By: Anne Farro and Ellen Jones PAICR Board Members and 2018 RFP Symposium co-chairs.
Welcome to the second installment of our round-up from May’s RFP Symposium, in which we share random observations that we wish someone had shared with us when we were coming along in our careers.
For those of you who missed out on the Symposium, or would simply welcome a refresh of what was discussed, you can now do a full catch-up by binge-reading Parts 1 and 2 back-to-back. Happy reading!
RFP 101 | Random Observations (Part 2)
Quality Control (QC)
This should be a separate and disciplined step apart from finishing the answers to the questions.
Use a checklist of items for verification– first by the writer and then a peer or manager. Check everything from footnote references, to trademark symbols, formatting, and disclosures, and search for words that give compliance heartache (“unique”, always, you will make a million dollars).
And let the QC results live as a part of your documentation. Again, you will find this is a boon in an internal audit.
The RFP Process: Get it right the first time
Many firms try and get a draft out fast. We say “get the draft out right!” When you begin to excuse poor document quality on workload or turnaround time, you have a problem with your process or staffing model.
RFP writers should be accountable for the quality of their drafts (consider implementing a QC before the draft goes out and keep metrics). No one has time to correct a lot of errors caused by rushing or just filling a hole in a document.
Poor quality drafts are a drag on the RFP team’s reputation and generally cause increased workload for everyone involved in the process, which makes the process unenjoyable. Be the smart team!
Internal Customer Experience
Try and create consistency amongst everyone on the team.
Do not allow a writer to pull the “RFP martyr” fast one. The minute one writer is willing to put out another draft at 3 am (because the sales officer didn’t get changes back by the deadline), or is willing to work all weekend and call SMEs on their cell phones, your team’s process is shot. Now, this feels the opposite of good customer service, right? Chalk this one up to the team’s customer experience consistency. It makes everyone’s life predictable.
Create email templates for research, draft communications and RFP submission. This is a difficult thing, but it unites a team.
Metrics and Measures: What to capture
Through-put is not an effective measure of how well an RFP process works. But, win-rates aren’t exactly fair either.
Measure what the RFP team can control – volume, quality, timeliness (don’t you set dates and timelines for all stages of the process?), SME and Sales input, and content management.
Speaking of Content Management
Do you have a dedicated RFP database manager? Not many firms do this well “on the fly” or when writers have time to go and mine/update content from recent RFPs.
Mostly, you find these teams writing out of their RFP library – DO NOT WRITE OUT OF YOUR RFP LIBRARY.
Every piece of content should have an SME attached to it. The RFP team cannot be one of its own SMEs.
You need established and documented verification cycles.
Make sure you keep any and all approvals and changes.
OK – It’s a wrap! But don’t forget what you’ve learned. And better still try out some of the recommendations.
By: Michelle Gerber PAICR Member, PAICR Research Committee member
Automation, in all its forms, has left few occupations undisrupted, and marketing is no different. Like the transition from horses to cars, typewriters to computers and newspapers to digital screens, the production of marketing collateral continues to evolve toward an increased use of intelligent machines. This transition is an ongoing focus for many investment management firms.
There is no single way to determine the route a firm should take to collateral automation, but as your firm works to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of its marketing program, forethought and expectation setting can go a long way. Experience suggests there are principles to keep in mind as you work to refine your process and see it through to a successful outcome; here are 5 to consider as you navigate toward an automated collateral production system:
Know your network and grow your network. Share knowledge and experiences and listen to the challenges and achievements of those around you. Keep an ear to the ground for new trends, tools and tips; they can save you time and bridge information gaps. Look for insights far and wide, from colleagues to vendors, across departments and throughout industries. Know who to turn to when you need an extra hand or three.
Define big picture goals upfront and key milestones along the way. Dedicate time to review these at regular intervals, and keep an open and flexible mind to the possibility of altering tactics to achieve your end goals.
Be thorough in vetting potential automation platforms. Compare the needs of your marketing department to the strengths and weaknesses of the various service providers that will be competing to win your business. Involve your IT department, as well as your sales staff, data managers, and compliance officers so that you understand the priorities of each and make a best faith effort to accommodate all stakeholders. Their support is vital to the success of the project.
Identify risks at every step and create safeguards to minimize their potential impact. Keep your compliance department informed of changes, and document the processes to maintain transparency and to build a solid institutional knowledge base within your firm. Anticipate the necessity to add resources at various and potentially unexpected points.
