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RFPIO CEO sees opportunity in the changing economy

RFPIO CEO sees opportunity in the changing economy

Every few years, it seems, economists warn of an impending economic slowdown. In circumstances where these predictions have merit—like now—should […]


Category: Revenue generation

RFPIO CEO sees opportunity in the changing economy

RFPIO CEO sees opportunity in the changing economy

Every few years, it seems, economists warn of an impending economic slowdown. In circumstances where these predictions have merit—like now—should businesses cut back, or should they embrace change?

Indeed, as every surfer knows, it’s impossible to ride the crest of a wave forever, and the troughs are where they regroup and build momentum. Or, as the late Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

I recently sat down with RFPIO’s Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Ganesh Shankar, to discuss the changing economy. We will discuss whether, like Churchill or the hypothetical surfer might, companies can leverage software like RFPIO to turn fiscal challenges into revenue-generating opportunities.

The economy

Wendy: Many economists predict a time of economic uncertainty. What is your opinion?

Ganesh: I am not an economist, but I see some macroeconomic challenges lurking. However, I see it as an opportunity. Stronger companies will have a chance to thrive.

Wendy: You have spent your career in the tech sector. In your experience, how do economic downturns generally affect tech?

Ganesh: In the grand scheme of things, this is a time when companies are looking for ways to be more efficient. Technologies tend to help companies become more efficient.

Better efficiency doesn’t mean that automation will take people’s jobs. I strongly feel that technology will allow companies to produce more and deliver better outputs with less infrastructure.

I believe this is the first time we are seeing a downturn in the SaaS ecosystem. Although, when I recently spoke with with two of our enterprise customers, they brought an incredible amount of energy to the meetings. They even flew people in from outside the country to speak with us. It’s evident that they see technology, and specifically our technology, as mission-critical.

Of course, not every technology can claim that, but I feel that RFPIO is fortunate in that it is seen as mission-critical software. Mission-critical technologies will be super important and help companies thrive during a changing economy.

RFPs in a changing economy

Wendy: RFPs are revenue-generating opportunities. During bullish economies, do you feel that companies tend to focus on the low-hanging fruit, such as MQLs and SQLs, rather than RFPs? If so, how does that change during a downturn?

Ganesh: I recently spoke to a CEO of a startup company. I asked why he was looking at a technology like RFPIO. Generally speaking, RFPs are relationship-based, and deals go to companies that are known to the purchaser.

For that reason, time- and resource-strapped small, mid-market, and startup companies often feel that responding to RFPs is a wasted effort.

The startup CEO looks at RFPs very differently. Instead of nurturing existing relationships, his company sees RFP response as an opportunity to put his brand in front of the customer. Even if they lose the deal, he said, RFP response improves brand awareness.

In the past, his company didn’t have the resources to respond to all the RFPs they received. With RFPIO, he told me, he can automate the response process, and it gives his company a chance to register his brand with buyers, whether they win the deal or not.

When the buyer is ready to look for a different company, and they are looking for a simple and economical solution rather than a giant brand, there’s a chance that they’ll remember his startup from the previous strong RFP response.

RFPIO helps his company respond to more RFPs and creates efficiencies in his organization’s response process. Now they have more time to respond, and now his team has the ability to participate in more bidding processes.

Wendy: Roughly ⅓ of revenue comes from RFPs. How might that change during a downturn?

Ganesh: I’m not sure of the metrics, but in changing economic times, companies will more thoroughly scrutinize and be more detail-oriented in evaluating options. In all industries, but especially in the SaaS economy, there are tons of options for customers.

Previously, perhaps due to a time or resource crunch, they made hurried decisions. In a challenging economy, buying decisions are more stringent and thorough. For that reason, I anticipate that organizations will see more RFPs.

Whether customers prioritize pricing, technology, etc., RFPs are a great way to objectively analyze each potential vendor’s offerings. I believe that RFPs will become even more common in the months to come.

Navigating changing times

Wendy: How should companies look at response teams if they need to restructure?

