When it comes to answering requests for proposals (RFPs), efficiency is essential. Unfortunately, if you’re like many of your peers without an RFP response database, getting proposal answers is likely difficult and tedious. 

In fact, you likely spend countless hours looking for previous proposal content or waiting for subject matter experts to rewrite RFP answers from scratch. Consequently, one of the most important skills required for successful proposal management is RFP knowledge management. Indeed, whether you respond to five RFPs per year or 100, finding reliable information quickly saves you and your team time and frustration.

In this post, we’ll explore how to create an RFP answer library by leveraging knowledge management best practices. To start, I’ll share the basics of knowledge management and how they apply to RFP content and proposal management. Next, you’ll learn the steps to build and maintain your own RFP knowledge library. And to conclude, I’ll offer an overview of some of the benefits and value you and your proposal team can expect to receive from applying knowledge management to your RFP response process.

Proposal knowledge management basics

What is knowledge management?

There are dozens of definitions of knowledge management, but Gartner summarizes the term best saying:

“Knowledge management (KM) is a business process that formalizes the management and use of an enterprise’s intellectual assets. KM promotes a collaborative and integrative approach to the creation, capture, organization, access and use of information assets, including the tacit, uncaptured knowledge of people.”

Knowledge management is a relatively new practice among businesses. However, the value of the approach is immediately obvious to anyone who has spent hours searching for information. In fact, according to KMWorld, research indicates the cost of looking for information is significant: 

“Knowledge workers spend from 15 to 35 percent of their time searching for information. Searchers are successful in finding what they seek 50 percent of the time or less.”

Companies create massive amounts of data on a daily basis. For example, every customer email exchange, invoice, policy document and sales proposal contains information that is vital to the operation of your business. And without a system to save, organize and find that information again, all potential value disappears.

Indeed, time spent searching for information unsuccessfully or recreating knowledge that already exists represents a significant financial cost to your business. Consequently, the goal of knowledge management is to increase efficiency and productivity by making information readily available to those who need it.

Applying knowledge management to the proposal process

While we all know that every RFP is different, it’s also true that there is a significant overlap in the information requested in most RFPs. Our customers often estimate that 60-80 percent of the questions asked in the RFPs they receive were answered at least once already. So, when applied to the proposal process, knowledge management saves, centralizes and organizes those RFP answers for future use. 

In addition, saving and storing RFP data enables you to uncover customer trends, predict future opportunities and explore how variations of answers perform.

Where to store RFP responses 

So, where does all of this proposal content end up? Hopefully, in a searchable, centralized, cloud-based RFP response database. Your business may call this database a request for proposal library, content repository, body of knowledge, RFP answer library, RFP knowledge base or some combination of these terms. Regardless of what you call it, this is where your RFP responses live, from your company boilerplate to your list of competitive advantages.

RFP response database software options

Before you can begin building your proposal content repository, you have to select a solution to host it. There are two primary options: an editable shared document platform (Google Docs, Google Sheets, Sharepoint) or RFP software designed for proposal management. Both options offer a centralized location for real-time collaboration with subject matter experts as they create new RFP answers. In addition, both solutions are searchable and provide options for organizing. However, shared document platforms aren’t designed for knowledge management and will limit the efficiency of your RFP process.

Certainly there are pros and cons for each option, and selecting the right option for your team will depend on a variety of factors. However, you’ll find the primary differences are capabilities and cost. 

If your organization wants to respond to more RFPs by improving efficiency as part of an RFP strategy, proposal management software delivers a strong return on investment (ROI). On the other hand, with some creativity and patience, you can manually manage your knowledge base in a free shared document platform.

Knowledge management features in RFP360:
  • Real-time SME and stakeholder collaboration
  • Categorization tags and account hierarchies
  • Individual user roles and permissions
  • AI-powered search with filters
  • Fully auditable change tracking
  • Extensions for Chrome, Firefox and the Microsoft Suite
  • Duplicate identification
  • Automatic library review cycles
  • Task management and workflow tools
  • Bulk knowledge import and export

To explore the value of RFP software in depth, download the Measuring the value of RFP software ebook.

