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Ultimate RFP Response Software Buying Guide
A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a document potential buyers use to evaluate new vendors or renew existing contracts—they’re an essential part of winning new business. In fact, research shows that a whopping 41% of sales revenue is generated from RFPs.
However, when done manually, responding to an RFP can be a time-consuming process. RFPs can help you win big accounts, but they’re a massive undertaking that require you to answer far-reaching questions that span your entire organization, from legal to sales to data security.
With RFP response software, you can finish more responses and improve answer quality—no matter how tight the deadline or specific the requirements.
Keep reading to learn why picking the right solution matters, how to evaluate potential vendors, and how to select the right tool for your team.
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Introduction: What is RFP Response Software?
RFP response software is a digital platform often used by proposal managers, sales, or security teams to simplify and automate the response process for RFPs, requests for information (RFIs), due diligence questionnaires (DDQs), and security questionnaires (SQs). Basically, any information requests that a company receives in the sales cycle.
An RFP solution typically includes these core functions:
✓ Storing and organizing commonly used information
✓ Searching and automatically filling in answers
✓ A collaborative workspace for tracking team projects
RFP software can help various members of your team achieve their own specific business goals (more on that later). These team members could include:
Teams With RFP Software Are Able to…
Provide Accurate Answers, Every Time
Creating a searchable RFP content library makes finding the right answers and keeping your information up-to-date easy.
Finish RFPs Faster, Without Sacrificing Quality
Response software can automate manual, low-impact tasks (like copying and pasting answers) so you can focus on what you do best: creating stellar responses.
Effectively Engage Teammates to Improve Responses
By using one platform to build your RFPs, responding becomes a streamlined, collaborative, and transparent process for everyone. Subject matter experts (SMEs), included.
1. Examine Your RFP Process
Mapping out your RFP process will help you determine the top software features you need—and which ones you don’t. Start by making a list of the tasks that take the longest, pose risks to productivity, and are flat-out redundant. Then, use this list to identify potential solutions that will address those pain points. Get started by asking yourself the following question…
Does Your Process Include These Roadblocks?
• Your Information is Out of Date or Unfindable
Often, no one owns keeping business information updated, and sifting through potentially inaccurate info tends to stall the response process. Plus, finding answers usually requires scouring old documents and emails. Or worse, hunting down SMEs—which brings us to our next issue…
• You Work with Disengaged, Distracted SMEs
You feel guilty about reaching out to your internal experts because they’ve answered your questions before. And sometimes they’re focused on other work and can’t prioritize answering you, which jeopardizes your timelines.
• RFP Project Management is Manual, with Limited Oversight
You’re constantly following-up with others to keep your projects on schedule. Plus, there’s no easy way to see what stage each project is at (and where the hold-ups are). This all takes time away from focusing on improving the actual content in your RFP responses.
• You Sacrifice Quality When Scaling RFP Responses
You’re receiving so many complex RFPs that your team is struggling to keep up (and likely working weekends to hit deadlines). Also, ensuring every response is cohesive and on-brand is next to impossible without slowing down the process even more.
• Your Team Lacks Data and RFP Process Insights.
Because there isn’t an easy way to track your response projects, it’s hard to understand what content is being used the most, how long each step takes, or how much revenue your team is contributing to the bottom line.
Determine: Do You Need RFP Automation?
Many of the repetitive admin tasks (above) are worth streamlining through RFP automation software. With the right response software, you can prepare a first draft in minutes instead of hours. It automates the process with intelligent libraries that organize RFP content, makes it searchable, and auto-fills answers to questions based on past responses. It also centralizes projects in one spot for better version control.
Here’s a checklist of the basics you’ll improve with RFP software:
✓ Auto-fill answers in a couple of clicks
✓ Assign content updates and approvals to SMEs
✓ Search for the content you need in a library
✓ Schedule regular reviews of RFP answers
✓ Set reminders for key project milestones
✓ Auto-detect if your content is up-to-date
✓ Keep track of project status, contributors, approvals, and deadlines
2. Assess Top RFP Software Features
When evaluating an RFP tool, features will fall into three main categories: content storage and maintenance, RFP automation and scalability, and project management and collaboration. Here’s a breakdown of each.
Content Storage & Maintenance Features
Customizable Content Library
House your most reusable and relevant RFP content in a way that can be easily found, repurposed, or customized for each project. Custom categories, tags, and similar features make organizing content your way possible—whether it’s by product lines, language, or more.
