[Guide] RFP proposal software for small businesses

Written by
Wendy Gittleson
Wendy Gittleson
Updated on
  13 min read
best proposal software

Why should you invest in AI-enabled proposal software? Because proposals are mission-critical revenue generators for companies who prioritize them and optimize their response process.

Add technology to the mix, and you’ll be unstoppable. Business proposal software provides quick access to proposal content, simple ways to collaborate, and built-in project management features that make it easy to keep proposals on track.

In this blog, we’ll cover:

What is RFP software?

RFP software is a comprehensive digital solution for proposal management. Globally, over $11 trillion of revenue is generated annually through RFPs. For small businesses, winning an RFP can make or break a year. But RFPs are lengthy, often asking detailed questions not only about your product(s), but also about most aspects of your business. This means that crafting a winning proposal is often a time-consuming process. On average, proposal professionals spend over 40 hours per week responding to an RFP.

With the right RFP software for small businesses, you can bring efficiencies to virtually every aspect of the RFP process, significantly reducing the time it takes to put together a standout proposal to just a few hours – at most. The best RFP software will have a slate of proposal management tools to automate many parts of the response process and improve your chances of winning contracts. A recent study conducted by Responsive and Callan Consulting found that companies leveraging RFP software effectively are yielding a 16 percent higher win rate and generating 34 percent more revenue.

These are significant gains for any organization. For small companies, this advantage can really change the course of your business. 

Core features of RFP software for small businesses

RFP software turns a highly manual process into one that’s boosted by time-saving automation. Here are some key features to look for to reinvent your RFP response process.

AI-enabled support

AI has been dominating headlines since Open AI’s ChatGPT became publicly available in November 2023. And rightly so – generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard have been revolutionary when it comes to content creation, completing copywriting tasks in a matter of seconds, which would take hours of human effort otherwise.

The best RFP software for small businesses will come with generative AI tools natively integrated. You can accomplish a lot with this AI-enabled support, which can write an entire proposal draft for you just from a single prompt. Whether you want to use AI to clear your writers’ block, ideate various answers, or to do the bulk of the writing for you, this machine support is a game changer to the response management process.

Knowledge management

Perhaps the most taxing part of proposal management is hunting for the right answers. RFPs ask about almost every aspect of your business, and finding the right documentation to support your answers can sometimes feel like a treasure hunt, especially if your business doesn’t have an organized storage solution.

One of the key advantages of RFP software is that it becomes your business’s centralized content library and knowledge base. Platforms like Responsive integrate seamlessly with all of your storage solutions, making all company knowledge accessible quite literally at your fingertips. Responsive LookUp is a critical feature that enables you to find what you’re looking for with just a few words by scouring your content library for the right information.

Together with AI-enabled support, this means that RFP software can automatically craft responses to proposal questions that are accurate, descriptive and supported by company documents.

Seamless collaboration

Responding to RFPs is rarely an independent effort. Almost always, you’ll have to work with several subject matter experts (SMEs) at your company who can offer their expertise in a particular aspect of your business.

For proposal managers, this can be a chaotic and cumbersome process. Finding time to connect with the right people, give them the appropriate context and get their input creates a lot of friction in the response process. RFP software will eliminate these choke points entirely.

With the right RFP software, cross-functional collaboration is a breeze. When you need the input of an SME, all you have to do is simply tag them. Solutions like Responsive integrate with all productivity tools (like Slack), so SMEs get a ping when their participation is needed. Then, they can just hop into the platform to directly add their contributions to a proposal. This not only reduces the time it takes to collaborate, but also streamlines communication to eliminate potential confusion.

Branding and visuals

Oftentimes, the difference between a good proposal and a winning one comes down to presentation. For small businesses that don’t have resources to support teams of graphic designers, creating a visually impactful proposal is often a challenge.

RFP software for small businesses will do this work for you. The best platforms will have branded templates that can help your business stand out from the competition. Additionally, the best RFP solutions will also be able to generate visuals to support your narratives. A proposal with tables, figures, charts, and images is scannable, making it easier for the reader to digest the material – enhancing its impact. This translates to a higher win rate and ultimately more revenue for your business.

Why do small businesses need RFP software?

The RFP process is a competitive one – one that often comes with certain disadvantages for small businesses. Large organizations often have proposal management teams whose sole responsibility is to respond to RFPs. At small businesses, there’s rarely even a single point-person who’s responsible for every RFP response. 

RFP software will bring a repeatable, efficient proposal response process to your business. It will even the playing field, increasing your business’s chances of winning contracts against not only other small businesses, but also behemoth organizations that are likely dominating market share. 

Platforms like Responsive come packed with productivity features – like those described above – to automate and strengthen your RFP response process. This allows your company to respond to more RFPs in less time, increasing your chances of winning important revenue to fuel business growth. 

RFP software like Responsive has been transformational for many small businesses. Here are some inspiring case studies:

Use cases for RFP software

Storing and organizing internal knowledge

Just like the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, a content library is essential to any good business proposal software.

