If you find yourself with an abundance of requests for proposals (RFPs) and a shortage of time, you’re not alone. As you might expect, here at RFP360, we talk to a lot of proposal professionals about RFP response tools. Through hundreds of conversations, we’ve heard the good, the bad and the ugly. Luckily, there are a ton of great RFP response tools for almost every challenge.
Recently, our team got together to talk about the RFP tools we use ourselves as well as the tools our customers have told us they love. I’ve rounded up the best of the best here. Whether you’re a proposal team of one or one of many, there are tools that can make your RFP response process even better.
As you can see, proposal tools can help with everything from proofreading to peer networking. Some are simple, free programs that can be used as RFP response tools. Others are designed specifically to deliver high-value benefits to the RFP process. In this post, I’ll recommend and explore the best RFP response tools for the common challenges facing proposal managers. Armed with these RFP tools, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way this year.
21 top RFP response tools to simplify your proposal process
RFP project management tools
RFPs have a lot of moving parts. Pair that with a tight timeline and you may find yourself in a tough spot. Organizing all of the necessary people and tasks to meet your deadline can be a challenge. So, you need a good project management system to guide your process. These project management systems bring clarity to your process and help to keep everyone engaged and on track.
Why we like it: ARACI matrix gets everyone on the same page. This table-based system organizes the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in your RFP process, from subject matter experts (SMEs) to approvers. When used as an RFP tool, it clearly defines how each person will contribute to the proposal. It maps out who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed for each task of a project.
Why we like it: Having a suite of powerful planning and organizational tools in a single software is a huge benefit to proposal managers and their teams. ProofHub is a collaboration and project management software that works well for teams of every size across various industries.
From online proofing, task management, file management, and scheduling calendars to Gantt charts, Kanban boards, and time tracking, ProofHub empowers proposal teams to easily plan, collaborate, organize and deliver on-time RFP responses while ensuring team accountability. This easy-to-use, cloud-based SaaS tool has a minimal learning curve, which makes it easy to onboard new members, SMEs and proposal contributors.
Proposal collaboration tools
Anyone that has managed a proposal from start to finish knows that collaboration is crucial. In fact, a survey by Fierce indicated that 86 percent of employees blame workplace failures on poor collaboration. Admittedly, effective collaboration can be a challenge. Getting timely input from stakeholders, SMEs, business operations and content reviewers is a balancing act.
As the proposal manager, you need to convey urgency, but as a colleague you understand that SMEs have their own workloads outside of contributing to proposals. Meanwhile, input from SMEs is necessary to create a successful, complete proposal. To make collaboration easier, consider these RFP response tools.
Why we like it: The biggest benefit of working in Google Docs can be boiled down to one thing — real-time editing. Traditional word processors require document versions to be sent back and forth, making accurate tracking almost impossible. Whereas Google Docs allows multiple editors to work on the same document at the same time. Comments, task assignments, change tracking, auto save and permissions features are also available.
This free RFP tool is easy to use and has most of the same functionality and user experience as Microsoft Word. The only catch? Storage. Google offers 15GB of free storage per user for all of their Google account tools. This includes frequently used tools like Gmail messages, Google Drive and Google photos. So, it may not be ideal for those who use much of the Google suite. Likewise, it may not be a fit for teams who collaborate on dozens of multi-page proposals with large visual attachments.
Why we like it: If you’re managing your proposals without a centralized knowledge library, you’re probably communicating through email. The web of messages between colleagues, subject matter experts and stakeholders can quickly become overwhelming. In that tangled web, it’s easy to miss an email or two which is a scary thought. However, Boomerang can help. It’s a free RFP tool that can save you a ton of stress and reduce the risk of losing track of a response.
Boomerang is easy to download and add to your current Gmail account. It’s available for both desktop and mobile apps. The free version allows you to schedule 10 email sends per month. You can also monitor clicks and automate follow up emails if you don’t hear back from an SME. In addition, Boomerang offers paid plans to further customize your experience with content analysis, notes and integrations.
Time tracking tool for RFP responses
While time tracking software may not be an obvious part of a proposal manager’s set of RFP response tools, it’s a great addition. Here’s why – tracking time can save money. For instance, it can help you identify which parts of your process are most time consuming and should be optimized. It can also give you an idea of how much it costs your team to respond to an RFP, informing your go-no-go decisions.
Tracking time is required to calculate return on investment (ROI) for any efficiency-improving software (like most of the tools on this list). Even more, quantifying time and value gained is a great way to validate and justify budget spend on technology. At an individual level, using time tracking can help you find new ways to be more efficient and balance your workload.
Category: Time tracking and management application
Why we like it: TimeCamp works well for tracking both productivity and billable hours. So, it is a nice tool for proposal managers as well as RFP consultants. The tracking data gathered by the software can be compiled into easily readable charts and dashboards. In addition, it integrates with many of the most popular project management tools.
