There are niche markets. Then there are niches of niche markets. IBA, a medical device manufacturer based in Belgium, is in one of those niches. That’s why they face such tough competition for every one of their 30, on average, annual request for proposal (RFP) responses or tender bids.
IBA global director of sales support and tender management, Grégory Saive, and his team review every document released in relation to IBA’s proton therapy technology. Due to the sensitive nature of the technology—it’s at the forefront of cancer treatment innovation—and the level of investment required to build and furnish a proton therapy suite, RFPs and tenders are understandably complex. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages of technical, legal, and medical information are included in responses and bids. Multiple subject matter experts must weigh in to ensure accuracy and mitigate risk.
Three years ago, Grégory took over a team of regional product managers and tender specialists participating in the business development of Proteus® proton therapy technology. At the time, the team faced multiple challenges:
- Even though team members carried the title of “specialist,” the monotony of repetitive bid and response tasks relegated them to feeling more like “assistants”
- Manual processes took up too much time and had to be repeated for every bid or response
- Bids and responses did not accurately represent the quality the company or the team wanted to portray when representing such a high-end brand in competitive evaluation processes
- Content was scattered, siloed, and difficult to keep current
When Grégory took over, he committed to transforming the team’s response processes while promising not to increase headcount. In order to fulfill his commitment, Grégory and his team knew that they needed a tool that could be the foundation for the team’s transformation. Given the nature of his work, he began the process by running a tender. “We are tender specialists, so I found it strange that my team would select a tool based on a whim. So we created a full tender for RFPIO and some of its competitors,” Grégory said.
IBA offered the tender to four pre-selected solution providers. During the demo process, RFPIO’s search functionality stood out as a definitive competitive differentiator. Grégory said, “I was impressed by how easy it was to tag answers with associated keywords, search for those keyword tags, and view search results with a score index to see the questions that are the most recent and most used at the top.”
In the past, when Grégory wanted to find the proper wording for an answer—wording that he knew existed but he could not precisely recall its location—he had to search through multiple documents line by line until he found it. With the search functionality he witnessed in the demo, he realized that he wouldn’t have to conduct those manual searches ever again.
For Grégory, response management software was a tool. Alone, it could not transform his team or response processes. Using response management software as the foundation, he sought to achieve three goals that he believed would result in a successful transformation.
Goal #1: Improve Quality
From the day Grégory took over his team, his goal was not primarily to increase efficiency. His goal was to improve bid and response quality. “We do not win a deal with a tender, but we can definitely lose a deal because of a tender,” he said.
With such a highly specialized solution, the market and opportunities are extremely limited. His team responds to an average 30 tenders or RFPs every year because there are only that many real opportunities that become available on a global scale.
Increasing efficiency so his team could produce more responses or bids would do nothing for IBA’s bottom line. They had to improve the quality of their bids and responses to increase the win percentage of existing opportunities. And IBA is not alone in its desire to re-invest time saved into improving bids. In fact, 84% of companies with designated RFP software agree that they have more time to personalize proposals for specific use cases.*
After a year of using RFPIO, IBA increased their win rate for Grégory’s business unit to 80%.
“With RFPIO, I would say we have increased our win rate by 15%.”
He’s quick to point out that RFPIO isn’t the only reason for this uptick. It’s also due to how he’s spent the time saved by using the tool. By reducing time spent on searching documents and copy and pasting answers, the team has more time to strategize about how to compose the best answers.
“RFPIO allows the team to spend more time on meaningful tasks…either training, reviewing answers, or improving quality. That’s where I’ve spent most of my time saved since the beginning.”
Goal #2: Improve Content Management
Prior to implementing RFPIO, Grégory and tender specialists had to browse hundreds of documents during the bid process. When they found something that was remotely close, then they copy and pasted it. They could not spend the time necessary to fully think it through and make sure it was a contextually sound answer because they had to move on.
That presented a problem for answers that had not been used in awhile. According to a Deloitte article called The new knowledge management, “If searching is difficult and the results are not highly valued, workers lose trust in knowledge systems.”
With RFPIO, the team now searches the Answer Library for the most relevant answer and trusts the results based on the content score. When they find an answer, they can also see when and how often that answer was used. If the answer is two years old, for example, then it is likely out of date because the product has evolved. The team knows that the answer needs to be reviewed by a product manager or other specialist, depending on the context, and can assign and track that review through RFPIO.
But even that process will continue to improve. Because Grégory’s team focuses only on proton therapy business, they can work in a single Answer Library. They are implementing processes to proactively review answers—especially long answers that are used regularly—with experts every six months. So in future searches, fewer Q & A pairs will be out of date and require detailed review during a bid in-flight.
In the case of content that needs updating more often, Grégory hopes to focus the review process even more. “Content relating to financing options—stuff that we don’t use often or that’s really specific to a country or prospect—usually needs 50% or more changes. Maybe in five years, we tag that content with special comments saying that it needs to be automatically reviewed by financial experts at IBA.”
While content management has already improved, IBA continues to identify new ways to streamline their review processes to identify more time that can be spent on improving bid quality.
Goal #3: Enable Better Training
Grégory promised management that in exchange for investing in a response management tool such as RFPIO, he would not add headcount. One of the primary reasons he’s been able to keep his promise is because of the training advantages offered by RFPIO.
IBA is not alone in its focus on training and maintaining headcount. 63% of proposal teams plan to increase team training on RFP response, while only 37% plan to hire more staff.*
Again, it’s not just the tool. As Grégory said, “It’s a great tool, but it’s not a magical tool.” While the RFPIO Answer Library helps streamline the answer process, it also gives time to Grégory and his team members to think and customize their answers.
For Grégory, he can take the time to train team members on how to answer, or what makes a good answer to a particular question. For his team, it’s the difference between plowing through the bid process feeling like an “assistant” or “generalist” and approaching each question as a “specialist” who can deliberate on differentiating IBA from competitors.
Although he is not adding headcount, transition on Grégory’s team does occur due to rotations some employees take from one department to another. In such cases, onboarding is much faster with RFPIO in place. “Again, the ease with which we are able to search the Answer Library has improved the onboarding process.” When new recruits don’t have to take the time to familiarize themselves with what the content is and where answers might be located, they can jump right into identifying the right answers through search.
So far, IBA has used RFPIO only for Proteus®. In the future, they hope to expand their Answer Library and Collections to include partner software and hardware that can make a solution even better. This will require a culture change around collaboration, but it’s all part of Grégory’s long-term plan to transform the team. IBA is also in the process of bringing its OneDrive integration online, which will expand their Answer Library with marketing videos, documents, and other content.
As for advice on how to get the most out of RFPIO, Grégory recommends having someone in charge of response management who can drive processes and establish goals. Setting ground rules and expectations for management as well as team members is essential to success.
The tool may not be magical, but it gives Grégory and his team time and opportunity to insert magic into their answers to improve the quality of their bids and responses.
“I cannot really measure the increase in quality in terms of answers, but I can certainly measure the increase of quality in my team.”