As context: we've designed and kicked off two award-winning projects to build content knowledge bases in the past couple of years. We're wedded to some key principles in this area, having seen far too many libraries of outdated content that merely help people write poor proposals faster. Content is king, and:
- "Cut and paste" is the enemy. It's all about "cut and paste and tailor".
- FAQs: there needs to be some science behind your decision as to what content to include in the library. What are your clients asking for regularly? ("We know that if we have answers to these 85 questions, we can produce information to help answer 55% of queries in a typical RFP", for example).
- OAP: the relevant subject matter experts own the content; the role of the proposal centre is to articulate and publish it.
- Content in a library starts to become outdated the moment it's published. The world moves on; the challenge is to reflect that by ensuring that every answer is always the best possible.
- Developing and managing pre-written content takes time, and needs resourcing properly.
My questions on LinkedIn: what software tools do people use to manage their content, and is there value in specialist proposal software? See, the two projects we'd helped initiate both stored their material in SharePoint, which has the advantages for many bid teams of being (a) free and (b) available to all with little effort.
Yet there are incredibly clever software packages out there used by many organisations - including on other major projects we've supported lately to refresh outdated content libraries and to embed more robust processes moving forward. Upland Qvidian's the long-established market leader: I first deployed one of their predecessor products, Pragmatech, with huge success nearly 20 years ago. Others have been around for a fair while. New entrants that have caught my eye in the last couple of years have included Expedience and RFPIO.
[Declaration, for completenesss: I've known, liked and trusted people who work for each of these companies for a long time- all folks for whom I have the greatest respect. And we're sometimes asked to advise software companies; I've always remained strictly vendor-neutral in my recommendations, wanting to give my clients the best possible advice, and have never personally taken a penny in commission from any of these or other software vendors.]
All of these products (and more) offer functionality that goes way beyond even the cleverest SharePoint site in terms of extracting content and managing it on an on-going basis. Some even help to parse the RFP and manage document development (although I've never been convinced that a software product can do that better than a highly skilled team of proposal professionals - in turn suggesting that that functionality might actually be more appropriate on less strategic deals?)
So, what did the bid/proposal management community think? Was there really a strong business case one way or the other?
The answer, despite lots of public and private replies, was a resounding "don't know". I so wish we'd drawn a robust conclusion: that I'd been able to present a clear, validated case for the return on the investment on buying the specialist tools rather than using the apparent 'freebie' that so many companies have thanks to their Microsoft-based IT infrastructure. But none such emerged.
I wish it had. I like the people involved. I see companies using their tools with great success. Logically and emotionally, a product tailored to our profession has to be better for proposal teams than a generic dumping ground (sorry, content management system) like SharePoint. But, to use a phrase we so often deploy working on live bids: "Prove it!" If you're reading this and can, please do...!
Posted by Jon