Many B2B firms remain mired in the clunky, 20th century ritual of request for proposal (RFP) development, also called the request for information (RFI) process. While other B2B processes have been automated and moved to the cloud, RFPs are largely manual with content aggregated bit by bit and bound together in bulky three-ring binders.
Fortunately, solutions coming to scale will integrate content from discrete information silos of RFP libraries and also within CRM, ERP and other enterprise systems, allowing B2B SMB RFP practitioners to close the gap with large corporate peers allowing their sales teams to finalize business faster.
Standardizing RFP components
Before B2B companies can move their RFP processes to the cloud they first must decide on a common way to create and structure them. “The problem with moving RFPs to the cloud has a lot to do with standardization,” says Marc Prosser of Fit Small Business, which provides product and service reviews for SMB owners. “The cloud likes standardized info, but RFPs generally use their own numbers and metrics. So if companies want to move RFPs to the cloud, they’ll want a standard set they can talk about.” That then allows B2B companies to compare apples to apples, according to Prosser.
To create standardized RFP sets, B2B practitioners may want to begin with material from existing RFPs and reverse engineer the content from the specific back to the general case. “The best RFPs are often created with sales materials that have proven successful in previous deals,” says Mitch Frazier, vice president of marketing, TinderBox, a sales proposal technology company. “With a sales technology stack that prioritizes the buyer’s journey and provides a central library of the most successful content, sales teams can have confidence the information they access will build winning RFPs.”
Leveraging existing data
To help create proposals based on standardized RFP material, TinderBox offers a cloud-based sales productivity suite that powers personalized sales proposals, contracts and presentations entirely online. It does this by integrating with existing CRM or back-end data systems and enhancing it for sales teams.
For example, TinderBox pulls in stored content and automatically populates the data into new presentations, proposals and contracts, eliminating need to create materials for each prospect, according to the company.
Buyers vs. sellers
However, not all RFP solutions are created equal, according to David Hulsen, operational lead and co-founder, RFP365, a provider of Web-based RFP solutions, who cautions to beware platforms that cater to only one side of the RFP—buyers or sellers—and not the entire process.
“An efficient RFP tool must provide solutions for each stakeholder and step of the process,” he says.
Under that thesis, a balanced platform will empower both buyers and sellers. With a fully electronic RFP process, vendors can search and reuse past work, allowing them to write high quality responses, faster, Hulsen says. “For buyers (it enables them) to see and quickly compare purchase options side by side, so they can choose efficiently.”
RFPs and the customer journey
In some ways, the RFP process seems like an anachronistic practice from a bygone era. Proposal teams large and small dedicate their lives to nothing else at vendor and customer companies alike. It seems at odds with the modern notion of content marketing and digital information gathering the majority of B2B customers perform on their journeys down the sales funnel.
There will always be a measure of conflict if a company performs due diligence and is interested in disruptive technology to challenge the status quo and improve business value, says Dexter Siglin, head of marketing for SaaS platform WIN(win). “However, it can be complementary to the supplier’s process, especially for those who are agile and potentially disruptive to the market. A modern technology-enabled RFP process can lend a transparent and level playing field to disruptive suppliers that might be overshadowed in a less governed, manual process.”
But are the RFP process and customer journey really in conflict? “RFP processes, particularly in relation to their evolution and the involvement of the cloud, harken back to a familiar business concept: the customer journey,” says Kamal Ahluwalia, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Apttus, a provider of SaaS applications. “In an RFI, the customer usually doesn’t have research and statistics about a vendor’s offering beyond hearsay or initial introductions.”
However, when using available information about a prospect, vendors can showcase a unique product description, or RFP, according to Ahluwalia. “This is very applicable to (vendors) that service a wide variety of (customers), which can subsequently present a manufacturing company an optimized set of value-adds and case studies vs. a prospect in the life sciences field.”
RFPs endure, appear in any part of the funnel
While a legacy, slow and analog method of accumulating and disseminating B2B information, RFPs remain at the center of most enterprise procurement for a very simple reason: they work. RFPs represent a closer approximation of “the single source of truth” than any other business-to-business function conceived of to this point. “For better or for worse, RFPs and RFIs are not going anywhere,” says Jafar Owainati, co-founder of Loopio, an automated RFP solution. “Buyers are looking to make more informed purchase decisions.”
What this means for B2B vendors is that the RFP process adds an additional layer of work as they focus on driving an opportunity down the sales funnel. But you never know where an RFP will materialize. “Sometimes the RFP shows up in the early stages of the sales cycle, and sometimes you end up going through the RFP on the tail-end of the process,” Owainati says. “(But) RFP response software helps accelerate elements of proposal development so that you can focus on providing a tailored response and an effective solution to the buyer.”
Photo via B2Bnn
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