TimeCamp can be set up to run in the background without requiring you to manually stop and start a timer for every activity. It is customizable and can recognize and account for idle time. So, you can head to the breakroom for that slice of birthday cake without wondering if you turned your time tracker off.
Knowledge management for proposal content
Once you’ve collaborated to create great proposal content, you’ll want to make sure you get as much value from it as possible. But before you can use it, you have to be able to find it. A study from McKinsey estimated that the average worker spends 20 percent of their time searching for information. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that sifting through old proposals, emails and documents is one of the most frustrating parts of proposal management.
Today, there’s an easier way to capture, curate, categorize and search your past proposal content — with knowledge management.
Why we like it: The question-and-answer style format of Bloomfire is what makes it a good fit as an RFP response tool. Within the platform you can integrate with other apps or upload Word documents, PDFs, audio files and slide decks. Then the system indexes all of the words that appear. Pair the resulting data with AI-powered search, and knowledge is at your fingertips. If you can’t find an answer within the solution, you can crowdsource the information, which is helpful. However, it only works quickly if the people with the answers (your SMEs) are in the system regularly.
End-to-end RFP management software
RFP software combines knowledge management, collaboration, proposal management and more into one powerful platform. Unlike some of the other tools on this list that are designed with a broad audience in mind but can be adapted to RFPs, this software is created specifically to be an RFP response tool for proposal managers and their teams. If you’re looking to make dramatic improvements your RFP process, RFP software is the way to go.
Why we like it: RFP360 is the only RFP response software that serves both RFP issuers and responders. That full-circle perspective means that they’ve designed the platform to work seamlessly for both sides of the RFP. The result? Clearer communication, improved efficiency and better outcomes.
RFP360 incorporates knowledge management, content collaboration, RFP project management, time tracking, reporting and RFP automation in one platform. With simple pricing that includes unlimited storage, unlimited users and unlimited projects, it’s a great value and the best RFP tool available.
Every good proposal tells a story. The content in each of your proposals should be engaging, cohesive and compelling. It should clearly and professionally express why your business is exactly the solution the buyer is looking for. When it comes to accomplishing this, there are two main challenges for proposal managers.
First, bringing together answers written by a dozen or more authors can cause your proposal to feel disjointed and inconsistent. Everyone has a different communication style and tone of voice, but the proposal needs to feel on-brand and in-line with your organization’s previous interactions with the customer.
The second challenge that comes up when creating proposal content is proofreading. As language becomes more informal, spending time perfecting grammar and style may seem unnecessary. However, we all know someone who delights in finding spelling and punctuation errors – imagine that’s the person who will decide if your proposal makes the cut. Even for those who are less critical, errors can send the wrong message. Unfortunately, they can make your business seem unprofessional, uninvested and ambivalent about winning the bid.
Category: Web-based proofreading app and extension
Why we like it: One of the most popular and effortless online editing solutions, Grammarly can be used as a web app or a Chrome extension. Members of our sales team use the program to spot and correct errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. This RFP response tool is free to use and offers paid enhancements if you want even more customized assistance.
A word to the wise, while the program does its best to make helpful suggestions, it doesn’t always understand the nuance of context and language. As with anything, it’s a tool to make finding simple mistakes easier, but there’s no substitute for a final review with human eyes.
Why we like it: While Grammarly checks for proofreading errors, Readable evaluates for tone and sentiment. Our marketing team uses the app to review almost all of our blog content and online resources. It gauges how formal or informal your writing is in addition to how difficult it is to read. It makes suggestions to help you avoid sentences that are too long, clichés, unnecessary adverbs, passive voice and overly complex words. Proposal responses that are approachable and easy to read are more likely to be understood and remembered. This RFP response tool offers a free online version as well as an affordable paid downloadable app.
Category: Customizable style and tone checking app
Why we like it: Visible Thread is like a member of your marketing team that helps apply the company’s established style and verbiage to proposal responses. You can use this tool for RFPs to help ensure that capitalization, tone and word choice are consistent no matter who in the company wrote the response.
For example, if your business refers to buyers of your product as customers rather than clients, the system will recognize any incorrect usage of the word clients. Visible Thread also offers helpful reports that can show who has adopted the tool and measure improvements in writing.
Why we like it: Sometimes conveying complex ideas is easier in person. While you can’t meet with RFP decision makers, you can include video content in your proposal to help explain your business. Board Studios works with you to create video content that is eye-catching and compelling. Best of all, they focus on efficiency and pass the savings along to you. So, their video services are more accessible than you might think. Video content can not only help your prospect develop a deeper understanding, but it can also makes your company more memorable and relatable.
