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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: Tag: Sales enablement

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.

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Sales vs. Presales: What’s the difference?

Closing a sales deal is a big win. And that’s especially true for businesses selling complex products to other businesses. It takes a lot of work to reach the point where a team of buyers is ready to invest in your product. 

But beyond the point where a prospect says “yes,” a sale could still go wrong. If a new client has trouble making your product work with the technology and systems they already use, then the hard work your salespeople put into landing that deal could be wasted. To avoid that, many companies now have multiple teams involved in the sales process: the traditional sales team we’re all familiar with and presales professionals who play a crucial role. 

But for anyone new to the concept of presales, or still trying to figure out where a presales team would fit in, you may wonder what the difference between sales and presales actually is. 

Sales vs. presales: The short answer

The main difference between sales and presales is that sales is responsible for developing customer relationships. In contrast, presales is involved in helping with the technological side of the sales process. Sales is concerned with the customer fit—ensuring a lead falls within your target audience and is likely to buy. Presales is concerned with the solution fit—ensuring your product is a good solution for the customer’s pain points. 

While the two roles are distinct, they’re both important. 

What is presales?

The B2B sales process is long, complicated, and often too much for a salesperson to handle alone. A presales team takes on a number of steps to allow the sales team more time to focus on building the relationship with prospective customers. 

In particular, presales engineers handle parts of the sales process that involve advanced technical knowledge. It’s their job to understand the product well enough to grasp precisely where it will fit into a customer’s tech stack and answer any technical features and implementation questions. Your typical sales representative doesn’t necessarily have the specialized training for that. Presales enables them to do their jobs more effectively and ensures they don’t inadvertently mislead customers about technological features they may not understand. 

Common presales responsibilities

Each company can work out how to break down responsibilities between sales and presales. There’s no one right answer here. But to give you an idea of the kind of work presales professionals typically take on, some common responsibilities include:

  • Sending discovery emails
  • Setting up and/or joining discovery calls
  • Hosting demos
  • Providing proof of concept
  • Drafting sales proposals
  • Working on RFPs (requests for proposals)
  • Completing security questionnaires
  • Helping with instance configuration and setup
  • Building documents for sales and other teams that support a seamless transition

Presales may work alongside a sales representative on some of these tasks, and take on others independently. You’ll want to create a clearly defined presales process that outlines their responsibilities and priorities. 

What is sales?

Sales is responsible for gaining a lead’s trust and convincing them that they’re in good hands if they choose your product. They’re in charge of the process’s more persuasive and personality-driven parts. The work presales does leaves the sales team with more time to focus on their primary job: building relationships with prospects and convincing them to buy.

Common sales responsibilities

In some companies, sales representatives may be involved or in charge of some of the tasks listed above. But generally, their most important responsibilities are:

  • Performing prospecting work to identify clients who are a good fit for your product based on factors like budget, size, and need
  • Deploying negotiation tactics to prime prospects for a sale
  • Closing deals
  • Providing ongoing support to customers to keep them happy after purchase (and drive retention)

That list may look short at a glance, but each responsibility is a big one that takes a lot of time and work. By taking on a portion of the sales process, presales ensures sales representatives have the time they need to successfully tackle each step. 

Defining the rules of engagement for presales and sales

Collaboration between sales and presales is key to both teams accomplishing their goals. But you must ensure both teams understand when and how to work together. For that, define clear rules of engagement to avoid any confusion around who’s responsible for what. 

Think through every step in the sales process. Then create clear guidelines for who should be involved in each step, along with instructions on when and how to bring others into the process to fulfill their roles. You can break this down based on the stage in the sales process, the type of customer involved, and/or specific types of sales tasks. Make it clear to sales when they should be reaching out to presales to help with something and vice versa. 

Clarity here ensures people are in charge of the tasks they’re best suited for. And it helps you avoid conflict that can arise when there’s confusion around who’s responsible for what. Both teams depend on each other for success, so you want a system that makes cooperation seamless.

