How Do You Improve the RFP Process? Optimize 6 Over-Looked Opportunities
How often does your team respond to an RFP before the deadline with a high-quality proposal that wins? If your answer is 100% of the time—congrats, you’ve achieved the Holy Grail of RFPs. 👏 But if your average win rate says otherwise, there are opportunities to improve the RFP process you might be overlooking.
As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, once said, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” In other words, higher win rates don’t hinge on the individual heroics of your proposal team. Instead, the key to bidding success lies in your strategic coordination of completing the RFP process steps.
But how can you turn around a winning proposal with such tight, hectic timelines, considering 52% of responses wrap up in less than two business days? The answer: Look for opportunities where you can eliminate bottlenecks, streamline collaboration, and write RFP responses more efficiently.
Here’s how to improve the RFP process, starting with 6 opportunities:
How to Improve the Process for RFP Responses (And Get the Most Out of Your Time and Effort)
The exact optimizations you make to your RFP response process will depend on your proposal team’s size (and dynamics), request volume, and average RFP timeline. But if we were creating an effective RFP process for the long term, here are the opportunities we’d focus on first:
1. Define a Consistent Team Workflow
A consistent workflow can bring order, direction, and so much sanity to your RFP team. Too often, contributors message back and forth, wondering about internal deadlines, file locations, and expectations. But when everyone has visibility into what to do, how to do it, and by when, they have more time to collaborate on RFP questions. The bonus? They won’t need to ping you for explanations.
Now, you don’t need to create a complicated flowchart or swim lane diagram to keep everyone on track. You can use a simple RFP process checklist, create a Kanban board in Notion, or share the schedule in a proposal management plan. Psst….that’s how Rachelle Ray, Owner of RMR Consulting, optimizes the RFP process.
“I have everyone complete an RFP management plan during the kickoff meeting,” she explains. “I pre-fill in the requirements but then have the proposal team discuss strategies, portfolio highlights, and assign responsibilities for content provision. We also agree on the schedule together and note it in the document so everyone walks out knowing exactly what they are responsible for and when it’s due.”
Here’s how to define a consistent team workflow:
- Look at the big picture: Visualize the different stages a proposal typically goes through before it’s ready for submission, like evaluating the opportunity, conducting thorough market research, or making a response plan.
- Break down the tasks: Jot down what happens at each stage, who’s responsible for what, and how long each task typically takes. Don’t worry if some things change between RFPs—try to sketch a broad picture.
- Make your workflow official: Document your RFP process in a central location where everyone on your team has access, like a shared document, spreadsheet, or a Project Plan in Loopio.
- Link helpful resources: Attach pertinent file folders, document locations, customer references, or even tools that will help your team complete their tasks, like this go/no-go decision template.
- Loop in your RFP team: Record who’s participating in the proposal, then assign responsibilities and due dates by working backward from the RFP deadline. (Pro tip: Involve your team in creating the workflow to get insight into their day-to-day bottlenecks.)
Too busy responding to RFPs? Save time by downloading this RFP checklist template 📋 which you can quickly customize with a workflow that works best for your team.
2. Set Up a Mandatory Intake Process
One of the best ways to ensure an effective RFP process is to take control before the RFP lands in your inbox. Instead of waiting for a request to trigger the process, be proactive by gathering key insights from your sales team as early as possible. Chances are, they will already be engaging with the prospect, know whether an RFP is on its way, and can tell you more about the opportunity.
And the sooner you can get your hands on this information, the sooner you can start thinking about your win themes—putting you miles ahead of the deadline. But wait, how will you know when your sales team knows?
With an intake form, you can designate a single entry point for incoming RFPs, whether fresh from the procurement oven or in the making. How does it work? Easy—once a sales representative or capture manager becomes aware of the RFP, they fill out basic details about it in Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, or your customer relationship management (CRM) software of choice, which then alerts the right people (like you).
Plus, if you receive a high volume of RFPs annually, an intake form can effectively corral the requests so they don’t get lost in an email thread or tossed from one person evading the responsibility to the next.
Your Must-Have Intake Form Fields 📋
✓ Company name
✓ Sales routing information (region, vertical, company size, etc.)
✓ Sales request type (e.g. web-based portal, Excel spreadsheet, or Word document)
✓ Due date
✓ Notes (i.e. prospect’s needs and potential key themes)
3. Follow Uncompromising Evaluation Criteria
Picture this: You’re busy responding to an RFP you have zero chances of winning (thanks to an incumbent vendor) when a shoo-in bidding opportunity gets delivered on a silver platter. What do you do? If you said to squeeze in both responses simultaneously, even if it means working late on Sundays, you might want to set some healthy RFP boundaries.
Not every RFP is worth responding to or needs to be treated with equal urgency as the megadeal contracts. Saying yes, no matter the request, will only steal focus away from the RFPs that matter most. So, how do you decide which bids are most deserving of your team’s time and attention? Qualify, qualify, qualify.
Like the procurement team, you should also assess each new partnership by following a standardized RFP evaluation process. Scoring evaluation criteria like customer fit, competitor landscape, and overall value of winning will help you prioritize proposals (or say no altogether) and ultimately reduce overload in the RFP response process.
“Adopt a default position of qualify in rather than qualify out to overcome complacency,” explains Ceri Mescall, a Work Winning Consultant. “And qualify actively—if new information comes to light, regroup and decide whether to continue or withdraw. The worst decision is no decision, or a late decision.”
