Industry Research: How Proposal Teams Are Managing RFPs During COVID-19

Claudia DoRego
Claudia DoRego

Those who respond to RFPs are facing complex new challenges daily—and no one knows exactly how proposal teams should be navigating work right now.

That’s why we conducted an Industry Pulse Check survey last week. We heard from more than 300 RFP responders about how they’re coping with the sweeping changes happening right now across the globe.

Here are the insights we uncovered on RFP management, remote work challenges, and the proposal manager’s outlook during these uncertain times.

P.S. We recently hosted a community-led, Proposal Industry Town Hall to discuss the research findings and get advice from expert panelists on what can be done in the wake of COVID-19. Watch the Town Hall here. 

33% of Proposal Teams Report A Decrease in RFP Volume

About one third (33%) of survey respondents report a decrease in the volume of RFPs they’re receiving. 22% are seeing the same number of proposals coming their way, while 35% state that it’s simply too soon to tell. Surprisingly, a small margin of participants (10%) have seen an increase in volume.

Those in the Financial Services, IT Services, and Healthcare fields were the most likely to report decreases in RFP volume. The Software industry was the most evenly split between experiencing decreases, increases, and maintaining the same volume—meaning they may be the least impacted industry overall, but they also have individual variances depending on the nature of their product.

Companies that sell to the following industries were a few percentage points more likely to report a dip in RFP volume: Advertising & PR, Healthcare, IT Services, Media & Publishing, Supply Chain & Logistics, and Telecommunications.

Companies that sell to the following industries were a few percentage points more likely than average to report an increase in RFPs: Education, Industrial and Manufacturing, Non-Profit & Government, and Software. 

Future Outlook: More Decreases to RFP Submissions Likely for Most

When asked about how their workload may change in the coming months, 20% of all survey respondents said they expect further decreases. 15% predict that they’ll see an increase in RFP volume in the coming months. However, the majority of respondents (59%) felt it was too soon to make predictions.

Those in the Software industry were split on predictions for further decreases or increases—which again likely reflects that the type of software they sell is largely impacting their fate. IT Services had the highest percentage of respondents predicting further drops in RFP volume.

Companies that sell to the following industries were slightly more likely to expect further decreases in RFP volume than average: Advertising & PR, Hardware, IT Services, Media & Publishing, Software, Supply Chain & Logistics, and Telecommunications.

Those that sell to the Healthcare and Legal Services industries were a bit more likely to predict future increases in RFP volume. However, so were some of those who sell into the IT Services and Telecommunications industries—again indicating that the products or solutions a company sells likely impacts how busy their proposal managers will or won’t be.

Currently, Budgets and Outlook on Job Security Remain Steady

23% of respondents predict that they’ll lose budget or other resources in the coming months—which makes sense given that most are facing a decrease in bid volume. It’s worth noting, however, that as of now (early April), 78% of respondents have not experienced any reduction in budget or resources. 10% have received more, while only 12% have seen a reduction.

The Legal Services industry is more likely to cite budget or resource loss as their top concern compared to other sectors, with the Software industry following at a close second.

Despite the downturn in RFP volume, only 10% of respondents listed job security as one of their top concerns. The majority of survey-takers (51%) stated that they feel ‘Somewhat Secure’ about their job security, and 33% feel ‘Very Secure’ in their current role. Only 3% responded that they’re feeling ‘Very Insecure’ currently.

Biggest Pandemic Challenges: Morale, Remote Collaboration, and Market Impact

Like many other teams right now, common challenges facing the proposal industry are company morale, collaboration across distributed teams, and uncertainty about overall market forces.

Largest Struggle is Team Energy and Focus

When asked what challenges they feel they’re currently facing, a little over a quarter of respondents (26%) stated that they’re experiencing overall morale and focus struggles with their team.

Working with other internal team members on responses is the next biggest group of reported challenges—which makes sense since many teams are working remotely for the first time. (We’ll cover that next.)

Currently, 16% feel that keeping busy due to the slowdown in bids submitted has also been tough to navigate.