Ganesh: I don’t see technology as a vehicle for cutting people’s jobs. I see it as a way to make systems more efficient. I understand that companies sometimes have to take unwanted measures, but in challenging times, it’s important for companies to centralize their knowledge.

When employees leave an organization, and there is no centralized information repository, the company’s native knowledge walks out the door with them unless it’s documented and centralized.

You want your organization to speak the same language. The information that proposal and RFP managers curate for the company is client-facing. RFPs are often legally binding documents. Response managers must ensure they’re putting forth the right, most relevant information.

Wendy: Does RFPIO have a role beyond response management?

Ganesh: Companies spend time and energy creating their content, so why not optimize and repurpose it for use cases beyond RFPs? This would help other teams consume the content to be used for use cases. That is what I call the “democratization of content,” where organizations can use the same content over and over again. You can recycle and reuse content; you don’t have to reinvent it.

Especially in changing economies, it’s critical for companies to centralize and democratize content to help make informed business decisions. RFPIO’s industry-leading content management functionality provides a single source of truth for leadership, customer-facing teams, HR, finance, legal, etc.

Wendy: How do economic challenges affect the RFP go/no-go decision-making process?

Ganesh: Now is the time for companies to be more efficient and evaluate whether the opportunities are right for them. If it’s not the right opportunity, sometimes it’s okay to say “no-go” and move on to more fitting possibilities.

This is an excellent opportunity, however, for companies to loosen their criteria and do as the startup CEO I spoke to said. Now could be a great time to position themselves for future purchasing decisions by putting their brand in front of customers.

Wendy: A Forbes article suggests that government spending generally remains stable during a recession. What are your thoughts on that, and are there other recession-proof sectors?

Ganesh: Healthcare, education, utilities, education, and financial services are relatively stable.

Wendy: Do you have any advice for seeking out unsolicited opportunities?

Ganesh: This is the time for companies to step up their game and explain the value proposition they are offering. Sometimes customers may not think they are looking for a solution like yours, but then the onus goes on to you to educate and nurture the prospective customers and explain why yours is the right solution.

This is the time for value-based selling. You have to show the value and explain the ROI. Now is the time to become more serious in explaining to the customers.

Wendy: According to Gartner surveys, CIOs prioritize tech stack consolidation, centralized data management, and embracing emerging technologies as cost-cutting measures. How does RFPIO fit with those priorities?

Ganesh: I strongly believe that RFPIO fits into all those pockets. It helps companies be more efficient and reduce resource use. For CIOs, this is the time a platform like RFPIO is mission-critical. Regardless of the economy, companies tend to spend more on technologies that help them generate revenue.

That is why revenue-generating companies tend to be more successful during economic downturns. They are helping their customers earn revenue, which is one of the reasons RFPIO has one of the best-in-class customer retention numbers. We serve all three segments—small businesses, mid-market, and large enterprise companies.

Wendy: What about security spending?

Ganesh: Security spending will only increase, almost regardless of the economy. In the future, most large purchasing decisions will be preceded by security questionnaires to ensure that all vendors, and their vendors’ vendors, comply with buyers’ security protocols.

RFPIO® LookUp and Content Library saves hours on each security questionnaire by leveraging machine learning to answer up to 80% of a security questionnaire’s questions—with the documentation to back the answers up.

As for our platform, RFPIO is entirely scalable and secure enough for companies such as Microsoft, Salesforce, and Google.

Wendy: This has been an enlightening talk. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Ganesh: This is a good time for companies to think strategically. Most of the biggest deals involve at least an RFP. Sometimes they take a little longer to close, but the rewards are great. RFPIO can help companies thrive through changing economies by helping them win more of those bids.

Wendy: Thank you, Ganesh.

If you would like to learn more about how RFPIO can help your company navigate economic uncertainty, schedule a free demo.

