Stand out by improving your RFP responses

Improving your RFP response is the key to winning

It’s the cold truth of procurement that when it comes to your RFP response and winning new business, you have to compete with other vendors. Unfortunately, when the buyer is ready to choose a winning vendor, there can only be one. It’s like the Highlander series of movies, only far less bloody.

Stand out by improving your RFP responses

Your products or services are going to be the stars of your RFP response, but the value that you offer doesn’t stand a chance if it’s wrapped in a poorly crafted response. Here’s how to improve your RFP responses and separate your offering from those of your competitors.

Classic RFP Mistakes

There are any number of things that vendors do with surprising frequency that erode the quality of their RFP responses. At the top of the list is carelessness around the copy-and-paste process. It’s natural that people will want to leverage previous RFP responses as they craft a new one, but doing so absent mindedly can create issues.

  • In a “personalized” response, a vendor inadvertently copying in the name of another company from a previous RFP response undermines whatever other personal touches were included.
  • Copying old information might cast your company in a poor light if you’ve made improvements to your product or service. On the other hand, if you’ve lost ground in some area, then copying a response from the past might amount to a misrepresentation, which can create significant complications down the road. 

It’s a Grammar Quiz In Disguise

While you might not be drafting the great American novel, and might instead be entering text into an Excel cell (an unfortunate, but all too common reality from where we sit), it is important to proofread your responses. Answers that are sloppy or laden with errors can be a turnoff to buyers, who could feel that poor attention to detail in the RFP response reflects on the product or service being contemplated.

Tips to Improve Your Next RFP Response

When crafting an RFP response, it’s helpful to remember that you are selling your product or service. It might not be your sales method of choice, but you are selling. For buyers that are going to award business strictly on price, there’s little you can do aside from trying to be competitive. For more forward-thinking buyers — a group that is growing, fortunately — the determination will be based on “value.” A value-based purchase considers price, but also considers many other factors. How then, do you convey the value that you provide? 

  1. Make sure you understand the questions being posed and in the context provided. A question may have a very straightforward answer, but if you understand the context around that question, you can craft an answer that not only directly answers the question, but also addresses the underlying concern of the buyer. For example, if you are responding to a RFP for shopping carts, and the buyers ask “How long does it take for your service department to repair a dozen squeaky shopping carts,” you could give provide a relatively straightforward answer about the turnaround time in days. But, you should understand the context that the buyer has had a history of broken cart wheels, and worse, unpredictable repair time on their squealing shopping carts. With this in mind, you could emphasize that your carts come with replaceable wheels that any employee could exchange in seconds, drastically reducing the downtime of broken shopping carts in general.
  2. SELL your product or service. This doesn’t mean filling the response area with marketing fluff. Instead, focus on conveying value and identifying the key points of positive differentiation for your offering. Procurement teams may be scoring dozens of responses, and you don’t know if your response is #1 or #31. You don’t want the buyer’s eyes to glaze over! Deliver your value succinctly and in a way that directly addresses the buyer’s specific needs. You may have a hundred features for your product, but the buyer may only care about four.

How an RFP management solution can solve your RFP woes

Context, timing, specificity, and impact all matter in a meaningful RFP response letter. An RFP management solution can help your responses thrive by organizing your team, your thoughts, and your services in a coherent and easy to understand package.

  • Assigning questions to internal subject matter experts will ensure that your responses are as accurate and as detailed as needed.
  • Having a review process for every question enables real-time collaboration, the ability to view context side-by-side, and an opportunity to check for errors as a team.
  • Access to a knowledge base of “canonical answers” as well as details about historical responses will help your team pull up their last response to similar questions.
  • Embedding videos or images to explain complicated product features will allow you to stand out from the rest of your competition.

Following the tips above will help your RFP response be in top shape for wherever it lands. If you want to take your responses a step further, click here to sign up for a free Vendorful account.

5 Tips for Sales Leaders to Improve Their RFP Response

How do most sales leaders manage the procurement process in their organization? If you work in sales and are invited to participate in an RFP, it’s likely that you experience two conflicting feelings. The first one, if turned into words, would feel something like this: “Yes! We’ll have an opportunity to win new business.” However, while you’re ruminating on the possibility of closing another deal, another thought bubbles to the surface. If articulated, it would come out something like this: “No! It’s a huge time suck for an unclear opportunity that we’ll never win.”

