Part 6 of the Social Business For Real Work series
(see also the previous article in the series, “Managing an RFP Response“)
These days, responses to requests for proposals (RFPs) are increasingly large and sophisticated, often consisting of a wide range of rich media. This makes traditional delivery mechanisms such as email and hard-copy more and more inappropriate. And the process of the recipient requesting clarification from the vendor is typically slow and inefficient, involving several people from each side communicating via single points of contact in order to maintain an audit trail of discussions.
The Social Business Advantage
A private community in an enterprise social network is an ideal way for a vendor to present their response to a prospective customer’s requirements. It enables the detailed textual response to the RFP to be presented alongside supporting rich media such as videos and presentations. It allows the vendor to present the team working with the prospect, and to establish broader lines of communication between the vendor and buyer. By focusing all communication in a single place, it makes it easier for new additions to the vendor or customer’s teams to catch up quickly, and provides a ready-made audit trail of post-response discussions and clarifications.
The Mobile1to1 social network is a Clearvale “hybrid network” enabling both internal and external communities to be securely hosted in the same environment. Brad has worked with others in the company to prepare a response to an RFP from UKTechCo (see previous article). Now he creates a new external community for the delivery of the RFP. He lays out the content of the response, a series of supporting videos and presentations, and introduces the team who worked on different parts of the response.
When this is complete, he invites Ava, his contact from the prospective customer to join the community. She becomes a “guest” in the Mobile1to1 network. Ava requests that Jamie and Millie are also added to the community – this is something that Brad controls as owner of the community, because as a security safeguard, company policy prevents guests inviting more guests.
Once the UKTechCo team have downloaded and read the RFP, they have a number of questions which require clarification. These are posted as comments on the relevant section of the response. Brad assigns tasks to the other members of the Mobile1to1 team to ensure they these questions are answered rapidly. These tasks also provide an opportunity for private discussion between the Mobile1to1 team about how best to answer the questions.
Mobile1to1 are invited to present their response in person. After the meeting, follow-up actions are managed in the community, ensuring that all communication is consolidated in one place. These discussions lead to more people from both Mobile1to1 and UKTechCo becoming involved in negotiations. These new additions can quickly get up to speed on discussions so far by reading through the comments in the community.
For final negotiation of commercial terms, a second community with reduced membership is created to ensure confidentiality of topics that are not appropriate to be shared with all members of the respective teams.
Make It Real
- When creating external facing communities, make sure the access controls of content within the community is set correctly, and that no internal-only content or discussion is allowed to “spill” into external communities.
- Encourage everyone on both the vendor and customer side to keep all communication within the community, to avoid discussion being fragmented by email. With all discussion in one place, it’s easier to see what has happened, and for new additions to either the vendor or customer team to catch up.
- Help the customer understand the benefit of delivering an RFP in this way. Some companies may find this unconventional and be initially uncomfortable. It would, of course, be counter-productive to lose a deal by insisting on communicating in a way that the customer does not like. But equally, this approach demonstrates a more modern, enlightened way of customer communication, and many customers will welcome this.
- Also consider the inverse of this example – where the buying company requires all vendors to submit their RFPs to a private community in a social network owned by the buyer. Here there is a much greater opportunity to insist on delivering responses in this way as the buyer can refuse to accept submissions delivered in other ways. Few vendors will endanger a deal by refusing to join the network.
- If the deal is closed, continue using similar techniques for post-sale account management communication.