After months of voicemails, postponed meetings, and careful nurturing, a customer wants to see a formal proposal. Or, maybe a customer approached you with a request for a proposal (RFP). Either way, you’re in a good position, as long as you have a proposal management program in place.
While proposals entail a lot of work, they are also an opportunity to meet your customer halfway. A well-crafted RFP clearly outlines a customer’s requirements, and a well-crafted response lets them know that you understand their needs and the specific ways your company will address them.
Quality written proposals represent your brand and its approved messaging—your marketing team thanks you. They are unambiguous—we can almost hear your legal department cheering. They clearly outline each deliverable—are those your fulfillment, onboarding, and churn prevention teams we hear joining in? And there’s no disputing the pricing—did the billing department just order cake? And, most importantly, they drive revenue—everyone is coming to the party!
Well-written and thorough proposals protect your company’s interests, and each one you submit has the potential to bring you closer to your quarterly or yearly goals and add to your company’s bottom line.
A proposal management program that leverages advanced RFP response software lets you generate more, higher-quality proposals using fewer resources while also helping level the playing field and achieve sales goals. Still, companies can be reluctant to invest in high-ROI proposal management software.
The future of proposal management is automated
Every once in a while, a proposal manager approaches us, wondering what will happen to them if their company turns to automation for their proposal management program.
Naturally, we reassure them that even the most advanced proposal management automation software requires human expertise.
We also acknowledge that proposal managers work long, hard hours and that there’s an excellent chance that their companies already partially automate sales, marketing, finance, and customer service processes. Yet, those are still some of the fastest-growing roles within organizations.
Rather than competition, proposal management software is like a long-deserved assistant designed to make proposal managers more productive and valuable.
- Organizations with designated RFP response technology submit nearly 43 percent more proposals than those without.
- Seventy-five percent of senior executives say they are prioritizing better project technology.
- Yet only 43 percent of organizations use RFP response-specific technology.
- Response software that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing helps reduce the time required to draft a proposal by up to two-thirds and helps eliminate human error.
Qualities of an effective proposal management system
While proposal management shares many similarities with sales or project management, some challenges require a specialized approach.
RFPs may arrive as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PDFs, with layouts that are difficult to maneuver. A proposal management system should be able to import from any of the most commonly used formats, convert the requests into formats your stakeholders can easily navigate, and export the documents in the customers’ preferred formats.
Up to 80 percent of an RFP is relatively standard, but even if two questions ask the same thing and require the same answer, at first human glance, the questions might look very different.
For example, one RFP might ask how many years your company has been in business, but the wording in your knowledge library question-and-answer pair might ask about the founding date. Both questions obviously have the same answer, but in the few seconds it takes the human mind to determine what search terms they should use, an automated system with machine learning will translate the question and provide the answer.
There’s a very good chance that you are reading this from the comfort of your own home, surrounded by a menagerie of furry friends. Alright, maybe I’m referring to my work situation, but I am far from unique.
In fact, 58 percent of workers work from home at least some of the time. Add those to the numbers of people on the road (common for SMEs) or those who work from other offices, and you can see why gathering your team in a single conference room is a challenge.
Project management software is the answer for most teams. Even here at RFPIO, our marketing and product teams rely on project management software. However, our response teams use RFPIO because it goes far beyond assigning roles and deliverables, although it does that as well.
- Assists in the go/no-go process by producing trend analytics data from similar RFPs
- Allows stakeholders to track their overall progress through their preferred CRM
- Integrates with the most popular communication applications so teammates can stay in touch in real time
- Provides a simple project overview dashboard for up-to-the-minute progress updates
- Suggests SMEs based on expertise and availability
- Leverages artificial intelligence to answer as much as 80 percent of an RFP’s questions
- Produces the data you need for valuable postmortems
How to build a dynamic proposal management program
It would be really nice if we had a crystal ball that could predict our proposal response needs from year to year or even day to day. Some days you might have just one on your plate and others, let’s just say, more than one.
Even if we could predict our proposal volume, our needs and resource requirements vary according to customer, product, and bespoke particulars.
A dynamic proposal management program will provide you with the agility to respond to your response needs, regardless of volume or complexity.
Establish a clear mission statement
Think of your response team as a microcosm of your company. Your goals and objectives should align but also fit with your specific roles.
We recommend that you, like your company’s founders, create a mission statement to describe your areas of focus. For example, you might want to minimize SME participation, reduce response time, or win more bids. In that case, your mission statement might look something like this:
Our goal is to leverage technology to empower the response team to reduce proposal response time, efficiently manage knowledge library content to minimize subject matter expert participation, and deliver successful high-quality proposals via solicited and unsolicited bids.
- Create and maintain a centralized repository for company knowledge and documents.
- Establish efficient and scalable proposal service delivery.
- Become a one-stop shop for quality proposal content.
- Provide the content and tools necessary to create engaging and successful proposals.
Obtain company buy-in
If you ask most employees, and even most executives, what their proposal team does, there’s a good chance that they’ll only have a vague idea, even if they know what other revenue-generating teams bring to the table.
Even though most large purchases require a proposal, proposal teams often have to fight for company buy-in. Be sure to keep leadership in the loop regarding your goals and progress. Work with users to understand their content management and general work styles.