Technology enables sales and presales collaboration

A strong, well-defined process is the best way to ensure sales and presales work together effectively. But the right technology can make collaboration easier. RFPIO provides software that helps sales and presales teams work better together. The content library lets you track common questions you receive from prospects, then easily save and access the best answer to each one. The internal communication features enable natural handoffs between team members and helps you keep customers from falling through the cracks. And automation features cut down on hours of work spent on proposals and answering questions.  

Are you ready to build a better process for aligning sales and presales on content and engagement? Schedule a demo to see how RFPIO can help.

 

9 tips on how to improve sales performance

9 tips on how to improve sales performance

If you’re anything like me, after every end-of-quarter blitz you may think, “Whew, what a rush. How can we improve for next quarter?” I contemplate this whether we hit our goals or not. As the VP of Sales at RFPIO, I’m constantly on the lookout for how to improve sales performance. Not just for my team, but for our whole organization.

The sales process is unique to your particular brew of product and buyer profile. There are no magic bullets to improve sales performance no matter your bailiwick. With that in mind, I compiled this list of tips with the intent that they can be generic enough to apply to a majority of sales processes. They’re recommendations on where you can look to make incremental changes. Some may be obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less important to address if you want to improve performance.

I’m not saying that these 9 tips on how to improve sales performance are going to have you coasting into the end of the next quarter like Captain Jack Sparrow docking a schooner just as it sinks below the harbor’s surface. No, that end-of-quarter flurry will always be there (and, let’s be honest, it’s one of the reasons we love being in sales), but maybe the next one will be for your sales team to exceed quota or close larger deals or launch a new product like a moonshot.

via GIPHY

9 tips to improve sales performance:

1. Monitor buyer’s evolving needs

So many companies forget this step, even seasoned ones. Many companies assume that they know their buyer. But when taking a step back, some may realize they are targeting the wrong buyers, neglecting an entire target altogether, or basing their buyer persona on outdated intel.

Establish a routine of reviewing your available market, determining what factors (e.g., pandemic-related shutdowns, new technology, political changes, ad infinitum) may have altered buyer motivations, and strategizing how your sales team needs to pivot.

2. Keep the sales tech stack humming

Each member of a sales team’s ability to achieve their goals will be determined by the tools they have to work with. It’s “sales tech mayhem” out there, according to Gartner, and the number of sales tools reps use has more than tripled since 2017. Many businesses thrive with knowledge management systems that help them streamline important information into one place.

Plug into sales enablement. It’s by far the fastest-growing sector in sales technology (up 567% in 2019 and still growing). It’s integral to ensuring salespeople are equipped with the tools that they need to reach prospects successfully.

3. Foster collaboration…internally and with prospects

Sales teams cannot exist in a silo. Collaboration must be seamless among presales, account executives, marketing, and product teams, at minimum. By fostering a culture of collaboration, you create a stronger sales team and brand.

I’ve also found that my strongest closes happen because I’m collaborating with prospects, too. I ask them to help me solve their problem. It adds another layer of buy-in to carry me to the next step in the process while involving other stakeholders, eventually connecting me to the ultimate decision-maker.

4. Make data-based decisions

This will improve over time, but the sooner you start gathering data, the faster you’ll see results. More data will equal greater insight into buyer personas, product and demo strengths and weaknesses, why deals succeed or fail, and methods that your most successful reps are using. Patterns will emerge faster than you think.

5. Fine tune how to build customer trust

Ask quality questions until you truly understand customer perspectives. Otherwise, you’ll continue getting a barrage of objections. Further understand their challenges until they give you space to respond to concerns. Then you can work to help them understand potential outcomes of using your product and how it can address their specific concerns.

6. Focus on the right deals.

Evaluate whether or not you are pursuing deals that are a lost cause. Also keep watch on individual activities within deal cycles. Always re-evaluate the priority because it will constantly change.

I explain it to my team this way: Say you’re on safari, watching lions, hippos, and giraffes…whoa! Check out that zebra! Black and white, it stands out among the brown and green of the savannah. Know how to identify the zebra, the one you need to focus on. To know this, you need to understand how your environment functions, including everything from team dynamics to the chain of events that has to happen before closing to product details to buyer profiles.

7. Improve your proposals

Personalize your proposals so that the customer feels like you really care, because you do! Besides, you spend too much time building relationships to sabotage that hard work with subpar proposals. The proposal will weigh heavily in establishing trust, communicating to decision makers, and setting your solution apart from the competition.

