July 11, 2023 10:20 am

Peter Bonney


A Subject Matter Expert is the secret ingredient in winning RFP (Request for Proposal) and RFI (Request for Information) responses. Does that sound surprising? This guide will take you on a journey to discover the magic of SMEs in RFP/RFI responses.

RFPs and RFIs are essential tools that organizations use to solicit proposals for products, services, or valuable solutions. While an RFP is typically more specific and used when requirements for a product or service are clear, an RFI is a more exploratory request used to gather information about what solutions might be available. These requests are a golden opportunity for suppliers to present their solutions and compete for business. However, crafting an effective response that stands out can be a complex process. This is where the role of SMEs becomes paramount.

Having a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on your team can be the game-changer in your RFP and RFI responses. They possess in-depth knowledge and expertise in their field that helps them understand the specific nuances and requirements of the RFP or RFI. Their unique insights can add value, depth, and credibility to your proposal, setting it apart from the rest. Their role in the RFP/RFI process is akin to having a seasoned navigator guiding you through unknown territories.

In this guide, we will delve into the crucial role of a Subject Matter Expert in the RFP and RFI response process. We will cover everything from the basic understanding of SMEs, their value in RFP/RFI responses, how to choose the right Subject Matter Expert, the best practices to integrate them into your response process, and how technology can help in enhancing their contributions. We will also look at some future trends in the involvement of SMEs in the RFP/RFI responses. So whether you are a seasoned professional looking to sharpen your skills or a newbie stepping into the world of RFP/RFI responses, this guide will equip you with valuable insights and practical tips to harness the power of Subject Matter Experts. Let's dive in!

Understanding the Subject Matter Expert Basics

Definition and Roles of a Subject Matter Expert

Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs, are akin to superheroes in their respective fields. Their superpower? A deep understanding and knowledge of a specific subject, technology, product, or process, far beyond that of an average professional. Their proficiency is honed by years of experience, training, and continuous learning. 

In the context of RFP/RFI responses, they bring an invaluable arsenal of knowledge, experience, and credibility to the table. An SME can break down complex information, tailor it to the specifics of the proposal, and ensure that it's presented in a way that resonates with the requester. Their role is critical to demonstrate the organization's capabilities, convince potential clients of the efficacy of the proposed solutions, and build trust in the organization's expertise.

The Importance of SMEs in Various Industries

Regardless of the industry, SMEs play a vital role in driving success. From healthcare to technology, construction to education, every sector recognizes and appreciates the power of SMEs. Their roles can vary but are always pivotal to the functioning of the organization. Here are a few ways they contribute:

  • Providing detailed knowledge: SMEs possess an in-depth understanding of their domain. They keep up with the latest trends, technologies, and best practices, which allows them to provide detailed and up-to-date knowledge. 
  • Solving complex problems: With their extensive knowledge and hands-on experience, SMEs are adept at problem-solving. They can think outside the box to provide innovative and practical solutions to complex challenges.
  • Guiding processes with their expertise: Their expertise makes SMEs ideal leaders for project teams. They guide processes, set standards, train others, and ensure quality in their area of expertise. 

The Function of a Subject Matter Expert in the RFP and RFI Process

The role of SMEs in the RFP/RFI process is critical to winning bids. In this context, SMEs act much like seasoned tour guides, navigating the landscape of the proposal response. Here's how they contribute:

  • Understanding complex requirements: RFPs and RFIs can sometimes be filled with industry jargon, complex requirements, and stringent guidelines. SMEs, with their extensive knowledge and experience, can decode these complexities and ensure that the response meets the requestor's specifications.
  • Providing comprehensive solutions: SMEs can draw on their expertise to design solutions that are comprehensive, innovative, and tailored to the needs expressed in the RFP/RFI. Their solutions go beyond just answering the request - they illustrate how the bidder can add value and meet the future needs of the requestor.
  • Assuring quality in responses: An RFP/RFI response is only as good as the quality it promises. SMEs ensure that the proposals are of high quality, credible, and demonstrate a deep understanding of the requester's needs. They can also validate the feasibility of the proposed solutions, ensuring that what is promised can be delivered.