Build an infrastructure that provides for flexibility and continuous optimization. Marketing is a living process, so expect targets to move. Don’t build a system that is so inflexible that it needs to be disassembled and rebuilt in order to accommodate unforeseeable shifts in data sources, product strategies, messaging and branding.
Reaching the goal of a reliable, flexible, and scalable collateral automation system is a big win, so give yourself a pat on the back if you are there already. But don’t get too comfortable. Having raised your marketing department’s capabilities to put your firm ahead of the curve, it’s time to look ahead to the next curve. By learning to anticipate and identify industry trends and the shifting needs of your clients, your firm can capitalize on the opportunities that exist within. The intrepid marketer should use the achievement of collateral automation as a launch point to explore the next revolution.
Let’s be honest, conferences can be hard to justify. There are probably only two or three sessions that you’re really interested in, yet you must convince your manager that staying two to three days in some place like Orlando will be worth your time. Yet, you can turn almost any conference into a success and make it more likely that your boss will send you to the next conference — if you follow these three simple steps.
Step 1: Bring back something you or your team can implement right away.
Conferences are filled with opportunities to pick up innovative ideas you can implement right away. They may come from a session on a topic that you may know intimately, or they may come from talking to the individual next to you at lunch. Be open to the fact that even on topics you may know intimately, you might pick up one new piece of information that could immediately impact the way you or your team does business today. When you find your little nugget of gold, write it down and be prepared to share it as soon as you get back into the office.
Step 2: Bring back something you or your team should work toward implementing within the next three to six months.
This step takes a little bit more work. Think about the challenges you and your team are facing before you get to the conference. What are the pain points or areas where you just can’t seem to get to a workable solution? Knowing the problem(s) you’re facing and having them top of mind makes it easier to spot the solution when a presenter covers your same problem in a session. You may have to attend every session of the conference to find the one that gives you a great idea to work through with your manager when you return, but it will be worth it. Of course, you should attend all the sessions anyway. Don’t skip out. This is your chance to improve your knowledge and make yourself a more valuable asset to the firm when you return!
Step 3: Expand your network for yourself and the firm.
Of course, conferences are your chance to “expand your network,” but what does that mean? Are you looking to make friends, find the cool kids, connect with the manager of your next job? No! Well, maybe, but let me give you a tip that will pay you back for years to come. You want to connect with people that you would be comfortable picking up the phone and calling when you encounter a problem that you’re just not sure how to handle. Chances are that someone at that conference has been there before and can help you with your problem. Introduce yourself to the speakers of the sessions that seemed the most helpful to you and your team’s problems. Talk with strangers at lunch and networking sessions to find out what they do. And don’t forget to exchange business cards with them. Talk with each vendor and get to know them and their firm. Sometimes they can put you in touch with others in the industry that they know. Your goal here is to find two to three people that you can call or email in the future. You’ll be amazed at how willing your new network is to help you.
Bonus Tip: Don’t get caught up in the late-night activities.
If you’re new to attending a conference, the late night after-parties can sound like fun, but my advice? Don’t do it unless you know you can still get up and make that 8AM conference kick-off the next morning. Especially if it took some cajoling to get the budget to attend! Show your boss and firm the professional you are.
If you implement these three steps, chances are that your boss will gladly send you to that next conference event. Just remember to bring back souvenirs for your team (ideas to implement now and later) and memories (names of industry peers) for you to access at a future date.
By: Peter Hans Co-Founder & CEO – Harvest Exchange Corp. PAICR Gold Sponsor – Harvest www.hvst.com
In the investment management world, “data” has historically meant “capital markets data”—used to create an investment thesis or structure an allocation model. But in recent years the topic of “big data” has been top-of firms’ minds. Why? Because in a digital world, there are significant opportunities for investment managers to leverage behavioral data so they can better engage with their clients. And under the right circumstances, that data can also be used to better align the interests of an asset manager and their clients.
Here are a few examples of how data can be used to achieve such goals:
1. Personalize the client experience
The future of finance is digital, as stated by the Financial Times. Frankly, this statement is consistent with trends we are seeing at Harvest, which demonstrate over and over again that hedge fund managers, analysts at a public pension plan, financial advisors, and individuals are conducting investment research online. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning makes it possible for the likes of Netflix and Amazon (and Harvest) to better organize content in order to improve the user experience. But without user data, this wouldn’t be possible and would lead to the user having to sort through things that are irrelevant to them. It should come as no surprise then that 70% of the content consumed on Netflix is the result of a recommendation by their algorithms.
