Responding to RFPs is a team sport
If you watch or play any team sports, you know that success most often lies in having a team that works well together and leverages the strengths of every member to their advantage. Often, there is more than one approach to building out a team. The key to success lies in finding the right team dynamic and structure.
Responding to RFPs is like playing a team sport and, to succeed, you need to have a well-aligned team, accessible content, and well-developed processes. All members of your team – Sales, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), RFP Writers – have to work together to complete a response and get it out the door on time.
Different Approaches to Structuring Your RFP Response Process
Think of the possible RFP response process approaches as a spectrum. On the opposite ends are the two most common models – centralized and decentralized – but your framework could fall anywhere in between and represent a hybrid of the two.
All approaches have their pros and cons. The approach that works best for your organization will depend on a lot of different factors including company structure, company culture, RFP volume, etc.
Let’s go over some of the key considerations to keep in mind when deciding which model to adopt.
The Centralized Approach
A centralized model means that every RFP goes through one central team of RFP or proposal writers and managers. This team is responsible for reviewing every request, dividing and assigning the work, and putting together the final submission. In many organizations, this team acts as an official RFP desk.
- Shared workload: since the entire team works as one, team members can help each other out during busy RFP seasons and manage the volume of RFPs more efficiently.
- Centralized ownership: in this model, the team acts as a ‘single point of accountability,’ which can help ensure content accuracy and minimize confusion around who owns what.
- Consistency: the team is also able to establish a more streamlined process that helps keep their content and workflow consistent from one RFP to another. The RFP team at Watson Health Imaging, for example, has found this to be a major benefit of their centralized approach.
- Possible bottlenecks: on the flip side, since everything goes through a single team, they need to have efficient processes in place to be able to handle a large volume of RFPs. A bottleneck in one part of the team or process can impact other teams and cause delays for the entire organization.
The Decentralized Approach
On the other end of the spectrum is the decentralized approach, where everyone in the Sales organization is responsible for doing their individual RFPs. Whoever receives the request owns the process of finding content, reaching out to SMEs, and putting together the final document.
- Better tailored responses: Sales reps and Sales Engineers are at the frontlines as they work closely with prospects. As a result, they have a deep understanding of their prospect’s needs. This allows them to customize their RFP responses much better than if another team was responsible for the submission.
- Silos: it’s challenging to gain alignment and prevent silos from forming throughout the organization.
- Disjointed process and outdated content: If every rep develops their own RFP process and content library, this might result in significant discrepancies. Also, if reps rely on past RFP submissions to find responses, there is a risk that some of the content might be outdated.
- Overwhelmed SMEs: if there is a large number of people doing their own RFPs, the collaboration process with SMEs could become strained or inefficient. Different Sales reps and Sales Engineers could be swamping their SMEs with the same requests. This takes away valuable time that SMEs could be spending on other value-generating activities.
The Hybrid Approach
And then there’s a model where you have a dedicated team to manage content and create a process, but individuals outside the RFP team can work on their own RFP submissions.
Qualtrics uses a similar approach which they call a ‘self-serve’ model. Their Sales team is huge, and the company responds to over 500 RFPs a year. With the hybrid RFP model, their Sales reps can be self-sufficient because they have access to the most up-to-date content and a streamlined process for completing RFPs. This allows their lean RFP team to focus on maintaining content and be strategic in responding to RFPs. They work on requests that are bigger while empowering their large sales team to be self-sufficient.
- Consistent RFP process and content: the ownership of building out a streamlined response process, training the other teams, and maintaining content lies with one team. This helps keep things consistent from one RFP to another.
- Scalability: since this model allows the Sales team to pursue their own RFP opportunities, the organization can respond to a high volume of sales requests without the need to invest in a large RFP team.
- Balanced Workload: the responsibility of responding to RFPs is spread across various teams and numerous individuals; this helps balance the workload and prevents the RFP team from becoming a bottleneck.
- Competing priorities: in this model, the RFP team is juggling quite a few things: maintaining content, training the Sales team on RFP processes, and responding to a number RFPs. An increase in the volume of work in any one of these areas could mean that they fall behind on the other tasks.
- Overwhelmed SMEs: SMEs run the risk of becoming overburdened if there is no streamlined process in place for requesting answers to new questions or capturing that content for other members of the sales team to use.
How to Make the Best of Any RFP Response Process Approach
Regardless of whether you’ve got a centralized, decentralized, or a hybrid model, there are ways to make the best of what you have. These five tips will help set you up for success:
- Develop an efficient RFP response process
- Enable communication
- Make company knowledge and content accessible
- Streamline collaboration
- Create alignment
Develop an Efficient RFP Response Process
First off, you need to have a streamlined RFP response process in place. Establish an efficient workflow that addresses all RFP response stages, from when the RFP comes in through the door to when it goes back out to the customer. For example, you could put together a checklist that includes things like key dates, the go/no-go process, the kick-off meeting or call, the project owner, the timelines for SME responses and the follow-up process, the final submission guidelines, etc.
To help your team always be on the same page, give team members access to the right tools and resources. Leverage available communication and video conferencing solutions to help promote alignment across the team and the entire organization. And, of course, don’t dismiss the incredible power of the good old method of communication – the phone.
Make Company Knowledge and Content Accessible
Every time an RFP comes in through the door, your team works hard to provide the best and most up-to-date responses. Why not make this content accessible to everyone who’s involved in the RFP process, so that they can reuse it again and again? Implement RFP response software so you can leverage the power of a centralized RFP repository to share information and knowledge. Plus, it’s easier to maintain and update content when it’s located in a single library.
Work towards streamlining collaboration between different teams and team members, including external SMEs. People responding to RFPs shouldn’t be spending half their time sending out, chasing after, and putting together responses.
It’s hard to have an effective process without cross-team alignment. Ensure that individuals responding to RFPs and the SMEs have a clear understanding of the goals, the processes, and their responsibilities when it comes to RFPs. You can achieve this through regular training sessions and process documentation.
Bringing All the Elements Together
Leverage an RFP response solution to bring all of these elements together in one platform. No matter what your RFP response process looks like, RFP software can enable you to create a streamlined RFP response process, facilitate communication and collaboration with SMEs, and manage your RFP content.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. The two most popular models – centralized and decentralized – have their advantages and disadvantages. The former might be better suited to some organizations, while the latter may be ideal for others. The approach that you select will depend on your needs and goals.
Beyond that, consider optimizing your RFP response process with RFP response solutions that enable communication, content access, and collaboration.
Not sure where to start? Read the Guide to Implementing RFP Software to learn how to evaluate and implement an RFP response solution.