The gears of procurement can sometimes grind slowly

While the RFP represents the best practice for sourcing and procurement departments, many sales organizations are ill-equipped to handle them. Indeed, for many organizations, an RFP response remains an ad hoc process. Regrettably, this results in sales leaders having to spend time cajoling internal subject matter experts, sifting through information hidden in silos, and collating all of the data that is being compiled. As a sales leader, you wake up every day eager to cultivate relationships with prospects and customers. Understandably, being tasked with running an RFP in the aforementioned manner can make it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

Sales leaders generally have their performance measured by the numbers. How many deals are they closing? What is the average deal size? When dealing with an outbound sales effort or even the happy consequences of a successful demand-gen program, you — the sales leader — are able to exert a lot more influence over the sales process. While these are good circumstances to boost your close rate, buyers are increasingly keen to take back control of the purchase process. One of the ways that they’re doing this is with the RFP.

Make no mistake — participating in an RFP is participating in a sales process. The venue might be different and the amount of influence that you can exert might be reduced, but the ultimate goal is to close business. You are the sales leader and it’s incumbent upon you to make sure that your team has the right tools and resources to be effective (as well as efficient) with their time. Losing RFPs simply because you don’t have a process for crafting top-flight responses doesn’t merely impact your numbers, it threatens to drag down the morale of the sales professionals who work for you.

To avoid this, check out these five tips to help win more RFPs:

1) Document, document, document. By storing all internal information that you gather in a single location and making it accessible, you can significantly reduce your team’s time investment while boosting the quality of your organization’s proposals. Managing your process through email and Excel makes it easy for something to slip through the cracks. Let’s be honest, it is extremely difficult to read through complicated email threads from subject matter experts when you are trying to meet a tight deadline and get your response out the door. Managing revisions of outdated documents in multiple locations can be relegated to a distant memory with RFP software.

Discover Why Vendors Should Invest in RFP Response Management Software

2) Research the organization. No one can read minds so it is critical to clearly understand your perspective purchaser’s needs. Every buyer is unique, which is why it is important for you to understand what issues they are facing and what they would want to achieve. See if you can have a conversation with the buyer before you dive into your RFP proposal response. Asking the right questions and understanding your buyer’s needs will help you stand out in the process. Consider asking these questions:

  • Have you worked with a competitor in the past? What did you like and what missed the mark?
  • What are your major pain points?
  • Who is currently involved in the selection process?

Uncovering the answers to these questions will help get you one step closer to winning the deal and discovering if the buyer’s requirements align well with your solution.

3) Timestamp your information and update it on a schedule. Passing along outdated information can undermine your efforts. Your responses might be revised multiple times from various team members, so time-stamping your updates will ensure that you are conveying the most up-to-date information. Maintaining an audit trail also helps avoid “finger pointing” if a problem arises.

4) Develop an efficient process. If you are able to respond to RFPs quickly, you can both reduce the stakes for any individual opportunity and increase the number of opportunities available to you. You are likely not the only company in the RFP process so you need to ensure you are not wasting anyone’s time. Once you’ve created a response workflow, make sure that your team uses it.

5) Be gracious! In developing a successful RFP response, you will often need to tap the knowledge of colleagues who do not work in sales roles. Their time is as valuable as yours so make sure to express your appreciation. Immediately assign tasks and deadlines to subject matter experts to afford them ample time for revisions prior to the deadline. If you are still managing your process using a spreadsheet, you should clearly indicate the specific questions assigned to them to avoid overwhelming them with the entire RFP process.

Absent a good process for responding to RFPs, you run the risk of undermining both of the numbers that go into an ROI calculation. Return, in this case, is measured by the number of deals that are closed as well as the size of those deals. Obviously, if the information you need to craft a response is spread across different computers, folders, and the brains of various colleagues, it’s going to be a challenge to access everything you need prior to your deadline. Ultimately, this negatively impacts the quality of the response.

Have you considered RFP response software to help increase your win rate? Sign up for Vendorful’s free trial to see how RFP management software can improve your responses to win more business!