Get started on your RFP solution journey with this ROI calculator

Get started on your RFP solution journey with this ROI calculator

Even with the growing amount of technology options, the majority of companies are still using manual processes to respond to RFPs. The time-consuming process of hunting through documents and spreadsheets for past responses when a deadline is looming can be a lot of pressure for any team.

Improve your win ratio with RFP automation

With fluctuating costs and increasing regulations, RFPs are longer and more complex. Answering them requires someone to lead the way and to collaborate with multiple subject matter experts (SMEs) to capture the responses. Most of us know that a well-executed response has a higher chance of winning than a hasty proposal that is rushed out the door.

Poorly executed RFP responses result in low close rates—typically less than 5%—an investment that is off-balance when you calculate the required time and resources. And though the right RFP response at the right time has the power to win new business, when team members are aware of the low probability of a win, they often push RFPs aside in favor of other more realistic priorities.

It’s an understandable dilemma, but one that is possible to overcome. One of the best ways to increase efficiency of the process and improve your win ratio is to invest in RFP automation.

Make a case for a new addition to your sales stack

As technology stacks grow, proving the case for adding another tool is a necessary step. A good place to start gathering the numbers is to calculate the return on investment, and see how much the manual process is costing your team.

Crownpeak, a digital experience management platform, spent a lot of time spinning their wheels with long and complicated RFPs–and two-thirds of their enterprise deals started with an RFP. Crownpeak didn’t have a single repository for their information, so their response specialists had to search scattered sources, including their executives’ heads, to find the intelligence they needed.

RFPs, especially in tech, are getting longer all the time, thanks to increasing regulation and complex compliance requests. In short, RFPs were taking too long to fill out and they were losing deals because of it.

That’s when Paul Taylor, Crownpeak’s VP of Solutions Engineering, knew it was time to automate their processes, but first he needed to justify the cost. Using our ROI calculator, Taylor calculated impressive returns, but was blown away by the actual results. Today they are enjoying a spectacular 6x ROI!

We know time is at a premium for most people in business these days—and pulling together the data to back up your story can be stressful to think about—so we created a handy ROI calculator to help get you started!

CALCULATE YOUR ROI

Ready to start increasing your ROI?

Schedule a Demo

 

How proposal teams can prove their value and drive sales productivity

How proposal teams can prove their value and drive sales productivity

This blog is a continuation of RFPIO’s white paper, Experience the Freedom to Thrive. Read the full paper here.

RFPs are part of the sales cycle. Ergo, RFP teams should be part of the sales team. You’d think it would be that simple… but, alas, nothing in the world of proposals is simple.

I’ve been in the proposal industry for almost two decades. Throughout that time, I’ve had to “make my case” to prove why I deserved a spot at the sales table.

This is despite the fact that $11 trillion of revenue is won through competitive proposal processes every year—and organizations with proposal professionals submit 3x more RFPs than those without.

And I know I’m not alone. According to a recent LinkedIn poll we conducted, only 69% of respondents said proposal management sits within the sales organization.

Proposal management in sales

For proposal managers who want to prove their value and drive sales productivity, the first step is demonstrating how your role fits in with the sales cycle.

Put an end to RFP telephone

Oftentimes, the RFP handoff from sales looks something like this:

  1. Sales forwards an RFP to the proposal manager and tries to get the proposal manager up to speed on the last 8 months of activities in about 15 minutes.
  2. The proposal manager starts herding the cats of SMEs and leadership in a short amount of time.
  3. Because the proposal manager wasn’t fully part of the sales strategy from the get-go, they aren’t able to answer questions about proposal strategy from SMEs.
  4. If the SMEs want to know what kind of “spin” they should put on certain questions, proposal managers might not know if they didn’t have a good hand-off from sales.

As a result, the SME answers the question generically. The proposal won’t be tailored to the customer’s specific needs. And sales might lose the deal.

That’s why proposal managers need to be involved in sales conversations from the very beginning.

If you’re trying to get caught up on everything, it’s too much to take in in a short amount of time. You need to understand how sales has been building up to that proposal, and what you need to highlight in the proposal to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

Take your seat at the sales table

The most important thing you can do to prove that you’re part of the sales team is act like you’re part of the sales team.

