No matter what industry or role you work in, tracking down the right information at the right time is key to success. This is especially true for proposal managers and RFP teams working to meet deadlines. However, thanks to technology, centralizing information in a proposal content library is easier than ever.

With a proposal content library, the manual process of searching through emails, old proposals and spreadsheets is over. Finding answers is now easily completed with a simple search. But, as most proposal managers know, to be truly useful, the business must practice careful RFP content management.

This post will explore the value of a knowledge library, the importance of maintaining and managing your RFP content and best practices to help keep your proposal process running smoothly.

    1. Add content to your proposal content repository strategically
    2. Organize your RFP content library with tags
    3. Give the right people the right access
    4. Schedule regular proposal content reviews
    5. Teach key search skills to navigate the knowledge library

Proposal content library basics

So, exactly what is a proposal content library? A proposal content library is a centralized location where RFP response content is stored digitally. In some businesses or industries, it is called a proposal content repository or RFP content repository. Alternatively, teams that also store responses to security questionnaires or due diligence questionnaires may use the more general terms, knowledge library or content knowledge library.

Most proposal content libraries are created in Word, Excel, Google docs or an RFP software solution, like RFP360, with knowledge management functionality. Information can be copied and pasted into the centralized proposal content repository or, in the case of RFP software, simply imported from previous proposals.

Knowledge libraries with collaboration capabilities deliver even more value. The ability to work together more closely benefits both proposal managers and subject matter experts. As a result, they bypass the time-consuming back and forth of email and achieve true collaboration.

The value of an RFP content library

Before the rise of digital transformation, proposal managers had to manually search through old RFPs, emails and documents to find the answers they needed. As intranets and cloud-based solutions grew in popularity, centralizing and storing information in a proposal content library quickly followed. 

RFP content repositories bring improved efficiency, transparency and accuracy to the proposal process. A business empowered with a well-managed, organized content knowledge library sees a lot of benefits.

7 benefits of a knowledge library

  1. Easy, quick access to the information required complete proposals
  2. Consistent terminology, tone and style in proposal content
  3. Immediate and continual access to subject matter expert knowledge
  4. Faster onboarding for new subject matter experts
  5. Clear definitions of team responsibilities for revising and updating content
  6. Sales team that is empowered complete proposals with approved content
  7. Extended value to entire company offered by answering common questions

The importance of managing your content knowledge library

Finding information quickly is one of the most common challenges facing businesses. In fact, the International Data Corporation (IDC) — a global provider of market intelligence — released a study that shows a typical knowledge worker spends “about 2.5 hours per day, or roughly 30 percent of the workday, searching for information.”

Proposal knowledge management

To solve this problem, businesses have invested in digital solutions to help collect valuable information. However, as information has become easier to retain the flood of data presents a new challenge. The IDC article goes on to say:

“Intranet technology, content and knowledge management systems, corporate portals, and workflow solutions have all generally improved the lot of the knowledge worker. These technologies have improved access to information, but they have also created an information deluge that makes any one piece of information more difficult to find.”

Much of the value of RFP software is delivered through knowledge management functionality designed to make life easier. The practice of knowledge management focuses on saving, centralizing and organizing valuable information. Not only does RFP software store key proposal content for future use, but it also empowers users to organize and search for content. Proactive knowledge management is a crucial skill for effective proposal management.

RFP content management best practices

The efficiency of using an RFP content repository depends on how well it is managed. Certainly, without proper maintenance, it can become a cluttered, unorganized mess of information. In order to avoid this challenge, follow these knowledge library best practices.

1. Add content to your proposal content repository strategically

Add RFP content repository

How do you decide what goes into your knowledge library? Not every answer in every proposal or questionnaire needs to be collected and retained. You have to be strategic when building your proposal content library. Auditing content is an ongoing process, but beginning with best practices in mind will go a long way to keeping your RFP content repository clean and usable.

Avoid bulk uploading from old proposals

When creating your content knowledge library, it’s important to review the information you intend to include. Think of it like this: when you move to a new house, you don’t move the box of old cassette tapes and CDs gathering dust in your basement. Don’t bring things you don’t want to keep into your knowledge library. 

Many RFP software solutions offer automated uploading of old proposals. On the surface, this option appears to offer a huge time savings. However, in practice, bulk uploading old proposal content creates a lot of unnecessary, out-of-date and duplicative clutter. 

