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Like many companies, Microsoft understands the power that exists in solutions with AI-based tools that increase efficiency and enhance collaboration across teams. In 2019, we raised the question of how we could improve our proposal response management. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw an opportunity to bring our teams closer — even when they were working miles away — and ultimately propel our proposals to a new level of excellence.
We chose RFPIO to help fulfill this opportunity for its scalability, flexibility, and the fact that it supported multiple teams, languages and content types while integrating into our tech stack. A year and a half since we implemented the solution, we are nearing 7,000 active users who together have pulled over 36,200 ready-to-go RFx responses from the Answer Library. This translates into saving an estimated 20 minutes per response — 12,000 hours that would have been spent looking for or crafting answers — with an estimated cost savings of $2.4 million.
As proposal professionals are navigating various technology solutions for their unique needs, there are five key elements from our process and experience that can be applied to enhance the proposal management process and drive toward the end goal of landing more deals in 2021.
1. Unleash the power of knowledge.
According to a McKinsey report, employees spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. That is valuable time that a salesforce could otherwise be spending with customers.
The first key element of any technology solution should be to focus on the power of democratizing knowledge to increase collaboration and consistency. One of the most beneficial aspects of a solution is the ability to keep messaging consistent and easily accessible across all areas of the company. This became valuable once the pandemic hit and teams were more siloed than before.
A little over a year and a half into using RFPIO, thousands of team members across departments can pull from more than 36,000 question-answer pairs in the shared knowledge library. As a result, our team can confidently answer commonly seen questions, knowing that the messaging is aligned with how we’re talking about the company, products and services across the board.
The ultimate goal of a proposal management solution should be to reduce time spent on proposal generation while increasing win rates, deal velocity, quality and compliance. You want sellers listening to customers, creating solutions and managing pipelines.
2. Stay secure while connected.
The second key element while navigating a proposal management solution should be to focus on the importance of strong privacy and security. Strong privacy and security practices are critical to Microsoft’s mission and essential to customer trust. It’s spelled out in our Supplier Security and Privacy Assurance, and reflects the company’s values and extends to suppliers who handle Microsoft data. It’s vital that any solution meets the privacy and security policy standards of the organization, especially as opportunistic bad actors seize on disparate systems and heighten cybersecurity threats.
3. Simplify content curation.
According to 2019 research from Richardson Sales Performance, the top two challenges when pursuing new opportunities are demonstrating competitive differentiation and creating a case for change. Simplifying the process to quickly answer the most common questions will allow proposal professionals to reinvest that time into focusing on crafting compelling, winning messaging tailored to each customer’s specific needs.
For example, we’re responding to SIG questionnaires (documents many corporations use to understand risk from potential bidders) in just a few hours. Without automation, this process used to take our team several days.
When sales and proposal teams have ready access to pre-approved content, they’re able to spend more time showing how their solution addresses their customers’ specific problems. That’s where content curation steps in. At Microsoft, our content managers shape compliant, compelling and customer-focused information by proactively seeking out information from subject-matter experts, harvesting answers from proposals and storing content in a shared database for future users. A proposal management solution should simplify this process to allow content managers to keep content relevant, fresh and working in harmony with the AI engine.
4. Enhance communication and collaboration.
A 2019 study conducted by Forrester found that teams save an average of four hours per week from improved collaboration and information sharing. Teams stay collaborative and aligned when all members are working in sync and constantly communicating to accomplish a common goal. Before investing in a response management solution, make sure that streamlining communication matches the company’s preferred workflow.
When communication is dispersed across email, chat and in-person meetings, keeping track of moving parts is complicated and time-consuming, and it’s easy for teams to fall out of alignment. It was important for us at Microsoft to make sure that everyone was connected and communicating efficiently. A solution that operates in a single place with commenting and tagging allows SMEs, proposal managers and content owners all to collaborate in real time, keeping content fresh and improving deadline commitments.
5. Stay flexible and keep evolving.
According to the Adobe State of Create Report, 78% of respondents agreed organizations that invest in creativity increase employee productivity. A response management solution is only as good as how you use it and the way you revisit the process. Continuously look for new ways to improve efficiency and advance productivity through a technology partner. Don’t get trapped in familiar workflows. Instead, purposefully challenge all aspects of the process and employ creative thinking to best use the tool.
There is tremendous potential to tap into technology to improve response management. But it should be a continual journey, a persistent state of questioning the status quo, constantly making adjustments as you go along. In the end, when teams are willing and encouraged to think outside the box, processes become more efficient, nimble and agile — and that’s when results begin to intensify.
Rhonda Nicholson is a business program manager at Microsoft, specializing in strategic initiatives. She recently led the creation of the company’s Proposal Intellectual Property program that optimizes and automates proposal development for Microsoft’s proposal teams and democratizes content across corporate sales. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
This thought leadership article was sponsored by RFPIO.
RFPIO is the market leader in response management software, trusted by some of the world’s smartest companies to support RFP and security questionnaire response, knowledge sharing, collaboration and the digital transformation of their response processes. For more, visit rfpio.com.
Microsoft Corporation is a global technology company with a mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. It develops, licenses, and supports software products, services and devices, generating $143 billion in revenue in 2020.