Proposal design tools
Just like the quality of your content, the way your proposal looks makes a statement. It’s like a first impression and can have a huge impact on how the person evaluating the proposal feels about your business. Your proposal should make the reader feel confident in your ability to deliver results.
Create a proposal that is visually engaging and conveys the care and attention the client can expect from your business. Use a great layout and good visual elements to send the right message.
Category: Layout builder and publication template app
Why we like it: Canva can help you create a modern, appealing proposal in no time. The software has dozens of proposal templates with lots of great page design options. Canva is easy to use and provides tools for customizing templates to meet your needs. Upload your brand photos, your potential customer’s logo, team photos and product images to quickly create a one-of-a-kind RFP response. Canva offers both free and premium packages to meet your needs.
Why we like it: Qwilr is great for creating engaging proposals. Within the templatized system you can customize your proposal with branded colors, fonts and formats for easy, consistent design. Qwilr also has an option for interactive pricing, making your proposals dynamic. The resulting presentations are stunning. However, the program will work best for informal or proactive proposals that allow room for some creativity. For extensive proposals with specific formatting guidelines and submission restrictions, Qwilr might not be the best fit.
Why we like it: Some concepts can be best conveyed with a chart or graphic. A well-placed graphic can help bring clarity to your RFP responses. ChartBlocks is a great tool for proposals when you need a customized chart or graphic. The program uses chart wizard to guide you through creation, selecting from dozens of charts. Import data from spreadsheets and then use the toolbar to update as needed.
Last-minute hard-copy proposal delivery
Much as we may try, some proposals can’t be completed until the very last minute. When the business requires a printed, physical copy of the proposal, prompt delivery can be the difference between winning and not being considered. In the past, that has meant a stressful rush to UPS or FedEx, but not anymore.
Why we like it: Delivering physical proposals on time is Mimeo’s bread and butter, so they understand your sense of urgency. They make printing and delivering a physical copy of a proposal as easy as digital delivery – it’s done with the click of a button. Simple and easy, just what you need after a last-minute proposal scramble.
Professional development tools for proposal managers
Proposal management requires a diverse set of skills, which is why education is one of the best proposal tools. In the busy world of responding to RFPs, opportunities to spend time on personal and professional development can be few and far between. However, focusing on learning more about proposal management best practices can yield huge improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. So whenever you can make time, check out these resources.
Why we like it: There’s so much educational content online that it can be difficult to sift through. LinkedIn Learning makes it easy. They provide an enormous searchable catalog of RFP response-related skills. You can brush up on grammar basics, discover new sales tactics, explore project management best practices or learn more about proposal writing.
The courses are broken up into easily digestible sessions, so you can spend a little time each day improving your skillset. Each course is led by an expert, so you’re learning from the best. Because of the wide range of topics applicable to hundreds of professional roles, many companies provide free access to LinkedIn Learning.
Category: Certifications for proposal professionals
Why we like it: If you’re ready to take your RFP knowledge to the next level, explore the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) certifications. APMP offers a certification program with three levels – foundation, practitioner and professional. The program is designed to develop deep industry knowledge and explore best practices for proposal management excellence.
Category: Proposal development training and consulting
Why we like it: Built by a collection experts in proposals, sales pitches, marketing and more, the bid toolkit offers an easy-to-follow guide for creating an effective and repeatable proposal process. In fact, The bid toolkit website is full of free helpful reference materials as well as paid modules, tools and videos. Named APMP’s 2020 Vendor of the Year, this is a great place to explore the proposal process.
Proposal manager peer networks
Self-service tools for independent development are great, but there’s nothing like connecting with your peers. There’s no one that will understand the challenges and thrills of creating a killer proposal the way that other proposal managers do. Connecting with peers to share challenges, find creative solutions and share new trends and tips can improve the practice for everyone.
Why we like it: This conference, hosted by APMP, is the largest gathering of professionals involved in the proposal process in the world. You’ll find proposal writers, bid managers, business development professionals, project managers and marketing professionals at this conference. There’s a wide range of industries, government and business sectors represented, and each has something unique to contribute.
Why we like it: In addition to the annual conference, APMP boasts 28 local chapters around the world. Each chapter has an active social media presence and many chapters also host regular in-person meetups.
Why we like it: In between conferences and meetups, you can still stay connected with your peers on LinkedIn. There are several great LinkedIn groups for anyone involved in the RFP process. Each is a little different and offers insights, advice and networking for all levels of proposal manager. The members of these groups often post valuable content full of interesting tips, advice and trends.
In the last few years, we’ve been seeing the number of RFPs steadily increasing across most industries. As we prepare for next year, we expect this trend will continue. So, now is the time to take advantage of the best RFP solutions and tools available. After all, even small improvements to the proposal process can make a big impact on revenue.
Did we miss something? Let us know what your favorite RFP response tools are on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Originally published December 31, 2019 — Updated December 30, 2020