Proposals are usually requested during the final stages of the sales process. All of the effort a salesperson has put into building awareness, rapport and trust with a buyer has paid off, and it has culminated with the opportunity to submit a written offer. Regardless of whether this offer is a simple proposal or an in-depth request for proposal (RFP), it is typically the weakest point in the sales process for most vendors.
Why is this? After all, a proposal is essentially the vehicle for a vendor’s total offerings, and if executed ineffectively, it can render an entire sales process null up to the proposal submission. Your product or offering could truly be the right choice for a buyer, but if your proposal doesn’t convey value or clearly articulate competitive differentiation, you may lose business.
There are many ways that proposal generation can be improved, and it all starts with content management. Below are four challenges associated with proposal and RFP generation, and how they can be tackled with the right content management and collaboration strategies.
Challenge #1: Efficiently crafting a customized story
There are a few components to this first challenge. The obvious one is creating a thoughtful, personalized and unique proposal without compromising turnaround time. RFPs and proposals are often on strict deadlines, and you never know how many your proposal director or team will have at a time. “RFPs are like snowflakes; no two ever seem to be the same, and I’m amazed that I’m still getting questions I haven’t been asked before,” Seismic’s Proposal Director, Marnie Bingham, explains. “For most RFPs, I spend time finding answers I have on file, tweaking them for the current purpose, drafting new answers, and enlisting sellers and subject matter experts across the organization to contribute information. And then of course there’s organizing and formatting everything in accordance with RFP specifications, and getting the right people to sign off on everything.” This process is time-consuming and in most cases quite tedious, but having the right content management tool can help you store, locate and reuse questions. Of course not every RFP will contain the same questions, but the more proposals you complete, the more questions you’ll be able to pull from. (Bonus points if this response management and storage is done automatically!)
Challenge #2: Empowering sellers to take on proposals independently
Most organizations have a proposal team, or at least an individual dedicated to the completion of proposals. But this doesn’t mean the sales team can’t help, too. Salespeople can speed up the entire proposal generation process using Seismic’s LiveDocs technology, which pulls together the bones of the proposal story quickly and easily. The sales rep can choose from cover letter options that have been pre-approved by the marketing or proposal teams, pull in CRM data (such as customer name, address, date, and more), and can even apply CPQ data for pricing. This eliminates all number crunching, copying and pasting, and empowers salespeople to get proposals to a good place in minutes. Reps can also use Seismic’s latest WorkSpace functionality to share the proposal draft with other team members, who can make suggestions and comments, all before involving the proposal team.
Challenge #3: Sifting through all existing RFPs and proposals for appropriate responses
Most proposal teams have a file folder of all completed and submitted RFPs, and spend a ton of time using the CTRL+F function to locate proper answers. This is time-consuming and risky, considering answers may be outdated, or for a specific buyer, vertical, use case or industry and may not be appropriate for the current proposal. As touched upon in the first challenge, having a knowledge base of existing RFP questions is imperative to efficiently and thoughtfully crafting a proposal. Seismic’s Word plugin helps Marnie find answers from the knowledge base, insert text, images, and charts into a proposal in a matter of seconds. “I just format everything with the usual tools in Word; I never have to leave,” she explains. Questions are managed by the proposal team, so you’re sure to always use the right responses in the right places—quickly and effectively.
Challenge #4: Rounding up subject matter experts to provide the best responses
The best RFPs incorporate knowledge from individuals across the entire vendor organization. With Seismic, proposal teams and individuals can add questions from proposals to the knowledge base and assign them out to subject matter experts within the organization. That person is notified of the request, he or she submits the answer, and it’s automatically updated in the proposal document. Collaboration is imperative for proposals, and WorkSpace ensures that the right people are involved at the right times to get the best quality RFP out the door in no time.
None of these challenges can be addressed without a proper content management system and strategy in place. Silos must be broken down, sales, marketing and proposal teams must be centered on collaboration and efficient workflows, and companies must be dedicated to diligently managing content (including RFPs and response knowledge bases). Once vital content management needs are met, the proposal process can be revolutionized and companies can reap the benefits of shorter sales cycles, higher win rates, and more closed deals.