All of the RFPs and just me to fill them out?!

Reasons Why Vendors Should Invest in RFP Response Management Software

Congratulations, you’ve been invited to participate in an RFP! Is there another acronym that can create such internal conflict in a sales organization? While many vendors are rightfully suspicious of the integrity of the RFP process, even the most virtuous buyer can send an ill-equipped sales team into a tizzy. Think about it. You’ve received a long questionnaire from a prospective user of your product or services, and in many cases, the invitation to submit a proposal is your first contact with the company.

As a sales professional, you’re in the relationship business, but this request seems to stand in the way of your getting facetime with the stakeholder on the other side of the process. Building rapport is a critical step in developing a deal. However, if you look at this from the perspective of the buyer, you might get some insight into the value of the RFP. Do you think that a buyer, or in some cases a purchasing team, has the bandwidth to indulge every salesperson who wants to get to know them and understand their needs and motivations? Of course not. The RFP isn’t a modern torture device that buyers unleash on vendors. Rather, it functions as a gatekeeper which works to your benefit as well. By allowing buyers to sort through vendor offerings across a predetermined set of criteria, the RFP saves everyone — vendors included! — lots of time.

As a vendor, you know that that if you’ve been shortlisted, the odds are good that this opportunity is in your wheelhouse. However, even if a sales team respects the RFP process, participating in it can still be a drag. Most RFP responses are stored in seemingly random folders on the computers of various members of the sales team. Teams that are more organized might have a giant spreadsheet or document that lists all of the questions that they’ve received as well as all the answers that they have provided. Believe it or not, doing that is miles better than putting together an ad hoc response. And for most companies, this is the gold standard. Companies are spending hours reading through countless documents trying to come up with an effective response strategy that will stand out and win new business. The process can be extremely inefficient for many companies for reasons that include, but are not limited to:

  • Losing emails because they are incorrectly sent to junk mail folders
  • Deliverability challenges due to large files sizes
  • Accidentally including or excluding people on an email
  • Forgetting to include an attachment

If this all sounds familiar, RFP response management software may already be on your radar to see a better ROI. It can mean the difference between winning new business or losing out to one of your competitors. Transitioning from the old-fashioned approach of spreadsheets and documents to an automated RFP management process can help your organization:

Submit better responses by easily engaging with SMEs.

How can you properly respond to questions without engaging the subject matter experts?  It is critical for organizations to identify key stakeholders who can offer informed responses on different areas of the RFP and focus solely on the questions that they are best equipped to answer. SMEs offer valuable input for RFP responses, but the RFP process is often a low priority for them which makes their time is challenging to come by. With RFP response management software, you can automate the process by assigning questions, due dates and setting up reminders to review the answers of your organization’s subject matter experts. Transparency and communication among internal stakeholders is key for keeping the RFP process on track, especially when you’re trying to meet a tight deadline.

Increase consistency in responses in a centralized location.

Consistency in responses is often a common pitfall for organizations. If you are engaging with multiple SMEs, your RFP responses are most likely stored across various departments in emails, folders and spreadsheets. It is All of the RFPs and just me to fill them out?!important to customize your responses for each company but there is no need to give different answers to the same question when you can re-use past winning responses. RFP response management software gives you the ability to upload documents with questions and answer from previous RFPs. Imagine seeing your response history and knowing how you responded to the same question in a previous RFP!

Consolidation of knowledge and information.

Have you ever written a really complex RFP answer, but you had to dig through all your past RFPs or email to find it? Managing your RFP process in a single centralized location is the best way to ensure everyone involved in the process has access to the data and documents they need. Consolidating information makes it easy for you to:

  • Work in the same version as every responder on the team— no more merging documents
  • Easily assign writers to their sections and questions
  • Attach files and embed media in your responses

Shorten turnaround time for responses.

By eliminating manual tasks, you shorten the turnaround time for responses and will NEVER miss a deadline again. RFP response automation will reduce the time spent rifling through Word documents, email and spreadsheets. It also will cut back on the time SMEs spent on the process, ultimately saving your organization money. Think about how much time you currently spend editing responses, searching through emails or rewriting responses.