Businesses constantly endeavor to expand their offerings, technology refresh enhancing their operations and support capacity and capabilities, to name a few. To achieve this they may have to go outside their organization who can provide these capabilities. In order to get this done, the business outlines its requirements in a detailed document in the form of a Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Quote (RFQ). An RFI typically precedes RFP or RFQ and is used where there are many potential vendors and not much is known about them. Once the RFI is completed, the next step would be to float a detailed RFP or RFQ and solicit responses from vendors providing these solutions and services.
These vendors respond to the RFP through a formal proposal document. A proposal puts the buyer’s requirements in a context that favors the vendor’s products and services and educates the buyer about the capabilities of the vendor in satisfying their needs.
Proposal Management is a key step in the process of acquiring business from a prospective buyer. Typically a proposal would include, but not limited to, information about the vendor, demonstrated knowledge about the business requirements and implementable solutions to address them, the methodology of providing solutions, team structure, pricing structure and quality processes for high-quality deliverables that need collaboration across many departments.
A Proposal Management System (PMS) helps create the responses to the RFP in an easy and collaborative manner where there is a central repository of all information pertaining to the response at a glance. It may be important to note that the RFP itself is a procurement process and its generation may not align in the context of PMS.
What is a Proposal Management Software?
In order to streamline the proposal creation process and minimize cumbersome data collection/reviews/updates/reconciliation through manual methods like emails, chats and verbal communication, organizations adopt software that helps the end to end process on a single platform. PMS helps organizations manage the proposal process with a view to increasing sales efficiencies through automation. Vendors may now quickly create strong proposals and responses to RFPs that are tailored to the needs of each buyer. It is essentially a content collaboration tool for teams like sales, marketing, and project delivery personnel to collaborate effectively to achieve the end result of addressing the requirements of the RFP. This software is mainly in the realm of sales and marketing.
Contract Management vs Proposal Management
It is worthwhile to differentiate the contract management software and PMS in that the former provides features like creation and management of contracts, service level agreements and procurement agreements that are legally enforceable whereas the latter facilitates the creation of a documented offering of products and services. A proposal would eventually lead to a contract. The other perspective is the CPQ software that is typically used in B2B scenarios that enable sellers to configure, quote and price specific goods only.
5 Benefits of Proposal Management Software
Proposal Management Software comes with Proposal Generator modules that provide ready templates for various industry verticals. Using which proposals can be created with less time. Using standard templates allows organizations to achieve consistency in the proposal creation process.
Faster Turnaround Time
Proposal Management Software enables planning the customizable workflows between the different departments and stakeholders, automated reviews and triggers for action, implementing a master schedule to allocate tasks, track milestones, deliverables, and intervening processes. This eliminates bottlenecks in proposal creation, editing, reviewing and approval process. This provides faster turnaround time for proposal creation and salespeople can get the proposal out to the prospective clients.
I wish I had known earlier how limiting our previous processes were - that Word documents were handcuffing us. There’s just so much more you can do with a proposal if you get out of the mindset of PDFs and spreadsheets.
Centralized Repository of Proposal Artifacts
PMS facilitates proposal managers to centralize essential documents and templates. It saves time for the proposal manager by automatically managing version control of proposal documents. It enables an end to end view of the proposal lifecycle and its related set of activities.
PMS delivers the real-time activity status the proposal managers need to know regarding who is writing and reviewing when they are done as well as where any bottlenecks are developing so that the potential hold-ups can be addressed before they become delayed.
Best Practices and Lessons Learned
The response to an RFP can be leveraged from a previously submitted response for a similar bid. What was the innovation proposed, what kind of productivity gains did you demonstrate, what was the value addition overall and what type of challenges were encountered that you would like to mitigate in other proposals?
At all times it is ensured that the latest versions are available and if the proposal is a collaborative effort between two or more companies, the tool will have all the relevant documents, best practices, and lessons learned in one single repository.
Which industries use PMS?
Since the aim is to win the business from a potential customer, some of the important industries where the software is widely used are listed below.
PMS can be used in the construction industry for commercial or residential projects, leasing or renting construction equipment, maintenance of the property and so on.
Hospitality & Event Management
For winning the business in the hospitality and event management sector, PMS will be suitable, for instance, when RFPs for country or global level events need to be responded to, proposal management software helps to create professional proposals.
There is an increasing demand for healthcare services world over and growth in related systems, equipment, and manpower.
The complexity of the manufacturing industries makes them an ideal candidate for the adoption of PMS.
Bidding for an RFP for any services project could necessitate the use of PMS. Some examples include IT services, auditing services, investment services and so on.
Who are the users of PMS?
The roles that the team would play, either manually or through the software, would by and large remain the same.
The key users would be sales and marketing personnel who are instrumental in the bidding process of an organization, along with the service/product teams from a delivery perspective who would eventually own the delivery to the customers. For example, the roles like proposal manager, reviewer, planner, document writer, technical analyst, sales manager, marketing manager, quality analyst and so on, would be applicable for any team that is part of the RFP response process.
Business Problems Solved by PMS
In a highly competitive market, the service provider who can first get the quality proposal delivered and within the stipulated time often is ahead of the game. With several interdependent teams involved in the bid process, like sales, marketing, project delivery, quality, operations, and senior management, the essence is to collaborate effectively and efficiently so that all stakeholders remain on the same page in terms of the expectations and deliverables.
Key business problems addressed are:
Automated proposal collaboration and seamless integration between teams and sub-teams
Faster turnaround achieved through workflows, streamlining of processes and elimination of potential bottlenecks
Use of standardized and latest company approved proposal templates to avoid any misrepresentation to the buyer
Management dashboards and online reviews through the entire proposal lifecycle.