That means making it clear to your sales leader that you need a better understanding of what’s coming down the line and need to be part of sales huddles and pipeline meetings. This is especially important in this new era of remote work, where we’re not running into each other at the office. In the absence of impromptu conversations, we (proposal professionals) need to be more purposeful about communicating with sales.

If you’re not currently part of sales huddles and pipeline meetings, here’s an email template you can borrow to request to be part of those meetings:

Hi {boss name},

I’m writing to request an invitation to the sales team’s weekly sales huddles and pipeline meetings.

As the proposal manager, I’m responsible for crafting a compelling proposal that solves our clients’ problems. The sooner I’m clued into the status of open opportunities, the sooner I can start researching our client—and the more compelling proposal I can write.

To put a number on this:

    • Total dollar value of proposals won in [last year]:
    • Total dollar value of proposals lost in [last year]:

By joining sales conversations early on, I’m confident I can increase our proposal win rate—and help push deals deeper into the sales cycle.

Looking forward to seeing you in the first meeting!

Best,

{Your Name}

Take this template and make it your own—especially the metric purpose. I recommend tailoring your impact data t your company’s sales goals, whether that be revenue, membership, or new logos signed.

Once you’re part of those meetings, you have a chance to bring up ideas and offer your help. And help people understand that proposal teams don’t exist just to respond to RFPs. They are critical to winning and retaining accounts.

Gimme the data

After you’ve made the case to rightfully take your spot on the sales team, the next step is proving to leadership what you’re bringing to the table. And, more importantly, what would happen if you weren’t there.

This leads me to my golden rule of proposal management:

Even if you think everyone knows how much you’re working, they don’t.

If you’ve ever been told something along the lines of “Wow, your team is magic!”, that’s a big red flag.

My team is full of amazing, competent human beings who are excellent at their jobs. But there’s no such thing as magic. And if everyone else at your company believes you’re a team of magical proposal elves, that’s an easy recipe for burnout.

If you find yourself in that situation, you need to demonstrate how much time you’re spending on projects.

Here’s a list of everything you need to track to start building your case:

  • # of questions in each RFP
  • Time spent
  • By RFP
  • By task (e.g. formatting, printing, coordinating with SMEs)
  • By team member
  • # of RFPs and due dates

If you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to track all this”… Well, that’s probably a sign that you need to start tracking these metrics and prove to leadership how much you’re working.

If you have RFP software, tracking these metrics is easy. If you don’t, it’s a bit more challenging, but not impossible. I’ll cover both methods in the next two sections.

I think there’s an app for that…

If you really want to get on top of your data tracking, RFP software is going to be extremely helpful. It tracks all those metrics I listed in the previous section automatically, so you can just get on with your normal business and pull a report at the end of the quarter (or month or year or whatever it may be).

At my previous employer, we used RFPIO. We just went about our normal business and let RFPIO whir in the background. At the end of our analysis, we created a report showing (in quarterly timeframes and YTD):

  • How many hours go into each RFP
  • How many hours each individual is working per week
  • How many hours are spent on each part of the RFP

And the results of my report were really eye-opening for senior staff. I was able to prove that we needed an extra 2.5 people to achieve the same output and work 8 hours per day. As a result, we were put at the top of the list for new hires over the entire sales organization.

In lieu of RFP software, pivot tables are your friend

If you aren’t using RFP software, you’ll need to say hello to pivot tables, because they are going to be your new best friend.

First, ask your team members to use a free time-tracking software (like Toggl) to track their time. If you’re anything like me, you hate asking your over-worked team to do extra work.

If you start thinking that, just remember: The only way you can help your team get the support they need is by proving to the rest of the organization how much work you and your team are actually doing.

To put together a comprehensive report, you’ll need to ask your team members to track time by:

  • RFP, and
  • Task (e.g. formatting, printing, coordinating with SMEs, etc.)

