When an organization seeks you out, it’s flattering. Your product or service is getting noticed. While everyone in your organization deserves tremendous kudos for the recognition, receiving an RFX is just the beginning.
Responding to a request for proposal (RFP), request for information (RFI), request for quotation (RFQ), due diligence questionnaire (DDQ), security questionnaire, or more generically, an RFX, requires a well-honed process that highlights your organization’s professionalism.
Please excuse the hodgepodge of metaphors, but brush off your lapels, sharpen your pencils, and put your best foot forward. It’s time to respond.
What is response management?
While RFXs are as individual as their issuers, they all have one common element: a deadline. An RFX might have hundreds or thousands of pages. In addition to pricing and product-specific questions, you might see questions about company history, culture, finances, the onboarding process, and so on.
The final proposal will require detailed and accurate answers, a clear and engaging narrative, and (usually) multiple stakeholders from throughout the organization.
Response management is the process of making that happen. Or more technically, it’s about understanding, defining, and publishing a full process. As with other projects within your organization, it includes establishing workflow, roles and responsibilities.
Who is responsible for response management?
Often, RFXs arrive through an organization’s CRM. From there, it might go to a response or proposal team, a single response manager, or a salesperson. Enterprise organizations are more likely to have dedicated RFX response teams than small businesses.
However, even full-time response teams will need help from subject matter experts (SMEs) throughout their organizations. As a response manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to the project as a whole, or at least their part. Each stakeholder must understand their expectations.
Owning the response management process
A response manager might not be part of the C-suite. They might not head up a department, or even have a dedicated supervisory role. When they receive an RFX, however, the buck stops with them.
Before delving further, we should back up a bit. The response manager’s role begins long before an RFX arrives and ends long after it’s out the door. Truth be told, the process is most efficient when it’s ongoing, regardless of whether the response manager is facing a deadline or not.
If you’re a runner, you might stretch before your daily five-mile run. During your run, you may track your heart rate, pace, and distance on a smartwatch. Afterwards, you might enjoy a deeper stretch and eat a healthy meal.
Or, if you’re like most people, you start your work day awakened by an alarm. Then, in no particular order, you might brush your teeth, workout, shower, dress, perhaps put on makeup and style your hair, maybe drink a cup of coffee, and have some breakfast. You might also commute to your office.
Once you get to work, you probably turn your computer on, check your email, agenda, Slack channel, and so on. Maybe you queue up some favorite work playlists and see where you stand on your goals. At the end of the day, you shut everything down and head home. Once every week, month, quarter, or however your company sees fit, you might see productivity reports.
If you notice in my two examples, the primary activities, running and working, are really only implied. The rest are processes. None of the processes mentioned above offer quantifiable productivity, although the smartwatch certainly tracks productivity. In both cases, the hypothetical people could argue that without their processes, they would be far less productive.
In each case, the processes are :
- Repeatable – On an individual level, we call the processes “routines” or “regimens,” which are by definition repeatable.
- Scalable – Planning a longer marathon training run or working from home for the day? Both processes can easily adapt.
- Specific – Run five miles every day, wake up at the same time, arrive at work on time, and so on. All of these are specific milestones.
- Measurable – Both processes include quantifiable goals.
Without processes, a company’s accounts payable (AP) department could wreak fiscal havoc. A poorly defined onboarding process could lead to confusion and employee dissatisfaction. Insufficient RFP response processes will result in a poor win rate, diminished morale, SME frustration, and threaten company buy-in.
So, let’s talk about establishing response management processes.
Establish an accurate organizational knowledge base
The best way to get an SME on your side is to do as much of the work as possible before calling them into the process. The best way to alienate an SME is to ask them to constantly repeat themselves. That’s where a well-maintained and accurate organizational knowledge base comes in.
If your company is like most, it’s siloed. Perhaps you have two knowledge bases, an internal one (such as company wikis, products, services, marketing collateral, archives, and so on) and an external one (sales-based content). It’s not even unheard of for a response department to have its own knowledge base built from previous proposals.
For efficiency’s sake, one knowledge base is certainly better than two or more. However, you need to be sure that proprietary information doesn’t end up in a customer proposal or private HR records in a company email.
As with the overall process, the knowledge base should be:
- Repeatable – If you record answers to commonly-seen questions, SMEs will only have to double-check accuracy.
- Scalable – Your knowledge base should have the ability to grow with your company.
- Specific – Are you able to provide access only as needed? Does your system help you find relevant information?
- Measurable – Who uses it? What goes in it? The better you can measure its worth, the more likely you will have company buy-in.
Repetition isn’t always bad. Knowledge base repeatability helps prevent SMEs from having to repeat themselves, but you also want to eliminate repetition–which can lead to confusion and dated or inaccurate responses–within your knowledge base.
To help avoid repetition, define and document your layout. Use collections, response headers, and how you classify and organize your content to define your knowledge base’s layout. Make sure everyone is on the same page by documenting everything.
When you spend hours staring at a screen, you might lose objectivity in defining and documenting. There’s a term in IT called “rubber ducking.” Essentially the concept is that if you’re stuck on something, explain it to the duck. Expressing the problem out loud helps take you out of your head for a moment.