Analyze question intent to avoid adding duplicate content

From one proposal to another, there will certainly be similarities. In fact, in my experience, most proposals received by a business share nearly 60 percent of their content. These questions are a great place to start. Examine several proposals and identify core questions that exist in almost every proposal.

Take care to review several old proposals together, the language will differ but focus on the purpose behind the question and consolidate responses based on intent. 

For example these questions have the same purpose. Each asks “who are you” however, each proposal might have a slightly different answer.

    • What is your company’s background?
    • Explain your company history
    • What does your company do and how long have you been in business?
    • Describe your company experience

Evaluate questions for future usefulness

Despite a large portion of similar information, some RFPs will ask questions so specific that the answer simply won’t apply to any future RFP you might receive. Likewise, some RFPs are so customized to the company’s use case that reusing the content would take just as much rework as creating the answer from scratch. Evaluating questions critically is a key part of RFP content management. 

Genericize your previous proposal content and add place holders

The last step before adding new responses to your RFP content repository is to remove any previous language, terminology or identifiers. For example, add placeholders like <<company name>>, <<project name>>, <<contact name>> to stand in for specific information that was unique to the previous proposal. There’s nothing more embarrassing than sending a proposal with another company’s information still in it.

Because the amount of information created is constantly growing, managing what goes into the knowledge library is crucial. Evaluating the merit of content and deciding if it should be retained will avoid information overload.

2. Organize your proposal content library with tags

Content tags

When it comes to knowledge management and keeping your proposal content organized and easy to search, nothing is more helpful than tags. Using tags adds key metadata to your RFP content, allowing it to be categorized. Tags are keywords and phrases you can associate to your proposal content. Then, when you later search for those keywords and phrases, you can isolate your search to just the tagged content.

Content tag categories

There are lots of ways to tag content. For instance, you may serve many different industries and find it helpful to tag responses accordingly — finance, healthcare, technology and so on. When you receive an RFP from a prospect in that industry, a simple search allows you to quickly access relevant proposal content.

Organizing RFP content by markets, however, might not make sense for your organization. It’s important to determine the organization method that would work best for your company’s employees. The important thing is to determine the categories that work for your users.

For example, you might choose to tag content based on:

    • Product lines
    • Internal groups that own the content
    • Security question categories
    • Geographic location

Tagging best practices for RFP content management

Use broad tags and limit the number

As you create tags in your RFP content repository, keep them fairly general. If too many tag variations are available, finding the exact one you need can become confusing. Limiting the total number of tags to less than 50 will keep your knowledge categorized and useful without being too segmented. 

You also don’t need to combine tags to create highly specific categories that you’ll rarely use. For example, if you serve the healthcare and finance industries you may have proposal content in your library applicable to both. Instead of creating a new tag called “healthcare finance” it is better to tag it with both “healthcare” and “finance.”

Share your list of tags

Once you’ve established your core tags, publish the list. Then, when anyone in your organization needs to find information in the content knowledge library, they know where to start. Socializing your tags also has the benefit of validating your thinking and further defining tags. After all, what makes sense to you may not make sense to somebody else. Understanding the logic and justification behind tags will make your RFP content repository useful to everyone who needs it.

Review your tags regularly

It’s important to review your tag list regularly to make sure all of your tags are still useful. If your tags are well thought out and you have stored enough relevant proposal content, you should see between 10 to 20 records or more associated with each tag.

If you find an individual content record has more than four tags, you should reevaluate whether each tag is needed. On the other hand, if you identify untagged content, review it to determine whether the content is still useful. And if so, take a moment to add any relevant tags to ensure it can be found.

See how tags work in RFP360.

3. Give the right people the right access

proposal account access

You might want to share proposal content with certain users, but not with others. In some cases, providing access to the entire proposal content library may be an unnecessary distraction. How you grant access to your knowledge library depends entirely on where you manage it. 

Version control and access in Word or Excel

If you’re managing your content repository in Word or Excel, your ability to collaborate with subject matter experts is somewhat limited. In order to collaborate with colleagues you may need to extract a set of questions from the knowledge library, create a new document with only the relevant info and send it over to your subject matter expert for review. Sending document versions through email can be difficult to track, so if you have an intranet platform it may be useful to share documents there instead.

Permission management in Google docs

Live editing available in Google docs makes collaboration easier, but permission management is still a challenge. Permissions are set at a document level so limiting access to your knowledge would mean creating individual documents for each subject matter expert. For Google sheets experts, there may be an available script to limit access by user by tab, but it’s far from a perfect solution. Google drive’s search makes it possible to find content using keywords in multiple documents, but the process is cumbersome. It’s a time-consuming workaround. 