At the end of the week, compile the report from each of your team members and pivot table away.

You don’t have to do this exercise forever. Only as long as it takes to build your case. Maybe it’s a week, maybe it’s a month. But just know that at the end of the exercise, you’ll have the data you need to prove how much you’re working.

Because—and I can’t say this enough—nobody knows how hard you work. And after you show them the numbers, they’ll wonder how you were ever able to do it all.

Building the right tech stack for your proposal team

As a proposal manager, you probably won’t have a huge say in what sales technology your team uses. When my previous company switched from Skype to Teams, nobody asked me what my thoughts were. All I could do was adjust and adapt.

And here is my pitch for RFP software. It truly is a game-changer for proposal teams. If you (or your boss) still need convincing, here are all the stats you need to build your case.

With RFP software, you can:

  • Act on the 80/20 rule: Automate responses to standard questions, and spend more time personalizing the client-specific questions
  • Always use the right client names: With RFP software, merge tags like [client name] make sure you never accidentally use the wrong client in a proposal (an easy mistake, but still embarrassing)
  • Consolidate content and keep it up to date: With an AI-enabled content library, you can store pre-approved, proposal team-blessed content, and make sure your entire sales team has access.

If you are already using RFP software, find ways to integrate with the rest of your tech stack. For example, RFPIO (my personal favorite) integrates with all kinds of platforms, including:

  • CRMs (Salesforce, MS Dynamics, Hubspot)
  • Cloud Storage (Box, Dropbox, Sharepoint, OneDrive, Google Drive)
  • Communication Apps (Slack, MS Teams, Google Hangouts, Jira)
  • SSO Authentication (Azure, Okta, OneLogin)
  • Web Browsers (Google Chrome, Chromium Edge) (These are technically called “browser extensions” and not “integrations” but whatever)
  • Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook)

Proposal managers are essential to driving sales productivity

Trillions of dollars of revenue are won through competitive proposal processes each year, and organizations with dedicated proposal managers submitted 3.5x more responses in 2020 than those without.

To learn what else proposal managers can to do drive sales productivity, check out our newly published white paper: Experience the Freedom to Thrive.

 benchmark-blog-report

Are you ready to jump into the revenue-generation game?

Read our white paper to learn how

One thing we found… with the right sales stack, proposal managers become an impactful source of revenue.

Not to toot our own horn, but with RFPIO, you can expect to reduce your RFP response time by 40% (on average).

To put a number on that: If you spend 40 hours per week responding to RFPs, RFPIO could save you 16 hours per week, on average.

Ready to see how it works? Schedule a demo.

How to turn proposals into a revenue-driving engine

How to turn proposals into a revenue-driving engine

Can the best proposal in the world win a sale on its own? Honestly, probably not. Proposals are just one element of a lengthy and involved sales process.

Flip the question on its head and ask, “Can a poor proposal torpedo a sale on its own?” Absolutely. As can a bad demo, negative reference, or a disagreeable price.

My point is that while the proposal cannot win you the sale on its own, it still plays a pivotal role. Whether it’s reactive (RFP, RFI, Security Questionnaire, etc.) or proactive (sales-generated to show product solution or value), a proposal’s job is to advance the sale. How do you propel something forward? Build an engine.

Build your revenue-driving proposal engine

A revenue-generating response engine can change how your organization feels about proposals, turning it from a necessary evil to a strategic advantage in the sales lifecycle. I’ve broken the engine down into four key components, the first of which is people. Based on my experience, with respect to the way proposals are handled, organizations fall into one of these categories :

  • Ad hoc: 20% of organizations have no dedicated proposal team, instead relying on sales to take it on. This is a reactive approach that typically produces low-quality proposals and poor win rates.
  • Tactical: By far the most common, 60% of organizations have a proposal support team. It’s more efficient than an Ad-hoc approach, but still reactive, not highly prioritized in the organizational structure, and results in a win rate that makes stakeholders hem and haw over whether it’s all worthwhile every year.
  • Strategic: This dedicated proposal function with defined processes and staffed by capture planning specialists, bid and proposal managers, proposal writers, and content managers—in place at only 20% of organizations—produces the highest quality proposals that result in the highest win rates.

