"It takes a village" is certainly true for many things—including the development of effective sales proposals. In today's corporate world, collaboration is king; that applies to the RFP process, too.

Considering the volume of information needed, the wide variety of product and service details and the input required from subject matter experts (SMEs), it now takes on average 3-10 people to successfully complete an RFP response—sometimes up to 20 people. It's no easy feat.

And it's not just about the content, it's also about the project management processes and workflows required to assemble and package all of the required content into a best-in-class document. RFP team members need to supervise the entire RFP process to make sure everyone's time is used wisely, requirements are addressed, and deadlines are met—often with quick turnaround.

So how can organizations make sure RFP projects become true collaborative efforts? Follow these six best-practices.

1. Think in terms of Is-Does-Mean

Subject-matter experts, typically in product management, services, or engineering, can often be too close to the topic, producing responses that are too product detailed and which fail to address the question, "What does it mean to the prospect?"

To overcome that hurdle, it's important to ask them to generate responses using the Is-Does-Means method:

  • What is the offering?
  • What does it do?
  • What does this mean for the buyer? (Does it save money, increase quality, grow the business maximize ROI?)

That third question is the most important, but it is too often overlooked.

2. Point SMEs in the right direction

The vast majority of SMEs are not professional writers. So, whenever possible, give SMEs some material to start with instead of asking them to create a completely new response.

Using RFP tools that centralize and organize content is an extremely effective way to do that. Giving them that starting point eliminates the intimidation and writer's block that comes from staring at a blank page.

Such a starting point not only makes it easier for SMEs to respond but also significantly decreases turnaround times and improves the quality of proposals.

3. Construct a winning team

Creating strong bonds between proposal teams and the SMEs contributing content is key to effective communication. It's important to bring these groups together through group lunches, outings after work, or other socially inspired events.

Simply getting together to help gain a better understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities inspires camaraderie, which starts merely by listening to each other.

4. Add proposal responsibilities into job descriptions

Work with your human resources department to create job descriptions for SME positions that include a line item related to supporting the proposal process. As an additional best-practice, attempt to clarify a percentage of time SMEs would realistically spend on proposals—perhaps 5-10% of their time. When you do, SMEs will give proposoals greater priority and focus.

5. Engage early

It may go without saying, but don't wait until the last minute. Many proposals have tight turnaround times to begin with, so waiting too long merely compounds this challenge. Though most people don't mind helping contribute content to the RFP process, it's difficult to drop everything to respond immediately. Also, making SMEs part of the collaborative process from the beginning, getting input on messaging early in the process, can help make for a better proposal.

6. Manage version control

When collecting content and responses from a large group, it is never a good idea to email one version of a document to the entire group, which could include 20 people. That's cumbersome and inefficient, but it also introduces the element of human error into the process. And, asking one person to juggle so many different documents and maintain so many versions is asking for trouble. Instead, use RFP tools to automate the process and give users access to a single centralized document. Doing so can help provide greater efficiency and quality control.

Bonus: Be realistic

Even when firms follow these best-practices and become lean, collaborative machines, RFPs can be time-consuming, complex processes that use up the resources of numerous people. Make sure that if you are going to spend thousands of hours yearly on sales proposals, they have a good chance of succeeding.

Before you hit the ground running, conduct adequate research and careful analysis of the buyer's market and needs. If you don't know what they need, you can't align your products or services to meet them. Before putting a minimum of a half a dozen professionals on the RFP project, you need to know who is the incumbent, what are its business drivers, and whether its business is a good fit for your skillset

* * *

Today's RFP teams need to do all they can to generate better content. By driving the mindset of teamwork and collaboration throughout the organization, companies can harness the collective talents, expertise, and insights of employees across various specialties to foster sustainable, competitive advantage.

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How to Ensure a Sound RFP Bid: Six Best-Practices to Achieve Success

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image of Jeffrey Weil

Jeffrey Weil is general manager of proposal automation software provider Upland Qvidian.

LinkedIn: Jeffrey Weil