7 Proposal Mastery Tips from RFP Response Experts

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The bid and proposal space is growing like never before. Whether you’re looking to improve collaboration, reduce stress or simply win more responses, there are countless experts and resources available that can help you become a leader in the industry.

Mastering the proposal process takes time and practice, but starting on the right foot goes a long way. This article will outline seven proposal mastery tips from RFP-response experts that will help you level up your process — and your career.

1. Create a strong kickoff.

Creating a scalable response process — and building the team to see it out — is where you go from good to great when it comes to proposal responses. Julie McCoy, CF APMP, director of global proposal management at DocuSign, cooked up a proposal response process and team at her fast-growing company with a few simple steps.

She created a repeatable process to ensure consistency and increase productivity in their proposal response process. McCoy starts with a kick-off call to outline what they need to do with the proposal process and then creates a proposal shell with multiple versions for different purposes. As they work, her team goes through a checklist to ensure they complete each step to the best of their ability every time.

2. Use gamification to engage subject-matter experts (SMEs) and improve productivity.

Engaging your team can be a challenge in any workplace, especially when putting out dozens of RFPs per year. Jenny Citron, a bid development specialist at Simpleview, improves productivity among her team by gamifying the RFP response process. Her goal? Make RFPs fun by initiating friendly competitions among her internal experts.

She did this by setting up a monthly “RFP Hunger Games” among SMEs. The rules are simple: If you turn in your RFP first, you win. Each winner receives a certificate (and bragging rights) until the next month’s game.

Although the strategy is simple, it worked. SMEs started turning in their responses on time. They were engaged and excited to participate in each month’s game. Research shows that humor reduces stress, improves productivity, gets people to listen, builds trust, diffuses conflict and improves understanding among coworkers. Engaging with humor is proven to diffuse high-stress situations at work, such as responding to an RFP.

3. Streamline your process with lean strategies.

If you only focus on getting things done faster, you often won’t succeed with your proposal management process. It’s crucial to ensure your process is accurate and efficient to keep your win rate high. As the director of RFP excellence at Loopio, I emphasize the “5 S’s of proposals,” which explain how to increase RFP response speed without sacrificing quality:

  1. Sort your proposal work.
  2. Set your work in order.
  3. Shine your workspace.
  4. Standardize (“This is the way it’s done.”)
  5. Sustain your systems.

4. Change your proposal narrative to increase your win rate.

Writing persuasive content is an art. Samantha Enslen of Dragonfly Editorial knows how to leverage the power of persuasion in proposal writing. Her advice is to drop the “bizspeak” and fancy formalities.

It’s more important to be you in your responses, as it’s easier to understand and will help you better connect with your reader.

5. Develop the right soft skills to advance your career.

Stephanie Benavidez of WellRight, Sara Willson-Thacker of VMWare and Marie-France Cardin of The Winning Partnership have explored different career paths. With that experience, they can provide insight on core skills that bid and proposal professionals should focus on as they grow.

Above all: They emphasize that communication skills, agility, self-sufficiency and project management are needed to thrive in the bid and proposal field.

6. Automate your RFPs without losing the human touch.

Grant Waldron of Fastly generates extremely technical RFPs at lightning speeds. He uses various tools and tactics to balance his teams’ workload, pivot quickly and maximize efficiency.

Waldron recommends having RFP automation software to speed up the response process, ensure consistent content and make collaboration easier. Plus, by putting tedious response tasks (such as copying and pasting answers) on autopilot, your team will be able to spend more time crafting better narratives, instead of wasting time on low-value tasks.

7. Create an integrated tech stack for lightning-fast responses.

Ben Chen, sales engineer leader at Clari, is an expert on responding to security questionnaires at lightning speed. He handles 5,000 security questions every quarter, while saving 500 hours in the process.

One of his secrets is making sure the technology his teams use is connected. Some of the tools he uses are:

  • Jira: A project management software for agile teams to track and prioritize tasks.
  • Loopio: A response software that specializes in helping teams more efficiently answer complex documents such as RFPs, RFIs, DDQs and security questionnaires.
  • Highspot: A sales content enablement tool that provides insights into the documents that Chen’s team shares with prospects.

Bonus tip: Use a RACI chart when you work with cross-functional teams. This will help everyone know who is responsible, accountable, counsel and informed (RACI) during each project.

For more advice on optimizing your response process, register for Loopicon 2021. You’ll learn new ways to maximize your time and craft better RFP responses from industry thought leaders. It’s digital and free to attend.

You can watch these on-demand replays of Loopicon 2020’s sessions anytime. As a bonus, Grant Waldron, Ben Chen, Stephanie Benavidez, Marie-France Cardin, Julie McCoy and I will be back at this year’s conference to share more strategies, tools and insights.

Kathryn Bennett is the director of RFP excellence at Loopio, a Toronto-based software company that streamlines the RFP response process for companies like IBM and DocuSign. 

This thought leadership article was sponsored by Loopio.

Loopio’s RFP response software helps more than 1,000 world-leading companies streamline their response process and unleash their growth. They’ve ranked twice on the Deloitte Technology Fast 50™ list and were selected as one of LinkedIn’s Top Startups in Canada for two years in a row. With Loopio, teams can respond faster, improve response quality and win more business.

Join the Conversation

  1. Marco Pronto

    I have been a proposal bid manager for over 15 years. My tips are significantly different, for example:
    1. focus your effort to win the bid ie: look at the scoring in the RFP and start with the sections with the highest scores. If resumes makeup 60% of the score don’t spend 60% of your time writing up a methodology – focus on re-writing those resumes to make the most of the 60%
    2. the Proposal sets the project program and is in essence the contract, thus make sure to use the proposal to set out what is beyond the scope of services so that the client doesn’t keep expanding their scope and expecting you to do it for free.
    3. Having a bid manager with expertise in the field is key, SMEs will normally give minimal input (they are busy making money for the company), the Bid Manager will need to fill the gaps.
    4. Speak the client’s language – if the client uses a specific terminology, use the exact same terminology throughout the bid (including resumes). Make it look like you are the most perfect fit company because “you speak the same language as the client”
    5. offer easy reference tables, for example offer a table of all the resumes highlighting key experience, education; offer a table of past projects highlighting relevant experience in the past projects related to the proposed project. This makes it easier for the client to evaluate the proposal. If you make it easier for the client …. they will favour your submission.

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