligence will help you know even better what areas of strength to highlight, and what areas of weakness to avoid.
Come Up with a Content Plan
You can’t possibly hope to forge a lasting relationship by replying to an RFP with a cookie-cutter template. As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. With so many RFPs to respond to, it can be tempting to simply not plan at all. But whatever planning your team can make room for will pay off in dividends down the road. Although the actual way in which you plan can take multiple forms, a few key things to include are:
- What existing content applies to this proposal?
- What new content will you need?
- How many SMEs do you need to include, and are they available?
- What are the key dates/deadlines you need to meet?
Assemble the Dream Team
Once you’ve identified that the opportunity is a good one for your business, and you’ve put together most (if not all) of your content plan, you are ready to move onto the next phase: assembling the dream team.
But who exactly participates in the RFP response Process?
RFP Response Process: the Key Contributors
Just as there are various stakeholders and team members involved in the RFP process, pushing it forward to completion, there are likewise several key players making it possible for organizations to win proposals.
Although the actual size and composition of a bidding team will vary from organization to organization, key players often include:
- The RFP Manager who coordinates the proposal process.
- A Proposal Writer who puts pencil to temple and connects it to their brain to write a great RFP response.
- An Ace Content Manager who coordinates winning responses.
- The Bid Manager who ensures the proposal includes the right information and materials to meet the customer’s needs.
- The Graphic Designer who makes the proposal look its best.
- An Executive Sponsor who ensures the bid conveys the message the buying organization’s leadership will connect with.
- Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who provide accurate technical details. (These are your contacts in various teams around the organization: product, services, development, security & compliance, support, customer success, regional experts.)
The Role of Subject Matter Experts in the RFP Response Process
As you can see from above, many key players involved in the RFP response process lie outside the immediate RFP team. One of those critical players is the subject matter expert.
Working with your SMEs is something that you need to do with the utmost care. Unlike the proposal manager whose job is to manage RFP responses, the subject matter experts usually have a day job outside of being a SME.
Make it a priority to add content that they’ve approved to your database, so you bring them in only when relevant. Not only will this make you more effective in your efforts, but it will also improve your relationship with your SMEs, as they will know that you respect and value their time, and are organized enough not to waste it.
Work Effectively with Those Outside of Your Team
With so many integral members involved in the RFP process outside your direct team, it can also be helpful to have technology in place to help them. Not only does proposal automation software exist to help streamline your work, modern solutions also enable anyone in your organization, not just RFP professionals, to access the content they need, whether they are working within the confines of their web browser, or on vital documents in Word or Excel.
Having the ability to assign and manage tasks among the full RFP response team can help you streamline workflows and find bottlenecks.
Write the Proposal
With your bases now covered, it’s finally time to write your proposal.
Of course, staring at a blank page is always daunting. And you you can’t possibly hope to forge a lasting relationship by replying to an RFP with a cookie-cutter template. That means you’re going to have to approach each RFP with creativity, backed up by the quality, approved content you’ve meticulously organized (with the help of your RFP response software).
Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to crafting a compelling, winning RFP response.
- Focus on the prospect’s pain points: What are the actual business challenges the prospect is facing and how can you solve them? Answer this question well and you are likely guaranteed a spot at the front of the pack.
- Be persuasive: Highlight your understanding of the buying organization’s needs and goals, and how your solution addresses those criteria and provides value. Not only must you answer the questions the RFP asks directly, you must anticipate the underlying issues and questions that are being indirectly asked.
- Create a killer executive summary: An effective executive summary focuses on the buyer and their needs and goals.
- Highlight what makes you different: Your responses must show how you stand out from the competition.
- Communicate a value proposition: A step often forgotten, a clear and concise value proposition is a key component of a successful RFP response.
Edit, Proofread and Submit the Proposal
One last step before submitting the proposal is the final editing and proofreading of your RFP response.
You will need to make sure the proposal is easy to digest and well edited. Many proposals are dead in the water because the bidding team made errors. These errors could be big picture things like failing to answer a question satisfactorily. Or it could be something as small as poor formatting. Grammatical errors and typos won’t pass muster with a particularly scrutinizing evaluator.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a graphic designer on your team, once you are confident in your proposal’s perfection, you can confidently send that draft to them to make your response even more memorable. Once received, your fantastic graphic designer will take your draft from well-written to well-read. Alternatively, RFP response automation software can also handle design, making your proposal look professional without the need for design expertise!
However you go about it, with a perfect design in place, you are ready to submit the response.
Measure Your Success
There is one final step beyond submitting the proposal. That is to analyze and evaluate the data. How well does the proposal perform? Does it win the bid? Which answers worked, and which did not? Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the sort of metrics you are going to want to keep in mind.
- Number of RFPs received
- Number of RFPs responses submitted
- Average response rate
- Average response time
- Time spent per RFP
- RFP win rate
- Reason for loss (pricing, capabilities, window shopping…)
- As you begin to collect this sort of data, you will be able to pinpoint issues in your process and even your proposals, correct them, and win more deals.
Of course, if you’ve invested in RFP automation software, then the software will help you collect much of this data, giving you plenty of actionable insights to work with.
And that’s it! With this process in place (or one like it) you are ready to take on the challenging—but exciting—world of RFP responses!