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RFPs Without Automation
I’ve received the RFP; now where do I begin? Some RFPs can be downright daunting. Imagine having to sift through 50 or more pages of instructions and project background, not to mention dozens of legal and compliance requirements. It’s no wonder that some sections get overlooked, signatures skipped, templates missed, etc. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is the little matter of assigning tasks to Subject Matter Experts from different departments and with different priorities. Most often, this is done via multiple rounds of spreadsheets or documents with emails and phone calls – particularly as deadlines loom. Unfortunately, this back and forth also ends up with much of the original content getting lost in translation, with winning points often lost in the confusion of multiple rounds of revision. We are only human after all, despite being professionals, mistakes and oversights are entirely possible.
Once I finally get my answers, I must consolidate them in one centralized document, taking more time to resolve any conflicting information, before cutting, and then pasting content into the appropriate RFP sections. If a database of past content exists, it is often not organized in a searchable format or kept up to date with the freshest responses, and frequently contains duplicate or conflicting responses. You see where I’m going with this, right? The RFP process without automation is lengthy, disjointed, often inconsistent and always inefficient. There are definitely opportunities for improved responses, missed deadlines or non-compliance.
In a nutshell, RFP software standardizes and expedites proposal responses by optimizing or eliminating (in some cases) tedious tasks such as proposal content look up, template creation, information chasing, approvals, and writing. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a deeper dive into what makes automation so attractive.
Maintaining a solid content library of question responses is an essential, if not the most important, thing you can do to ensure a successful RFP response. Sounds easy enough right? But it can be a challenge, especially when it comes to assigning sections to disparate teams and stakeholders and keeping content fresh and updated. Automation can help by providing a centralized (in some cases cloud-based) venue for collaboration, along with tags for aligning the most relevant content with a response. Automation also comes with built-in reporting for establishing timelines, recognizing any gaps and scheduling content audits.
Once your content library is in tip-top shape, it’s time to put it to work. Automation software can sweep and parse content from your database and automatically populate RFP response sections with the appropriate answers. This way you avoid having to spend hours searching and re-inventing the wheel.
So often, information is provided in silos without collaboration within and among functional teams. There is also a lack of insight into deadlines, approvals and assignment progress. Automating manual workflows creates transparency and enforces accountability among stakeholders to ensure the process moves along and responses are submitted within the deadline.
Good proposal preparation begins with a solid template; however, you’d be surprised by how many companies still rely on one-off, inconsistent proposal formats without a unified design, branding or structure. Having a library of pre-configured templates that reflect corporate standards and RFP requirements can be a lifesaver. Templates can be automatically populated with the appropriate RFP section headers as well as approved content.
Now things get interesting. Whereas automation transforms traditionally manual processes, Artificial Intelligence injects analytics into the mix to discover insights from client documents or past proposals.
Having analyzed many client RFPs the software can extract only the most relevant data from a client RFP such as the Scope of Work, Submission Instructions and Legal and Compliance Requirements automatically, providing a focus for the response team. By learning from past RFP requests, your responses and winning proposals, artificial intelligence can even suggest which RFP projects you should prioritize responding to given the likelihood of winning the business.
Often teams receive more RFPs than it is possible to respond to with manual processes. While automating the process may mean that you could reply to them all. Should you? One other benefit of AI is that it can highlight RFPs that are requesting substantially different information than you have provided in the past. If your business recently introduced a new product or solution, or extended into a new sector then this may be expected. If not, then maybe it does not make sense to respond to this RFP.
When creating your proposals, in response to an RFP, AI can be used to recommend past responses to common RFP questions, particularly when those responses were parts of proposals that won sales in the past, or are part of your library of existing, approved responses. The AI can also auto-populate suggested responses to new or similar questions with the content that is most relevant, already approved and likely to win the deal. This automated, intelligent completion of the proposal greatly speeds up the process, while improving consistency and eliminating manual errors. The re-use of pre-approved responses shortens the review cycles.
Unlike your extended response team of sellers and experts, that may well change over time, proposal automation continually retains and refines the RFP knowledge in your organization. The insight into the winning and less successful responses only improves with time, enhancing your RFP response process and increasing business.
Together, automation and AI have revolutionized the way that RFPs are prepared and managed, to the delight of teams everywhere. Besides their obvious cost-and time-savings benefits, automation and AI have helped change the way we think about RFPs. Whereas traditional methods naturally created friction among RFP Managers, Sales Executives and Subject Matter Experts, automation and AI technology facilitates more collaboration while eliminating much of the time-consuming tasks that everyone dreads.