Last week we traveled south to San Diego for the Association of Proposal Management Professionals’ (APMP) annual Bid & Proposal Conference. “The world’s largest conference for proposal, bid, tender, capture, business development and graphics professionals,” according to their website.
These are the people that we work with every day. It was our second year at the event, and since last year, our presence and impact within the proposal management industry has grown.
We were thankful for the opportunity to share thought leadership on two panel sessions with other industry experts: “Communicating Tangible Business Value Propositions,” and “How to Wrangle Your Subject Matter Experts.”
Communicating tangible business value propositions
A poacher turned gamekeeper
As an accomplished sales professional, David Blume, RFPIO’s Senior Sales Director, knows what it’s like to just want to get the RFP out the door and focus on “real” sales opportunities. To demonstrate his evolution in this area, he gave a hunter’s analogy. In the past, he was a poacher—focusing on the highest quality sales and using laser focus to attack.
Now, David considers himself a gamekeeper, managing the whole perimeter of the RFP process and all the wild elements that come along with it.
Aligning teams internally
It’s not that sales and proposal teams are at odds. They are both in pursuit of new revenue.
David said the difference is in their horizons—RFP teams want to build a repeatable process and improve capabilities over the long-haul to support future business. Sales executives are focused on the next one or two quarters, so their time and attention are likely centered elsewhere.
And oftentimes, sales cycles can be long and complex—a proposal is just one element to that process. However, its impact is generally underestimated. An RFP gives you the chance to articulate:
- Your understanding of your prospect’s needs.
- How you can help them solve that problem.
- The tangible value you will deliver.
- Why they should choose you over your competition.
This calls on both sales and proposal teams to align. Your company’s value should be communicated throughout the sales process, and the RFP should be the icing on the cake. Align your resources internally first, and RFP wins can be truly shared across departments.
A message for the marketers out there: When developing case studies, try to include quantified evidence to support your company’s value proposition. You’ll appeal to sales teams especially if you can include a dollar value.
As you’re evaluating an RFP, make sure you know precisely what corporate initiative the investment supports, what you expect the return on investment to be, and why you’re pursuing it at this moment.
An exercise: Find out the the monetary value, win or lose, of the all of the business influenced by a proposal (RFP response or sales generated) in the last year. What would an extra deal a month mean for your organization’s bottom line?
Once you’ve decided an RFP is a viable opportunity and your sales and proposal teams are working together to deliver your value proposition, make sure your message is:
- Quantified (use real numbers wherever you can)
- Evidence-based (show, instead of tell)
- Differentiated (describe how you stand out from the competition)
“An RFP is not a quote, or a bill of materials. It’s a critical selling document designed to move the deal forward,” David said. “It has the potential to persuade (or at least reinforce the solid work done by sales and others), and to quantify business impact and value.”
How to wrangle your subject matter experts
Like herding cats
Ganesh Shankar, RFPIO’s CEO, knows it’s not easy to manage subject matter experts. After all, he used to be one. From his perspective, the elusive SME is focused on their primary roles, and may not have the time or interest to offer input into the sales process.
Proposal managers, we know how hard this makes your job. You’re stuck between sales and product teams and marketing, trying to manage an important revenue-generating process. It takes a village to respond to RFPs and requires a special kind of tenacity to solicit input from people across your organization, over and over again.
But when it comes to the people in your company who understand the technicalities of your product or service—the SMEs— there are implications of non-responsiveness. These are “ready made opportunities,” and avoiding them will have consequences.
So how do you get them to pay attention to you and answer the questions you need, in order to support an opportunity for the whole company?
Try implementing a system of communication in your organization where the subject matter experts are looped in from beginning to end of the process, avoiding surprises and allowing them to take ownership. This way, they can see and feel the impact of the proposals they’ve responded to, whether they are positive or negative.
Let them use their own tools
When it comes to content management, organizations should understand which tools their busy SMEs are working in from day to day. Consider utilizing integrations so they can collaborate without having to learn a new tool. If you’re using RFP software like RFPIO, you can integrate technologies like CRM and collaboration and cloud-storage tools.
Define a Service Level Agreement
Only approach an SME with a proposal if it’s been qualified to the company’s agree-upon standards. Once you’ve determined it’s a worthwhile opportunity, give as many details as you possibly can. Let them know exactly what the document is, what they are being asked to include, and approximately how long it should take, so that everyone is on the same page. Make sure to give them some lead time, too. Don’t ask for input at the last minute.
The responsibility here doesn’t fall entirely on the proposal manager, though. If the proposal team has kept up their end of the agreement, the SME should be responsive and clear about their timelines and contributions to the RFP process.
From Ganesh’s point of view, these are the three best ways to try and manage difficulty getting responses from subject matter experts, and relieve you from your frustrations in the RFP process. Forget wrangling, and start working harmoniously.