The completion of an enterprise Request For Proposal (RFP) response often comes down to the wire. According to a survey of procurement professionals, the majority of vendor responses are submitted in the final eight hours before they’re due—with 35% being submitted in the final hour. This may not be surprising considering that same research found that the average RFP includes up to 112 pages of documentation.
These stats clearly illustrate that the increasing volume and complexity of RFPs are pushing proposal teams to their limits. And when proposal teams have bandwidth issues, they have to focus on completing only the highest-priority RFP responses while ignoring less significant ones—meaning they’re leaving potential revenue on the table.
To resolve this issue, many organizations are coming up with a new game plan for how they approach their RFP responses that involves enlisting their sales team to help handle the overflow. This is known as the “hybrid” approach to RFP response management, where both proposal and enterprise sales team members respond to bids. The goal is to have the proposal management team focus on the more strategic or competitive opportunities and give lower value or less complex responses to sales reps for completion.
However, searching for the best and most up-to-date answers to difficult or technical RFP questions can be time-consuming for sales reps, leading to inaccuracies and missed quotas.
On the flip side, proposal managers can find it frustrating to not have visibility into where response projects stand, how many are being submitted, and whether or not the final submissions meet their standards.
Creating an effective hybrid RFP response management strategy is possible, though. In this post, we’ll provide you with a play-by-play on how to create a collaborative RFP response process that empowers enterprise sales reps to complete proposals on their own.
How to get sales reps responding to RFPs
1. Set up a centralized go/no go communications process
To respond to a higher volume of RFPs with limited resources, you’ll need to streamline your RFP communications strategy—as Qualtrics did. Qualtrics is a customer experience management platform business that employs over 700 sales reps with only six proposal specialists to support them.
The company solved the challenge of responding to over 600 RFPs per year by developing a data-driven RFP intake process. It helps the RFP team determine the appropriate level of proposal team support that’s needed for each opportunity.
To do this, they created a list of criteria to identify which proposals require a strategic response to be led by the proposal team. Some of those go/no go criteria, which are inputted into Salesforce to kick-off the RFP/RFI request process, include:
- Geographic region
- The type and format of the sales request
- The due date
- The sales reps’ knowledge of the opportunity
- The prospect’s goals
- Any challenges a prospect is facing
- What they’re doing to address those challenges
Once a sales rep completes the intake form, an internal survey scores the answers and assigns an appropriate RFP/RFI support level. The chosen support level outlines what kind of help the RFP response management team can offer, how much of the work the rep needs to do themselves, and the next steps.
Setting up your list of criteria to determine who should handle what types of responses, or how much help reps should receive to complete responses, is critical for making a hybrid response model work. (Click here for a more detailed list of go / no-go criteria.)
Your proposal team can also set up office hours where sales reps can bring them questions when getting started. That way, they aren’t constantly being bombarded and distracted from completing strategic proposals. Empowering sales reps with the right resources is equally critical.
2. Provide quick access to company knowledge
The best way to accelerate your RFP response process is to create a centralized, searchable library of content that both your sales reps and proposal team can use.
Without one, it will be difficult for reps to complete RFPs in a timely fashion and will increase the chances of them using outdated information.
This repository should contain up-to-date information from specialists across your organization, including:
- Standardized company boilerplates and descriptions
- Product spec sheets
- Pricing information
- Past proposals (that aren’t too outdated) for reference
- Legal or compliance information
- Technical and security FAQs
- Customer testimonials and case studies
If sales reps still can’t find what they need, they’ll have to reach out to a subject matter expert in your organization. So, let’s look at streamlining that process next.
3. Make tapping subject matter experts and tracking projects easier
Sales reps need a simple way to ask subject matter experts questions and collaborate on a proposal. Providing them with a list of contacts for specific questions is a helpful first step.
Using a centralized system to track the progress of your projects is also vital. This strategy does three important things:
- It gives your proposal team insights into roadblocks sales reps may face in their response process
- It allows you to collect critical data and track the success of your hybrid process
- You’re able to invite subject matter experts to collaborate—so they see how urgently their answers are needed—rather than leaving requests on other channels like email or messaging tools that can be easily overlooked
Qualtrics uses Salesforce to handle their tracking needs. However, adding RFP response management software to the mix—that works with other project management tools and shared documents—can make the RFP process more efficient.
Likewise, when a new answer is provided by a subject matter expert, it needs to be recorded and/or updated in your internal library for future use. Make sure closing this loop is part of your RFP submission process as well. (More on this later!)
Now that your hybrid RFP response tactics and tools are in place, it’s time to get all key stakeholders trained on the process.
4. Train your sales team and provide access to tools
Every hybrid RFP model may differ slightly, but the training principles remain the same:
- Walk sales reps through your new hybrid proposal process and explain how and when to engage the proposal team on new bids.
- Pitch the hybrid model benefits, like a sales rep’s deeper knowledge of your prospect’s needs.
- Provide a demo and access to the tools they’ll use when kicking off the RFP process and completing proposals on their own.
Your sales leadership team should be championing this new model to ensure everything runs smoothly.
If you decide to invest in an enterprise RFP management platform, you can also lean on their support team for help—to develop a phased software training plan and to run a webinar to teach core users how the tool works.
Some software providers can even help you develop a process map to identify the key steps in your RFP response process, and will offer post-training customer success support.
5. Optimize your strategy for ongoing success
Once you’ve implemented the new hybrid RFP management strategy, be sure to review it often to optimize your proposal process.
Additionally, schedule regular updates to your content library, so the information is always accurate. If it’s out-of-date, no one on your team will use it or trust it, which can impact your desired results.
The subject matter experts you’ve identified across your company should be responsible for their respective content. For example, your product team might need to update their spec sheets and feature upgrades every quarter. Schedule these as recurring calendar reminders so they never get forgotten.
Some RFP software platforms can automate the scheduling of review cycles and content updates based on new submissions.
How enterprise RFP software can accelerate your success
Cobbling together your own content library, internal processes, and RFP project management tools can eat into internal resources and time that you might not have right now. You can streamline your efforts by adopting an RFP response tool instead.
In fact, 91% of Loopio’s customers have said it is substantially easier for their team to complete an RFP response using our enterprise software—boosting their completed monthly responses by 37%.
The implementation doesn’t have to take long, depending on the support your vendor provides, the ease-of-use of the platform’s interface, and the simplicity of the content upload system.
Other features to look for in your RFP platform include:
- RFP response automation: The best platforms will find and fill in answers to RFPs that you upload based on past answers in your library. This will save your team tons of time filling in answers manually that you’ve already answered a bunch of times before.
- A best-in-class question and answer engine: A good platform makes it easy to organize answers in relevant categories so they’re easy to find, and has advanced search so locating the right information is quick for users.
- Integrations (especially with Salesforce): They can help you track and report on your progress, as well as provide you with the data you need to optimize strategies in the future.
Why a hybrid RFP model works for enterprise teams
Giving your enterprise organization a way to work faster and smarter will help you use your proposal team resources wisely.
The Qualtrics team learned that when it empowered sales reps to become more self-sufficient in answering smaller value RFPs, they achieved a “substantially higher financial impact” (ROI).
With the right tools and processes, a hybrid model can foster better team collaboration and free up a subject matter experts’ time to focus on content validation or filling in gaps in your sales knowledge library.