8. Evaluate the Competition

Learn from your competitors. Always be thinking of ways that you can differentiate yourself from that competitor and find those challenges that other competitors may be missing that you can solve for.

Understand the value that competitors say they’ll provide to the prospects you’re both trying to target. That’s the only way to know how you can deliver greater value or fit your prospect’s specific needs better.

9. Track your pipeline

Monitor the volume of your pipeline regularly. Sales leaders need to be able to explain to reps that, “To be successful as a rep here, you need to have ‘X’ number of logos by ‘X’ date.” Know the benchmarks that determine success.

Always make sure you have a healthy pipeline. You’d be surprised how often this falls through the cracks. Reps understandably focus on the deal that’s right in front of them and can easily forget to nurture their pipeline.

Can we help?

By following these steps, you can improve sales performance and hit those KPI’s. Like I mentioned earlier, sales enablement can be a boon to sales outcomes. If you want to learn more about how RFPIO can improve sales performance, schedule a demo today!

What is sales enablement? Why is it trending?

What is sales enablement? Why is it trending?

I’ll be honest. When I transitioned from my frontline sales career to sales enablement operations, I didn’t know sales enablement was going to explode like it has. I was just intensely curious about the tools in our tech stack that helped me stay on top of customer engagement. So much so that RFPIO noticed and asked if I’d like to take ownership of it. “Don’t mind if I do!” I replied, and it’s been a rush ever since.

A recent Smart Selling Tools survey revealed that use of sales enablement tools grew by 567% in a one year period. Why? Well, there are many gears that have to sync before achieving a successful sale. Even the deals that close because you feel like you were in the right place at the right time are a product of a lot of work that has gone on behind the scenes. What’s the Richard Branson quote? “There are no quick wins in business—it takes years to become an overnight success.”

How can you make the sales process smoother? The answer to that question is sales enablement. The value prop for sales enablement is to make sure those gears behind the scenes are fully lubricated and precisely machined, no matter how unpredictable your product, market, or customer may be.

What is sales enablement?

Sales enablement is the ongoing, strategic process of equipping sales teams with the right resources in order to effectively close more deals. We complement the sales cycle and help reps do what they do best: Sell. There are myriad ways companies can provide these resources, like through knowledge management software, training programs, and other types of support.

Mind you, sales enablement isn’t just for the rookies. Sales enablement adds a layer of support for reps of all levels, from senior leaders to new hires.

Without enablement, there’s a lack of alignment between process and training. Sales professionals are hard chargers who want to succeed. If their organization doesn’t enable them, then salespeople will go rogue to find ways to succeed on their own. While this is admirable in a proactive sense, it can result in long-term issues with team dynamics, inconsistent messaging, and loss of native expertise when your strongest sales people leave the company. Because along with a penchant for seeking successful outcomes, great sales reps want to be in environments where there are as few barriers to success as possible. If they can be enabled elsewhere to greater success, they’ll leave.

With sales enablement, you can have an open line of communication between all stakeholders—from sales development reps to account executives to account managers. Only then are you able to develop a list of goals that can link the sales team’s needs with business objectives. Of course, goals will vary depending on roles within the sales team. For example, account executives want to rely less on others and have more control over meeting their quota, but other members of the sales team may be looking for ways to share resources faster so that everyone can succeed and better manage revenue streams.

Why is sales enablement important?

Sales enablement can scale the work of sales teams and can also improve collaboration across sales and presales. With these areas of the business communicating to each other, you’re able to formulate a sales enablement strategy that can improve business goals more efficiently.

I don’t believe that every deal is just another number. As the owner of sales enablement at RFPIO, I strive to make every customer journey an experience in partnership with RFPIO. I want to create a sense of community. The support we offer the sales cycle will provide dividends in the customer experience as a whole. If we can drive competency levels with demos, strengthen the sales team culture, and simplify knowledge management, then deals close faster and customers are more satisfied. Reps always want to sell better, they’re always looking to improve, and we’re their biggest cheerleaders.