People need processes—the second engine component—to optimize their efficiency, enable visibility, and forecast accurately. A well-documented process will help with qualifying opportunities, deciding on win themes, building the response team, assigning roles, tracking and reviewing proposals, assembling the final proposals for publishing, etc.

The third engine component is no surprise: content. Obviously, you need to illustrate how your product or solution solves the problem that has necessitated the response. The differentiator here is in content quality, access, re-use, and personalization.

All three of the components mentioned above will be highly influenced by the fourth engine component: the technology tools you invest in for your response management engine. These will include your CRM, collaboration and web conferencing tools, and, of course, proposal software solutions.

When the engine is firing on all cylinders

After you build the engine, you can expect improvements in the following:

Repeatability

This refers to whether you have a streamlined process that you can apply any time a response is required. Once you’ve established your process, it can be triggered by intaking a project in your proposal software or CRM.

Whether or not your process is easily repeatable depends on content. Do you define service level agreements that can be adhered to time and again? Are you capitalizing on the wealth of information that already exists in your proposal software’s Content Library? If you’re finding ways to reuse existing content, you’re already well on your way to repeatability.

Visibility

Gain macro clarity of your proposal team’s performance. Are there any patterns where win rates vary? This will help identify key characteristics of your most winnable deals. Which content is most popular? Most effective?

This will help identify where to invest subject matter expert (SME) time in content development.

Efficiency

Make everything easier and faster—from finding content and assembling documents, to working with collaborators. Teams that do so are often able to increase efficiency by 40%. Sometimes it’s even more.

There’s no question that proposal software saves time, no matter how many people you have responding to proposals. Friend and peer BJ Lownie, managing director and principal consultant at Strategic Proposals believes that, “Situations exist for one-man shows and full-blown proposal departments.” Having proposal software on hand will help produce higher quality proposals faster, filled with brand-approved content and output according to your style guides.

Quality

Give everyone back time to reinvest in improving the quality of their work. Salespeople can spend more time on revenue-generating operations. The proposal team can spend more time on creating high-quality responses. SMEs can focus their efforts on their primary job functions and other equally important operational activities.

The purchasing decision is a consensus activity these days. Emotional and political factors are also at play. On balance, you always want to put your best foot forward. Proposal quality matters. It can positively influence deals.

Revenue

Link 1-4 together and you discover that proposal software fuels your revenue-generating response engine!

Ultimately, you want your revenue-generating response engine to guide your organization to the point where you’re only responding to winnable deals. Data output from the engine will help you answer questions like:

  • What is your relationship to the organization you’re responding to?
  • Have you had any prior engagement with that organization?
  • Do you have any insight into why that organization is soliciting responses?

Time is finite in the response world. The response due date is a deadline not a guideline. To paraphrase a quote I recently read on LinkedIn, proposals are never done; they’re just due. This engine will help you be more discerning with how, when, and where you invest your time and energy.

Proven value of proposal software

At RFPIO, our mission is to provide technology that streamlines the proposal process. No question that a library of pre-written content is a backbone to increased productivity. As are collaborations with sales and SMEs. We want to reduce the friction of hunting for content and herding SME cats. With proposal software, RFPIO customers are able to:

  • Submit 25% more responses with 100% accuracy while staffing is down 50%.
  • Increase win rate by finding more time to craft compelling win messages.
  • Triple proposal capacity and create efficiencies across all teams.

We deliver time back. How would you like a week back in your typical three-week proposal
process? How that time is reinvested will determine your win rate success. With a response team firing on all automated cylinders, you can unleash proposal development best practices while protecting sales and SMEs from the inefficiency rampage of a frenzied response process.

Start building your revenue-generating response engine by scheduling a demo to see how much time you can free up to reinvest.

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