The content library consolidates subject matter expertise in one place. Then, the next time a new RFP opportunity pops up in your inbox, you’ll be able to tackle commonly seen questions in one fell swoop.

The more efficiently you can respond to RFPs, the more time you and your team have to work on other projects—be it building relationships with customers, creating sales collateral, or responding to more RFPs.

Consolidate RFP content using rich text editing

Keeping projects on track

RFPs and other business proposals are often the most collaborative activity an organization undertakes. When you’re working at a small company, it’s possible that everyone at your organization will be involved, in part, in a response to an RFP.

When your team adopts business proposal software, it means you’ll no longer be managing proposals via email, Teams, Slack, or spreadsheets.

Most business proposal software comes with built-in project management features, including:

  • Importing RFPs onto the platform in Word, Excel, or pdf format
  • Assigning questions and/or sections to key collaborators
  • Automated reminders
  • Sequential review cycles
  • Exporting to source file
  • E-Signature

Seamless collaboration

In addition to project management features, business proposal software also streamlines collaboration with in-app commenting and @mentioning.

When all proposal-related conversations are in one place, you can make sure your organization stays aligned on proposals (and declutter your inbox in the process).

seamlessly collaborate by assigning tasks to collaborators in-app

When you’re ready to evaluate vendors, be sure to demo the various platforms. You’ll want to find something that’s powerful enough to suit your needs, but intuitive enough to make sure your small team can get ramped up in no time.

Make data-driven decisions

Top-notch business proposal software comes with built-in dashboards and analytics, giving you the insights you need to minimize risk and enhance efficiency.

If you do it right, data-driven management helps sales teams sell smarter. 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.

Make data-driven decisions

Integrate into your existing tech stack

The final component of business proposal software is the ability to integrate into your sales tech ecosystem.

Since responding to RFPs is a key part of the sales process, it’s critical that the business proposal software you choose is able to smoothly integrate into your tech stack.

This is especially important when working on a small team that doesn’t have the bandwidth to manually update your business proposal software to work in-sync with your CRM, like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, or Hubspot.

What are the best RFP platforms for small businesses?

Short answer: There is no “best” business proposal software. There’s only the best business proposal software for you and your team. 

This being said, the decision to implement business proposal software shouldn’t be taken lightly. You’ll want to make sure the software you choose helps you, your proposal team, your sales team, and everyone at your organization achieve your goals and save time.

Here’s a list of the four top business proposal software:

Loopio

Loopio entered the market as an RFP solution and just recently expanded to support additional types of information requests like RFIs, DDQs, and security questionnaires. Though it has an impressive slate of collaboration features, Loopio’s AI tools and integrations are limited. Reviewers note that its functionality leaves a lot to be desired with results that don’t always offer meaningful value. 

Additionally, Loopio’s content features are lackluster. Users report challenges with basic content and collaboration functionality like importing, formatting and task assignment.  

Ombud

Ombud markets itself as an “orchestrated RevOps platform,” but it’s designed primarily for enterprise-level teams. Its core functionality relies heavily on AI, bringing key efficiencies to the response management process. 

Ombud is a good solution if your primary pain point is response generation, but its content and collaboration features are not as strong as some other solutions, like Responsive. Additionally, as an enterprise solution, Ombud is likely not a good or cost-effective solution for small businesses.

Qvidian

Qvidian was founded nearly 50 years ago as an RFP solution and only recently expanded its feature set to include other information requests. Its age is a drawback for many users – reviews indicate that the Qvidian interface feels dated and is clunky to use. 

Additionally, users complain about Qvidian’s mediocre integrations and AI functionality. Qvidian offers few out-of-the-box integrations, making collaboration difficult. Its AI features are flawed, with many users complaining about inaccurate content recommendations through its “Auto-Answer” technology, which does not leverage machine learning technologies – unlike Responsive. 

Responsive

Responsive is the industry leading RFP software for both small businesses and enterprises. It’s the #1 RFP software solution according to G2 for four years and counting and is trusted by companies across virtually every industry around the globe.

Responsive is the only RFP software solution that offers in-platform collaborative editing, content translation, content analysis, information profiles and more. Additionally, it’s consistently first to market with robust integrations and the latest AI features to work seamlessly and save time. Intelligent features like LookUp, built-in analytics, leading AI tech and native integrations enable organizations of all sizes to win more bids with significantly less effort with Responsive.

Choosing the right RFP software for your small business

As you’re making your decision, here are some software selection steps you can follow:

Evaluate your pain points

Before you commit to an annual subscription to business proposal software, schedule a meeting with any stakeholders in the proposal process. This includes subject matter experts, sales reps, and bid writers.

Leave the meeting with a clear understanding of the main goals you hope to achieve.

Your final list could simply be a bullet list, like:

  • Improve collaboration on business proposals without relying on color-coded Word docs
  • Consolidate answers to common RFP questions in one place, so SMEs aren’t answering the same question over and over again
  • Create visibility, so leadership can easily check on proposal status

Determine your must-haves

Once you determine key goals for your proposal program, you need to prioritize business proposal software features. Divide features into two columns—”must-have” and “nice-to-have”.

