RFP management can be a bit of a gray area in terms of ownership. While it is the proposal management team’s core job, the salesperson ultimately has the responsibility to deliver a quality response to their prospect and ultimately close the deal.
To get some insight on the best way to approach this complex challenge, we brought in an expert: Sr. Proposal Team Manager at Instructure, Danny Wahl. With 6 years of proposal experience and 10+ years of project management experience under his belt, Danny shares his lessons learned and insights into effectively collaborating with sales.
What are some common challenges in sales and proposal team collaboration?
A common challenge I’ve seen is when a company has a dedicated proposals team; an Account Executive might say, “let me know what you need from me,” and throw the majority of the work to the bid managers.
This primarily causes two things to happen: First, it reinforces silos. The RFP will get thrown back and forth like a ping pong ball — usually resulting in it falling off the table.
Second, it separates “bids” from “sales.” A simple question to ask is: do you want your bid managers invested in winning or just in getting the proposal done before the deadline?
Bids are an integral part of sales, and bid managers aren’t salespeople, so there needs to be partnership, teamwork, and collaboration to respond well to these requests.
This is a two-way street, though. Bid managers must insert themselves into the sales process, and sales reps must view the proposal as a vital component of the sale. So, the sales rep has to own the opportunity, including the proposal. The bid manager, in turn, has to own the proposal process.
So, how do you split the workload and enforce bid management best practices?
It’s all about having a well-defined process in place that everybody understands, agrees to follow, and can be held accountable to. That process must have deliverables with a “by whom” and “by when” column.
Those values may (and likely will) change from opportunity to opportunity — but the list shouldn’t. And the way you decide “who” and “when” should be consistent from opportunity to opportunity.
When communicating with your sales team on proposals, what have you found to be the best approach?
I have yet to meet anybody in my professional life that over-communicates. *laughs* I’m serious!
There are two ways to address this: culture and technology. Culture says, “I need to keep everybody in the loop.” Technology makes it easier. We’ve all seen technology thrown at a communication issue without a cultural shift, and nothing gets better. That’s because technology is an amplifier — it makes good things better and bad things worse.
So, first, address the communication expectations, get an agreement, and then no matter what role you’re in) lead by example.
Second, get the technology right. We currently use a combination of tools on every proposal: Salesforce, Ombud, and Slack. Every RFP gets:
- a Salesforce record where all of the opportunity information is captured (decision-makers, budget, timeline, contacts, etc.)
- an Ombud workspace populated directly from Salesforce for tagging, snippets, products, etc.
- a dedicated (public) slack channel — integrated with Salesforce and Ombud
How does this technology stack help us communicate?
It enables us to split our communication into 3 distinct categories and, since they’re all tied together, pivot from one to the other.
- Salesforce is the source of truth, and it contains factual data. The account has X number of users; the products we’re offering are A, B, and C.
- Ombud contains client-facing documentation and more narrow conversation around specific requirements and responses.
- Slack is the catch-all for the day-to-day (or minute-to-minute) conversation about not just the proposal but the opportunity.
What’s your advice for bid managers in collaborating 1:1 with sales reps?
Again, bid managers must insert themselves into the sales process. My experience is that people who tend to be interested in bid writing typically do not have the same type of aura/ego/personality it takes to be in a traditional sales role. But, you must lean into it a little bit. If that sounds like you, my honest advice is: fake it ‘til you make it. Put on your best improv hat and adopt the character it takes to be at the table. You’ll find out very quickly that nobody’s going to cry “phony!” over it, and eventually, it will become more natural.
At the end of the day, the best salespeople are empathizers and relationship builders. It pays to take the time to build that bridge.
Any closing thoughts?
I’ve talked a lot about ethereal stuff: culture, mindset, attitude, and only a bit of concrete stuff like tech stacks, and that’s because this is the correct weighting.
If you don’t get the culture right, if you don’t have people with the right mindset, and if you’re not committed to improving communication, there’s no amount of “quick fixes” that will actually create sustainable change.
(We couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Danny!)
Want more tips on how to optimize your RFP responses? Check out “Sales Content Effectiveness is Hard to Achieve—Here’s 4 Steps to Get There”