Flexible search options will save you time and return the most relevant results faster. In addition to keyword search, you should seek exact phrase matching, plus the ability to filter results by category, sub-category, and or custom tags.
A good RFP response platform should have tools for supporting the maintenance of your library. Automated review cycles, at-a-glance insights, and duplicate answer detection can help keep content clean and accurate.
Library User Management
Controlling who can view, approve, and update content is essential to maintaining quality—while still making information easy to find. Restricting sensitive information access by user type can also be considered when selecting an RFP tool.
Intelligent Automation & Scalability Features
Easy RFP Import and Export
Response software should support importing a variety of formats—including Word, Excel, and PDFs—plus export back to their original format, web portal, or a custom template, once the response is complete.
Auto-Fill or Auto-Suggested Answers
Software often suggests answers based on questions you’ve completed before. Best in class tools use filters and Natural Language Processing (a technique of AI) to improve match accuracy.
Built-In Quality Improvement
A platform should not only help keep content up-to-date but also improve the quality of your library (and subsequently, future responses). Look for solutions that make it easy to thoughtfully capture updated or new RFP content from your responses so it can be used again in the future.
With an automated solution, you should be able to set branded guidelines for all documents. This way, you can export beautifully designed proposals without help from a designer.
Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are often embedded in leading RFP platforms to increase efficiency for users. Applications for these can include automatic language detection, enhanced search results, and answer matching. Look for vendors that make clear investments in these areas—such as by hiring experts in this space.
Project Management & Collaboration Features
Intuitive RFP Workspace
Platforms should offer a single, intuitive workspace for building your RFP responses. This eliminates version control issues, streamlines communications, and lets you see responses being worked on in real-time.
Streamlined Reviews and Approvals Workflows
Solutions should have notification settings and workflows for assigning tasks on a project (like answering individual questions) and sending requests for approvals or reviews from legal/compliance teams, SMEs, and more.
Project Tracking & Oversight
Having visibility into project statuses and tasks is important for staying ahead of your deadlines. A robust platform should include project dashboards, changelogs, and more so that you can see your team members’ work and project milestones at-a-glance.
It’s important that you can easily see what’s on your team’s plate and proactively identify at-risk projects or opportunities to better manage workloads. A solution should offer the ability to view data on the platform usage and other related stats for a more comprehensive understanding of your response process.
3. Look Beyond the Features: Key Vendor Differentiators
Going beyond the features, it’s important to assess other factors that enable a successful partnership. Here are some additional selection criteria you should consider when picking RFP solutions.
Ease of Use
The more user-friendly the software, the more easily it will be adopted within your organization and by your SMEs. Although this criteria may be challenging to evaluate, think back to your demos and your trial experience. Ask yourself how easy it was to accomplish your priority actions and navigate the platform.
Look for a platform that can easily connect to tools your team already uses, like a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, Slack, file drives, web browsers, or Google accounts. The results: more insights, increased productivity, better internal adoption, and higher quality responses.
Agile and Frequent Product Enhancements
The product you select should grow with your business and release frequent enhancements based on user feedback and innovation.
Pricing is often based on the number of premium features, users, and/or projects. Determining costs will depend on your must-have features, how many concurrent RFP projects you’ll be working on, and how many users you’d like in the platform. Look for vendors with flexible pricing, and ask if there are extra charges for services, such as support or onboarding.
Look for vendors with glowing reviews or awards for their technical Support Teams. A good vendor will also have self-service options, such as a help center with useful articles or how-to videos.
Ongoing Strategic Training
Search for a platform that invests in your successful adoption of their platform. This includes a dedicated onboarding team to coach you through the early days, as well as a Customer Success Manager to share best practices and advice after implementation. If they organize educational webinars, host user groups, or have a customer community, even better.
Choose a platform that provides clear security documentation, including legal, regulatory, or contractual requirements of the information you’ll be sharing on their platform. (Bonus points if they have a security package including a recent copy of their Security Operations Center (SOC) 2 Type 2 audit.)
4. Navigate the RFP Solution Buying Process
Now, you know what features you’re looking for—it’s time to start shopping. But picking a vendor requires certain checks and balances (just like the RFP process itself). So how should you choose the right RFP solution? Here are the essential steps to navigating the RFP solution buying process.