Majority of Proposal Teams Are Working From Home for the First Time—and Facing New Challenges

The majority of respondents (60%) stated that all of their team is working from home for the first time. However, over a third (36%) already had experience working remotely.

Even though we’re still in the early weeks of this pandemic, RFP managers are beginning to face internal challenges working as a remote team. 19% told us that collaborating with internal subject matter experts (SMEs) is a challenge, and 21% are having trouble maintaining project momentum for content reviews, approvals, etc. with other teams.

Those in the Legal Services industries were the most likely to cite remote work as their top challenge. Those who handle RFPs in Healthcare are struggling more to remain busy and collaborate with internal SMEs (likely due to an increased focus on emergency measures for handling COVID-19).

Proposal managers in the IT Services industry are also more likely to struggle with both a lack of work and collaborating with others internally. This split highlights that this industry is experiencing large variances in workload, which is likely dependent on the nature of their individual offering or the primary industries they serve.

10% are most concerned about the changes to bids being submitted due to COVID-19. It’s almost guaranteed that new types of questions will be asked—questions that proposal teams may not have ready answers for around remote work security, business continuity, etc. Only 7% of survey respondents are concerned about their future volume of work increasing.

Proposal Teams Most Concerned About Hitting Targets

One of the biggest concerns for proposal managers over the next few months is the general uncertainty of the market (40%).

Another area of concern is struggling to hit revenue targets: 31% of our respondents believe that they may struggle to hit targets for a few quarters, while 23% believe that they may struggle with targets for the remainder of the year.

However, the response community has confidence that business levels will return to normal for most within two quarters: 40% of respondents think that normalcy will likely return in 6 months. On the other hand, 26% of respondents expect it will take three months to bounce back, while another 22% believe that it will take about one year.

The Software industry has the most respondents who feel that the current economic climate wouldn’t significantly impact them—once again, showing that certain software providers may be insulated from market forces due to the nature of their solutions.

Standing Together: Facing Proposal Management Challenges During COVID-19

In our recent Proposal Industry Town Hall, we brought the community together with some expert panelists to discuss survey results.

Here are a few of their top suggestions for tackling some of the key issues uncovered in the research findings:

How to stay productive if you’re experiencing a slow down in bids:

  • Consider a content library refresh. Take this time to roll up your sleeves with your SMEs and build some additional content that will help you differentiate yourself on your next few RFPs.
  • Prepare for COVID-related questions. Your customers will likely start asking new questions about your security and business continuity plans in the wake of this pandemic. Be proactive about creating answers to those questions now to save yourself time in the future.
  • Look for new tasks and opportunities. If you’re experiencing a lull in work, reach out to SMEs or your sales teams to ask what you can do for them (rather than the other way around). There may be research, writing, or editing that you may be able to help them with.

How to best boost team morale:

  • Have regular check-ins. Send a specific question to the whole team that will be discussed during a weekly meeting, like “What do you love most about your job?” or “How did you help a client see what they do better or differently from their competition?” These questions remind team members where their skills lie, and the specific impact they have on the business.
  • Highlight transparency and open communication. Have open, frank discussions with others about how they’re feeling, and ask them how they’re doing personally to show your support.
  • Make help readily available. Make sure that asking for assistance and lending extra support to one another is encouraged among your team. Explain how this will foster better collaboration and help your team reach their broader goals.

How to better engage SMEs in a remote environment:

  • Implement a kickoff call. By getting everyone together early, and inviting SMEs to organizational calls, it will be easier for them to understand specific deliverables from the beginning. Through this, SMEs can provide their insight right at the start, while raising any issues they may have.
  • Use tools that improve virtual collaboration. Make it as simple as possible for everyone to work together. Tools that can improve collaboration include project-management systems (AsanaTrelloMonday.com), video conferencing services (Zoom), and instant messaging systems (Slack).
  • Have a two-way dialogue with SMEs. Find out what’s on their plate, and when their downtimes are during the week. By discovering the best way to work with SMEs while keeping them engaged, you and your team will avoid overloading them with requests.
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