Anyone involved in the events industry is familiar with requests for proposals (RFPs). From city-wide conventions and association conferences to incentive trips and large-scale promotional events, each opportunity starts with an RFP. They’re everywhere.
We have recognized that RFPs are a great tool for growing your book of business, but the process can be monotonous, laborious and time-consuming. Even the most experienced event managers and business development teams sometimes dread having to respond to requests. Regardless, the fact is that the RFP process is deeply ingrained in the industry and it’s not going away. So, I guess my question is “Why not make it better?”
The inefficient and dated method of responding to RFPs manually has historically been a headache. The constant rewriting of answers, redundancy of questions from one RFP to the next and running around to consult with other departments is incredibly inefficient. But, unfortunately, it has for the longest time been our process — until we discovered RFP software.
RFP technology changes the way we create proposals. We knew we had room to improve our process so we recently invested in an RFP management platform called RFP360. Our end goal is to save time and win new business. Deploying the software at Paragon Events is making our proposals easier, our team more connected and automating our process to save time. This has resulted in better proposals and faster wins. Below are three reasons RFP software is a must-have tool for event management.
1. The Need for Speed
RFP software changes the game when it comes to speed. One of the challenges we face is that RFPs come in through various channels and in different formats. For instance, we might have 10 different RFPs, and each includes 10 of the same questions. The questions are phrased in a slightly different way or in a different order, but essentially they ask for the same information. While we really only need to answer those 10 questions once, we didn’t have a good way to find and use content from past proposals. As a result, our team was responding to the same questions over and over, creating 100 slightly different versions of the same answers. Some responses were updated from old content, while others were written entirely from scratch. It was a huge waste of time.
This is one of the main reasons we invested in RFP technology. When I sat down with Ashley Kunes, our director of Business Development and Customer Experience, we estimated that she spends around 25 to 30 hours per week developing each proposal from scratch. She then would have to dedicate even more time securing input and approval from the accounting department, the event managers and various other subject-matter experts. Before we knew it, our team had spent a week’s worth of billable hours to respond to a single request. Now, with the benefit of technology, we save time by using proposal content from a centralized knowledge library. We can upload answers from previous proposals, categorize, tag and store them in our customized, searchable library. The quality of our RFPs continues to improve as we expand and optimize the library to convey our brand and value in a clear, concise way.
We don’t have to create every great proposal from scratch because we’re already starting with great content. Building proposals from our marketing-approved knowledge library keeps the Paragon Events brand voice consistent. The newfound efficiency frees Ashley and the business development team to spend more time finding new RFP opportunities, building relationships and meeting with potential new clients.
2. The Clarity of Collaboration
The RFPs are now collaborative. To be successful, they require input from a lot of people spread across multiple departments. But, with the process in its current format, collaboration is a challenge. From version control issues to unresponsive colleagues, the old process of emailing the proposal around was inefficient and risky. With real-time collaboration in the RFP software, updates to the content can be made at any time. So, if we change a policy, update vendor information or adjust a timeline, we simply update the necessary responses in the library. Then, we can rest assured that every proposal moving forward will automatically have the right information right away.
One unique thing about the RFP software we use, RFP360, is that they offer access to our knowledge library through extensions. These knowledge extensions are compatible with Chrome, Firefox and the Microsoft Office Suite. So, no matter if the proposal is in Word, Excel, Cvent or even just an online proposal, we can simply open the extension, highlight keywords and access our knowledge library without leaving the native app. For greater visibility and control, I can see the audit history of the library and review any changes my team makes to the responses. I can also track a proposal’s progress, see who hasn’t reviewed it and ensure it has my final approval before it’s submitted. The dashboard report view can be critical when we only have a few days to respond to a request with a tight turnaround. Every minute is precious and the ability to track and send reminders for approval can be the difference in meeting or missing a crucial deadline.
3. The Acceleration of Automation
We take our knowledge library collaboration to the next level with automation. The fewer manual tasks required per proposal, the faster our response time. When we upload a new RFP into the platform, “answer intelligence”, powered by AI, identifies questions in the proposal that already have answers in the knowledge library. Then, with a few clicks, up to half of the proposal is automatically completed. From there, we can spend the time we saved focusing on tailoring the content to the client.
In addition, the software automates notifications, tracking and reporting throughout the response process. RFP automation reduces our risk of human error and improves the consistency of our responses. We can also more accurately collect data about RFP trends, what our clients are asking for and which of our responses are most successful.
From speed, accuracy and efficiency to collaboration and automation, in the end, RFP software is helping to make missed deadlines a thing of the past.
RFP software allows us to streamline the process, shorten the response window and elevate our responses. It gets us into consideration faster and gives us even more opportunities to win. At Paragon Events, we are lucky to have an incredibly talented team. This technology allows us to leverage their knowledge and expertise during the RFP process without taking time away from their primary roles. It’s a valuable tool that helps our business development team grow our book of business while minimizing the pain of the RFP process.
Renee Radabaugh, CMP is the president and CEO of Paragon Events Inc. She has more than 30 years of experience in the event planning and event marketing industry, specializing in corporate, government, nonprofit, healthcare and high-end social events, as well as large-scale meetings, conferences and trade shows. Visit paragon-events.com.