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Response Management

The Top Proposal Management Trends to Expect in 2021

January 11, 2021

We’ve gone through a year of major change in 2020. Some companies have simply survived it, while others have adapted, evolved, and grown stronger because of it. The number of new business opportunities (and thus, RFPs and proposals) is a leading indicator of growth and bellwether of sales activity. In monitoring customer volume metrics and tracking industry experts, we’ve identified five key proposal management trends on the horizon for 2021: 

RFP opportunities will continue to increase.

As Ben Paul argues in a recent article, we’re likely to see an increase in RFP opportunities over the next year. A few factors causing this revolve primarily around the pandemic and how that’s changed our working lives. First, he argues, governments will look to stimulate their economies, driving competitive bids and RFPs as part of their due diligence and procurement processes. 

The second is a bit more nuanced. While the number of sales opportunities may not see a drastic increase, the number of times you’re taken to RFP will. Businesses will need to justify costs more than ever as they’re coming out of a global economic downturn—and your solution will not be immune. 

This trend brings a hotly contested topic to the forefront in many proposal teams: qualification and blind RFPs.

Will these opportunities be worth it if you already see an elevated amount of these requests from your ideal and key prospects? More teams who’ve simply replied to every RFP may look to create a more detailed qualification strategy or implement a decentralized response effort (with sales reps being thrown to the proverbial wolves) on smaller or less vital deals that are taken to RFP. 

Because of this overarching trend, we’ll see downstream effects as well:

Client retention RFP opportunities will also continue to rise.

If you’re not a simple, subscription-based solution, you’re likely to see higher rates of due diligence questionnaires, security reviews, and renewal RFPs in the new year. 

Good client relationships will only get you so far when the CFO gets a hold of your contract. Budget scrutiny and justification are of the utmost importance right now, and the sales funnel is less of a “funnel” and more of a circle these days.

As a result, sellers and proposal professionals alike will have to turn on their persuasive powers to retain business through conversations and written proposals. As evidenced in a recent article on Winning The Business, “most value accrues over time as customers benefit from their purchase and continue and expand purchasing. Consequently, sellers must embrace a change in mindset from ‘win the customer,’ to ‘show the customer the path to value.’”

Because of this rise, companies will look to automation and additional headcount.

With the increase of activity, the way teams have set up their proposal response processes (and the potential lay-offs earlier in the year) could prove unscalable into the future. 

But, merely adding a point solution to your tech stack or adding more headcount won’t scalable adequately, either. To truly harness the power of new technology or expertise, teams will need to define what success looks like for their proposal teams. How do you track the effectiveness and the effectiveness of a solution you put in place? 

Sagi Eliyahu makes this point in an article from Crunchbase earlier this year, “people-centric workflows—requiring skills like empathy, decision-making, etc.—make up a huge percentage of business processes. As such, the impact of automation solutions must be measured in accordance with how meaningfully they optimize the people your workflows guide and inform.” 

Understanding core processes and what part of those processes can be easily optimized will separate your team from the competition as you go into a year of increased responses and help inform what headcount is truly needed.

Personalization will become even more prevalent and necessary.

This trend has been slowly creeping up on us throughout the last decade, first with account-based marketing coming on the scene, then account-based selling, and the newest arrival being social selling over the previous few years. 

These trends all have one key factor in mind: personalization to the person behind the lead. 

With the rise in proposal and content automation platforms, proposal professionals are now seeing a return to their true purpose: writing. Gone (hopefully) are the days of merely being project managers and cat-herders. With so many solutions on the market to automate that part of the job, proposal teams will have more time and resources allocated to achieving the level of personalization the client experienced in the first prospecting correspondence they received. 

Sales and marketing will become more involved in proposals.

With the number of people working remotely or in disparate locations from other core team members at an all-time high, everyone who’s been preaching about the “digital transformation” for years has finally been validated. 

As Dennis de Vries writes in a recent blog, with this new setting for work, “there will be a need for better and improved tools to support sales and marketing activities, team cohesion, collaboration, and all the other features used to support a hybrid and WFH team.” 

Since the sales team is no longer able to simply walk down the hall and ask about the progress of a proposal, there’s an increased need for transparency and oversight into the process. This doesn’t mean proposal teams will be under a microscope. But it may mean more accountability for hours spent per proposal and subject matter expert timeliness—meaning more time spent on reporting and analysis on each opportunity to weigh costs and understand which are worth pursuing for your team. 

Get a headstart in 2021.

These trends are pervasive across industries, companies of varying sizes, and revenue teams of varying maturity. If you’re seeing the impacts of these trends, you can be certain your competition is as well. Deals will continue to be won and lost in the margins as we move into 2021. Finding ways to uniquely differentiate yourself - through process optimization, personalization, automation, collaboration, or all of the above - will ensure you treat every opportunity like it’s your most valuable.

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