In the business world of today, it is rare to meet someone who hasn’t had the “pleasure” of responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) at some point in their career. Focusing on the seller’s side of the equation, it’s fair to say that (big or small) there are many moving parts involved in answering an RFP. You have the array of complex questions that need to be answered, the continuous collaboration with experts across your organization, and the ever tightening deadlines for submission. And this is just scratching the surface!
The content strategy you choose to employ is pivotal!
Let’s Face Some Facts
RFPs aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they are being adopted at a growing rate as more and more buyers are looking for a structured way to evaluate products and services. Further, product lifecycles are becoming more rapid, requiring more frequent updates to company information.There’s no escaping it. Providing up to date content is an essential part of the sales cycle. It’s not as easy as it once was and it’s required of us more often. Since the content included in an RFP response is what your company is being judged on, it is also what determines whether you make the shortlist and also has a large impact on whether you will win the bid.
Let’s look at a couple of content strategies.
The Clean Slate of Misery
The first content strategy we will examine is to start from scratch with each RFP response. Every time. This ensures that complete attention can be given to the response, which in turn will drive up the quality of our answers, right? Wrong! I will throw down a bet that almost no one has beautifully crafted responses they can spin off the top of their heads, especially on a tight deadline. Not to mention that this method is extremely time consuming. Imagine doing this for an RFP that consists of hundreds of questions. Why am I even bringing this up, you ask? Because unfortunately, this strategy is what many organizations feel like they are using and not necessarily by choice. The attempt to centralize content is often unsuccessful. What remains, is fragmented content (documents saved on hard drives, emails and even hard copies!) that can feel impossible to find. What we’re left with is the feeling of reinventing the wheel for every proposal we write.
The Shared Drive: Friend or Frenemy?
This strategy is starting to head in the right direction, but let’s not get too excited just yet. Most commonly, the “shared drive technique” is a repository of past RFPs. Many companies use it to retrieve responses that can be applied to the current RFP being worked on. Makes sense right? Given the overlap of questions between different RFPs, why wouldn’t you do this? I will tell you why, my friends. Errors. While the odd response can be a straight copy and paste, a past RFP response is a document that was created for a specific client. The answers contained within are shaped for that client and not intended for use in other proposals. The chance of leaving in language not meant for other clients is far too great and, as we know, mistakes like this can be the difference between winning and losing.
Another area where shared drives fall short is search capabilities, or lack there of. Bottom line is that the content is not properly indexed. This means that rather than returning search results in the same manner a search engine would, you are, more or less, pointed towards the document you are looking for. From there, you need to open the document and run a keyword search. Anyone familiar with this exercise knows that keyword searches can be highly frustrating and time consuming.
What is One To Do?
Two words, five syllables: Content Library. Sounds simple enough, but here’s the thing – a collection of past RFPs is NOT a Content Library. A true Content Library is made up of your company/product/service information in a manner that is NOT tailored towards a specific RFP. It is there for you to pull relevant information into the RFP response at hand. Any further tailoring to an answer, making it more client-specific, is kept outside of the library.A Content Library not only centralizes information, but also categorizes and makes it accessible to all relevant parties. It allows you to continually feed new content to the Library as part of a project workflow. Furthermore, unlike a shared drive, well built Content Libraries utilize full text indexing and a search engine to locate information by evaluating its relevancy and returning results accordingly.
Where Does One Find This Alleged “Content Library”?
This is where the good news comes in. You can develop a centralized content library through the use of dedicated RFP Management Software.Your existing tools (spreadsheets/your shared drive/etc.) were not intended to be used as true Content Libraries. Since RFPs are not going anywhere, opting to use something that is dedicated to making your life easier when you have 300 questions staring back at you is worth exploring!
I will leave you with a list of the five key features to look for when evaluating RFP Software:
- Your content is accessible and centralized: Content should live in a dedicated library (that is accessible from any device) such that it is centralized and available to all parties involved in the RFP process
- You can update your content as you go: Update your content library while working on an RFP response
- You can set proactive content reviews: Assign content reviews in a one time or recurring manner
- You have clear visibility to who’s accountable for what: All changes, reviews and updates made to your content are logged and are accessible through a history feature
- You have strong search capabilities: So long as you’ve properly categorized and tagged your content, it should not be hard to find! Ensure strong search capabilities are in place
- Starting from scratch is not a long term plan – This is neither scalable nor realistic if responding to RFPs is a regular part of your world. You don’t have to settle for this!
- Shared drives are not enough – Often focused around past RFPs, shared drives don’t equip you with up to date content and also lack important search capabilities
- Use a real Content Library – Do your homework and find an RFP Management Software that has the capabilities outlined above – this is the key to accessing centralized content that is accurate and available for all parties involved