The recent news of the merger between leading proposal software providers Sant and Kadient has provoked much discussion within the proposal profession. I thought this would be an interesting topic, to explore further, so took some time out at the APMP Conference at the start of June to pose a few questions to Brian Vass – Vice President, Marketing for The Sant Corporation.
JW – So, the obvious question: why the merger? What’s in it for your two companies – and your customers?
BV – There are a lot of synergies between our product families and organizations that made the merger an ideal marriage. Our customers will benefit from everything the two companies have to offer – technology, people, and an incredible depth of expertise. They now have access to a broader set of capabilities from a single vendor to address what their sales team needs throughout the sales cycle.
Customers will also benefit from:
• Our commitment to customer satisfaction through the “Customer for Life” program
• Access to an online Customer Community to share ideas, best practices, and locate implementation resources
• Opportunity to attend an annual customer conference
JW – Any views yet on which products will survive into the long run – or how you’ll decide that? Surely one of your aims must be to rationalise and pick the “best of the best” of the two product sets?
BV – As a combined company, our commitment is to provide our customers the very best of each of our solutions for RFP and proposal creation, sales content management, and the strategic delivery of that content through sales playbooks. Our Product Management team is working on an integrated product strategy that will incorporate the best of both offerings. For now, it’s “business as usual” for our customers.
JW – It’s always seemed as though the two companies have spurred each other on in the race to develop their respective product sets. Long-run, will the loss of competitive pressure result in a slowdown in the pace of development?
BV – We still face competition in the market and we anticipate new competitors to emerge. Regardless, we develop products that meet the needs of our customers. We capture feedback through our customer community, focus groups, surveys, annual conference, and daily interactions. Our commitment to providing customer-driven product upgrades, on a timely basis, will not change as a result of the merger.
JW – The new company: focused on proposals / RFPs – or on sales collateral more broadly?
BV – All of the above. We remain fully committed to provide solutions that arm sales professionals to:
• Automate the creation of client-focused proposals, RFP responses, and presentations
• Quickly and easily locate, personalize, and deliver their company’s best sales and marketing content
• Access situation-specific coaching through electronic “sales playbooks” within their CRM system. The playbooks guide the sales person through the steps of the sales cycle and provide links to relevant content & advice.
JW – Bitter rivals suddenly becoming best friends. How are the people in your respective teams getting on now they’re on the same side of the table?
BV – We’re getting on surprisingly well. It’s been strange at times sharing our sales pipelines, product roadmap, marketing strategies, and other internal gems. But we’re making our company better by taking the best practices from each organization. And everyone is motivated to be the largest provider of sales enablement solutions in the marketplace.
JW – And finally – what will be the name of the merged company?
BV – Kadient and Sant will operate under their existing names until a rebranding project is completed later this year. Stay tuned!
Many thanks to Brian for taking the time to share his views. If you have any thoughts or questions regarding the merger, do add your comments to this post!
Next up in our occasional series of discussions with some of the leading lights of the proposal profession: Kris Sæther, Sales Director of software company Xait.
Please could you describe your current role?
As Sales Director for Xait, I am responsible for XaitPorter for new and existing clients, in addition to partners/resellers. All sales people at Xait are also responsible for training and follow-up of their clients.
This means that we need to deliver what we promise when presenting XaitPorter to prospects.
How can proposal centres go about making their proposal processes more efficient?
I believe that most people would agree that there are several things that can make their proposal processes more efficient. Biased as I am, I would look at the tools you have at hand. Do you have the correct kit in your toolbox to deliver as required?
In addition, surprisingly many contributors to a proposal merely want to get their bit done and are not concerned about making it easy for the prospects to understand. Giving the proposal participants a better understanding of what is expected of them and more guidance, could go a long way.
How do you respond to those who claim that, “It’s all about price”?
I would say that while there can be some truth in the statement, normally prospects look at the value of your proposal compared to price. If you can’t convince your client that you give them more value for money than the competitor, maybe you should start looking closer at your proposals? Are they compliant AND responsive?
