Research shows that the average employee uses 35 programs per day to manage their workload. When you break down your proposal process, how many different programs do you use? If you’re not using the best proposal software, it might be a long list.
For proposal teams still using manual processes, the necessary technology stack may include email, Word, Excel, Sharepoint, Slack, Grammarly, Trello and scheduling software, just to name a few. While these tools can be adapted to work with the proposal process, it’s far from ideal and they fall short when it comes to maximizing efficiency.
On the other hand, proposal management software specializes in solving problems for proposal professionals. It empowers your team to save time, improve collaboration and automate the RFP response process. The result? More consistent, complete and compelling proposals that took less time.
As you might expect, there are a lot of options when it comes to proposal software. Fortunately, that means there’s a good option for every business and every budget. With a little research, consideration and preparation, you can find the best proposal software for your business.
In this blog, we’ll explore everything you need to know to make the right choice for you. To start, we’ll define what proposal management software is and who uses it. Next, I’ll share a list of must-have features and considerations to explore when buying proposal software. Finally, I’ll share the biggest benefits of RFP software according to RFP360 customers.
- What is proposal management software?
- Must-have proposal software features
- What to do before you buy
- Key considerations for finding the best proposal software
- Benefits of RFP response software according to users
What is proposal management software?
Proposal management software, or just proposal software, is technology that enables a seller to answer a buyer’s request for proposal (RFP) using knowledge management, collaboration and automation functionality.
Also called RFP response software, RFP management software and bid software, these RFP management platforms are typically subscription- and cloud-based. The technology facilitates content storage and organization, internal and external collaboration, proposal project management and proposal automation.
In addition to improving RFP responses, proposal management software is well suited for answering any standardized questionnaire. For example, it also improves the response process for requests for information (RFIs), requests for quotations (RFQs), requests for qualifications (RFQs), due diligence questionnaires (DDQs) and security questionnaires.
How to know if you need proposal software
Any organization that answers RFPs to provide information to potential customers and win business can benefit from proposal management software. However, there are a few common scenarios that often prompt an investment in software.
- When a single proposal coordinator is overwhelmed managing RFPs for the entire business
- In organizations where individual sales representatives respond to RFPs themselves
- When inefficiency leads to missed deadlines and lost revenue
- If the organization adopts an RFP strategy to facilitate business growth by answering more RFPs
Industries that regularly answer RFPs
RFPs are used by organizations of all kinds and sizes to purchase almost everything under the sun. However, RFPs are particularly prevalent in organizations that exchange complex goods and services. In addition, the RFP is a key tool for procurement teams that practice strategic sourcing. In these industries, answering RFPs is likely a weekly occurrence.
- Software and technology
- Construction and engineering
Must-have proposal software features
The best proposal software has a combination of tools that empower your proposal team and organization to answer RFPs more effectively. There are three core functions that you’ll find in every RFP software solution: knowledge management, proposal management and automation.
Knowledge management: Proposal content library
Knowledge management functionality is the foundation of any proposal software. When applied to a proposal content library, knowledge management is a powerful tool for efficiency. Indeed, among Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) members, 85 percent rate their knowledge library extremely useful. In addition, it is the most common RFP response tool used by APMP members. One review of proposal software put it this way:
“The best part of the software for me is having the knowledge library ready and available to pull from when a new RFP comes in, rather than having to search through past proposals to find a response I want.” – G2 review of RFP360
So, when you consider which RFP software is best for your company, the knowledge library should be a top priority.
Proposal knowledge management features and considerations
There are a number of things to look for in a knowledge library, but above all, it should be easy to use. As you explore features and functionality, ask yourself if the average user would be able to quickly and easily use the software. Some of the factors listed below are deal breakers while others are simply worth considering and asking about.
- Search functionality
- Keyword and Boolean advanced search for a Google-like experience
- Exact match searches or synonym recognition with natural language processing
- Duplicate record detection to avoid messy data and uncertainty
- Search filtering by tag, category or metadata to narrow results
- Data management
- Answer audit data and continual change tracking of user updates and change times
- Categorization and tagging to separate and organize groups of data
- Accounts, subaccounts, hierarchies and user roles so the right people have the right information
- Data security certifications to ensure that your data, as well as your potential customer’s data is safe
- Response creation and formatting
- Ability to embed attachments, links, photos and video to enrich answers
- Rich text formatting for improved scanning and readability
- Variable text fields for inserting company name, contact info and more
Proposal management: Workflow, task management and collaboration
RFP project management is the element of proposal software that enables organizations to use the knowledge base to answer RFPs. Managing the people, data and tasks involved in responding to an RFP is a challenge, but these features make it easier.
