What is RFP automation? The basics, benefits and myths
Automation is everywhere. From paying bills to birthday reminders the world is becoming increasingly automatic. So it should come as no surprise that the request for proposal process is evolving to leverage automation — and it will make your life easier.
In fact, a recent survey of chief procurement officers (CPOs) indicated that digital procurement strategies are becoming more widely adopted. The study reported that 33 percent of procurement leaders believe technology will help deliver on their objectives and value.
As digital transformation continues to change the way we work, marketing automation tools like RFP software are increasingly affordable, accessible and impactful. Businesses who adopt proposal automation into their processes save time and improve outcomes.
Despite the benefits, there are some lingering misconceptions and myths that can make automation seem scary, but it’s not — I promise. The best way to understand how to harness automation to the advantage of your to-do list and business is to learn more about it.
In this article, I’ll discuss RFP automation basics, the benefits of automation and the myths to help you be more successful.
The basics: What is RFP automation?
RFP automation is simply the use of technology to perform tasks in the procurement process. Automation has come a long way in the last decade. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing have made automating mundane tasks easier than ever. SaaS RFP software incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) to solve everyday procurement problems — saving procurement professionals and bid writers precious time.
For example, if you issue RFPs, you may need to set a reminder to issue an annual security questionnaire or conduct a vendor evaluation. On the other hand, if you’re a vendor who responds to RFPs, you might need to create a notification for an executive to review and approve a new answer or create an alert when an answer is modified. All of these things can be done quickly using RFP automation software.
Many steps in the RFP process are manual, repetitive and time-consuming, but what can you actually use RFP technology to automate? From reminders and notifications to project management and response completion, there is a wealth of automation opportunities.
RFP steps you can now automate to speed up your proposal process
- RFP question selection
- Vendor profile review and updates
- RFP progress tracking
- Response reminders
- Proposal scoring
- Vendor evaluations
- Apple-to-apples pricing tables
- Answer selection based on AI recommendations
- Task management for contributors, subject matter experts and approvals
- Knowledge management and knowledge library updates
- Internal response and proposal progress tracking
- Security questionnaire answer selection
- Workflow tracking
- Data analysis and ROI tracking
These common RFP steps, done manually, may take a couple of minutes or hours each. Using automation to move workflows forward more quickly saves time. Which allows procurement professionals to focus on higher-value objectives.
Top 3 benefits of automation
Beyond simply making RFPs easier, automation has far-reaching benefits to the wider business.
1. Time savings and productivity
Time savings and productivity is where individuals most feel the impact of automation. When you spend less time completing routine, mundane tasks, you can apply that time savings to other projects.
For buyers and procurement professionals who issue RFPs, RFIs, DDQs, security questionnaires and other requests, they can spend less time manually composing requests using RFP templates. They can also easily calculate response scores and compare vendors side-by-side. Instead, they can use the time saved to pursue more strategic goals that benefit their business.
For vendors who receive these RFPs, RFIs, DDQs and security questionnaires, automation means they can respond quickly and confidently. Then they can move on to the next RFP opportunity or questionnaire.
In a recent case study the SaaS talent management company, Cegid, described their old process:
“We kept a complete list of all our previous sales proposals — which were in Excel, Word or PDF format — on our internal network. We would search through those files to find content for new proposals we were creating. It would take hours to find all the answers we needed, and a lot of times, we just relied on our memory… You constantly have to update it, and we could never find the time.”
After adopting RFP automation software, the company was able to double the number of proposals they could respond to annually, leveraging answer intelligence automation to save time. When responding to RFPs, more successful submissions means more chances to win and increase revenue.
2. Consistency and compliance
Much of the inefficiency associated with the RFP process can be traced to a single core issue — siloed knowledge. Manually issuing and completing RFPs often involves using countless emails, messages, calls and spreadsheets to move the request process forward. Siloed knowledge increases the risk of inconsistent processes and incorrect information being sent out. Solving this problem by centralizing knowledge is where RFP management tools really shine.