In the following sections, we will explore in greater depth how the involvement of SMEs can influence the outcome of RFP/RFI responses.

The Value of SMEs in the RFP/RFI Process

How SMEs Influence RFP/RFI Outcomes

The unique capabilities of Subject Matter Experts can tip the scale in your favor in RFP/RFI responses. Let's look at how they influence the process and ultimately, the outcome:

  • Add credibility to your proposal: An RFP/RFI response with insights from an SME is immediately perceived as credible and reliable. Their expertise is a testament to the quality and feasibility of the proposed solution, giving potential clients confidence in your ability to deliver what is promised.  
  • Offer innovative and practical solutions: SMEs have a knack for thinking outside the box. Their in-depth understanding of their subject matter allows them to offer innovative solutions that not only meet the requirements of the RFP/RFI but exceed them. Their solutions are practical, grounded in experience, and tailored to the specifics of the request, making your proposal stand out from the competition.
  • Reduce response time by quickly understanding requirements: One of the key challenges in responding to RFPs/RFIs is the often tight timeline. SMEs, with their extensive experience, are adept at quickly understanding and interpreting complex requirements, helping to cut down the response time without compromising the quality of the proposal.

Quantitative Benefits of Subject Matter Expert Engagement

The involvement of SMEs in the RFP/RFI response process doesn't just enhance the quality of proposals; it also has quantifiable benefits. A recent study showed that teams with a satisfactory RFP collaboration process won 20% more bids than those with poor SME involvement! This is a substantial increase and demonstrates the potential ROI of investing in SME engagement during the proposal process.

And the people tasked with responding to RFX know that subject matter expert involvement is critical but difficult. In a 2020 survey 43% of respondents ranked "Collaborating with internal experts" as their top challenge.

SMEs add value not just through their knowledge and expertise, but also by enhancing the overall effectiveness of the RFP/RFI response, leading to better outcomes and increased contract wins. In the next section, we'll delve deeper into how to identify and select the right SME for your RFP/RFI response process.

Choosing the Right Subject Matter Expert for Your RFP/RFI Response

choosing a subject matter expert is not easy

Required Skills and Qualifications for a SME

Identifying the right Subject Matter Expert to help with your RFP/RFI response involves more than just acknowledging their proficiency in a specific area. Let's delve into the essential skills and qualifications that define an ideal SME:

  • Deep knowledge of the subject: It goes without saying that SMEs need a profound understanding of their respective field. This includes not only the theoretical aspects but also practical applications and industry trends. Their deep-rooted knowledge helps in providing detailed, insightful, and realistic solutions to the problems presented in RFP/RFI requests.
  • Experience in the RFP/RFI process: An understanding of how RFP/RFI processes work, including comprehension of requirements, the ability to craft comprehensive responses, and experience in coordinating with proposal teams, is integral. This ensures they can smoothly integrate into the process and contribute effectively.
  • Great communication skills: SMEs should be able to articulate their knowledge clearly. They must convey complex information in a way that is easy to understand, both for the proposal team and for the client. These communication skills are also vital when collaborating with other team members or stakeholders.

Key Characteristics of an Effective SME

Being an SME goes beyond having a wealth of knowledge and experience; it also involves certain behavioral characteristics that enhance their effectiveness:

  • Innovative: The ability to think creatively and provide unique solutions is highly valued. An innovative SME can add a competitive edge to your proposal by introducing new perspectives and solutions that align with the client's needs but stand out from other responses.
  • Collaborative: SMEs must be team players. They should be comfortable working in a multi-disciplinary team, able to respect and incorporate input from others, and willing to align their expertise with the team's strategies to produce the best response.
  • Detail-oriented: Paying close attention to the specifics of the RFP/RFI, the requirements of the client, and the nuances of the proposed solution is crucial. A detail-oriented SME ensures high-quality responses and can spot potential issues before they become problematic.

Finding the Right Subject Matter Experts

Finding the right SME can be a challenge, but there are several avenues to explore:

  • In-house experts: Check if you have experts within your organization who can fit the role. They already understand your company culture and processes, which can make collaboration easier.
  • Professional networks: LinkedIn and other professional networking platforms can be a good starting point to find external SMEs. Look for individuals with strong recommendations and proven track records in the specific subject matter.
  • Freelance experts: There are numerous platforms where you can hire freelance SMEs. When considering this option, ensure to vet their expertise, experience, and interpersonal skills thoroughly.