What’s the worst (or funniest) proofreading error you’ve ever seen in a proposal?
This was in a previous job when the law firm White and Case was replaced (mistakenly) with Whore and Case. The lawyer whom received the proposal luckily took this fine and replied; “A lot can be said about lawyers, most of which is true, however I would prefer if you referred to us in the future as White & Case”. By the way, we won the contract.
If you had to recommend one book to proposal managers, what would it be? (It doesn’t have to be specifically about proposals!)
I would recommend the article “A Bidder’s dozen – Golden Rules for Winning Work” by David G. Pugh, published by APMP in 2002. Excellent article.
Thanks for your time, Kris!
We’ve left our Proposal Guys Panel – our team of proposal folks around the world who contribute here occasionally – in peace for a couple of months. But we thought it was time we made them do some work again (!), so here’s their latest topic, inspired partly by my recent post on “The Aggregation of Minute Differences”:
“The Little Things. We spend a great deal of time focused on the more obvious components of the proposal process. In your experience, what are some of the seemingly minor things that might be overlooked?”
Dave Blume starts at the beginning, with the covering letter. “From my experience, often an afterthought (second only to the exec summary!), normally full of cap-doffing and grovelling thank yous and the dreaded ‘please do not hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions…”. This should be thought of as “part of the overall proposal package”; Dave’s advice includes:
- thank the individuals in the client organisation who have helped you
- ideally have it signed (or at least co-signed) by a senior executive who can bind the company to the contract
- finish with a specific call to action – with the onus on you
Roisin McCorry picked up that a proposal manager who doesn’t worry about the minor things won’t last very long in the job! Some of her comments:
- Our compliance matrices – it says ‘a brief summary’, so please, please take back the 36 pages of text you just sent me on that case study… yes, it does matter.
- Little things like ‘Phase 1′. Or is it ‘Phase One’? Or indeed, ‘Phase I’? Let’s pick one, guys. And use it consistently!
- Terms, technologies, dates especially, confusing when they don’t add up!
- Diagrams – why change the legend? Pick a scheme, and stick to it. I have witnessed the client and supplier’s responsibilities (colours) being interchanged on more than one occasion: painful for the author, irritating for the evaluator!
Barbara Esmedina agreed that “In an RFP there are no little things!” Her advice:
Always put forth that little bit of extra effort. Do the last minute spell check one more time, provide labelled tabs in hard copies and bookmarks in electronic copies. Include all your contact info on the front cover. Take the time to write a cover letter. Do every little thing to make your RFP the one that is the easiest to review. Use binding that can easily slip into a file cabinet, deliver on time, give them everything they ask for. Follow up with a thank you even when you don’t win.
For Robin Davis, the topic was particularly timely, “since I’ve gone from running a team of ten back to being a one-man shop. How humbling and eye-opening. I’ve been operating at a strategic level for so long – process improvement, taking it to the next level, expanding influence, etc. – that I’d forgotten some of the basics of actually getting the work done.”
So, little things that get overlooked. As writers, especially when you’ve been with an organization for a long time, we get caught up in our own speak, in our own language. Our perspective gets stale. We’re still talking about things that mattered to the market two years ago, but there are new issues now that we’re not addressing. Or we talk about our differentiators that aren’t differentiators anymore….everybody is doing that now…
And who has time to evaluate every record in the knowledge base for its current relevance? Right. You do what you can.
She also picked up on packaging and production. “Following instructions on a public bid are a pain in the butt. Separating the confidential from the rest of it. Precise labelling instructions; lack of instructions on the layout – you have NO idea how they want to see the information; double packing the contents – a box inside of a box, etc. And for God’s sake, please put the label on the tab straight. Use clear packing tape, not duct tape. And spell the client’s name right! I know… NOT small… but can get overlooked!”