As sales enablement matures, it can help with so much more behind the scenes, from prospecting to demos and deeper dives, including:

  • Reinforcing knowledge through training and coaching
  • Breaking down silos for sales team roles
  • Documenting best practices for the sales tech stack
  • Delivering the right content at the right time
  • Keeping communication open so sales teams know what they need to know to close deals smarter and more effectively

What is sales enablement strategy?

A sales enablement strategy is the business approach put in place to provide sales with the resources that they need to effectively sell. Not all sales enablement strategies will be the same, as it is unique to your business and its needs. The sales enablement strategy should include data on how to improve sales and an analysis on current sales tools to determine where improvements can be made.

Sales enablement strategy is what bridges the gap between sales leadership and sales operations. Sales leadership sets revenue goals. Sales operations has to meet those goals. Sales enablement strategy determines the technology, content, and support sales ops needs to execute their business development strategy. Sales enablement strategy also evaluates the sales tech stack to make sure it’s optimized to give leadership full visibility and ensure deals aren’t shrouded in the mystery of reps’ own records. It’s about finding ways to make internal relationships more efficient so they’re not detracting from time spent on revenue-generating activities.

7 sales enablement best practices

Sales enablement is important because it plays such a key role in scaling the organization. By providing all salespeople with a level playing field and equipping them with knowledge on demand, sales teams should thrive. I recommend following these seven steps to get the most out of your sales enablement strategy.

  1. Define objectives: The key to sales enablement is that every team involved is on the same page. What is our goal? How do we get there together? What is in our way? I drive and execute on the sales enablement strategy at RFPIO, but I don’t develop it single handedly. Strategic development falls on a combination of leadership from sales, marketing, IT, contracts, and operations.
  2. Understand your buyers: Empowering the sales team also involves empowering your buyer. Make sure that your buyer journey is mapped out accordingly in order to maximize sales enablement and customer experience outcomes.
  3. Continue training: Sales enablement is not a one-and-done solution. Adequate and frequent training will need to be incorporated into the company culture in order for veteran sales members to stay up to date on the trends and new sales members to learn the ropes.
  4. Create valuable content: There are two layers to this step.
    1. Work with marketing and/or your content development manager to provide assets like case studies, white papers, blog posts, webinars, and other content that sales teams can utilize to develop relationships. The best websites and products can bring in their own leads with content and branding, making it easier for sales to close the deal.
    2. Make sure the content that the sales team needs to do their job well is always up to date and accessible. This can include sales briefs, training materials, product roadmaps, and any other knowledge they need to have in order to build trust with a customer. At RFPIO, we actually conduct and record sales enablement sessions on everything from product updates to contracts to ongoing customer support to train anyone in the company who’s interested.
  5. Manage sales enablement processes: This doesn’t mean micromanage, because no one likes a micromanager. However, this process can be new to sales teams. Take the time and effort to ensure sales is enacting the strategy. Check in to ask if anything can be improved and gather feedback.
  6. Use tools effectively: Don’t just give answers. Show the sales team where they can find answers so that they can take control of the process.
  7. Document (v.): Too many sales processes only exist as word of mouth, especially in startup environments. Sales enablement can own the documentation of these word-of-mouth preferences to convert them into manageable, trackable processes. Take handoffs from one team to another, as an example. Sales enablement can smooth out these traditionally rough patches. Rather than nurturing or babysitting handoffs, document how those handoffs need to take place to make sure there’s a smooth transition for customers. This is the type of help that keeps sales teams focused on selling instead of getting distracted by vague operational details.

Empower your sales team

When you empower your sales team with the tools they need to succeed, they will return the favor with better performance. From presales to sales leadership, improved outcomes will leave all team members happy.

On-demand access to knowledge and content is essential to sales operations and sales enablement. Operationalizing your sales tech stack with AI-enabled software that drives more self-service experiences can remove many dependencies that have become frustrating pauses in the sales cycle. It can also increase revenue by up to 20%!

To learn more about how RFPIO can help with knowledge management and how RFPIO® LookUp can grant sales teams access to all content from almost anywhere, schedule a demo today!

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.

Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software

Create proactive proposals at scale with proposal automation software

Salesforce found that salespeople spend 66% of their time generating quotes, writing proposals, and chasing down approvals instead of closing deals. According to Blake’s edict (Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross), that doesn’t leave much time for coffee. If a Cadillac is within reach, then why would your sales team be spending most of its time going after steak knives?

There’s no questioning the importance of proactive proposals in the sales process. The configure, price, quote (CPQ) software category is expanding rapidly for good reason. Automation of proactive proposals, scopes of work (SOWs), quotes, service level agreements, (SLAs) and their ilk accelerates close rates and increases visibility in the process.

Traditionally, proactive proposals required extra time because salespeople wanted to personalize them for an optimal customer experience. The thinking is sound here. You feel like you have a good shot at a deal, you want to put your best foot forward. The problem is what you have to go through to execute.

Old way challenges

This manual process might involve working from a Word document or PowerPoint deck that includes multiple versions of paragraphs or slides. A salesperson would start building their proactive proposal by deleting the paragraphs or slides that don’t apply and augmenting those that do. The process quickly devolves into a time suck if your sales team has to navigate:

  • Multiple platforms or applications — Between the CRM, content management system, and Microsoft docs, too much time is lost switching between applications. And that’s not even including email or Slack or the support ticketing system that’s also likely in play. Switching between apps is a productivity killer, accounting for up to 40% of a worker’s time.
  • Decentralized content (marketing, technical, legal, etc.) — Even if all your sales-ready content is organized in a content management app or shared drive, your sales team still has to find it, make sure it’s the right version, and import it into the proactive proposal. There’s also always a question of whether or not the proposal includes all the content necessary to be effective. Who has visibility into quality control?
  • Non-branded formats — Many organizations at the very least create their Word doc or PowerPoint deck template according to brand guidelines. But even then, versions get saved to local drives for easier access. Margins are pushed to include more content. Fonts are changed to add “emphasis.” Multiple edits done with each proposal creation result in a Frankensteined template that doesn’t accurately reflect your company’s brand. Next thing you know every salesperson is sending out their own unique proposal, which can present severe disconnects during handoffs.
  • Complex solutions to multiple problems — The more complex your solution, the faster your proactive proposals will go off the rails if they’re not tightly controlled. How can you provide salespeople with the freedom to be creative while ensuring their proactive proposals consistently represent a deliverable solution time and again?

Any solution you implement to help your sales team with building proactive proposals must include:

  1. Customizability
  2. Automation
  3. Repeatability

There’s only so much time in the day. Sometimes your sales team is under the gun to create multiple proactive proposals or SOWs. While that’s a good problem to have, you still need to be prepared for when it happens. The last thing you want is to under-deliver, especially at the early stages of a customer relationship.

Introducing Salesforce Proposal Builder

Integrating Salesforce Proposal Builder with RFPIO hits on all three of the solution requirements—customizability, automation, and repeatability—and much more. Our customers are already realizing huge gains in sales team efficiency. For example, ECS, a cybersecurity firm, integrated Salesforce Proposal Builder with their RFPIO platform to help with SOW development. A process that used to take 45 minutes to two hours per document now only takes a few minutes of clicks and navigating dropdowns.

“Each customer has a different problem. Each requires a different solution. Through customizable capabilities that Proposal Builder offers, we realize how much of a positive impact it makes on us, and therefore, on our customers”

-Jeff Rozines, Channel Manager at ECS.

Top-level benefits beyond the huge time savings include:

  • Always working from approved content. RFPIO can act as your knowledge management platform so sales has access to the most up-to-date content available.
  • Spend more time in Salesforce. Avoid the need for complex training, and simplify onboarding of new sales reps. Generate self-service proposals without the need to visit other applications.
  • Take advantage of the great content and subject matter expertise curated in RFPIO for use in requests for proposal (RFPs) responses.

Set up the self-service user experience once and then update as necessary. Working in RFPIO, you’ll create the building blocks of your proactive proposals. This is where you create the user experience for sales, build templates, and connect content. From there, it’s just a matter of showing salespeople where they need to go in Salesforce to initiate their proactive proposal.

Initiate a proactive proposal project directly from Salesforce

The software walks them through the Proposal Builder step by step.