If you walk through it from an outside perspective, it makes it easier to see. Lay out the process and walk through it. For example, “I get this from sales, and then send it on to someone who does their part.” So, if you’re stuck, rubber duck it.
Additionally, it’s much easier to see when it’s visual. Identify redundancies and where things might fall through the cracks. Don’t be afraid to go analog at first, such as arranging index cards on the floor.
At RFPIO, we believe in reusing and recycling content as a step toward saving the environment and hours of a response team’s time. Odds are, the RFXs sitting in your inbox right now contain multiple repeat, or near repeat, questions.
Leveraging artificial intelligence to find past responses to similar questions will show your team, especially your subject matter experts (SMEs), that their time matters.
Define roles, responsibilities, and the process, by starting with intelligence that is already in your knowledge base. Ask what you can do in your process that isn’t necessarily affected by other people.
Improve SME collaboration
Often, SME relationships feel one-way, at least to them. Put yourself in their shoes when you’re looking at your process. What are their touch points? When do they hear from you—is it only when you need something? If so, they’ll feel used.
Understand what’s on their plate. Get their feedback and use it when you can. Talk about and offer help with tight deadlines. Ask for things like customer success stories that you can use now or in the future. They might know about the roadmap in their department to help tell the company story. They are also invested in the process. Keep them updated.
It’s human nature to make assumptions about what an RFX is asking. If, for example, a prospect is looking for a specific product or service that you don’t have, don’t respond with another one. Not only do you risk alienating the potential customer, it will skew your data.
For example, let’s say you sell a cloud computing platform and many of the RFXs you receive ask for an application security product you don’t sell. If instead of responding that you don’t have the product, you respond with your application’s security protocol, the data could be misconstrued within your company to show that there’s a sudden interest in your application’s security protocol when in reality no one asked about it.
Scale response capacity
If your company is like many, the demands on your response team might be light at the beginning of the year, but by the time Q4 rolls around, you barely have time to grab a cup of coffee.
You can free up at least enough time to get a cup of coffee, and maybe even lunch, by standardizing and automating what you can.
Response software that tracks activity can quantify how long things are taking and help you determine when you might need additional resources. It’s also worth noting that RFPIO’s pricing structure automatically scales by charging by the project rather than being locked into a specific number of users.
Measure growth and continuously improve
Help maintain company buy-in by quantifying your system’s value. Feed innovation with concealable and actionable data such as tracking sales and product lifecycles. You should also periodically review the overall process as a company to see where you stand on your maturity roadmap.
- Were your responses submitted on time?
- Were your responses accurate?
- Did you lose anything in a competitive or compelling space?
- What else can you do to improve your process?
Once you have armed yourselves with data, enact incremental changes as you discover them. However, too many changes at once lend themselves to risks and red flags.
With RFPs, you’re dealing with direct customer and market requests. Share with the company, specifically marketing and product. Go through RFPs and RFIs yearly to see what else you might offer customers and market trends. Have those conversations before the next year’s roadmap is created. Respond to the question at hand and pay attention to the questions when creating a roadmap instead of the answers.
RFPIO can help you drive revenue growth with a smarter response management solution
When the focus is on responding to an RFX, it’s easy to forget that the ultimate goal is to drive revenue growth, not just fill in the blanks. Fuel your revenue-generating engines with:
RFPIO saves time and work at every stage of the response process.
- Intake – Receive RFXs through your CRM or directly through RFPIO.
- Content Library – A typical RFX contains very few original questions. RFPIO’s Content Library leverages machine learning to help you automatically fill in up to 80 percent of the document, freeing your key stakeholders to focus on unique content and other revenue-generating opportunities.
- Export – Export your response to a customized template or the customer’s preferred format
Today’s workload is going to look very different from tomorrow’s, next month’s, next quarter’s, or next year’s. RFPIO scales with you and provides actionable insights to help your company intelligently respond to changing demands.
Tracking – Track how long projects are taking to help determine when you need to rev up or cut back on resources.
Pricing – Licensed-based pricing models limit you during busy times and are a waste when things slow down. RFPIO allows for unlimited users on each project and only charges for the number of projects you have going at any given time.
Response teams are at the forefront of market trends and advanced analytics helps companies address competitive weaknesses and make informed decisions to shape the future. RFPIO provides annual, quarterly, monthly, and project-level reporting with just a few keystrokes. Built-in reporting metrics include:
- Project type – How many of your projects are RFPs? How about DDQs?
- Project stage – How many requests have you received? Where are you on each one?
- Time to completion – How long is it taking you to complete projects?
- Content Library usage – How often is your Content Library being used? How is it being used?
- Auto respond usage – How many total questions? How many did the Content Library identify and how many were automatically responded to?
- Win/loss analysis – How many and what kinds of bids do you win? What areas need improvement?
- Near limitless customization options – Create your own reports in your desired layout.
You’ll respond to more RFXs in less time and improve your win rate with RFPIO. However, RFPIO is more than a response project management tool; it’s a sales enablement platform, a company knowledge repository, a virtual librarian that points any user to relevant content, and a 24/7 on- and off-site statistician and data analyst.