2. Quality over quantity
While digital marketing has allowed investment managers to seamlessly distribute their message at scale, it has also led to an environment of unsolicited spam and ever-shrinking attention spans. However, there’s no need for such a shotgun approach. Instead, behavioral data can be used to transform a manager’s previously volume-driven approach to a highly targeted relevance-driven strategy. Harvest was built with this in mind and seeks to help financial organizations better engage with their clients. We do this by prioritizing what an individual, or group of individuals, cares about and interacting with them accordingly. In essence, we seek to filter out the noise for the reader and create an environment where less is more, both for the asset manager seeking new clients and for a client seeking a new solution.
3. Intelligence for humans, not robots
While Harvest uses behavioral data as inputs into its algorithms, for asset managers the same data offers an insight into the next human interaction. For example, knowing in real time whether certain targets are engaged with thought leadership on energy infrastructure, or reading your firm’s view on the yield curve, can provide extremely valuable qualitative information for a manager’s sales team. Additionally, understanding what your target audience demographics are interested in, what they aren’t, and how those trends are changing can also be used as inputs into deciding your upcoming marketing priorities. In short, asset management has always been a relationship-driven and deeply personal business. The availability of technology-empowered behavioral data does not have to mean full automation and the elimination of the human element. In fact, this data can be used to materially strengthen the human element so that a manager can achieve their desired outcome and their client enjoys a better user experience.
In the end, most people are growing weary from the deluge of information they are bombarded with on a daily basis. But with data being used for good, that deluge can be replaced with a stream of information that users will find relevant, interesting, and actionable. For investment managers, data can be applied to better align their interests with their clients. This includes the use of data to personalize the client experience, the ability to emphasize quality over quantity in their communications strategy, and by creating more meaningful conversations with their clients.
By: Anne Farro and Ellen Jones PAICR Board Members and 2018 RFP Symposium co-chairs.
We’re crazy about RFPs. Well, maybe just crazy? We guess that’s up for debate! However, between the two of us, we’ve got around 50 years’ experience with writing and proposals.
We’ve seen it all – from desktop printing to PDFing. So we thought it would be valuable to at least document and pass down random observations that we wish someone had shared with us as we were coming along in our careers. We presented these at our recent RFP Symposium where audience participation was amazing and feedback was lively and positive. We laughed, commiserated and debated. Most of all, we enjoyed professional companionship, shared experiences and valuable insights.
For those of you who missed out on the “party”, or would simply welcome a refresh of what was discussed, we’ve set out below the first half of what we rolled out during our Symposium presentation. Stay tuned for installment #2, which will be coming soon.
RFP 101: Random Observations
Professional Technical Writers
As an RFP writer, you’re on the hook for communication, punctuation and grammar.
Aim for a Flesch-Kincaid grade-level score of about 11th
Use active voice, ensure verb tense consistency and be precise with your word usage.
Writers read what they are producing. Do not just cut and paste. Read what you are working on and improve for the purpose (edit, emphasize and rearrange).
Document Process and Procedures
You should have written step-by-step instructions for every team process:
Final reviews and approvals, and
And, make sure everyone follows them to the letter. This helps protect you and the team in all audits (internal and regulatory).
Also, do you publish timelines at the beginning of each document/project? For example, include when a draft is due to sales/compliance and when comments are due back to the team. And hardcopy RFP responses should be mailed two days ahead of the due date.
RFPs are one of the first client-facing interactions with your firm. Make sure you follow brand guidelines. Use the voice of your brand, color palette and approved imagery. This is especially important when you have many SMEs contributing to the document. Sales may own the pitch, but the RFP team should own the wordsmithing.
RFPs are the first customer service test. So:
Answer the questions asked. If you are hoping some long answer has the answer to the question in it somewhere, you have missed the mark!
Use the questionnaire’s words and terminology wherever you can. This means use words and terms from the question asked. Swap out terms even if you think the client will understand what you are saying anyway.
And answer multiple question sets in the order that they are asked. Do not make your readers hunt around.