Lesa Camarri picked on an even later stage in the process – delivery options. “Sounds simple, but it can really cut into overall turnaround time especially when you only have two weeks or less to respond to the RFP. Delivering via overnight service directly to the client is what we prefer; however, many times Sales prefers to hand deliver it, which means we need to back everything up one or two days to get it to the sales rep so they have enough time to hand deliver. And don’t they dare tell us two days before it’s due that they’ve decided to hand deliver when we’d been planning to ship direct to the client!”
Great stuff, and thanks as ever to our ‘panellistas’. Do feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments box!
We’re pleased to say that, after a short break, our Proposal Guys panel is back. The latest question we posed to our team of proposal professionals around the world was based on some of the challenges that organisations are facing at the moment:
What will be the impact of the current economic climate on the proposal profession?
Let’s start with Roisin:
When I first read the question, my thoughts immediately turned to negativity, the reduction in the numbers of tenders coming through, the decisions put on ‘hold’ and the restrictions placed on budgets. I braced myself to write something suitably gloomy, but in a call to discuss new proposal templates, I realised that in fact, with the shift within businesses from ‘nice to win’ to ‘must win’, it has actually brought improvements to my role as a Bid Manager.
Speaking from personal experience, opportunities are being qualified harder, with management increasingly reluctant to waste resources on proposals… Focus on and visibility of the proposals that do pass the vetting process has increased, with Senior Management taking more and more interest in what goes on at a lower level.
At this lower level, focus on best practice has also increased. Bid teams and Senior Management are more and more receptive to the nuances and idiosyncrasies of best practice within proposals, more ‘interested’ in the tips and tricks that will help us to gain marks (and of course lose marks) at evaluation.
Lesa added an interesting perspective:
“I think the impacts will be different based on industry and where your company is from a price perspective. For example, if you’re the highest priced solution in your market, then I think a lot of your existing customers will probably go out to bid to shop the market for a less expensive solution, so you’ll see an increase in RFP volume.
If your company is at the lower end of the price spectrum for your product, I’d guess you might see a decrease in RFP volume… Going out to bid can be expensive especially if a broker or consultant is involved, so companies that feel they already have a good product at a good price will likely not expend time, energy and resources going out to bid.”
At the same time, she foresees procurement people getting ever-more involved in purchase decisions, which could “further ‘commoditize’ a lot of products/services that really shouldn’t be viewed as a commodity” and result in “more online RFPs, auctions, spreadsheets, etc.”
Barbara believes that “it will be a very good time for RFP professionals”. She and colleagues in other businesses have actually “noticed an increase in RFPs: the worse the economy got, the more RFPs. No one has entered their normal slow season yet.”
For individuals, as a result, “the job market for RFP professionals in general will be very good. It would be a good time to learn a new industry, brush up your skills, get your APMP certification, update your resume. This is a good time to advance our profession as a whole. No one is going to be able to do business without us in this climate.”
Efficiency matters, too: “I think RFP software skills will also become more important as companies are required to do more with less people. Automation tools will be in demand.”
Talking of automation tools, Dave (from Sant) has noticed “much more scrutiny over any expenditure (preserving cash is of paramount importance)… but on the whole we are not seeing proposal related investments being cancelled on the basis that winning more (or indeed any) business is more critical than ever. Both the vendors and the business sponsors are having to work much harder to quantify benefits to justify any investment.”
He echoes Barbara’s point on efficiency. “The proposal team’s effectiveness is a key element to supporting this goal. Headcount freezes are now common-place, so proposal teams are expected to do more with the same or less resource. Therefore anything that addresses productivity is being viewed favourably.”
I’ll add a few thoughts of my own in my next post; your own comments – as ever – are always welcome here, or by email. What impact are you seeing? Are you being crunched?
Next up in our series of interviews with folks involved in the proposal profession around the world is Martin Smith, a Director of Bid Solutions – Europe’s leading recruitment consultancy for bid and proposal people. Martin also serves on the UKAPMP sub-committee reviewing membership services.
How did you first get involved in sales proposals?
