By Ganesh Shankar, RFPIO
RFPIO recently held user conferences in New York and San Francisco to learn more from industry experts and front-line users on the use of RFP automation software. Although it might seem like the job of responding to RFPs is a highly social activity since it requires so much input across an organization, the reality is many people responsible for RFP responses are essentially lone wolves.
Unlike sales professionals who may traverse the country from one trade show or convention to another on a weekly basis, RFP responders often stay put year-round. As such, many of the attendees found tremendous value in the ability to finally connect with like-minded folks who share the common goal of helping their companies win more business.
Although webinars and other online venues offer a great way to learn new skills, there’s nothing quite like an actual interactive session with people with similar roles and responsibilities. The ability to compare notes on what’s working and what’s not face-to-face is invaluable.
For example, in New York one of the user-driven panel discussions leaned heavily toward RFP processes and how attendees were able to improve workflow. Susan Stein of ServiceNow discussed how the use of proposal response automation has reduced the time solutions engineers have to spend on projects and improves collaboration with other stakeholders. “They call me the great cat herder!” she said. Without the ability to pull back and see what others in your field are doing, it’s very difficult to make the incremental process changes that make a big difference in outcomes.
Alexei Budsan of Routematch Software said the use of RFP automation has saved time and he now believes more strongly in the quality of his RFP responses. “Now it’s possible to step away and feel good about the content,” he said. That same sentiment came up in San Francisco, as the discussion focused heavily on techniques for building a solid and up-to-date content library.
Thought Leadership And Expertise
As fun as community-oriented events may be, asking busy professionals to take time out of their busy schedules shouldn’t be taken lightly. To make a conference worthwhile, you must offer up tactical tools and guidance on best practices to help them become experts at their jobs. With this in mind, we brought in two of the industry’s premiere thought leaders in RFP management to present on process and organization, agnostic of any tool or methodology.
As a thought leader, B.J. Lownie, cofounder of Strategic Proposals and a pioneering consultant in proposal response, discussed how the proposal support function in many companies is moving from being a stepchild as it has been in the past to a key strategic partner that can play a vital role in supporting growth, or helping companies to tap new markets. He focused on the importance of building confidence in proposal support and the need to effectively communicate that importance to executives.
In addition, Lisa Rehurek, founder and owner of The RFP Success Company, revealed a series of what she called “ninja tricks” that RFP responders could employ to capture the evaluator’s attention — just the sort of information that would be hard to come by holed up in a cube crunching numbers. Rehurek explained that a winning strategy is to get into the mind of the person issuing the RFP and then reflect that learning in proposal response content. This underscores the point that RFP automation isn’t just about doing more in less time — although that is certainly a benefit — it’s more about giving RFP responders the time then need to understand the unique requirements of each and every RFP.
Training Makes It Tangible
Beyond community building, training and workshop sessions help users advance their knowledge on how to use products and tools in the most effective way, providing something tangible to work on and making an immediate difference once back in the office. In fact, some of our best attended workshops were focused on how to implement best practices on the day-to-day processes and activities we had outlined earlier in the conference.
By having customers run some of these sessions, we were able to offer even more insight than we could have done on our own. For example, Gavin O’Donoghue, the global RFP manager at Cision, shared the challenges of managing through periods of rapid growth following an acquisition, such as what happened when Cision acquired PR Newswire recently. In such cases, it’s critical to have well-defined processes and tools in place that encourage collaboration and make it easy for new employees to come up to speed quickly.
As these conferences illustrated, as much as we like to think responding to RFPs is all about speeds and feeds, technical capacity, and well-crafted responses, it’s still very much a people business. This means learning best practices from peers in your community and hitting the road from time to time.
User conferences are a two-way street where everyone benefits. As much as customers gain from getting together to share best practices, the organizers also benefit from hearing about different usage models and scenarios — a process for us that is truly coveted because it allows us to focus on what really matters to users. As much as you can test your product in a lab, user conferences can provide the real-world insights needed to make a truly useful product that makes a difference.
About The Author
Ganesh Shankar is CEO and cofounder of RFPIO, a leader in cloud-based RFP response software.