What is the Role of an SME (Subject Matter Expert) in the Proposal Process?
Creating an effective sales proposal requires tremendous collaboration … but many organizations struggle to create a culture where various teams and individual contributors work together.
In fact, 86 percent of executives, employees, and educators believe a lack of collaboration and poor communication is responsible for workplace failures.
But for many, simply providing well-defined roles and responsibilities can help ensure everyone works together to create compelling, deal-winning proposals. In the case of SMEs (subject matter experts), that comes down to two major activities:
- Providing expertise
- Reviewing content
SMEs often consist of product owners, developers, and other individuals with highly specialized knowledge.
Because of their understanding of technical specifications, they’re generally better equipped than their coworkers to answer certain request for proposal (RFP) questions.
That’s why one of their primary responsibilities in creating a proposal comes down to providing expertise.
To get the best responses from SMEs, we recommend conducting recorded interviews and getting a transcription. If possible, do this face to face. Otherwise, a phone call will work.
By having an actual conversation, you can ask follow-up questions or provide clarification in real time. You also reduce the risk of SMEs ignoring or forgetting your request — a problem that can easily happen when you rely on email or tools like Slack.
Email in particular is a poor way to obtain content from SMEs. The average worker receives 121 emails every single day. That’s not easy to keep up with.
Have you ever received an email and thought, ‘I’ll respond to that later,’ only to completely forget about it? That happens to SMEs, too.
And research suggests emails increase stress. I don’t know anyone who does their best work when they’re stressed out.
So, keep it simple — walk over to your SME’s desk, or give them a call.
In addition to providing their expertise, SMEs should review proposal content before it’s finalized.
Even if they have directly answered RFP questions, it’s likely (and recommended) that a marketer or proposal writer will review and edit those responses before submitting a proposal.
This ensures the entire proposal maintains a consistent voice and that the content is presented in the most compelling way possible. (SMEs tend to write very technical, feature-specific responses, while emotional, benefit-specific responses yield the best results.)
After editing the SME’s responses, the marketer or proposal writer should allow the SME to review the edits to ensure the changes didn’t distort the meaning.
If you’re really nice to your SMEs — and you should be. They’re generally very busy and highly valuable — you’ll even try your hand at providing the first response to RFP questions and ask them to edit, instead of asking them to provide content from scratch.
This allows SMEs to save time and focus on their other high-priority tasks, while still ensuring they have the opportunity to add details, provide clarification, and correct mistakes.
Really lucky SMEs will work in an organization with a Knowledge Base, which reduces the amount of time they spend answering questions and reviewing content.
You see, the fundamental problem with creating proposals is that most organizations reinvent the wheel each time.
That means they ask their SMEs the same questions over and over again.
Sound annoying? It is — as leaders at Cengage can attest.
“It all came to a head as managers kept getting kickback,” said Beverly Blakely Jones, National Geographic Learning |Cengage supervisor. “The product SMEs and marketing team were tired of answering the same questions over and over. They knew there had to be an easier way to manage our RFP responses.”
Once they implemented RFP365 — the only end-to-end RFP management solution for both issuers and responders — they easily overcame that challenge. And the Knowledge Base was a key reason why.
“We have the security of knowing our knowledge is safe and consistent. We don’t have to worry that we’ll lose any SME expertise if someone quits or takes a vacation,” Beverly said. “We’re saving tons of time not having to go back through email strings to find content.”
With a Knowledge Base, you can simply ask your SMEs for answers to frequently asked questions once and easily access that information when you need it for future proposals.
Of course, it’s still important for SMEs to review that content periodically. We recommend having SMEs review Knowledge Base content on a quarterly basis to ensure it reflects any recent changes.
We bet answering questions once — and reviewing those responses only four times per year — would be a welcome change for the vast majority of SMEs.
How RFP365 improves proposal generation for SMEs and more
RFP365 makes it easy to collect, organize, store, and search for key proposal information.
This means you can reuse past RFP responses when creating new proposals — no need to harass your SMEs.
You can also assign SMEs Knowledge Base content to review based on their areas of expertise and run reports to determine whether or not they have completed this task.
“We’re thrilled to no longer have to start from scratch,” said Lesa Alexander, president and principal consultant at Ultimate Software. “Using RFP365 allows us to easily reuse previous responses, which saves us hours. The stored Knowledge Base means we only have to ask SMEs new questions.”
Request a demonstration to learn more.