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When Collaborating with SMEs, Think “Is-Does-Means”

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Let’s face it. Subject matter experts (SMEs) today tend to work in departments such as product management, product marketing, services, and engineering. This (obviously) makes them great at providing RFP responses that are factual, technically detailed, and highly accurate. Yet surprisingly, their content may not be good enough to include in your next RFP.

If this sounds like a contradiction – What do you mean our SMEs can’t provide great responses? – keep in mind that SMEs are often too close to a particular product or feature, especially if they helped design, develop, or launch it. They may have invested weeks or months (even years) focused on a new widget or technical detail, and now assume everyone knows what it is and why it’s so important.

Additionally, their roles usually require attention to product specifications and other technical details to make sure it works. As a result, these SMEs may be great at communicating accurate technical information, yet they often come up short when attempting to communicate the benefits their widget provides. In other words, they fail to address the question, “what does this really mean for the prospect?”

Highlight the benefits, not the features

Zig Ziglar, a famous sales guru, author, and motivation speaker, once pointed out that no one really wants a quarter-inch drill bit; what they really want is a quarter-inch hole. This was his way of encouraging sales and marketing teams to focus on providing solutions to their prospect’s problems, not just another product.

This still rings true today. Our language is still too focused on “we,” as in our products, our services, our track record, etc. Sales content usually doesn’t articulate how a particular product or service can help the prospect increase productivity, cut costs, or achieve whatever other goal they may be pursuing.

What is the best way to improve collaboration with SMEs, get better RFP content, and consistently demonstrate the benefit a prospect will receive? One way is collaborating with SMEs using an “is-does-means” framework when asking for RFP responses.

A closer look at “is-does-means”

  • Is: This is your chance to describe what a particular product, service, or feature actually is. Don’t take it too far and eliminate this step. It is still important to convey since many prospects do want to know – in simple terms – what your specific offering is.
  • Does: Here’s where you take it a little further. Instead of simply describing what your product, service, or feature is, this content should describe what it does. This information can include how it works, answers to obvious questions prospects may have on how this fits into larger product messaging, and other details.
  • Means: This is the most overlooked step. Too many subject matter experts assume prospects know what the end benefit really is, and in doing so, miss a huge opportunity to convey why anyone should care. “Means” content should include how this product, service, or feature helps save time, increase productivity, reduces costs, maximizes ROI, helps the business grow, or other business drivers. This content should be as specific as possible and improve quantifiable proof such as proven cost savings, metrics, or customer testimonials.

“Is-does-means” in action

To understand how this might look in real-life, let’s take a closer look at an example we’re all familiar with: a spell-check feature in a word-processing application:

    • Is: “Our release now includes a new spelling-and grammar-checking feature embedded in our word-processing application.”
    • Does: “This powerful new feature quickly identifies and corrects spelling errors and common grammar mistakes in word-processing, email, and online discussions.”
    • Means: “Save valuable time proofreading your document, reduce the amount of errors by 99.9%, and make sure you always sound like a true professional. Now you can produce flawless copy effortlessly and truly stand apart from the competition.”

By getting SMEs to understand what a great RFP response looks like – and how to consistently promote the benefits you can provide – RFP teams can improve collaboration and the overall quality of their proposal content.

For more ideas on improving collaboration – and how it can improve your proposal processes – download our new guide, “Stop. Collaborate and Listen: Eight Best Practices for Improving Collaboration in the Proposal Process,” today.

Fly Blind No Longer

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Have you ever worked in a situation where your success depended upon the success of the team? I’ll bet you have because that’s generally how great things are accomplished, by teams of people contributing expertise from their particular subject areas. But what if you can’t see the progress of your teammates? What if you are flying blind regarding the progress of the team? How easy is it to direct or navigate the process then?

What if you could easily see the progress of each member of the team? Would that help ease some stress, smooth communications, inspire confidence and bring attention to anyone who may need help? You bet!

It’s no different when responding to RFPs (Requests for Proposals) or creating proactive proposals. To be successful, these documents require contributions from the proposal team, knowledge managers, product managers, sales reps, sales engineers, the legal team and marketing. Like any team in the Olympics, each member knows that the success of the team depends on combining all of their individual efforts.

Jack Henry and Associates is a great example of a company who uses Qvidian’s proposal automation software to create a process that is smooth and balanced. Originally, proposal managers were assigned sales reps. If they had a rep that brought in a large number of RFPs, then their workload was quite extensive while another proposal manager may actually have time on their hands. Once they implemented Qvidian, they were able to use the functionality and features inside the system to divide up the work on each proposal creating a much more balanced workload, and equally as valuable, decrease stress on the team.

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As detailed in this case study, the proposal team conducted a process improvement initiative. They carved two days out of their very busy schedules and actually documented each and every step of their RFP process. They started with the moment they first received the RFP, timing every step they had to go through to answer the RFP and get it out the door. Then they evaluated those steps and figured out how much time Qvidian could save them. In many instances, through Qvidian, they were able to either eliminate steps altogether or streamline them so that the process was much more efficient and took less time as a result. “As we outlined all the steps that our RFP process took, we started saying, ‘Oh, we can do that through Qvidian. We can do this through Qvidian,’” remarked Elizabeth Grissom, RFP Proposal Analyst for Jack Henry. Qvidian has made everyone’s day easier as you can see in this video.

Recently, Qvidian has added even more features including the RFP Workflow. This feature enables a proposal manager to assign various parts of the RFP to the subject matter experts (SMEs), legal team, marketing group, etc. and monitor their progress. With simple visibility settings, the proposal manager knows in an instant if they are all on track to meet their deadline or if someone needs support to complete their portion of the project.

Where many proposal managers had to act on blind faith in the past or worry about nudging their colleagues a few too many times, those concerns are now gone. Once again, Qvidian’s drive to continually innovate has added even more ease and simplicity to the RFP and proposal process. Innovation – it’s something you can count on from Qvidian.