Be Evaluator Friendly
Newsflash! No one reads an RFP word for word. They scan for anticipated information. So how can you help direct the reader’s attention?
Be aware of RFP goals and evaluation criteria.
Use headings and sub-headings to direct your reader’s eye.
Also you may want to consider pulling out key information into a call out box, or bold the information to make it stand out (do not use italics for this purpose).
A few years ago, I sat in an airport with colleagues talking about our jobs. What do you say when someone asks you what you do? Fueled by beer and exhaustion, we threw out phrases highlighting the best business buzzwords—leverage, facilitate, organize, write. But nothing felt like it totally encompassed the incredible responsibility (and sometimes frustrating limits) of the position. As RFP professionals, we’re expected to demonstrate knowledge that runs both deep and broad, juggle competing priorities, and organize all parts of the firm to respond to a prospect’s request. The role touches everyone, but is ultimately unique in scope.
I’m not saying we’re a rare breed—or maybe we are? But it’s so great when the person/s on the other side of the conversation speaks the same language as you—at least “professionally”; when you’re all part of essentially the same “tribe.” Because chances are you all face exactly the same challenges, and you can all benefit from brainstorming solutions for your shared problems together. So where can you find a tribal gathering of RFP professionals? Well, the most immediate opportunity is at the PAICR RFP Symposium in NYC on Monday, May 7.
PAICR’s annual meeting—dedicated to those in the investment management RFP world—is a distinct forum where proposal professionals get to discuss a range of relevant and topical issues. Through interactive sessions, you have the opportunity to engage with your peers from other firms across the industry. So, come with stories of your challenges and successes … and be prepared to walk away armed with new, actionable ideas to improve your processes and re-engage afresh with your job.
Here are a few of the important topics we will be covering this year:
Who’s the Boss? Explore how a RFP Team’s reporting structure can influence its effectiveness within the organization. This panel discussion will lead you through an interesting review of how RFP teams have been positioned throughout the industry.
Rise of the Machines In today’s competitive environment, proposals that show an understanding of the prospect’s goals and objectives will have a clear edge. All too often, important information from the sales team doesn’t get funneled to the proposal team. This break-out session will offer case studies of firms that leverage their CRM tool within the proposal process to effectively disseminate information and improve outcomes.
I Want it Now! Teams can no longer choose between quality and quantity; both are demanded simultaneously. This session will focus on how to manage this recurring debate in order to meet deadlines and maintain your sanity.
In addition to these sessions, the symposium continues to offer great training for both new and seasoned professionals. A classic forum, RFP 101, will guide writers and managers through the nuts and bolts of a successful RFP process.
So, if your team is in need of an “information-shot in the arm” on new and leading industry trends, join us at the PAICR 2018 RFP Symposium on May 7. The Early Bird registration special is available only until April 20, so get a move on … and we’ll see you in New York!
The oldest Millennials are in their mid-thirties and this could seriously impact how asset managers communicate with clients.
Why it Matters:
Older Millennials are in decision-making positions at institutions, at consultancies, and at wealth management firms.
They are a larger age cohort than Baby-Boomers
They consume information differently than both Boomers and Generation X’ers
Be Smart: Asset management firms who can balance modern linguistic styles with their brand identity will be more likely to reach more potential clients in an era of peak content.
But, but, but: This doesn’t mean brands should forgo their traditional identity altogether. Instead they must fuse their brand with an emerging style.
The Times They Are a-Changin
Okay, so if you happen to read the daily briefs from Axios, the above format will look familiar. That format is a buttoned-up version of changes in how we receive and digest information.
Sure, any number of industry reports will tell you that advisors want more digital engagement, but few—if any—explain what that means or looks like beyond polling what percentage of advisors look to email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, etc.
To really see how our style is changing, here are a few examples pulled from various newsletters, most of which are retail-oriented. It’s no grand statement to observe that the asset management industry is notoriously slow to change. It took how long for FINRA to advise on Twitter or LinkedIn? The point is that if you want to see what’s coming or how to communicate, look towards direct retail communications.
A Brave New World (of Style)
$he $pends is a website and newsletter whose motto is: “giving you actionable tools to tackle the wage, investing and board seat gaps.” With such ambitious goals, they use punchy, bold, and humorous language to convey their message.
