Getting Started in RFPs

Five years ago, I didn’t even know what “RFP” stood for or what a business proposal was. During the initial interview with my current company, the Chief Revenue Officer pulled out a sheet of paper and broke down the basics of what an RFP was, why they were important, and why the company was looking to build a team dedicated to RFPs. I left that interview with a better understanding of the world of requests for proposals but no idea what the next few years would bring. Five years later, the RFP team I helped create has contributed over 7 million dollars in revenue to the company, and I’ve grown from a total newbie into an RFP aficionado. In this article, I’ll detail the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years that helped me go from knowing nothing about the proposal process to managing an RFP team.

First and foremost, know the processes!

Every process you and your team have should be known like the back of your hand among your entire team. But it shouldn’t stop there; the knowledge of the processes should be known on a base level throughout your entire organization. The more people and teams throughout your organization that have an understanding of your processes, the better. A great way to get a new hire started on the right foot with working with your team is to have an outline of your process as part of their onboarding experience! Within the company I work for, we have a slideshow of the RFP process and what the sales representatives within the organization should expect if one is ever assigned to them. Any newly hired sales rep has the slideshow added to their onboarding checklist, so there are no surprises if or when they’re assigned an RFP.

Pro tip: Set up monthly or quarterly meetings with internal stakeholders to discuss current processes and ensure everyone is on the same page. Are there any roadblocks that need to be addressed? Has a step in the process become less efficient over time? Open dialog with your team and other stakeholders will keep the proposal process running smoothly.

Look into becoming a notary.

According to the National Notary Association, notaries are in high demand in a variety of industries, and the world of proposal management is definitely included. Becoming a notary public is a great way to elevate your professional development in and out of the proposal business. I’ve found that becoming a notary has made it a lot easier for my team to get our proposal documents notarized in-office rather than needing to find an outside source. The steps to becoming a notary may vary by state, but in most states, you’ll complete an approved education course, take the notary exam for your state, and pay the necessary fees. For more information on becoming a notary in your state, try searching “Notary Process in [Your State].”

Stay involved from the beginning to the end.

Once a proposal is submitted, it may be easy to forget about it and move on to the next one, but it’s important to stay involved throughout the entire duration of the proposal. Being included in any demonstrations or follow-up discussions allows you to know where you stand throughout the process. More often than not, a Subject Matter Expert (SME) will lead the demonstration, but a great way for an RFP Analyst to assist them is by joining the demonstration to take notes. On my team, we take down every question/answer that comes up during the call, as well as any follow-up items that we need to send the organization after the call.

Pro tip: Keeping track of multiple open opportunities can get tedious, so make sure to have some way to track them easily! This could be done via an organizational sales tool like Salesforce or a simpler tool like Google Sheets or Excel.

Create a response library.

Having an up-to-date response library is your best friend in the world of RFPs. If your organization is anything like mine, there are multiple different products that you’re responding to bids with, and there are probably more in the works. Having a database of responses to frequently asked questions will save you and your subject matter experts a ton of time as you’re moving through the deliverables in the RFPs.

There are multiple tools on the market, but having a dedicated tool isn’t necessary to create a response library. When my team was first getting started, we were using Google Sheets to keep track of responses used in previous RFP submissions. Utilizing software built specifically for this use will always be more efficient in the long run, but using “CTRL+F” in a Google Sheet or Excel document will get the job done, too.

In conclusion, becoming a self-proclaimed RFP aficionado is easy if you follow the right steps. Even if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of RFPs, you could be like me and lead a multi-million-dollar team in a few years. Whether you’re starting from scratch or taking over a team already in place, utilize other proposal professionals and their success to kickstart yours, and you’ll find your rhythm in no time.

My final advice is to figure out how to talk about your job without confusing people. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably gotten a few blank stares back after telling someone what you do for a living, and you’ve usually ended it with a chuckle and a, “It’s complicated.” The long and short of it is this: organizations issue requests for proposals to solicit bids from vendors for goods or services that they need. These requests for proposals are typically detailed and contain strict requirements. Proposal analysts create responses based on the specific needs of the organization and (hopefully) make a sale for their company. Business proposals are an integral part of any sales organization, and the hard work that goes into them should be more widely recognized.

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