Honest answer… it was the best-paid job after graduating from my MBA Programme! It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, jack-of-all-trades bid management role for a global IT organisation. I earned all the usual badges: 37 hour sleep deprivation badge; late night printer engineer badge; impoverished social life badge. You know the deal!
To offer a slightly less materialistic perspective I’ll share my reasons for continuing in the profession for a further 12 years following that initial decision. I firmly believe bid and proposal management has huge potential to grow in to a trusted, proven and respected discipline, across all industries and on a global scale. The pace and credibility with which the Accreditation Programme has been both implemented and adopted is testament to this. I believe as a discipline, bid and proposal management offers professional people an unparalleled, immediate and real exposure to all key business functions.
Every proposal professional has a favourite horror story of the proposal that nearly (or actually) went wrong. What’s yours?
We worked on an all night bid, eventually finishing at 9am the following morning. The deadline for delivery was 10am.The location was just two miles from our location in Central London. We ordered a bike to ensure timely delivery. Very pleased with our achievements we headed off for a celebratory breakfast at Simpsons-on-the-Strand.
Unbeknown to us, the courier company sent a car as all the bikes were in use. If only the congestion charge had been introduced several years earlier the average speed of the car might have exceeded the two miles per hour required to get it there on time…! Deadline missed and lesson learnt the hard way.
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to improve your organisation’s proposals?
In my previous role, as head of opportunity management for a major company, I introduced a resource model that linked the size of my team to reflect not only the total number of proposals worked, but also proposal quality. It sounds very straight forward and simple (which really it was) however, the key to success was having total buy-in to the model from the Financial Director.
In real terms, it ensured that must-win deals weren’t compromised by a lack of resource availability whilst providing immediate transparency to those deals in which we were clearly making up the numbers – if a deal landed that pushed team utilisation from 100% to 140%, it quickly became an extremely effective qualification tool if sales people knew they had to pick up the phone and ask the FD to fund a 40% increased resource requirement.
How do you respond to those who claim that, “It’s all about price”?
I don’t believe that price is necessarily a flawed strategy. To not pay full attention to the customer’s requirements because you are relying on price is however, unforgivable.
In a commoditised market, differentiation is not always sufficiently tangible to generate long-term customer loyalty. In such markets (and in my experience) price is often the key driver, albeit not in the complete absence of product / service quality considerations.
In the consumer market, price driven strategies are paving the way for success for many organisations. Websites such as ‘Go Compare’ for Insurance or ‘Kelkoo’ for Electronic purchases often remove the customer-loyalty element from the consumers buying decision. Whether such platforms could replace corporate strategic purchasing decisions remains a topic of great debate. To rule it out completely would be arrogant in a digital age.
Any advice for proposal people needing to get greater sponsorship from senior colleagues within the business?
In my experience, far too many bid and proposal teams fail to link the team’s objectives with those of the business. As a result, Senior Execs often view the bid and proposal team as a tactical sales support function rather than a strategic asset. Declaring win-rate aspirations or total revenue won is simply not sufficient. To truly build bridges (and influence) and engender sponsorship from the places that matter, I believe the objectives of the proposal team (and each and every one of its members) should be implicitly tied to those of the business. Only then can you truly influence and ‘manage up’ the chain of command.
For example, whilst most executives are focussed on a specific business unit or sector, bid and proposal teams are generally in the privileged (?!) position of having deal visibility across all sectors. By proactively, objectively and rigorously assessing the sales pipeline and win-rate data – something I believe many senior sales managers fail to do well – bid teams can (and should) be first to flag potential gains, issues, and shortfalls in the business plan. Clearly, flagging them to senior management is really only the first step to improved relations, providing implementable recommendations is the real aim and ultimately the ‘holy grail’ to building bridges and increased sponsorship.
A word of caution…this is fundamentally different to the reactive approach of informing management that there are too many deals on the pipeline and you need more resource!
Thanks for that, Martin – some great advice, mixed with some good and challenging ideas.
Our next panel topic - where we challenge our friendly team of proposal professionals from around the world – asked what value (if any) they derived from APMP – the Association of Proposal Management Professionals.