  • Work from response templates to standardize the look and feel of your proposals.
  • Compile section templates into a comprehensive proposal by automatically knitting together fundamental areas of information based on clicks through dropdowns.
  • Customize content such as testimonials, use cases, implementation timelines, and pricing by using catalogs.

After a few clicks, your salesperson has a final proactive proposal, in Microsoft Word format, ready to send to prospects or customers.

Of organizations planning to respond to more RFPs in 2021, 82% also aim to complete more proactive proposals82% of organizations planning to respond to more RFPs in 2021 also aim to complete more proactive proposals. The most efficient way to make that happen is with Salesforce Proposal Builder for RFPIO. Schedule a demo today!

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

3 steps to improving customer experience through pre-sales

If you’re reading this, then you’ve already bought into the importance of customer experience in your sales cycle. A simple product backed by great customer experience will always have more conversions than a great product with a terrible customer experience. Many of the world’s leading enterprises concur. Data points that support customer experience are plentiful, indeed. The one that stands out to me is from PWC’s Future of Customer Experience report: 73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision. 

73% of customers consider experience an important factor in their purchasing decision.

Obviously, pre-sales is not solely responsible for good customer experience — that’s an organizational responsibility for every department, from legal and security to executive and marketing, to product development and engineering. Whether your pre-sales function is its own entity or a responsibility tacked on to product management or sales or technical support, it can be solely responsible for strengthening (or damaging) trust with prospects and customers. 

The pre-sales process: A quick level-set

What is pre-sales? The short answer is.. It’s complicated. Most organizations differ in how they define pre-sales and the pre-sales process. Often, the definition is intentionally vague to give teams the flexibility necessary to respond most effectively to a customer.

For the sake of this article, I’ll say the pre-sales process takes place from initial contact to demo or proof of concept (POC) presentation. From here, pre-sales hands off the relationship to the appropriate sales entity, such as a business development representative, a sales development representative, or even an account executive.

The overarching key to customer experience success resides in every hand-off. Prior to presenting a recent webinar, I surveyed registered participants—most of whom were pre-sales professionals. Only 50% were confident that commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled. 

Only 50% of pre-sales professionals are confident their commitments made in pre-sales get fulfilled.

The only way to make sure details don’t fall through the cracks, or that promises made by one department aren’t met by another, or that any other pitfalls don’t derail the overall customer experience is through process. Process in a scaleup company is like a guitar string. If it is too tight, the quality of music is not great, and if it is too loose you cannot make any music at all. 

I apply an 80/20 rule to my pre-sales model. Basically, it means that 80% of the rules of engagement between teams during pre-sales are streamlined. The remaining 20% gives teams wiggle room to personalize customer buying journeys and react to exceptions pertaining to customer needs. 

Keep this in mind as you consider my model for creating trust during the pre-sales process.

Step 1: Collect and analyze data

Remember that from the customer perspective, their experience needs to be seamless. They expect consistency across channels–but different internal owners of parts of that experience can cause inconsistency. Take a longitudinal view of the total experience to spot inconsistency.

Data-driven insight is just as valuable in pre-sales as elsewhere in the organization. It’s just that at the pre-sales stage, much of the customer interaction involves gathering data. In my webinar survey, 33.3% of participants agreed that access to customer feedback data that allows them to measure customer experience would be helpful. And only 9.3% said they always have access to up-to-date information to answer customer questions. Easier access to data about prospects and your product or solution will always help pre-sales stay a step ahead during the evaluation process.

Most pre-sales professionals strongly agree developing customer trust is their top priority.

Research the company, business model, values, and funding (if applicable) 

Examine any existing CRM notes or call recordings all the way back to the first touchpoint. The first discussion should be as consistent as the most recent one. Get in sync by going through any previous activities and speaking to personnel who have been involved. Best practices say to automate this as much as possible through your CRM and other sales enablement tools.

Summarize and confirm findings-to-date during discovery

Get on the same page with prospects first, and then ask them if you have missed anything. Acknowledge their effort in the buying process so far. This is the first step in establishing trust and opens the door for a prospect to reveal new details because they view you as their advisor in the buying process. 