When choosing an SME, always remember that it's not just about their subject matter expertise but also about how they can mesh with your team, contribute to the RFP/RFI response process, and help create a compelling proposal. In the next section, we will explore how to effectively integrate the SME into your RFP/RFI response process.

Integrating the SME in the RFP/RFI Response Process

Subject Matter Expert challenges - in infographic

Engaging SMEs

Successfully integrating a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in your RFP/RFI response process involves a strategic approach that optimizes their involvement and contribution:

  1. Share the project details with them: Begin by giving your SME a comprehensive overview of the project, including the objectives, scope, and requirements of the RFP/RFI. This allows them to better understand the context and allows their expertise to be more effectively applied.
  2. Set clear expectations and deadlines: From the start, establish clear expectations regarding the SME's role, responsibilities, and the deliverables you need from them. Setting deadlines will help to keep the process on track and ensure timely completion of the response.
  3. Regularly communicate and address their queries: Consistent communication is key. Ensure that the SME feels comfortable asking questions and that their queries are promptly addressed. Regular check-ins can help keep them aligned with the rest of the team and the project's progress.

Overcoming Challenges

Working with SMEs can sometimes present challenges, such as time constraints, communication gaps, or differing expectations. However, with strategic management, these can be effectively navigated:

  • Time Constraints: Since SMEs often have other responsibilities or commitments, managing their time effectively is crucial. Provide them with a clear schedule, prioritize tasks, and allow flexibility where possible without compromising the RFP/RFI timeline.
  • Communication Gaps: Miscommunication can lead to misunderstandings and delays. Foster an environment of open communication, clarify doubts promptly, and use clear and straightforward language to minimize potential communication gaps.

Collaboration Best Practices

Successful collaboration between the response team and the SME is critical to the overall success of your RFP/RFI response. Here are some practices to foster effective cooperation:

  • Regular team meetings: Schedule consistent meetings with the entire team, including the SME, to discuss progress, address concerns, and ensure everyone is aligned. This helps to keep everyone on the same page and fosters a sense of unity.
  • Constructive feedback: Encourage a culture of feedback where team members, including the SME, feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Constructive criticism can lead to improved processes and innovative solutions.
  • Shared tools and resources: Utilize collaboration tools and platforms that allow for real-time communication, document sharing, and collective editing. This can make it easier for the SME to integrate into the team and contribute effectively.

In the next section, we will explore the role of technology in enhancing SME contributions and facilitating better collaboration in the context of RFP/RFI responses.

Leveraging Technology for Collaboration

An RFP response team collaborates with Subject Matter Experts over a conference room table with open laptops

Enhancing Subject Matter Expert Contributions with Technology

Technology plays a crucial role in maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of SME involvement in the RFP/RFI response process. It can serve multiple purposes:

  • Facilitate effective communication: Technologies such as team collaboration software or communication platforms can help create a conducive environment for real-time, efficient communication between the team members and the SME, reducing potential misunderstandings and information lags.
  • Help organize and track progress: Project management tools can help in organizing tasks, setting timelines, and tracking the progress of the RFP/RFI response. They also enable the team and the SME to have a clear picture of their responsibilities and the overall project status.
  • Ensure the quality of responses: Technology can also aid in ensuring the quality of RFP/RFI responses. Tools for document creation, editing, and review can help in crafting precise, high-quality responses, enabling SMEs to contribute their knowledge in the most impactful way.

Vendorful.ai: Your Technological Ally

One such platform that enhances SME collaboration in the RFP/RFI response process is Vendorful.ai. This tool specifically assists in maintaining seamless communication, efficient tracking of progress, and quality control in the RFP/RFI response process. It provides an intuitive interface and robust features that help integrate SMEs into the response team more effectively and helps make their contributions more valuable.

In the next section, we'll discuss the anticipated future trends in SME involvement in RFP/RFI responses, and how to stay ahead of these changes to ensure the continuing effectiveness of your SME collaborations.

