If you’re a B2B marketer or Sales professional, you’d probably agree that killer RFP (Request for proposal response) or written proposals would help you win more new business. And in fact, this turns out to be the case with recent research showing that 78% of buyers say that written proposals are the most important part of their evaluation process.
Unfortunately, there must be a major disconnect happening because far too many companies continue to deliver plain vanilla responses to RFPs or completely miss important elements altogether. A sort-of-okay proposal simply isn’t going to help close many deals. There are several reasons why average instead of killer happens:
- The team may feel there is a low chance of success with a particular RFP or proposal, so they just aren’t motivated
- Roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly defined
- RFPs and written proposals are a lot of work, and no-one has the time to track down all the missing content or even check for formatting, branding or style errors
Fundamentally, it all comes down to being more strategic when responding to RFPs. Knowing exactly where to focus the team’s energy and why – can save a lot of time and help ensure that every RFP response or proactive proposal gets the attention it deserves. Having a clear proposal strategy is key to giving teams the purpose and direction needed to do their best work.
Here are five strategies that, if implemented, will not only result in killer RFP responses but, not coincidentally, greatly improve your success rate:
1. Add Proactive Proposals to the Mix
If your company’s offerings are a good match for a prospect, why not go after it proactively? This may seem obvious but the strategy behind a proactive proposal is important to clarify. A strategic proactive proposal may challenge the prospect’s assumptions about their needs or buying criteria. And getting ahead of the competition gives you the chance to showcase your unique insights and value proposition before your competitors.
In addition, when a company expands into a new vertical or announces a new product or service, proactive proposals can help you open lines of communication with new prospects. The bottom line is, early engagement helps pave the way to more customers.
2. Develop a Process for Evaluation
RFPs are a ready-made opportunity to secure new business. But should you respond? Some vendors jump at the chance to answer any RFP, but is this wise? What if your process for answering RFPs is poorly constructed or your company isn’t an ideal fit for the RFP? Simply jumping into any RFP that you have little chance of winning can waste a lot of time and impact team morale. Have a process in place to evaluate each opportunity. It will save time, money, and sanity.
In their book, “Proposal Essentials: Win more, win more easily,” authors Jon Williams and BJ Lownie have boiled it down to what they call “The Qualification Mantra,” which includes four questions to consider:
- Is it real? Is this simply a benchmarking exercise, designed to keep their existing provider on their toes and to beat them up on cost?
- Do we want it? Is this core business for us…Is this a customer with whom we want to work?
- Can we win it? Are your resources, strategy, and product or services up to this challenge?
- Can we do it? All considerations together, can you deliver what’s being asked of your company?
As you consider these questions, look for showstoppers. Will anything major knock you out of the bidding completely, or set you apart from others in a smaller pool of winning candidates? Identify your evaluation approach and stick to it.
Everyone, especially executives in the C-suite, needs to be bought into the evaluation process for it to work.
3. Prepare the Basics in Advance
Regardless of a team’s experience responding to RFPs, proposals vary from one situation to the next, and there is always room for improvement. The good news is that professionals don’t have to be completely reactive when responding to proposals. There are many common areas of a proposal that teams can prepare for, or improve upon, in advance.
With few exceptions, there are many questions in any RFP that are always asked: company information, pricing, and customer service and support. In addition, Proposal Managers should keep the following information up to date:
- Competitive Differentiators – Understanding company and product differentiators is critical to success. When highlighting these differentiators, explain them without jargon. Focus on demonstrating the value your solution provides and gather data points such as statistics and customer quotes to prove your case.
- Company Approach – This is a chance to explain company methodology and demonstrate why you do what you do, to show your greater purpose behind offering the solution.
- Security and Compliance – No organization wants to be exposed to risks so if you sell technology, you have to prove your platform is secure. If you’re working in sectors such as Healthcare or Financial Services, you’re likely dealing with compliance or regulatory issues with the likes of HIPAA or the FCC. Get the facts straight in advance and know your subject matter experts for real-time collaboration when needed.
- Legal Approvals – Addressing red-lines from your legal team in advance can save quite a bit of time and reduce stress. Past responses that are “legal team approved” can be stored in your centralized content library used to populate responses.
4. Ensure Brand Consistency
If prospects notice your document isn’t in sync with messaging on your website or other channels, this raises red flags that your company isn’t aligned. Messaging, font style, and any visual design must be consistent with the brand, so the Marketing department should be involved in this part of the process.
For example, Alera Group recently maintained brand consistency throughout a merger involving over 75 companies. Since the local firms retain autonomy in their individual markets, each firm needed its own localized messaging while adhering to corporate brand guidelines.
Corporate Marketing provided each location properly branded templates in its centralized content repository which ensured brand consistency. By automating much of their RFP process, they have achieved brand consistency and reduced the time to complete RFP responses from two to three weeks to 20 hours or even sometimes in one day.
5. Use an Automated Content Library
The benefits of having a content library are enormous. A content library provides one source of record – or a single source of truth — with continuously revised content. A giant step forward is to have an intelligent content library, offering the ability to automatically answers commonly seen questions.
For example, Viewpoint Software, a global provider of construction software solutions, tried many strategies to make its RFP response process work more efficiently. One major challenge the company faced was tackling hundreds of questions that needed to be answered by different subject matter experts.
By having RFP software with a centralized content library as a resource, Response Managers were able to track the progress of answers and who owned them. Overall, the use of an intelligent content library has cut the time it takes to complete an RFP response in half.
Go for It
Be strategic and proactive about your proposal response process. With a proper evaluation plan, and consistent, up-to-date information at your fingertips, Sales teams can go after the right deals with the right information, likely resulting in higher Sales team morale, winning more business and gaining more satisfied customers.