RFP Responses Begin With Human Intelligence
What Is The Role Of AI And Human Intelligence In RFP Responses?
An abundance of public and private RFPs are available across industries for small and large businesses alike to bid on. My company specializes in helping small- and medium-sized businesses compete in this sector, so it has been interesting to see the increase in available RFPs. Further to that point, I’ve seen issuing agencies keep to strict deadlines and avoid any delays in their procurement processes.
Nationwide procurement teams are adjusting their RFP requirements to move from paper submissions to a more digital-friendly process. (Albeit, in my view they still have a long way to go to remove the many barriers that make the process difficult for small businesses to compete.)
If your business is newly diving into vying for business by responding to RFPs, you may have looked into how you can make the response process easier for you and your team. And, there are plenty of options out there including utilizing automated RFP software and managing the process in-house. No matter the avenue you decide to pursue, I believe all roads start at the same place when it comes to responding to RFPs, and that place is with human intelligence.
Understand the entire RFP process.
No matter what, at the beginning of your response journey, the litany of requirements, the never-ending terms and conditions and the ubiquity of jargon can make anyone want to throw in the towel. It’s called a “process” because it’s just that, a complicated, arduous and sometimes a seemingly ceaseless process.
But, like learning anything new, once you get the hang of it, you will quickly realize that there are similarities in each RFP. Compiling certifications, organizational information, key references and case studies are really the first step to developing your response strategy. Understand exactly what the key response components are before you start responding. It will then be easier to focus more time and attention on fulfilling the areas that make your RFP stand out, namely the scope of work or technical requirements sections, for example.
While automated response software will sometimes know where to drop this information into your response, that’s only the case after you make the documents and information available to it first. (You need to actually write an executive summary before your AI will be able to plug it into the executive summary section.) If you’re new to the RFP process, it may be difficult to learn both how to respond to an RFP and how to use AI simultaneously.
Qualify the right RFP.
Let’s be honest, only you know your business, and only you know what aligns with your business objectives. As RFPs are being posted, it’s important to qualify the bid and make sure it’s strategic for your organization. Don’t let the excitement of a million-dollar opportunity trump the evaluation process. You don’t want weeks to have been dedicated to the response, only to learn later that you’re unqualified to fulfill the terms of the contract.
When introducing the procurement process to your organization, the first priority should be to ensure the ends will justify the means. Answer questions like, “Does the expected profit margin from this contract justify the opportunity cost of completing the response?” This is an answer that can only be decided by internal personnel.
While automated response software can facilitate the response process, it isn’t qualified to answer those questions for you. Upon opening any RFP, to save yourself and your team’s time, qualify it first and make an educated bid/no-bid decision.
Build your response library.
No matter how your business chooses to respond to RFPs, building a response library takes time and brainpower. Response software needs a collection of curated responses to pull from, in addition to insurance documents, employee information and more before it can input that information into the response document. The same is true for any in-house or outsourced team of humans. A response library will need to be generated to make the response process faster and more efficient no matter whether you choose to utilize software or not.
That said, automated response technology won’t be able to generate responses to meet the specific needs of individual clients. Let’s say, for instance, you’re responding to an RFP to provide security services to a high school in Michigan, but you usually only provide these services to corporate office buildings. Software might pull responses that include “operating hours” or “business hours,” yet the high school specifically listed “bell schedules” in their RFP. While this nomenclature may seem trivial to you, the RFP evaluator will likely know that you copied and pasted this answer.
Especially for businesses new to responding, time is money; if you choose to designate valuable resources (your time and your SMEs’ time) away from your daily business routines, it’s important that the time isn’t wasted. Take every opportunity to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward and crafting the response with the potential client, and their needs, in mind.
Finally, automated response software does have its place in the industry, namely for document organization, task assignments and stakeholder communication, but it will never replace the process completely in my opinion. And, it shouldn’t. Every potential client that your business is interested in pursuing should be given its own attention and care. So while automation can help your business in time, it’s by no means a replacement for human intelligence. After all, who’s choosing the RFP winner — software or a human?