I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
When we survey RFP and proposal teams, nearly half report meeting response timeframes as their greatest challenge. They describe a mad dash to deadlines. It’s not uncommon to have 12 to 24 hours to turn around complex responses, but even with the relative luxury of a few days or a week, many sales executives aren’t confident in the quality or consistency of what’s headed out their door. These aren’t brochures you’re sending out – these documents are being carefully evaluated. Winning that evaluation means winning business, and few sales activities can be so clearly tracked back to revenue realization, so optimizing this process will generate your best measurable returns.
Wringing inefficiency from the process has to start with a look at the response ecosystem. Complex documents can require the input of a lot of subject matter experts. A Qvidian survey found that more than half of our respondents collaborated with anywhere from 6 to 100 SMEs on a single RFP. These people have “a real job," so getting their best effort, on time, every time, is clearly an obstacle to improving the quality and consistency of RFP and sales proposal documents.
Intelligent workflow and automation, applied to a library of approved content, can automate much of the document completion and free your RFP team to focus on the critical process of “review and revise," a step often compromised when deadlines are tight. Even if you don’t implement a complete RFP and proposal automation solution, there are areas where optimization can reap returns:
1. Sales Handoff
The RFP team typically gets the go-ahead from sales. We have found situations in which some of the deadline crunch could have been alleviated at this point in the process. Providing adequate response time, whenever possible, should be the common goal. Setting yourself up for success also means a complete communication about the needs and desires of the prospect—find a way to formalize the easy communication of this “sales IP” to ensure it finds its way into your response.
2. Content is King
Building an accessible library of approved content, and getting upfront agreement on who owns what, is job #1. Getting SMEs invested in this process is job #2. Because many of them (rightly so) view this as secondary to their job, do what you can to change that with incentives. Offer a cash bonus for any contributor to a winning bid. Start a contest and rank SMEs by how much revenue “their RFPs” have generated. Seek every opportunity to promote the RFP process as valuable and celebrate valued contributors. Typical sales tactics may be just the trick!
3. Actionable Insight
You can’t fix what you can’t see, so get a lens into “what sits where” and you’ll quickly see process bottlenecks (or identify slow SMEs). Teams can then swarm around deals that threaten to miss deadlines. Get beyond “managing by exception” – are you even working on the right RFPs? A simple 80/20 analysis may reveal level of effort versus return and you could re-align resources to deals with higher conversion likelihoods, greater margins or longer customer lifecycles.
Efficiency is generally defined as “quickly doing things correctly” while effectiveness is “doing the right things first.” While you seek to derive greater efficiency from your RFP investments, embrace the chance to examine your effectiveness as well. The RFP process holds great potential for organizations dedicated to doing it the best they can. For sales organizations with many channels, this might be a small part of your overall revenue capture effort. I would encourage you to engage with this process and invest in it – it will pay you back.
Lewis Miller is CEO and president of Qvidian, which provides cloud-based sales execution solutions that save sales, content, RFP and proposal teams time while improving effectiveness and optimizing productivity.