For Robin, APMP was instrumental in moving her organisation from perceiving proposals as a “clerical” role.
My first APMP conference in 2003 changed my whole perspective. I walked away with the understanding that this is a “profession” – a bonafide career choice (albeit crazy)… I had a renewed sense of purpose, confidence and drive to establish a top-notch proposals unit inside my organization.
Knowing that there were people out there that spoke the same language, were experiencing the same pains and had ideas I hadn’t even thought of, was encouraging. I felt like I had a team behind me supporting my theories, thoughts and the direction I was about to head in.
[At APMP's annual conference] I learn so much about what others are doing and then adopt, tweak and implement similar processes in my own organization. Today, I have grown to a team to 10 people. Our processes work, they are successful and the team is highly respected as value drivers within the organization.
Through the APMP and the contacts I have made through its annual conference, I have grown by leaps and bounds in this profession. Each year I give at least one proposal developer the opportunity to attend the conference and I routinely see significant improvement in their performance post-conference. I couldn’t ask for more than that!
Lesa, too, sees real benefits from her participation in the association:
I find my membership in APMP to be very useful primarily for networking and continuing education. It is nice to know there is a whole association of folks worldwide who are involved in the same processes that I am.
Not quite “misery loves company” (although that is the case sometimes), but through the APMP I know at any time I can get in touch with someone who’s gone/is going/or will go through what I am. I know it’s a buzz word, but sharing best practices is great…just picking each others’ brains whether in person at the conferences or via phone/email is an awesome resource.
I’ve attended five or six of the last annual conferences and I’ve always found a wide range of relevant topics at each one…not to mention broadened my network of colleagues and even made a new friend here and there. I’ve been able to bring back what I’ve learned at the conferences to share with my team, as well as other business partners at my company – even Sales!)
“my original reason for joining was to receive the APMP journal. I figured the publication alone was worth the annual dues. I rarely save magazines, but I just looked in my office magazine bin, which I regularly cull, and found issues dating back to 2003 with articles I still found relevant enough to keep.”
Aside from the Journal, she
“didn’t originally think that I would find the APMP that useful, as there wasn’t a local chapter in my area at the time”.
I have found the APMP more useful than I ever expected over the years.
Just as with the quality of the journal articles, I am always impressed with the quality of the speakers at the national and chapter conferences. This is a profession where quality is extremely important and I feel APMP is very much a reflection of that. They also continue to evolve and add value with the BD-KnowledgeBase and their professional accreditation program.
If I were evaluating several candidates for a position, the one with APMP accreditation would be first on my list, and if I were one of those candidates, I would be expecting a higher salary.”
Roisin found APMP to be “a revelation”. As a lone proposal professional in her organisation,
“I lacked guidance, and more importantly, support. Arriving to sit my Foundation exam, I was terrified that I would be shown up to be a novice, someone who was making it up as I went along. I was relieved, however, to be introduced to a group of people who were just like me.
And that’s how it continues. For me, the APMP provides a network of informed individuals who are working on the same basic principles. Yes, we all have different interpretations of those principles based upon our organisations and working environments, but it is a real gift to have that network of people at the end of a phone or an email, when I need advice, or simply a second opinion.
Sitting my APMP exam also increased my credibility in the working environment. Finally – I have a piece of paper that proves that what I do is a bona fide profession, and not simply ‘spellchecking’, as it was once described to me. It has also given me faith in my work – I am now a fierce advocate of best practice, and have the confidence to implement it.
More to follow on the panel members’ views as to how they’d like to see APMP evolve.
You’ll doubtless have seen our series of interviews with proposal professionals from around the world here on The Proposal Guys. Now it’s our turn to have been put under the spotlight, for the latest edition of “Final Draft”, produced by the APMP in Houston.
Michael Kent, our interviewer, posed some fascinating questions, and we think he’s done a great job on the article. If you’re interested, you can get the newsletter from their site! (Note: Link opens a PDF document.)