Future Subject Matter Expert Trends

Upcoming SME Involvement Trends

Looking towards the future, we can anticipate several trends that will shape the landscape of SME involvement in RFP and RFI responses.

  • Increased SME involvement: As businesses continue to realize the potential benefits of including SMEs in their RFP/RFI processes, there will be a rising trend in their active involvement. Companies will not only seek to tap into the depth of knowledge and expertise that SMEs bring but also the diversity of perspectives, leading to more comprehensive and competitive proposals.
  • Global SME collaboration: The rise of remote work and virtual collaboration tools has opened up new possibilities for global SME collaboration. Companies will no longer be limited by geographical boundaries and will be able to engage with top SMEs from around the world. This will bring diverse expertise to their responses, making them more appealing and holistic.
  • AI and automation: The future will see a greater interplay of AI and automation in SME collaboration. AI can be used to match SMEs with specific RFP/RFI projects based on their expertise. Automation, on the other hand, can streamline processes, leaving SMEs more time to focus on the strategic aspects of the response.

Staying Ahead

To stay ahead in this changing landscape, it's crucial that organizations:

  • Embrace the power of SMEs: Recognize the unique value SMEs bring to the table and seek to integrate their expertise into the RFP/RFI response process. Encourage a culture that values knowledge sharing and continual learning.
  • Invest in technology: Utilize collaborative technology platforms like Vendorful.ai that facilitate smooth coordination between the response team and the SMEs. Keep up-to-date with emerging technologies that can streamline the process and enhance the contribution of SMEs.
  • Foster diversity and inclusivity: Seek to involve SMEs from various backgrounds and areas of expertise. This not only enhances the quality of the response but also fosters a diverse and inclusive working environment.

By staying alert to these trends and adapting accordingly, organizations can ensure that they remain competitive in their RFP/RFI responses, harnessing the full potential of SMEs to drive their success. In the concluding section, we will summarize the central points of this comprehensive guide and invite further discussion on this vital topic.


To wrap up this comprehensive exploration of the role of Subject Matter Experts in RFP and RFI responses, we can distill some key takeaways. SMEs are not just important, but invaluable contributors in the realm of RFP/RFI processes. Their deep knowledge and expertise add an essential layer of credibility to your responses, demonstrating to your potential clients that your company is equipped with top-tier expertise in the respective field.

Moreover, SMEs bring innovative and creative solutions to the table. Their profound understanding of specific topics allows them to identify and suggest novel approaches that can make your response stand out among competitors. This unique insight can dramatically increase the odds of winning bids and securing contracts.

The quality of RFP/RFI responses is also significantly elevated when SMEs are involved. They ensure that the responses are comprehensive, accurate, and detailed, meeting all the necessary criteria and surpassing expectations. The integration of their expertise results in responses that are not only of high quality but are also reflective of the cutting-edge knowledge in the respective field.

Effective collaboration with SMEs is amplified when leveraging the right technologies. As our guide highlighted, platforms like Vendorful.ai can facilitate efficient communication, track progress effectively, and ensure the quality of responses, making the whole process seamless and more productive.

Looking ahead, it's clear that the value of SMEs will only continue to grow. With the increasing globalization and digitization of work, more and more companies will find it not just beneficial, but necessary, to involve SMEs in their RFP/RFI responses. By staying ahead of these trends and harnessing the power of SMEs and technology, organizations can create a competitive edge in their RFP/RFI processes.

As we conclude this guide, we encourage you to explore further, discuss, and ask more about the role of SMEs in RFP/RFI responses. No matter where you are in your journey, the inclusion of SMEs is an investment that will yield significant returns. So, step into the future of RFP/RFI responses with SMEs at your side and unlock a world of possibilities.

Ready to learn more?

Ready to unlock the power of SMEs in your RFP/RFI responses? Engage with Vendorful.ai's solutions today! For more resources, check out this post on SMEs or this one on RFP collaboration. Or sign up to try out Vendorful for free!

About the Author

Peter Bonney is a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Vendorful. He has been helping organizations with their RFP challenges since 2016. Prior to that, in his role as an investment manger, he watched way to many companies get burned by poor RFP processes, and personally dealt with the pain of DDQs and other complex business questionnaires.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}