Delivering and Discussing an RFP Response

Part 6 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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(see also the previous article in the series, “Managing an RFP Response“)

The Challenge

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.

Example

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.

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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.

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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.

Managing An RFP Response

Part 5 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Business-to-business sales teams often have to create detailed responses to RFPs (requests for proposals) and need to draw upon knowledge from across the company at very short notice. Managing this process by email is tedious and error-prone, with team members either being overloaded with updates from other members, or lacking important information. The result is a slower process and lower quality result that should be achieved.

The Social Business Advantage

An enterprise social network provides an ideal place to coordinate all the activities for the RFP response. A clear list of roles and responsibilities can be published, and each contribution to the response is accessible to all team members to review. When additional people need to join the team, they can quickly catch up on progress so far. Tasks enable the sales manager to keep track of who has completed their deliverables, and mobile access to the network enables them to stay in touch with the process even while they are out at other customer meetings.

Example

Brad is the Sales Director for Europe. He has a large sales opportunity, but needs to submit an RFP response in two weeks. The RFP has a lot of detailed technical questions which the European team is not able to answer, so he needs help from the product team in the US. He also needs help in constructing a pricing structure for the deal, and approval from the Finance team for this structure to ensure it meets compliance requirements. Brad creates a community dedicated to the RFP response. The customer has requested that information in the RFP is circulated within the company on a need-to-know basis, so the community is set to only be accessible to invited members. Brad publishes the RFP documentation, and background information about the prospect. He divides up the work, assigning tasks to people he needs assistance from. Carmen, the VP of Products delegates the task assigned to her to one of her product managers, Sergei, who is added to the community. sbrw5-1 As each member of the team submits their contribution, Brad reviews it and posts comments where any further work is required. Finally, he constructs the final response, and submits it to his manager and the VP of Finance for approval before it is sent out to the prospect. sbrw5-2

Make It Real

  • Create a community for each major RFP response. Where the same team is working on multiple RFPs from the same company, it probably makes sense to have a single community for all of them. But handling all RFP responses in a single sales community is unlikely to be efficient as it will probably lead to a large amount of activity that not all community members are interested in.
  • Make the community visible to as wide an audience as customer confidentiality allows. In the example above, the customer requested that information was treated on a need-to-know basis, but this is relatively unusual. Opening the RFP community to a wider audience within the company enables more people to benefit from the knowledge shared in creation of this response. It also increases the chances of valuable serendipitous input from people outside the RFP team.
  • Ensure that all documentation relating to the RFP is shared with the community, and that everyone who is contributing to or reviewing the response is invited as a member.
  • Publish the list of who’s doing what prominently in the community. Also create tasks with due dates for each assignment.
  • Ensure that all review feedback is submitted in the community as a comment on the relevant file. Don’t accept feedback outside the community, e.g. via email, as this fragments the discussion and makes it hard to follow.
  • When the final RFP response is completed, ensure it is published in the community for future reference.
  • If the deal is won, create a separate community for account management activities – don’t muddle pre-sale RFP response work with and post-sale account management together in the same community.

Align Sales and Marketing

Part 4 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Sales and Marketing departments in large companies (and even not-so-large ones) often fail to communicate as effectively as they should. Marketing teams work on promotions and launch them without informing Sales, while Sales fail to give marketing insight into their pipeline. In the worst cases, this leads to mistrust between the teams and differing priorities.

The Social Business Advantage

An enterprise social network provides an environment where sales and marketing can exchange knowledge and details about their current projects. But it needs to be accompanied by a real desire to collaborate across departments. Marketing should give sales greater insight into work-in-progress, and actively solicit input from Sales. Sales should provide regular feedback on how the marketing messages are received by customers and prospects and on changes and additions to the library of marketing collateral.
Sales teams who are often out of the office are able to access the latest marketing material and contribute to the discussion of new material via mobile devices.

Example

Carol in the Marketing team has been tasked with improving the flow of information between the corporate marketing team in the US, and the sales teams in US, Europe and Asia. While the US team has usually kept up to date with the latest marketing messages because they work in the same office, the European and Asian teams have often continued using out-of-date material, and regularly complain about new promotions being launched on the global website which they knew nothing about.

To enable this she chooses to create two separate communities in the company social network. The first contains all published marketing material that is suitable for distribution to customers and prospects. In the past, this material had been stored in a shared folder on a file server. But it was often hard to be sure whether this was up to date, as many files were owned by people who had left the company. As this material is moved to the social network, Carol ensures that each file has a designated owner who is a current employee – someone who is responsible for ensuring the content is up to date, and who will respond to questions from sales about it.

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The second community Carol creates is for marketing work-in-progress. Anything here is strictly for company internal discussion only as has not been fully reviewed. The sales team are invited to join this community so that they can keep up to date with what marketing are currently working on, and can contribute their opinion while promotions, datasheets, white papers and other documents are being created. Sales are reminded that nothing here can be used outside the company until it is moved into the first community.

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The leaders of the sales and marketing teams also agree that the private sales communities, where each regional sales team shares information about the deals it is currently working on, are opened up to allow marketing to join. Carol joins each of the regional communities and monitors them to gain a better understanding of Sales’ current challenges and how Marketing can help.

Make It Real

  • More than any of the other examples in this series so far, success in connecting sales and marketing is dependent on changes in behaviour. Establishing communities for exchange of knowledge will not succeed unless it is accompanied by a willingness to share. Managers of sales and marketing teams need to lead by example and actively encourage this willingness.
  • Make a clear distinction between “customer-ready” marketing content and “work in progress”. Marketing reluctance to share work-in-progress content often stems from previous incidents where Sales have failed to respect this.
  • Ensure that all customer-ready material has a designated owner, and files owned by employees who leave the company are reassigned.
  • Make sure the communication is two-way. Giving Marketing insight into current Sales activities is just as important as giving Sales information about planned Marketing initiatives.
  • There may be a temptation to create one big sales and marketing community, but this is not always the most effective approach as it can lead to everyone being deluged with more information than they need. It is better to create smaller working communities for each group, but allow the other sales and marketing teams to “drop in” and see what’s happening.
  • Don’t assume that just because the other teams have access to what you’re working on they will always know when to “drop in”. When a piece of work needs review or input, use tasks to draw the attention of the wider sales and marketing community to it.