1. Research RFP Software Vendors
Search and compare software using review websites (such as Capterra and G2), or simply enter ‘RFP response software’ in your search engine of choice. Also, ask peers which tools they use to make your vendor shortlist.
Most vendor websites will also have success stories that you can review to understand how the solution works for others—and could work for you.
2. Check Out the Product
Before you make your final purchasing decision, make sure you actually see the product itself. Most software providers offer flexible ways to view their platform and to check out key features and benefits. Besides a trial (which we’ll get to next), there’s typically three ways you can check out the software.
Seeing the Software (Before You Buy)
✓ Watch short walkthrough videos. Typically the easiest (and quickest) way to take a closer look at the RFP response software you’re considering is through a short video. It’ll give a snapshot of RFP automation in action, so you can see how it works.
✓ Attend RFP software webinars. Many companies also offer weekly product webinars, where anyone interested will have the opportunity to learn more and ask questions about each RFP solution in real-time.
✓ Book one-on-one sales demonstrations. Also known as a sales demo, your potential vendor will deliver a presentation that shows you the features, capabilities, and value of their response software.
Whichever walkthrough you choose, be sure to ask about key functionalities you require, what tools and integrations are included, and assess the overall usability of the product.
3. Conduct Trial & Test These Functions
When evaluating vendors, ask for a trial, and be sure to try out the key features your team would use to complete RFPs. Your trial checklist should include:
✓ Creating a new project
✓ Importing documents
✓ Answer automation
✓ Library search
✓ Assigning questions
✓ Exporting RFPs into a custom theme
4. Get Internal Buy-in For Your Solution
Get stakeholders who’ll need to approve the purchase on board with your vendor of choice. Tailor your ask by explaining how the solution will impact their team’s goals. (Keep on reading to see persona-specific advice.)
5. Implement With Ease
Work with your vendor to create an internal adoption plan. (The average timeline is around 30 days, depending on the size of your team.) Providers with dedicated onboarding teams can offer expert guidance on this process.
5. Win Over Key Stakeholders for RFP Software
Once you’ve picked the RFP platform that’s right for your team, it’s time for the most important part of the process: getting buy-in from your coworkers on adopting this new tool.
The larger the organization, the more complex the RFP process, and the more people who will need to approve the platform. And similar to an RFP, you’ll need to tailor your argument for each stakeholder. Here are some quick strategies you can use to get buy-in from the key players in the RFP process.
Highlight the benefits of a streamlined, transparent response process that makes tracking projects and tapping into SMEs simpler. Point out integrations with CRMs and other tools that they already use (such as Slack) that will help them move quickly.
If you use an RFP platform, non-technical team members can take the first crack at questionnaires. Then, your security pros can be tagged for net-new questions only—meaning they’ll spend less time overall on these long documents. A solution can also enable them to quickly export on-brand, up-to-date security packets.
Subject Matter Experts
Focus on how a response platform will make their lives easier since they won’t need to repeatedly answer the same RFP questions over and over again. This will save them time (and headaches) in the long run. Plus, they can focus on their regular work instead of RFPs.
Finance stakeholders are typically focused on increasing efficiency and reducing costs across the business as a whole. So you’ll want to lead your pitch with an RFP tool’s revenue and productivity benefits. Key points to include are: how it can help teams respond to an RFP faster (without additional resources), create better quality proposals that yield higher win-rates, and save SMEs time to focus on their regular work.
Share statistics that show the advantage a platform will provide over your competition. Research shows that those with a platform respond to nearly 50 more RFPs a year than those without. Those not using a dedicated tool tend to involve fewer people in their RFPs—and more collaboration is directly correlated with higher win rates. (Those with an RFP solution also tend to rate their tools as more effective than those without.)
6. Best Practices for Successful RFP Software Onboarding
Once you’ve made the switch to an automated RFP tool, there’s still some work to ensure your team is set for success. Welcome to the onboarding process.
With the right expertise on your side, onboarding will take approximately 30 to 45 days, depending on the size of your team. Your vendor’s team should be able to assist you with implementation by:
✓ Developing a process map
✓ Setting up your content library
✓ Migrating your existing content
✓ Training your team
✓ Building your first project
While RFP platform onboarding and training may seem like excess work, it’s well worth it in the long run for how much time you’ll save after implementation. With the right expertise and proper approach, your response process will be solid.
Next Steps: Software Buying Checklist
Use this six-step buying process template to streamline how you evaluate an RFP response solution.