Greater productivity and quality achieved through the software. Reduction in review and approval time to the order of 65% is observed.
Role-based security controls access to pricing data, reference materials, and proposal documents or any other information you want to protect.
8 Key Features of PMS
This is a key capability for Proposal Management software. Creation of workflows between dependent parties in the proposal creation process. This automated mechanism helps in streamlining the collaboration and keeps the involved parties informed about the activities assigned to them. Also, this helps the proposal managers to monitor the progress and achieve the expected outcomes.
Audit trail helps to keep track of different versions of the documents and changes done and rollback to earlier versions.
PMS provides a content library that includes pre-built templates, drag and drop interface and other documents needed to create the proposal. These templates speed up the process of proposal creation. Also, they come with industry-specific templates.
HubSpot and PandaDoc have changed our sales process entirely. We are now smarter, faster, and proud of what we are able to send to our prospects.
The software comes with a notification mechanism that helps users to know when a proposal is opened, reviewed, commented on or completed. This helps to keep track of proposal management in real-time and remove any bottlenecks in getting it processed.
Document analytics are important for salespeople to track the documents. They get to know how long the recipient spent time viewing the document, which sections were most viewed and spent time on. These analytics help salespeople to understand what is critical for their prospects and be prepared to deal with negotiations.
PMS supports a central repository where all proposal documents and related artifacts can be stored and managed in a central location providing easy and secure access to users.
E-signatures are an essential part of proposal management. Some of the Proposal Management software comes with built-in e-signature support. This simplifies the end-user experience. However, if the organization has a central digital signature system, it should be possible for the software to provide integration. This is more common in the enterprise environment.
Proposal Management software needs to integrate with other systems in the organization. CRM integration is necessary to pull customer data. Similarly, integration is required with CMS, project management and collaboration tools. Many popular PMS like Pandadoc, Proposify come with many native integrations.
AI in PMS
AI is emerging in all spheres of automation and PMS is no exception. AI provides a competitive advantage to the proposal team that leverages its full capabilities.
To have an effective AI, your content database needs to be organized and clean. This is a prerequisite to have meaningful AI in your PMS.
With AI, you can quickly leverage past RFP responses, are better positioned to analyze and make informed decisions about go/no-go for this RFP, your win percentage, skills needed, infrastructure support and so on. This also helps in overall strategic planning for the response as well.
The AI also takes over repetitive tasks like filling in common sections, content formatting, suggesting options to frequent situations experienced previously and so on. This greatly increases productivity, leverages best practices and reduces manual errors.
Buyers Guide - 5 Factors to Choose Right Proposal Management Software
Standalone or Integrated
Proposal Management Software comes with integrated options where it is part of CPQ or Contract Management Software. Organizations need to assess their requirements and their adoption roadmap to decide whether they need a standalone solution or integrated platform.
Technology and Feature List
The feature richness of the PMS needs to be assessed to determine whether it meets all requirements of the business. For example, how robust is the workflow management system and whether it meets the requirements? If not, does it provide customization ability to fit into organization needs? If the organization already has existing e-signature, does PMS provide integration? If not, it would be good to have built-in e-signature capabilities. The software should provide pre-built templates that meet the requirements of the business and the industry vertical.
Integration capabilities specifically CRM and CMS integration are critical for Proposal Management Software. If the software provides out-of-box functionality, it would be an added advantage.
Ease of Use
Since PMS is used by a variety of roles within the organization, ease of use helps greatly in driving adoption. The software should have an intuitive interface, easy to use templates. Ideally, the user interface should provide at a glance how to do basic functions like save or export work, see milestones, have interactive discussions, tag colleagues, provide approval, make comments, sort items and so on.
Since Proposal Management involves multiple users, to remove any bottlenecks, the software should provide strong collaboration capabilities like the ability to share, comment on, respond, send, and edit a document across teams. It should have effective feedback mechanisms for client interactions throughout the process.
Challenges in adopting PMS
The business has to ascertain whether there is a need to invest in a formal PMS considering the size of the company, the complexity of the projects undertaken and the diversity of the departments involved in the overall workflow. Also, the effectiveness of the manual process should be assessed to determine the need for automation.
The adoption of PMS in an organization should be part of the digital transformation journey. If the organization is not ready and only PMS is chosen without the necessary eco-system requirements, it will pose challenges.
The adoption of software also requires a cultural change in an organization. If the organization is used to ad-hoc processes and decision making, PMS can pose challenges. The workflow would require that all lifecycle processes are followed and adhered to and may not be flexible to allow ad-hoc deviations.
PMS also requires that organization team members are suitably trained to adhere to the processes and procedures and SLA to make it effective. The software alone will not be effective without the additional processes and SLA defined.
Sometimes, there could be extraordinary situations where proposal submission dates are more immediate than what the process can support. Therefore organizations need to have the right mix of skilled resources and processes in place. Leadership plays an important role here in order to make quick decisions and be accountable for all actions taken.
ROI of PMS
The return on investment is always aligned to your business expectations and outcomes, as such needs to be considered in totality.
The reduction in RFP response time is a critical ROI parameter to be considered. According to the RFP360 vendor, it cuts the response time by half thereby creating twice as many opportunities. In addition, the win rate is boosted by about 15% overall.
Also, it is seen that the review time is cut to the order of about 65% thereby reducing the overall duration. As mentioned in the document above, the benefits are many and the software needs to be used over a period of time to obtain quantifiable results.