The RFP process is a fact of life for most B2B companies. Having the right software to streamline the process can make life that much easier and guarantee that you are putting your best foot forward in securing the win!
To create winning responses to RFPs, you need to have high quality content at your fingertips. And to ensure your content is as accurate, compliant and up to date as it can possibly be, you need regular input from a variety of subject matter experts (SMEs).
With the right RFP software, you can simplify the communication process to SMEs and have them be a willing part of the team!
Read on to learn the best methods to communicate with SMEs, understand their pain points, and see how certain RFP software features can be used to your advantage.
Understanding the Obstacles
There are lots of different ways to obtain SME input, but they all invariably face similar obstacles:
Some RFPs have weeks- to months-long timelines for completion depending on the project’s size and complexity, but others have deadlines within mere days of issuance. That’s just not enough time to pull together a strong response from scratch.
SMEs generally work in product, service, legal or technical departments. That’s what makes their input so critical. They’re the people who would bring the RFPs’ main objectives to fruition, which means they have the best information to include in your response. On the other hand, that also means it can be very difficult to pull a SME away from their own work priorities to ask them questions from an RFP.
Anyone who has coordinated an RFP response has come across some questions nobody seems to know the answers to. Blank answer fields are the last things you want to worry about when you should be compiling the final response documents!
Since SME-approved content is the foundation of a competitive proposal, mitigating these challenges is critical. Hence, the first step is to create and maintain a library of proposal content that is accurate, up to date and easy to access.
By optimizing content for repeated use, you will not only increase the time you have to focus on strategic positioning and your company’s unique competitive edge, but also minimize and simplify the effort you’re asking of your SMEs.
Steps to Streamlining Communication
Here are five more important steps for working with SMEs to compile the best RFP response and sales proposal content possible.
- Determine Appropriate SMEs and Establish Processes
Analyze RFPs you’ve received to determine the type of information you’ll need most often, and then identify the appropriate authorities on each topic. Ideally, you’ll want at least one main SME as well as a back-up for each area.
- Management Buy-In: Once you know which SMEs to assign to each of your topics, talk to your SMEs and their managers about the details of the role you need them to play in responding to RFPs. Explain the mutual benefits of their active participation: not only do you get the information you need to write a strong proposal, but SMEs can help ensure that you’re accurately portraying the products and services they will ultimately be responsible for developing or implementing.
It’s not good for anyone when the promises in an RFP response go unfulfilled for any reason.
If supervisors know their team members are responsible for providing and/or reviewing RFP response content, they can help manage workloads and schedules accordingly. And it’s always nice for proposal managers to know they have a point of escalation just in case they ever need one.
- Organize & Categorize Your SME Content
It’s understandable that SMEs can quickly burn out if they feel like you’re wasting their time. By organizing and tracking previous responses by assigned SME, you can use the information you have on hand to respond to new RFPs, which keeps you from going back to your SMEs with the same questions again and again.
Here are a few features that can help you track and assign responses:
- Seamless Content Assignments: You can assign content to SMEs, approve their response, and add it to your content library allowing your team to have access to the most up to date information
- Audit trails: With the ability to pinpoint exactly who, what, and when someone on the team revised or added information to a response, you can easily see if everyone involved is pulling their own weight
- Customizable Workflows: Ensure that every piece of content is compliant, and each project has been reviewed by the correct team members and SMEs.
To minimize RFPs’ burden on your SMEs’ valuable time, put a process in place to continually initiate reviews of standard content and allow them to make changes and updates when it’s not crunch time under a client’s deadline.
Organizing your content also helps ensure that you go to the correct SME for new responses or reviews of standard content, and that all bits of relevant content are included in their appropriate review cycles.
The SMEs can also become familiar with the responses in their purview, which allows them to perform their reviews and updates as easily and efficiently as possible!
- Keep Your SME Content Up To Date
As we all know, the world of business is forever in flux. To effectively compete and win new business, you need to maintain accurate, current content. We also know that responsibilities and job titles can frequently change, not to mention product releases and service approaches. Whenever anything like this happens, your proposal content becomes outdated and inaccurate, almost immediately.
Having software features dedicated to content management will help you to leverage information from your content library.
One of the best ways to avoid letting old content find its way into new RFP responses, is to assign expiration dates to content and automatically gather updates from your SMEs on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, or on whatever basis is best suited to your proposal offerings.)
It’s no small feat, but it’s one of the most important steps to ensuring your RFP responses stay accurate and compliant.
- Make the Process Easy
In terms of new content creation, the easier it is for SMEs to provide input, the faster they’ll get it to you and the better it will be. Here are a few tips that will help make the communication process feel and look simpler for all parties.
It’s essential that SMEs are easily able to review and update content without having to learn a new system. With an easy-to-use interface SMEs can effortlessly navigate through your proposal software to input or update necessary information. And with the ability to receive email notifications, you can get alerted the second they do so!
Additionally, having proposal software that has features dedicated to content management, allows you to store and organize standard RFP response content for continuous use. You can assign each response or piece of content to a specific SME, set expiration dates and review cycles, and allow the software to automatically compile and send content directly to your SMEs for review and approval on a regular basis.
If you can automate the review and approval process for standard content, you get more time to focus on adding customized value propositions to each RFP response and proposal to increase your win rate.
And if you need heavier involvement from certain SMEs for special bids, they’ll be more inclined to help because the standard process doesn’t require as much of their time.
- Keep Your Relationship Strong
Like any business relationship, developing mutual respect and consistent communication is the key to effective collaboration and success in a SME process. To that end, don’t make the only time you connect with SMEs when you need something from them!
The key to keeping your SMEs happy is to communicate with them regularly and show appreciation for their time and contributions. Without your SMEs, responding to RFPs and creating accurate, high quality sales proposals would be virtually impossible. Acknowledge them often.
Establishing a strong working relationship with your SMEs will make your RFP process stronger because you can be confident they’ll come through when you need them. It may also help position your company to win larger, more complex projects.
And remember: SME/proposal team relationships are mutually beneficial. Proposal managers play an important role in setting client expectations, so it’s in SMEs’ best interests to help ensure RFP responses contain accurate information and make reasonable promises.
Moreover, proposal teams have access to information throughout various lines of business, while SMEs can often be more disassociated. Demonstrate your connections and encourage your SMEs to reach out to you if they need introductions or information beyond their job scope.
By streamlining your RFP process through establishing common goals, organizing and categorizing your content, keeping it up to date, and automating the process as much as possible, you can improve turnaround times and interact with your SMEs positively and efficiently.
Implementing proposal software that helps create and document formal procedures for your SMEs and content management will also help reduce the stress associated with the tedious administrative tasks involved in the RFP process. Focus your energies on developing, sharing and maintaining winning RFP content together.
Why Wait? Get Started Today!
Good news, all of the features mentioned above can be found in RocketDocs 2.0! Schedule a demo and see how you can streamline your RFP process with our RFP solutions while establishing clear communication with your SMEs.