Friction can be a good thing. With the right amount, sales and pre-sales teams share productive exchanges, respectful pushback during disagreements, and shared admiration for jobs well done on all sides.
Too much, and those relationships can quickly flare up with resentment or burn out in an unwinnable blame game (“It’s pre-sales fault for losing the RFP!”). Too little, and silos develop, making collaboration difficult and agility nearly impossible (“It’s sales’ fault for not not giving us what we need to create a winning proposal!”).
Sound familiar? It’s OK. Sometimes when the kids are bickering in the back seat you have to follow through with your threat to pull the car over right this instant. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Namaste. Let’s move on.
How do you maintain that ideal level of friction? Glad you asked. I have five steps to help.
Before you skip ahead, remember that everyone in your organization is always working toward the same goal: Win conversions based on responses, whether they be reactive requests for proposals (RFPs) or proactive proposals designed to solve specific prospect or customer problems.
When your organization commits to the unified goal to win through proposals, then it’s just a matter of creating the best game plan to do so.
Step 1: Add transparency to RFP roles and responsibilities
Attempting to collaborate without transparency is a bit like playing the card game “Go Fish”: One person knows what they want, but they’re not sure where to get it. You can avoid this first by documenting all RFP processes. If you have a proposal manager or, better yet, a dedicated proposal team, then you can ask them for this information.
As soon as assignments are delegated to sales and pre-sales teams, then make sure each team is aware of the roles for both teams. You’ll also want to include responsibilities that don’t fall under either sales or pre-sales.
For example, if your responses consistently rely on polished product marketing documentation, then your resource is likely someone in the marketing department. Calling this information out will help avoid unnecessary blaming from either team when they know it’s neither of their faults.
If you use RFP software, then your platform can help promote transparency. I cannot speak for other solutions, but with RFPIO you can:
- Give every sales rep and pre-sales person access to the project dashboard.
- Assign deliverables to respective teams to avoid confusion over who is responsible for what.
- Provide a project timeline so both teams can keep up with RFP progress.
- Monitor all deliverables to help identify bottlenecks.
- Gather and contain all communication related to the RFP, including emails, Slack, Salesforce/CRM communications, as well as any alerts or messages initiated from RFPIO.
- Store all questions, answers, and RFP content for unified knowledge management across every team working the RFP.
Step 2: Write the executive summary
Sales must lead the way. There’s no avoiding it. Sales is responsible for the customer relationship. Without their unique insight, pre-sales is flying blind on the RFP. If sales wants to cross the finish line with a win, then it has to guide pre-sales in the right direction. Back at the starting line, that means writing the RFP’s executive summary.
Write the executive summary first to help set the tone for the RFP. Again, RFP software can help here. After you write the executive summary, your RFP software can make an automated first pass at answering all of the questions based on the content in your Answer Library. From there, pre-sales will be able to review the answers under the direction that sales established in the executive summary. Sweet, fancy efficiency…
As the owner of the customer relationship, the salesperson should actually demand to write the executive summary. It explains the entirety of the RFP and sets up the narrative for the customer journey. If you have a proposal team, then sales can at the very least outline the executive summary so the proposal team can flesh it out and add polish.
“Sales owning the executive summary is extremely important, because it provides context and color into how the company will position itself throughout the RFP. From there, PreSales can bring insight into where the product or platform may fall short, and discuss a strategy on how to approach the response.”
—James Kaikis, Co-Founder at PreSales Collective
Step 3: Schedule a kick-off call
If you have a proposal team and documented proposal processes, then a kick-off meeting for RFPs may already exist. If so, make sure sales and pre-sales are invited. If not, then take the initiative to include a kick-off meeting in your RFP response process.
Three of the main reasons you need this touchpoint are to:
- Give all parties involved a chance to set expectations and clarify roles.
- Exchange unique insights about the prospect, your relationship history, and how to differentiate your response from competitors.
- Insert a Go/No-Go evaluation in your RFP response process to solidify team commitment to responding to a winnable RFP.
Step 4: Play an active role in responding to the RFP
Sales teams sometimes make the mistake of washing their hands of an RFP as soon as they hand it off to pre-sales or proposal teams. From the standpoint of the customer relationship and the reasoning behind the RFP, the sales team is the SME! Just as SMEs for product, SLAs, support, legal, pricing, etc. are expected to contribute their expertise to a response, so too should sales be expected to contribute their expertise about the customer.
Sales-related answers and content can also be managed in the answer library of your RFP software. That way sales can focus on the review process and personalizing content after the automated first pass takes place.
Step 5: Reflect on the results, win or lose
When you hear back from the issuer, come together as a team to reflect on how the RFP landed — win or lose. If you lose, talk about what you could have done better. If you won, talk about what you did well.
This win-loss review gives your team an opportunity to close the loop. It also gives you an opportunity to heap some well-deserved praise where it’s due. Sales knows that it cannot survive without pre-sales. Sometimes pre-sales likes to be reminded. There’s no better time to do so than after a win, when you can call out the outstanding job that pre-sales did in composing the response.
You can also use this opportunity to make sure what you learned in the finished RFP is carried over to the next RFP. Win or lose, factoring in what worked and what didn’t will make it easier to determine the next Go/No-Go decision.
Good collaboration = good content
Winning proposals resonate with good content. And behind every piece of good content is the collaboration that made it happen. The better the collaboration between sales and pre-sales, the better your proposal will be.
In our new proposal management Benchmark Report, we found that 75% of organizations plan on responding to more RFPs in 2021 than they did in 2020. The only way that can happen is if sales and pre-sales are collaborating at a healthy rate of friction.
If your sales and pre-sales teams need a collaboration tool to kickstart that healthy friction, then schedule a demo today!