- Workflow and task management
- Role assignment and notifications so who is responsible for what task is clear
- Real-time progress tracking with easy to read visualizations for fast updates
- Time-savings tracking for return on investment and proposal cost tracking
- Collaboration functionality
- Real-time, multi-user answer editing so your team can work simultaneously
- Record notes and comments to share ideas and edit suggestions
- Engage external resources with automatic reply answer uploading
- Review and approval functionality to ensure accuracy and compliance
- Microsoft and browser extensions that empower you to access your knowledge library outside of the platform.
- Questionnaire handling
- Import from Word, Excel and PDF to quickly begin filling out the RFP response
- Section and question identification — either manual or automatic
- Export back into buyer’s requested format: Word, Excel and PDF
Automation: Process and content
Proposal automation capabilities expand each year as technology advances. Indeed, because most RFP management platforms follow the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, you can expect to see regular improvements. Even now, automation brings your content and process together and completes tedious tasks for you.
- Process automation
- Notifies contributors of assignments with individual emails
- Sends follow-up reminders as the due date for incomplete work approaches
- Automatic submission after approval and receipt confirmation when the RFP is issued using a full-circle solution
- CRM integration so your sales, marketing and customer success teams are on the same page
- Content automation
- Identifies and surfaces relevant answers using answer intelligence (AI)
- Suggests most relevant answer based on match percentage
- Establishes regular content review cycles to prompt subject matter experts to update content
What to do before you buy
Create your business case
If you’re ready to improve your proposal process but unsure if you can gain buy-in from your organization, consider building an RFP software business case. In addition to the business case, a return on investment (ROI) projection is often compelling.
Need help getting started? Download our business case template here: RFP software business case template.
This is also a good point to establish benchmarks in the process that will enable you to track improvements over time and share the value of your efforts with the business. For example, start tracking the number of questions per RFP, how long each RFP takes to prepare, how many questions can be answered from previous content and so on.
To explore the value of RFP software and how to calculate ROI, download this ebook: Measuring the value of RFP software.
What do you actually need? To answer this question, you must first state your problem. For example, ‘Answering RFPs is inefficient because people, tasks and information are scattered everywhere.’ With this problem statement in mind, make a list of features that are either must-haves, nice to haves or not necessary.
Now, as you seek out the best proposal solution for you, stick to your scope. It’s easy to get caught up in flashy features and functionality. Then, before you know it, you feel like you need to go with the tool that checks the most boxes. Instead, find the option that checks the right boxes and negotiate from there to secure the best value.
Ultimately, you don’t want to buy more software than you need before you even know if your team will actually use it. Encouraging adoption is hard enough without the pressure of trying to get value out of advanced tools immediately.
Think of it like this: Buying software can be a little like trying not to waste food at a buffet. You start by filling your plate with an amount that will likely satisfy you. Then, later if you’re still hungry, you can always go back for more. When it comes to software, expansion is always an option.
Take it for a test drive
Get a preview of how your proposal process will improve by trying proposal software out for yourself. Ask to have access to a demo environment or trial to really get a sense for which proposal software is best.
Dedicate a few hours to navigating different scenarios and exploring how your process would work using a centralized system. Initially, you just want to familiarize yourself with the navigation, organization and features. Then, invite other users to use the system and answer a mock RFP so each person sees how their part of the process works.
Check reviews and customer feedback
Still not sure about it? Check out what other users like you have said. Platforms like G2, Capterra and GetApp feature reviews of the best proposal software. Each review is written by a customer and covers a variety of topics. In addition, some review platforms provide the industry of the reviewer so you can locate feedback from peers who likely have a similar use case to you.
Key considerations for finding the best proposal software
The value of any software investment depends on more than just features and functionality. Indeed, there are a number of intangible factors that are just as important. These considerations are about how the software and company work rather than what the tool does.
Ease of use
To deliver value, your users must see the value of using the platform. Consequently, the best proposal software is designed with this in mind and delivers value quickly. When you view demos, apply the scenarios to your unique proposal process. Another measure of ease of use is considering if an untrained user could navigate the platform and complete basic actions without support? Indeed, this is particularly important in organizations where subject matter experts and executive approvers vary from one project to another. Generally, they may only use the system a handful of times per year each.