Measuring the value of RFP software [ebook]

How to create an RFP knowledge base for proposal content

Gather previous proposal content

The first step of building your knowledge base is to gather RFP question and answer pairs from previously completed proposals. Hopefully, some of this information is already digitized and ready to go. You may be tempted to only use RFPs that you won, however, it is beneficial to include as much data as possible.

Decide how you will organize and tag your data

To make your proposal content truly useful, you have to be able to find it quickly. This is where the organization piece of knowledge management comes into play. Consider how you would categorize each question and its corresponding answer. Also consider who should have access to what information.

RFP response software uses tags to catalog important aspects of your information. For example, you may use tags to segment knowledge by the industry it addresses, the region it’s applicable to or the section of the RFP it applies to. In addition, the software enables you to easily create account hierarchies to limit a user’s ability to view and edit sensitive information.

Review, update and refine

Now that you’ve collected and labeled your data, it’s time to review it before uploading it to your RFP response database. Start by locating duplicate questions and answers. Then, decide which version of the answer is your go-to response. Factors to take into account include deciding which answer is part of more winning proposals as well as how recently the answer was written or updated. 

After you’re done removing duplicates, review the question and answer sets. Look for any information that is no longer relevant or need updates. While reviewing all this information may be tedious, it’s important. Your knowledge base can only deliver value if it’s accurate.

Conduct training

One of the biggest factors that determine the success of knowledge management is buy-in from users. While most RFP response database software is very easy to use, hosting tailored training sessions will save you time in the long run. 

Indeed, your sessions should certainly cover search functionality and how to revise out-of-date content. In addition, your team must establish parameters for  when to create new knowledge records and which tags to use. Don’t forget to also update any supporting process documentation to reflect the changes.

Seek feedback and optimize

A successful RFP answer library is continually growing, changing and evolving to better serve your organization. Ideally, you will consistently update records and add new information as you encounter new RFP questions. Typically, we recommend setting general review sessions at least twice a year to solicit user feedback, review usage and ensure content consistency.

Benefits of creating an RFP response database

Applying a knowledge management approach to RFP answers delivers benefits and solves several common proposal team challenges. 

Stop wasting time searching for proposal content

We all know the old feeling. The sense of deja vu that comes when you read a question you’re sure you’ve answered before. Then you spend time searching through emails, notes and old RFPs to find it. Eventually, you give up and send the question to the subject matter expert who answered it last time, begging them to write it again.

However, with a well-organized knowledge library your answers are easy to find. Simply conduct a keyword or question search, pick the best answer and move on with your life. A recent review on G2 described the impact of their knowledge library saying, “Our library is so easy to access, update, and apply to incoming RFPs! It’s a game changer in terms of how fast we move and how many RFPs we’re able to execute.”

If you’re looking for an even faster way to complete RFPs, explore proposal automation.

Make life easy for your subject matter experts 

Working with subject matter experts isn’t always easy. They’re busy. And, just like you, they’re tired of answering the same questions over and over again. 

With a knowledge library, you can use the catalog of existing RFP responses to complete as much of the questionnaire as possible. Then, send any remaining questions that require input to the SME. As they answer new questions, your knowledge library grows. Subsequently, you can complete more of each RFP on your own.

Improve your proposal team’s consistency

We all know that asking two people the same question will probably result in two very different answers. Likewise, an RFP question that has been asked a dozen times may have a dozen answer variations. 

Luckily, a knowledge library serves as a single source of truth for your proposal team. So you only find the best version of each answer. In addition, proposal managers become more confident that the proposal is accurate.

Decide to bid or not to bid in less time

When considering to bid or not to bid on a new RFP opportunity, the time required to respond is always a factor. With an updated knowledge library, you can gauge how much new content is required and how much you can reuse. As your collection of responses grows, you’ll be able to take on more proposals in less time.

For organizations focused on growth, efficiency and productivity are key. Consequently, every minute you spend searching for information or recreating existing work represents wasted resources. And, for proposal managers, the lost time results in missed RFP opportunities.

Luckily, a well-managed RFP response database delivers accurate information to the right person at the right time ⁠— maximizing the value of your time and expertise.