How to work with SMEs for a smooth sailing RFP process

There are many ways to improve team collaboration in the workplace. Setting clear business objectives is a great place to start with the why of your organization’s vision. Then, it’s time to move your team toward that goal with the how—using tools and technology that will help them succeed.

Healthy collaboration during the RFP response process is important for any organization working together with a unified vision. When an RFP is due in two days and it’s 100 pages long, it may feel like a feat of mythic proportions for you as the proposal manager.

“86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business.” – Salesforce

But if the experience is positive and seamless from the minute the RFP arrives, the team is already set up for success. If not, the opposite will happen.

You want to see your team work well together, and you definitely want the RFP response to go out the door on time. We drummed up a few strategies to keep in mind to help you optimize SME collaboration for smooth sailing.

SMEs have unique personalities

When interacting with technical experts and SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), it’s common for sales and marketing teams to forget they are working with people who have completely different personality types. There might seem like a disconnect with business priorities with these experts, because they are so engrossed in the very work they offer expertise in.

When your SME does find the time to contribute to the RFP, the response can be difficult to understand when it’s blanketed with technical details. These SMEs are passionate about what they do, but they don’t always realize the best way to frame the content to engage buyers.

rfp success

Source: Wrike

The language and tone will inevitably need to be tweaked to make your RFP response compelling. However, you will still need help from your SME during the review process to ensure the technical details are correct. You don’t want to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of a more enjoyable reading experience.

The answer to improved team collaboration resides in your Content Library. How you organize your content and solidify the review process will help protect the time of everyone involved in RFP responses at your company. Spend time setting up a good Content Library and keep your content fresh with regular content audits.

Overcoming different business priorities

Reluctance for SMEs to take on more work within a tight deadline is understandable given their busy schedules. When it’s time to respond to an RFP, they will deprioritize the task in favor of more important tasks on their plate.

“Just 42% of organizations report having high alignment of projects to organizational strategy.”      – Project Management Institute

Though responding to RFPs may seem like a lower priority to SMEs, the reality is that they help drive revenue for an organization. And so RFPs matter for everyone, regardless of their role, because winning an RFP equates to new business.

As the RFP lead, your job is to be clear about deadlines and expectations, and also to drive enthusiasm for the opportunity. Using RFP software can greatly reduce completion time and workflow constraints as it is a tool built to alleviate the complexities associated with a very complex process.

As always, the people behind the tool are what make it work. Teams need to be aligned—with the big picture business priorities front and center, and excellent technology that increases collaboration and efficiency.

Strategies to make the RFP effort easier

Now that you’re rethinking your collaborative mindset, it’s time to jump into some useful strategies that will help you get the RFP done effectively. Here are several simple ways to minimize the effort needed by the SME, so they can contribute their expertise willingly and on time:

  1. In your RFP solution, immediately assign tasks and deadlines to SMEs for the response. Give yourself wiggle room with the drop-dead RFP deadline, so you have plenty of time for revisions. If using a spreadsheet, highlight specific sections which need input and follow-up with a spirited communication cadence.
  2. Simple and concise instructions will make your SMEs life a heck of a lot easier, which will make them more likely to prioritize the task. Avoid overwhelming them with the entire RFP, by allowing them to focus on their assigned question only. This is easiest to organize in RFP software, but you can get creative with spreadsheets as well.
  3. Include guidelines to set expectations with the RFP response, including character limitations and branding preferences. This will save time during the review process in case your SMEs go overboard with techy content. In your RFP solution, you can export responses into a branded template to clean up the formatting so you can spend less time polishing the final deliverable…at midnight, on Friday.
  4. Avoid inbox clutter by replacing emails with communication tools, like Slack, and use groups to organize and track conversations. This will ensure your request doesn’t get missed or trashed, and it will minimize the back and forth. RFP software will have @-mentioning and even integrate with Slack to smooth out the process.

project alignment

Source: Wrike

Teamwork truly does make the dream work when it comes to the RFP response process. You need your SMEs to buy into the importance of RFPs, but you also need to fine-tune your approach to make things easier on them.

Take a good look at your existing RFP workflow with your SMEs and see how you can improve it. Organizations aligned around a common vision—with technology that supports collaboration—will ultimately save teams time and help them reach success together.


As the Co-Founder and Content Strategist at Superneat Marketing, Britt strives to inspire RFP responders with content and resources that support their cause.

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