The title alone jumps out at you. Hardly something we advise sending to consultants, but important to consider that this level of informality resonates with their readers. Additionally, note how the headlines are both amusing and referential: “more experience, more problems,” clearly riffs off The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo money, Mo problems.”
Don’t doubt for a second the importance of millennial references from the ‘90s. Think of how many shows Millennials grew up with that are returning to TV: Rosanne, Will and Grace, Gilmore Girls, Twin Peaks, and Netflix added more episodes of Arrested Development and turned Wet Hot American Summer into a series. And of course, there’s this segment from Saturday Night Live. The reference to Biggie Smalls is more than just fun, it communicates identity and affirms that the sender of the content doesn’t just “get it,” but more importantly, they “get you.”
Let’s look at another newsletter. The Penny Hoarder is a personal financial website and was named the fastest-growing private media company in North America by INC 5000. Headline emails like the example below probably help. It’s filled with millennial laid-back tones and super-fun jargon.
Can you believe it? Two amazingly fun and casual references in the first three words? That’s 66.67% of fun words before getting into the meat of the headline! You can often find “Friyay” references on the web with beer or wine next to them, or the play on Friday with Bae, a fading but still prevalent term of affection for one’s “significant other.” The point remains, this casual and approachable language is more welcoming than most quarterly letters.
The fight for attention is a big fight, and readers want something informative and fun. Being fun matters in the world of attention getting. With everyone worrying about content saturation, standing out and being fun and approachable matters. Consider this article from The Penny Hoarder:
To capture the reader, The Penny Hoarder blatantly states their aim is to make it fun. As a reader, that’s far more appealing than not being fun.
No discussion of modern/millennial style would be complete without a discussion of theSkimm, a daily newsletter founded by two former news producers targeting female Millennials. There’s money behind building their audience. Google Ventures and others just raised $12 million in a recent round of funding. They deliver news in a compelling way to an eyewatering demographic. As they stated via ReCode:
“We have revolutionized the delivery of news and information to the most coveted demographic and, as we look to grow our membership by expanding our products and services, GV’s expertise and data-driven mindset makes them the ideal partner to aid in our expansion.”
What are they doing so differently that traditional outlets are not? Why are Google Ventures and others pouring so much into theSkimm? Because their style, their approach, and their delivery creates a lasting audience by speaking to their readers as humans.
So, what does a newsletter valued at $55 million dollars look like?
The news is serious, the tone is lighthearted.
Cool. But how does that affect asset management—at all?! Good questions, we’re getting there. Three, two, one, and, go.
Putting the Fun in Fund!
So, is any of this happening in the asset management space? Yes. Is it as loose and casual as retail? No, but that’s OK. Bill Gross did a fine job of keeping bond discussions approachable, and Warren Buffett is the master of sounding folksy. Smead Capital often uses movies in their missives, and I’ve seen references to Game of Thrones at some firms. Longboard recently went so far as to invoke Star Wars as a means to discuss alternative Investments. Here’s an example from one of their newsletters:
I particularly appreciate the use of imagery and the use of Star Wars lingo in their bullet points, not because of my love for Star Wars (which is large), but because of the consistency and commitment it brings to their approach. It’s a full commitment to rethink the discussion of dry topics into something far more interesting.
I recently came across another younger firm, Newfound Research. They write about traditionally dry items, but their relaxed and humorous tone provides the reader access to more obscure subjects.
This is a fine example of brand building using a more approachable tone. It’s definitely not institutional in tone, but that’s okay because as Millennials age we’re going to be less focused on proving we sound smart, and more focused on proving we’re relatable—the title alone suggests that the firm “gets you” and less focused on the fact that they can talk about Monte Carlo simulations. That resonates with readers.
As Millennials take over more senior positions at all levels across the industry, it will be more important than ever to think beyond millennial jargon and re-think your firm’s communications style. Certainly, social media will matter, but it remains to be seen how much. Not to mention the effect compliance plays in permitting its use.
The notion that a campaign, an ad, a missive, or an email should reflect something authentic or personal — something beyond just what the S&P did versus your benchmark — will be the difference between building an audience and directing traffic. The former provides value, the latter drives away.
Finally, since we’re about distilling information and communications down to digestible pieces these days, here are some key takeaways to bear in mind as you develop your firm’s communications.
Speak like a human—authenticity matters
Speak casually—no one wants to hear how smart you are; they want to hear what you think
Informal is the new formal—it’s obvious when you try too hard