4. Optimize the RFP Process for SMEs, Too
45% of RFP responders report collaborating with subject matter experts (SMEs) as the number one challenge in the RFP response process. It makes sense. SMEs are busy people—and responding to RFPs isn’t their full-time job. And yet, your proposal can’t live without their detailed knowledge of your company’s solution, technical qualifications, or past performance on similar work.
While you can’t expect them to clear their calendars, you can increase engagement by making the RFP process a positive experience, so they feel good about taking the time to help.
For Angie Hymes, Technical Proprosal Manager of Florence Healthcare, this involves understanding how SMEs operate and doing your best to accommodate that. “Some SMEs love to write; others are happy to answer questions over a quick call. Some are great with deadlines; others will completely forget and need reminders.”
So, how do you engage SMEs with varying work styles? Here are some best practices:
✓ Take the first pass: Show your SMEs that you’ve done the legwork and only enlist them to fill in the blanks or fact-check. Psst…nothing makes a SME respond faster than a wrong answer. 😅
✓ Schedule an interview: Hop on a call with SMEs who are less responsive to email. (Pro tip: Use a transcription tool like Rev to record their answers, so all you have to do is polish their phrasing.)
✓ Share your content plan: Show them what sections of the RFP they need to contribute to and provide a past response they can use as a guide for structuring their answers.
✓ Reuse their content: Save their answers in a single place so you can leverage their work again, making it easier for both of you next time. (Read about using a content library to optimize the RFP process below.)
✓ Show your gratitude: Increase the odds of them jumping on board again with little gestures of appreciation.
5. Build an Accessible Content Library
The secret to submitting winning proposals faster is not to reinvent the wheel. You already have most of your content marinating from past RFPs—and it’s not cheating if you repurpose it. 🤫 You simply need a central place to store it for quick access, so you’re not digging through old proposals for relevant pieces of information.
Enter the content library.
A content library does wonders for optimizing the RFP process because it acts as a single source of truth. Instead of starting from scratch for every RFP, you can pull up answers to frequently asked questions and copy and paste them into the response. All you have to do is add a touch of personalization for each new client and have SMEs review the information for accuracy. The results? Astronomical time savings.
Pro tip: Create a structured content library so everyone who’s involved in the RFP process can easily find answers for reuse later. Our recommendation? Leverage the power of a centralized repository in RFP response software to quickly search for answers, auto-populate responses, and share knowledge.
How to Build a Content Library From Scratch 📚
- Find a central location to store your RFP content, like Google Drive, DropBox, or Loopio.
- Sift through your most recent 5-10 RFPs for frequently asked questions.
- Group your answers with categories and subcategories (i.e. organize it like a filing system). 📁
- Add answers to never-before-seen questions from new RFPs.
- Schedule regular reviews to ensure your content stays accurate and up-to-date.
6. Measure the Success of Your RFP Response Process
Submitting a proposal doesn’t end the RFP response process…
Soon enough, another RFP will come along, and your team will want to put their best foot forward again as the right vendor. That means taking a step back and reflecting on what went well and what to improve next time.
First, consider measuring the success of your RFP process with key proposal metrics. For example, you can track your RFP Participation Rate (%) to see if you’re taking on too many bids. Or, check whether your team’s efficiency is trending upward with the help of a content library by tracking Writing Time Per RFP (hrs).
Then, collect feedback by hosting a retro. In this structured meeting, actively inspect any hiccups, plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness, and make the necessary tweaks. While it’s important for your team to feel heard, it’s also a good idea to get their quantitative feedback using a metric like a Net Promoter Score (NPS), so you can track their satisfaction with the RFP process overtime.
4 Questions to Measure Sentiment of Proposal Teams 📈
- Which department are you in?
- How much time did you spend on this RFP?
- On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate your experience on this project?
- What would you change about the proposal process?
If you carve out time to analyze every RFP, you’ll get closer and closer to optimizing the RFP process because you’ll be able to reassess changes immediately until something sticks. Process makes perfection. 🙌
✨Bonus✨ How to Improve the RFP Process Even More
In addition to the RFP process best practices above, here are other ways to optimize the RFP process:
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Whether you’re working in person or remotely, it’s important to communicate clearly with your team. That’s why it’s a good idea to designate a single place where folks can coordinate and surface any questions—like a Slack channel, Microsoft Teams chat, or a dedicated email thread.
Pad Your Process for the Unexpected
Budget more time than you think for your RFP response process. Giving your team this extra time allowance will ensure you don’t fall victim to any last-minute technical glitches. Nor get rejected for a preventable mistake. One unrushed proposal + Triple quality checks = A winning bid. 🏆
Create a Content Plan (And Stick To It)
Your team shouldn’t spend half their time asking questions, chasing content, and rewriting an RFP response. Make sure everyone is aligned with your win themes at the kickoff meeting and knows the content plan by heart before they go on their merry way drafting the proposal.
Use RFP Software to Optimize the RFP Process Even More
Optimizing your RFP process takes an investment of time and effort—but it’s well worth it to build a system you know you can rely on. By assessing where you are, envisioning your ideal state, and building in process improvements, you’ll unlock a repeatable strategy for high-quality, stress-free submissions.
And you don’t have to do it alone. Leveraging RFP software like Loopio can help you streamline your RFP response process, facilitate collaboration with SMEs, and manage your content library effectively.
FAQs to Help Improve Your RFP Response
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