What to Look for in an RFP Response Tool
Responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) is often cumbersome and time-consuming, which is why many organizations look for an RFP response tool to streamline the process.
But determining which tool is most effective can be tricky.
Below, we cover what an RFP response tool is and isn’t, and which features are most important.
RFP response tools that don’t make the cut
First, let’s look at what an RFP response tool isn’t.
While many organizations use manual tools to simplify proposal management, the results are often less than ideal — as Brandon Fyffe, business development associate at CareHere, can attest.
“There’s a lot of workarounds for not having RFP management software, but they’re just not the right tool for the job,” he said. “You need something that’s specifically made for RFP responses.”
For example, many companies use Excel to track and manage their RFP response process … but that can have disastrous results.
The main problem with Excel is that it can easily lead to multiple versions of the same document floating around different departments. This means you can never be sure you have the most up-to-date information in any given spreadsheet.
Organizations also often use Outlook as their RFP response tool, and the results are similar.
“Having multiple versions of several RFPs floating through inboxes was just a mess,” said Beverly Blakely Jones, National Geographic Learning |Cengage supervisor.
Fortunately, Beverly and her team now use an effective RFP response tool that streamlines and simplifies the process of creating winning proposals.
“It’s much more efficient and cleaner than managing RFPs via email,” Beverly said. “There’s no version confusion, and we can make sure content was updated and approved recently.”
Let’s take a look at what an effective RFP response tool looks like, so you can find a solution that allows you to enjoy similar results.
Top features to look for in an RFP response tool
While all RFP response tools will be a little different, there are a few features and functionality you don’t want to go without.
1. A searchable knowledge base
Having a searchable knowledge base is absolutely critical. In fact, any solution that doesn’t have this feature probably shouldn’t even be considered an RFP response tool at all.
The fact is, the biggest problem with proposals is the number of time teams spends reinventing the wheel.
Think about it for a second. How many RFPs have you received that ask the same questions?
Sure, each of them likely has something specific they want to cover, but there are usually standard questions that almost every RFP asks.
Unfortunately, few organizations have a system in place to reuse past responses effectively.
Before finding an effective RFP response tool, Beverly and the rest of the Cengage team experienced this problem first-hand.
“It all came to a head as managers kept getting kickback,” Beverly said. “The product SMEs [subject matter experts] and marketing team were tired of answering the same questions over and over. They knew there had to be an easier way to manage our RFP responses.”
To solve this problem, you need a knowledge base to store past responses. That way your team doesn’t have to ask multiple SMEs for answers or search through several disparate databases.
And making it searchable is crucial.
If users can’t find the answers they’re looking for quickly, the knowledge base won’t do any good.
Ant Cousins, director of customer success at ProFinda, suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) may be necessary to ensure users can find the information they need, even if they lack the knowledge needed to search effectively.
“If employees don’t know how to do something, chances are they’re not going to be great at phrasing their requirements. Poorly worded questions mean poor searches and therefore poor responses,” he wrote in an article on Medium. “In addition, most internal search mechanisms default to simple keyword searches for out of date stored knowledge or posting questions to broad groups or networks, hoping the right person sees it. Again, a painful experience with poor results is liable to encourage the employee not to bother in the future. AI can now help us ask better questions by analysing previous questions and comparing profiles in the same way that dating websites and media platforms ‘suggest’ or ‘recommend’ results to us. The data is there, we just need the platforms to access it.”
2. Automated reminders
If you’re honest with yourself, you probably forget things from time to time.
It’s okay. We all do it.
But that’s no excuse for missing a proposal deadline.
Kc Agu, a consultant, coach, public speaker, investor, and freelance writer, touts automated reminders as a way to overcome this challenge.
“I cannot tell you how many times I have failed to deliver for certain clients simply because I did not put in place a system to remind me,” he wrote in an article on Entrepreneur. “I have since learned the power of reminders.”
Make sure to find an RFP response tool that includes automated reminders so you can keep yourself and your team on task and on schedule.
3. Collaborative work
Remember when we went over what an RFP response tool isn’t? The biggest issue with manual solutions like Excel and Outlook is that they encourage version-control issues that can derail your progress.
That’s why you need an RFP response tool that allows your entire team to work on a single document — from any location, at any time.
Responding to RFPs is a team sport. You need several key stakeholders — SMEs, proposal writers, proposal managers, marketers, product and sales — to create an effective proposal that addresses the prospect’s concerns and leads to a win.
Don’t settle for an RFP response tool that doesn’t empower the entire team to collaborate.
An RFP response tool can simplify your proposal process … as long as you choose the right solution.
We recommend ditching manual tools like Excel and Outlook and switching to cloud-based solutions that have a searchable knowledge base, automated reminders, and support internal collaboration.