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Evaluating proposal management software is not a task you should take lightly. In fact, making the wrong decision will likely have dangerous and long-lasting implications. Critical content — such as a proposal — contain a tremendous amount of sensitive information that requires a high degree of functionality and protection. Sure, there are numerous generic content management software tools that offer document management functions, but when you're evaluating a solution for critical information, content management software's often fall short.
Here are a few key considerations to take into account when you're evaluating proposal management software.
First, let's consider the big difference between content management software and proposal management software. Content management software is a generic document management tool that focuses on the document itself: how to find, edit and store it. The workflow is based on routing the document around for edits and signatures. Proposal management software manages the whole process, including; tasks, steps, milestones, and deadlines.
While content management software gives online access to a specific document, proposal management software takes it to the next level and becomes ingrained in the teams' actual method of collaborating. Proposal management software encompasses specific applications, and sub-applications, aimed at the proposal team to address their need to collaborate in order to produce content. Of course, proposal management software has all of the document editing, reviewing, monitoring, and managing capabilities, but the overall scope of features are much broader due to it being a specialized piece of software.
Another big difference is proposal management software brings all the necessary tools, documents and people together into a centralized location. Whether your team works in the same room, or they're scattered throughout the country — or even the world — they'll still have easy access to the material — including your external partners, within Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) and other classified and sensitive environments.
Project management software should have a flexible workflow. It should be capable of running a proposal process as well as maintain a content library so you can build reports and workflows to manage your reusable content. Having these capabilities in a centralized system, including content management and proposal tools, allows you to do everything from maintaining resumes and past performances to reusable corporate overviews, executive summaries, questionnaire questions and answers. In a powerful proposal management software system, even graphics can be centralized, which is incredibly beneficial to the graphic designers on your team, as well as construction contractors and engineers. With centralized graphics, users can easily work with, reuse and even edit visual designs and diagrams without needing a separate software to find, edit, and maintain them.
Another key consideration while evaluating proposal management software is the ability to store and transfer data. There should always be a link between the business development team and the proposal team. Proposal management software should provide a bridge between the two, so it can pull data in and kick-off workflows as needed. Without this bridge you're left with two siloed systems where data resides in one and needs to be manually moved to the other in order to be leveraged. This is a dangerous set-up and can cause critical data loss.
To avoid data loss — and increase efficiency and accuracy — there should be a link to the opportunity database the sales team uses. Common integrations of proposal management software include Salesforce and SugarCM, as well as common tools in the federal market such as FedBizOpps and Deltek's GovWin IQ. The ability to connect to these systems to pull the necessary data through a dynamic two-way link streamlines the process and ensures your data stays up-to-date and accurate.
Reporting is vital. The executive and management teams need to know the status of all proposals. Having access to a robust reporting feature in your proposal management software is not a "nice-to-have," but a crucial component of the software's functionality. When evaluating reporting capabilities it's important to find a tool that offers both real-time status and historical performance data. These features offer insights into the success and opportunity areas within your efforts and assist you in driving future improvements. Unfortunately, these features are not found in most generic content management software tools. Without them, users are left with a reporting deficit that's hard to fill.
Security is another must have function. Proposals contain tremendous amounts of sensitive information that require a high-degree of security. Whether your solution resides on-premise or in the Cloud, it's important that your server is capable of managing data in a controlled and secured manner. A good proposal management software will add additional levels of security that further protect the information. One incredibly powerful security feature is the ability to set and manage permissions on an individual contributor level. This enables people outside the corporate network, such as sub-contractors, to easily access the data they need while ensuring they can't access anything else. Security is an area you should never downplay. Ensure your potential software solutions provide additional security that keep your data safe.
There's a lot to consider when evaluating proposal management software. Remember, finding the right tool means finding the one that facilitates your teams' needs. It should: focus on the people and the process, provide ease of use, transfer data reliably, offer clear reporting insights and secure all of your information. Using software that lacks these features is dangerous and sets up a host of potential problems, including data loss and security-related issues. If your team is not provided with a robust tool to accomplish their work, they'll find their own software to fill the gap. This adds a high level of risk to your team's security and process. It's always worth taking the time to find the right proposal management software solution to elevate your team to success.