For example, Swish Maintenance responds to around 200 RFPs per year to support business growth. Using a knowledge library with content that they categorized, tagged, deduplicated and updated they were able to provide more up-to-date answers saying,
“…the good responses we want to reuse are all in one place. Sometimes we just need to provide pricing or a quick quote, and other times we’ll have to give a more detailed response. Now I can just go straight [to the knowledge library] and find everything we need.”
Consistency and compliance can be improved by removing the barriers to knowledge. RFP software offers a collaborative environment where common RFP questions and answers can be regularly updated and approved. SaaS RFP software empowers responsible team members to update and collaborate from anywhere so the knowledge library can be leveraged by the rest of the business with confidence.
3. Data capture and analytics
Data and analytics are the future of procurement. A report from Deloitte indicates that 54 percent of CPOs surveyed believe that analytics will have the highest impact on business in the next two years. Data gathered from automated processes allows businesses to quantify RFP software ROI, calculate cost optimization, evaluate opportunities for process efficiency improvements and more.
For example, Piper Jordan, an employee benefits company, felt they were spending too much time on their RFP process saying, “Our RFP process was very cumbersome. We had lots of text to review, and there was a great deal of manual intervention when it came to aggregating data. It just wasn’t the best use of our time.” After implementing their RFP technology they were able to see benefits from automation almost immediately, redirecting more than 40 hours per week. “When you think about overhead just in terms of aggregating and analyzing data… that’s a full-time job. So, we’re a lot more efficient now because the tool is automating that process.”
With automated processes in an RFP software platform, data is more easily captured and analyzed. If procurement data from the RFP process was more reliably and widely collected it could be leveraged to predict customer demands, track trends, better evaluate buying cycles and evaluate vendor performance. The insights could be endless.
Automation’s wider impact
Automation is at its best when it’s taking mundane, repetitive tasks that waste your time and doing them for you. Automation, once adopted, often works in the background and frees employees to focus on other tasks. A study by McKinsey estimates that by 2065, automation could increase productivity by up to 1.4%. It may not sound impressive but to put it in context, it’s more than twice the productivity gained from early IT advancements.
Myths about RFP automation
There are a lot of components to automation and a good deal of misinformation. So, let’s clear a few things up.
1. Automation is going to take my job
RFP software is a tool, not a replacement for people — sales and the RFP process are still very human. While RFP software can help issue and complete RFPs; it can’t help verify the information, craft engaging answers or determine what vendor is the best fit. Even outside of the procurement process, McKinsey estimates that a very small number of jobs (less than five percent) could be automated entirely.
In fact, knowing how and when to leverage automation can make you an even more valuable employee. If you could spend less time managing manual tasks, you can answer another RFP, evaluate vendor ROI and act even more strategically to serve your business.
2. RFP automation software is too expensive
The cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) business model focuses on easy deployment and rapid return on investment (ROI) for customers. SaaS RFP software is typically subscription-based and must deliver value quickly to avoid churn in their customer base. The metric called time to value (TtV) measures ROI and quantifies the time from a user’s initial engagement to reaching the ‘ah-ha’ moment. Which is when the user realizes the value and possibility of the technology. This quick-value imperative means that RFP software companies regularly release new features, updates and enhancements. So you have access to the latest, greatest tools at a predictable price.
The inefficiency caused by avoiding automation may actually cost your business more in the long-run. Employees who aren’t equipped with the right tools and are overloaded by work are 68% less productive.
3. Proposal automation software only does one thing
One of the great things about RFP management tools is that thetechnology can be used in a lot of different ways. The system centralizes knowledge and is easily applied to any question and answer format. So, beyond automating the processes in RFx documents like RFIs, RFQs, RFBs; the technology also works well with security questionnaires, due diligence questionnaires, statements of work and proactive proposals. The value of RFP software extends to many departments across the entire business.
Why automation matters
Businesses that take advantage of the benefits of automation empower employees to devote more time to higher-level tasks. Which allows them to act more strategically and create better outcomes. A quote from the CPO survey nicely summarizes why RFP automation and digital transformation matter, saying:
“Digitally maturing organizations are often better at planning a long-term digital strategy, investing adequately, attracting talent and developing a digital culture. Additionally, it is critical to implement a digital strategy in an agile manner and scale small experiments into enterprise-wide initiatives.”