If you want to make it easy for everyone to get up-and-running in the tool, an intuitive user interface might be a “must-have”. If your sales team lives in your CRM, an integration with Salesforce or Dynamics might be “nice-to-have”.

Compare customer reviews

Just like you might check Yelp before you head to an unfamiliar restaurant, reading through reviews from verified customers on platforms like G2 should absolutely factor into your decision making process.

On G2, you can also sort reviews by company size, user role, industries, and region—so you can find reviews from users just like you.

Here is a screenshot of comparing four of the most popular business proposal software solutions:

Select the best business proposal software

Check on the full comparison on G2.

Test out the product and services

When you’re ready to evaluate vendors, be sure to demo the various platforms.  Bring your priority feature list, along with a list of questions you want answered. You’ll want to find something that’s powerful enough to suit your needs, but intuitive enough to make sure your small team can get ramped up in no time.

Frequently asked questions about RFP software

We hear common questions from proposal teams at small businesses every day. Below we’ve answered these questions to help you feel more at ease with RFP software implementation and learn a few ways to improve your RFP response process along the way.

What should my proposal team look like?

If you’re a small organization, you might have 1- or 2-member proposal team, or sales reps could be responsible for creating their own sales proposals. Either your proposal team or your sales rep should own the proposal process, and reach out to subject matter experts on other teams (e.g. product, engineering, security, marketing, legal, etc.) for help on specific questions.

How do you write a good business proposal with RFP software?

Writing a good business proposal starts with a strong process. Business proposal software simplifies that process, making it easier to collaborate with an extended team. With automated processes for scheduling, collaboration, and completing wide swaths of massive RFPs using answer libraries, you can blaze through the first pass of a response faster than working without software.

Here’s a quick overview of how you can write a good business proposal with software:

  1. Qualify the bid — Check data from past similar RFPs. What took weeks without RFP software may only take hours with it. All things being equal, is this RFP winnable?
  2. Understand requirements — Let the tool create a checklist of open items based on what remains after the automated first pass conducted at intake by your Content Library.
  3. Answer commonly seen questions — RFP technology consolidates all your previous Q&A pairs into an intelligent Content Library, so you can automatically respond to repeat questions in just few clicks.
  4. Assign due dates and tasks to key collaborators — Assign each RFP question or section as a task to individual collaborators from the project dashboard in Responsive. They’ll then receive a notification from where they’re already working (e.g. email, Slack, or Teams).
  5. Assign questions for review and approval — Simplify the review and approval process with automated reminders and cues across multiple platforms.
  6. Polish — From intake, work within a branded template and support answers with approved content that’s always up-to-date according to the SME in charge of that content.
  7. Proofread — Still important, but working with already-approved content will decrease how much you have to proofread.
  8. Submit to issuer — Push send from Responsive or your integrated CRM

How does RFP software support my process?

Business proposal software supports your proposal process and makes it easier to manage your RFP project and review everything in one place. With the right software in place, you’re able to assign tasks to authors and reviewers, assign content owners, and keep content organized and up-to-date.

If you’re a 1- or 2-person proposal team, software helps you provide enterprise-level support to your sales team. If you’re a sales rep responsible for managing your own RFPs, software helps you automatically respond to commonly seen questions—so you can focus on building customer relationships and closing deals.

How does RFP software provide efficient collaboration?

Since fewer people are involved in the response process at smaller organizations, each person’s time is extremely valuable. Proposal software gives you the ability to share information across various platforms. Content and assignments are seamlessly integrated into one platform, without the need for cumbersome reformatting, converting, and importing/exporting tasks.

How do I get started with RFP software?

Joan Dolence, Proposal Architect at Finastra, recommends that proposal teams plan for RFP software implementation, just as you would with any new technology you bring into your business. Do the prep work and housekeeping before jumping in. Then, teach everyone how to use the proposal software by managing each proposal like a project.

How long does it take to implement RFP software?

The answer everyone hates: It depends. If you’re a small team with a lot of bandwidth to upload and organize your content, you could be up-and-running in less than a month.

But the more bells and whistles you add on—things like integrations with Salesforce, Slack, or SSO—the longer it takes. The more users you have, the longer it takes. The more complicated your process is, the longer it takes. The less bandwidth your team has to upload and organize your content, the longer it takes.

Is RFP software really worth it?

In our 2021 Benchmark Report: Proposal Management, we learned that organizations leveraging RFP-specific technology respond to 43% more RFPs than those who don’t. 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. By consolidating proposal management processes into one place, you and your team can stay focused, aligned, and on track.

Strengthen your business proposals with the right software

The only thing missing between you and your next winning proposal is the right software. If you’re ready to uplevel your business proposal process, schedule a demo of Responsive today.


Wendy Gittleson

Wendy has more than 10 years experience as a B2B and B2C copywriter. She developed a passion for writing about tech from living in the San Francisco Bay Area and working for a technology school. From there, she transitioned to writing about everything from SaaS to hardware and cloud migration. She is excited to be part of the wonderful team at Responsive and looks forward to playing her part in building the future. Connect with Wendy on LinkedIn.

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