User permissions in RFP software

RFP software makes setting user permissions easy. Using account hierarchies, you can easily ensure a user is only able to view and edit information that is relevant to their role. This empowers organizations to break down silos without putting sensitive client data into the wrong hands. 

For example, if your company has multiple divisions, such as geographically separate groups, hierarchies and subaccounts can help you localize projects and users. Within each sub account, you can create additional subaccounts, continuing until you have a hierarchy structure that accurately reflects your organization. This empowers users to easily access all the data and information related to the sub account in which they’re searching.

In another example, if you’re a consultant who helps clients craft proposals, you can create a hierarchy structure to keep client work separate. When you set up clients as users in subaccounts, they cannot see activity in other client accounts.

See how RFP360 creates access control.

4. Schedule regular content reviews

Proposal content reviews

As your proposal content repository grows, implementing regular reviews will help things run smoothly. Old, unreviewed information opens you up to risk. Sending out-of-date information can compromise your chance of winning an RFP and damage your reputation. 

As the proposal manager or sales person, you simply cannot keep track of every change throughout the business. Consequently, you won’t know when a change needs to be reflected in your response content. This is why RFP content management requires regularly scheduled updates to the proposal content library.  

I recommend assigning subject matter experts the relevant tags to review on a regular basis. For most of your proposal content, reviewing once every six months is probably enough. However, for areas that change quickly, like security information for software a more frequent review cycle might be necessary.

Be sure to communicate expectations. It can also be helpful to encourage proactive updates when subject matter experts know changes have been made. And, finally, don’t be shy about following up and being persistent when proposal content reviews are past-due.

See the proposal content review process in RFP360.

5. Teach key search skills

RFP content search

Once you have your proposal content library set up and organized, it’s time to make sure your team is getting the most out of it. Finding the right content often comes down to knowing what to look for and how to search for it. It seems obvious, but understanding how search works is an underappreciated skill. The ability to search is key to success, according to IDC.

“Increasingly, search has become one of the most frequent, vital tasks a knowledge worker performs.”

There’s a big difference between computer logic and how humans think. Using Boolean search logic will help you quickly find information in your RFP content library. 

Boolean search basics

Most search engines leverage Boolean logic to find and narrow search results. Boolean search allows you to specify, group or exclude specific words using AND, OR and NOT functions.

AND search

AND logic only returns results that include all of the terms requested. This is useful when you’re looking for very specific information. For example, if you need answers for questions to respond to a potential client that provides financial technology, you could search for “finance AND technology.” 

RFP content search AND

OR search

OR will search for proposal content that has any of the search words entered. This is a great option when your key search term may have several synonyms. For instance, if you’re looking for responses that would fit for a banking client, you may want to search for “finance or banking.” Your search results will include any proposal content that contains either finance or banking.

RFP content repository OR

NOT search

NOT searches for results that have one term but excludes another. This is helpful when you know exactly what you want to find between two closely related terms. For example, if you need to provide information about your company’s diversity, but don’t want to see results about HR recruitment policies. Searching for “diversity NOT recruitment” will yield the most relevant results.

RFP content search NOT

Additional search options

In addition to AND, OR and NOT searching, you can combine the terms to further narrow results. You can also use quotation marks (“ ”) to request exact match for long search terms. And finally, you can use parentheses to tell the search engine which operation you’d like completed first. 

For example, searching for “(banking OR finance) AND recruitment” will yield results that contain both banking recruitment and finance recruitment. Whereas “banking OR (finance AND recruitment)” will yield results that contain banking as well as results that contain both finance and recruitment.

How RFP software transforms RFP content management

Maintaining best practices for RFP content management is a challenge. However, RFP software makes the process much easier. The features of RFP software designed specifically to meet the unique needs of proposal managers and teams. Including everything mentioned above and more like, content importing, integrations, knowledge management extensions, tags, permissions, account hierarchy management and more ⁠— RFP software delivers huge value. 

Discussing the value of their knowledge library, RFP360 customer Matthew Combs from Cegid said: 

“We have a process we use to assign questions and upload content, which really accelerates our response time. We’re finding relevant content very quickly… it’s always easy to find the content we need.”

To learn more about how RFP360 improves RFP management, learn more about our knowledge management solution or request a demo to see it for yourself.

Originally published June 16, 2019 – Updated January 28, 2020