The biggest influences on ease of use are layout, navigation and functionality. Unfortunately, you’ll find that some tools simply can’t be used productively without regular practice. So, ask yourself: Could an occasional follow the process inside the platform with minimal assistance? Is the layout and user experience intuitive? Are the features easy to find and use? Are they cluttered and overwhelming or do you have exactly what you need when you need it?
You want to invest in a company that values innovation. Competition is fierce and your proposal software should give you an advantage. Look for a company that creates thought leadership content, follows RFP trends and works with experts in the field. Ideally, they use these insights to create new features and enhancements that deliver value to your business.
Some good questions to ask are: Is the company growing? Do they take action when they receive customer feedback? Do they have a clear direction for the future to keep you ahead of your competition? What will they do to remain the best proposal software available?
Explore advice from RFP experts in this ebook: The future of RFPs.
Customer success (CS) and company culture go hand-in-hand. When you work with customer success teams, you’ll quickly understand what the company’s priorities are. Is support readily available, friendly and knowledgeable? Or, do they struggle to understand your issue, pass you off from person to person or simply not have a good answer. While the platform should be easy to use, the best proposal software companies are always there to help when you need it.
No matter what RFP software you select, you’ll go through onboarding and implementation with the customer success team. So, clear communication and organization is important. Before you onboard, you’ll want to do some data clean up on your existing knowledge library. For instance, eliminate duplicates and dated information. Then, ask your CS representative if they’ll upload the initial bank of data for you. In addition, they should work through your first RFP response with you as a part of training.
Helpful customer success questions to ask: What level of training and support is included? Can I talk with a CS manager with experience in my industry? How long is the average customer’s time to value? What resources are available for self-service support? How will the company ensure successful implementation and adoption?
As with all software purchases, value is always a factor. But wait — notice I didn’t say price. Certainly, the two are related, but they’re not the same thing. Often, value is quantified in a return on investment (ROI) calculation. The higher the ROI, the better. So, it’s important to refer back to your scope.
Think of it like this: You’re considering two options. Platform A is a bigger company that’s flashier, but costs more. On the other hand, platform B is easy to use and meets your needs for a fraction of the cost. In this scenario, platform B is likely the better fit for your organization. As you discuss budget and cost with your organization, focus on value, not cost. This chart from G2 offers helpful questions focused on both elements.
So, when weighing the value of proposal platforms, consider: How is pricing calculated? By user, data or project? Will you be able to scale if your team grows without penalty? Is setup and data migration included? Will additional training cost extra? What is the contract term? Are integrations included?
Benefits of proposal management software (according to users)
Even if you’re not solving an immediate problem, finding and implementing the best proposal software delivers impressive benefits. As you explore these benefits as stated by proposal software users, imagine their potential when applied to your business.
Respond to RFPs in less time
“[Benefits we’ve seen include] centralization of information and significant time savings from typing out or manually copying previous answers.” – Steven W. courtesy of G2
Answer more RFPs
“RFP360 has allowed us to have multiple team members and subject matter experts collaborate together. This has allowed us to increase the number of leads we are able to respond to in a short period of time.” – Ann J. courtesy of G2
Build a valuable knowledge library
We use the software to organize and manage our content library containing more than 3000 records. The data included with each record helps us confidently select the best answer. – G2 user review
“Across the board, we have had great experiences in collaboration with the platform, and it makes my job responding to proposals much easier.” – Braden S. courtesy of G2
Improve your win rate
“This has saved my team time with creating proposals and helped us to increase our win percentage.” – Renee R. courtesy of G2
Ensure consistency and repeatability
“RFP360 will save you valuable person hours while helping ensure quality and consistency to responses for RFP questions.” – Matt C. courtesy of G2
“All of [our] technical sales teams [are now] using this tool to answer risk assessments and security questionnaires. It’s our go to tool now.” – Aslesha N. courtesy of G2
Capture RFP data
“The platform has allowed us to centralize our data to increase our productivity, accountability and accuracy.” – Steven W. courtesy of G2
To learn more about the potential of RFP data, check out this blog: RFP data: Explore the untapped value
Employee onboarding and knowledge retention
“…having the knowledge saved in RFP360 has helped all of our new team members learn functionality.”- Katherine B. courtesy of G2
Ultimately, the goal of every proposal team is to win more RFPs, more often with less effort and RFP software makes that possible. After all, the proposal process is complicated and time consuming enough without resorting to tools that aren’t designed for what you need. By centralizing the RFP response process, your team can work more efficiently, collaboratively and successfully together.