Recruit a winning proposal team
Creating high-quality winning proposals requires a very specialized team. You’ll need salespeople, marketing professionals, company authorities, storytellers, and editors. Some juggling skills wouldn’t hurt. If you’re thinking that’s a lot to ask of a single team, we’d have to agree.
Thankfully, your company has existing resources to help. Partnering with a salesperson or two can help you formulate the proposal. Your marketing team can provide you with approved messaging, or at least a messaging guideline. Subject matter experts are authorities within their respective realms, and proposal managers are often de facto company historians.
But every proposal team needs a core skill. They should be able to quickly craft compelling stories and wield an editor’s pen as well as a high school English teacher. In fact, writing and editing may be the most essential qualities in a proposal team member. With an excellent content and project management system, the rest can be taught.
Structure organizational procedures
A mission statement is only meaningful with the procedures to achieve your goals. If, for example, you want to minimize SME participation, you could give them more control over their content review cycles.
Not only will this help ensure that your team has accurate and usable content, but it will also demonstrate to the SMEs that you respect their time and expertise and make them more likely to want to work with you in the future.
Demonstrate growth with metrics and reports
Track your progress toward your goals with data. Generate reports showing your pipeline, SME engagement, win rate, numbers of responses, revenue generated, completed reviews, content use, and so on.
Build your content library
Your content doesn’t have to be siloed, even if your organization is. There is likely a wealth of company assets such as white papers, data sheets, message source documents, value discovery guides, product information and roadmaps, and other marketing materials.
Democratize your content library by allowing everyone access and working with content creation teams to ensure they file the assets for future use.
Enlist the right proposal management software
Your sales and marketing teams have customer relationship management software. Your HR and finance teams have their software. While it is possible to establish an effective response team without proposal management software, the right software will increase your win rate, drive more revenue, and conserve resources.
Look for proposal management software with project management features to help you choose your SMEs and keep your team on track. Find a robust content management system with built-in auditing tools. Invest in a platform that imports and exports in the customers’ preferred formats but provides a standardized working template for all your stakeholders.
Perhaps most importantly, look for customizable reporting features to help you decide whether to respond, determine how many resources you are using, and provide the data needed to make informed business decisions.
Value factors for choosing proposal management software
Do more with less—that seems to be the 21st century motto. Accomplishing that rather lofty goal requires the right productivity software. Look for proposal management software that has all the functionality you need today and is scalable for what you might need tomorrow.
Improved workflow collaboration
Today’s distributed and siloed workforces require advanced workflow collaboration tools to keep everyone singing the same song. Look for software that integrates with your existing workflow collaboration tools so users can communicate using those tools or directly through the proposal management platform.
Convenient integration capabilities
The last thing your IT team wants is to weigh down your company’s tech stack. Your proposal management software should integrate instead of compete with your cloud storage solution, CRM, project management, and other productivity tools. In other words, it should work the way you work.
Intelligent knowledge base
The knowledge management system is a vital component of any response software solution, but the wrong one could create more work instead of simplifying your response process.
Look for a knowledge base that stores the types of documents you use. The knowledge base should be accessible to anyone who needs it but secure enough to keep prying eyes away. The search functionality should recognize your language and search terms.
It should be intuitive, intelligent, and give you the correct answers when you need them. It should also assist with content moderation and your review cycles.
Built-in security standards
Data security is at the top of every CIO’s priority list, which is why they’ll need to be assured that proposal management software, along with every other piece of software, is fully compliant with the latest security protocols.
Advanced reporting features
While we’re on the subject of data, your proposal management software should offer advanced reporting capabilities to provide actionable insights to assist with everything from your go/no-go process, to where you are on any given project, to where you stand with your team’s quarterly or annual goals.
How RFPIO can help
RFPIO is like a rocket booster for your proposal management program. It handles the routine and surprisingly time-consuming aspects of proposal management, letting you focus on the content that will help win more bids and drive more revenue.
RFPIO’s indispensable features include the following:
- Improved workflow collaboration – Whether your team works from a single office or several, keeping communication channels open is critical. RFPIO integrates with all the most popular communication applications, enabling your team to work directly through Slack, Microsoft Teams, Jira, and Google Hangouts.
- Convenient integration capabilities – With more than two dozen integrations, RFPIO leads the pack, and we’re constantly adding more. The platform seamlessly integrates with your preferred CRM connectors, communication apps, productivity, sales enablement, and other applications.
- Intelligent knowledge base – Use your time to create winning proposals instead of searching for the information you need. With just a few clicks, RFPIO will find you the correct answer to your previously answered questions. RFPIO® LookUp grants access to any authorized user from any place, as long as they have a browser.
- Built-in security standards – RFPIO takes security very seriously. Our customer roster includes security experts such as Microsoft, Google, Visa, and Zoom, among many others. More specifically, we are ISO 27001 certified and compliant with AICPA SOC, GDPR, and the State of California.
- Advanced reporting features – Gather the data to help you decide whether to respond to an RFP, track your project’s and team’s progress, analyze content usage, and your wins and losses. That’s just the beginning of the actionable insights RFPIO’s advanced reporting capabilities can provide.
Proposal managers have a lot going on. RFXs are coming faster and faster, and expectations continue to rise. See how strategic proposal management software such as RFPIO can help you keep up with your increasing demands and make your company more profitable.
Schedule a free demo.