Next, ask open-ended questions to unearth details you can use to personalize your demo or POC engagement with the prospect. This can range from getting their core triggerpoint to identifying the details of their standard buying process to gaining insight into high-value stakeholders. Document all the discovery details.

Analyze data to inform your personalized engagement plan

You now have two critical data sets to help personalize your engagement and take the customer experience to the next level.

  • Research Data: Company, industry segment, persona role, timezone, culture, etc.
  • Sales & Discovery Data: Tone, intent, urgency, problems, specific features, success criteria, possible effort into evaluation, etc.

Evaluate all of this data to develop a personalized engagement plan for each prospect.

Step 1 to improving customer experience: Create a personalized engagement plan

Step 2: Personalize engagement

How does a touring stand-up comedian win over her audience in every new city by pointing out their local cultural idiosyncrasies? Carefully, respectfully, and by setting the right tone. In essence, this is what a pre-sales professional has to do: Point out what in the prospect’s process is not working to find the true selling opportunities. 

Build your ‘Persona 360’

So far, you’ve gathered intel on the prospect company and one or a few key individuals who have been involved in product evaluation to this point. Be transparent about the plan and share it with the prospect. For the demo/POC, expect additional stakeholders and testers to join the process. 

Use the initial discovery call and LinkedIn to find out more about these new additions: 

Fill out your Persona 360, which is a combination of the roles, work locations, industry segments, cultures, time zones, ages (estimated, by Generation X, Y, Z, etc.) and more of the entire evaluation team. 

A day or so before the demo, resend the personalized engagement plan to update expectations. Be sure to mention new members by name and ask them if they would like to see something specific in the demo/POC. 

Grow a library of demo/POC models

Always maintain a variety of demo/POC models. Match the most relevant version to the audience based on your Persona 360, weighting it for those who you deem to have the greatest influence in decision-making. Consult sales when you finalize your demo model. Each model may differ based on talktrack, flow, order of features shown, and time allocated to specific sections. 

The Persona 360 should also give you insights into optimizing the structure and timing of your demo/POC. You can personalize the demo/POC with prospect’s problem statements agreed upon during discovery and emphasize how your product’s features help them solve those problems. Educate the new audience without surprising the existing audience to further build trust. 

Create personalized success criteria templates

Improving customer experience is about showing your prospect you understand their needs. Do this by sending a personalized success criteria template

After the first demo with the majority of the evaluators from the prospect’s side, send them a success criteria checklist to illustrate how your product or solution directly addresses some of their key pain points. This checklist will also give the prospect an easy reference to compare how your offering measures up to a competitor’s.

The more activity around this checklist the better. It’s a strong signal of their intent to proceed further with the evaluation or even to purchase. It’s not a mandatory touchpoint. If the prospect already has a standard process for evaluation, respect that and only suggest best practices as a trusted advisor. 

Step 3: Prepare for hand-off

When we board a bus or a train, we trust the vehicle will take us to our destination because:

  1. The journey is short.
  2. The route (process) and destination (value) are defined.

Length of the buying journey varies according to product and industry. Customers are more likely to notice when the journey is too long or arduous than they are to notice that it’s too short. In SaaS, the higher the price point, the greater the customer expectation that they’ll have ample opportunity to demo and evaluate if it’s the right fit. No matter how long the buying journey is in your customer experience, always make room to deliver incremental value.

A feedback call is a mandatory checkpoint after the initial demo/POC to determine where you stand on the overall evaluation. On the feedback call, be ready to review your account handbook, which covers relationship details from discovery, Persona 360, user journey, feature wishlist, and information about post sales implementation and support.

The account handbook documents any business case you can build with the prospect to help advance evaluation to purchase. It also shows the prospect everything that’s been accomplished so far on their buying journey and gives the impression that you’re ready to proceed to the next step. Perhaps most importantly, the account handbook can be used as a hand-off document to the post sales team to ensure a seamless transition for the customer. 

If you want more details…

Check out the webinar I presented on the importance of pre-sales in providing a positive customer experience. You can learn more results of the participant survey (very enlightening) and access some of the nitty gritty details I didn’t have space for in this article. It’s especially valuable if you’re in B2B SaaS because I spend a lot of time discussing how to deal with feature requests throughout the customer experience.

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