RFP Quality is Key: Raise the Bar with 4 Clear Steps

By: Craig Peterson
Senior RFP Analyst
Member of PAICR Education & Research Committee

The competition among asset managers for new business is as fierce as ever.  Whether your efforts as a RFP writer are successful is a significant factor in determining your firm’s ability to raise assets and satisfy the investor.

While you cannot control risk-adjusted returns, you do have the ability to establish a RFP process that will contribute to the success of your firm in a meaningful manner.  At the core of winning new mandates is quality, which should serve as the centerpiece of your RFP function.  Establishing a proper staffing structure, implementing a content database, partnering with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and deploying a robust review process are crucial in producing quality RFPs.

  • Success begins with finding the “right” people—and deploying their skills effectively.

Hiring dedicated professionals that have experience, and a history of success, in writing RFPs in the asset management industry is a critical first step to building a successful RFP team.  The next step is to structure your team so that you optimize the individual strengths of each member—whether that’s a background in specific asset classes or level of writing ability. Combining the right structure with the right people can help deliver a team performance that is more than just the sum of each member’s individual contribution.

  • Get your content ducks in a row.

In a team environment, the organization of language and materials is important for efficient execution and consistent quality of content.  Content databases such as PMAPS, Qvidian, and Seismic, can help you organize language, and more importantly, provide quality control.  Rather than every team member having the ability to create or change language, a content management system and process will inject quality into every document through a consistent message.  Additionally, control over the database will encourage communication among the team on how best to create or improve language.

  • SMEs: Your partner for success.

Partnering with your Subject Matter Experts to formulate thoughtful, comprehensive (yet succinct) answers will raise the quality of your RFP communications.  Identify the best person for each function within your firm and work closely with them; they typically have the necessary background to answer many core questions on your list.  For greater efficiency, you may also choose to assign responsibility for the maintenance of content within specific segments of your content database to the appropriate SME. However, remember that quality remains key—so make sure to set clear deadlines for SMEs to update their content, and schedule regular follow-ups with them to keep progress on track.

  • Last but not least—your review process.

A comprehensive review process is essential in polishing the RFP document.  At the most basic level, spellcheck can help correct some of the more glaring mistakes—but you really need to institute a formal peer review process.  After spending days writing, editing, and reviewing your own document, it becomes harder to spot the bloopers   At that point, getting a fresh set of eyes on the copy is a must—and it fosters teamwork.  Each team member will bring a different perspective and talent to the review process, while increasing their knowledge through the process.  The peer-reviewed document should then be put through the final review hoop—the compliance review.  No document should go outside your firm without compliance approval.

The four steps listed above are based on my own experience of nearly 15 years as an RFP professional. However, I know from my years as an active member of PAICR, and attending our annual RFP Symposium, that our members can be an amazing source of sound, practical, and innovative advice. So if you’ve anything you’d like to add to the list, we’d love to hear from you—just comment on the post so all of our members can share in the wisdom.

Why Presentation Training is Critical to Your Content Strategy

By: Anne Banks
Principal, gr8 communications LLC
PAICR Board of Directors member

The appetite for content in the investment management industry has exploded in recent years, and so many firms have invested significantly to build out their content capabilities and to diversify the mix of communications channels they use to reach their target audiences.

But how many firms have invested in their most important communications asset: the ability of their investment professionals (and other market-facing ambassadors) to tell their story clearly, engagingly and succinctly?

My guess would be not so many!

But if your firm is savvy enough to be doing such training, or contemplating it, here are 5 steps I recommend you follow to increase your chances of a solid ROI.

Check the patient’s medical history in advance

I’m only kidding about the medical history—but I hope you get what I mean.

  • You need to know, from the outset, the level of experience the participant has—be that in the industry, their current role, previous roles, previous presenting experience, and the nature of that experience (audience, frequency, solo or partnered.)
  • More specifically, you need to know why the person is being asked to participate in the training—especially if they’ve had previous presentation training and/or would be viewed as a seasoned presenter or member of the team. The latter could be an indication that you are dealing with a protracted problem that previous training failed to resolve—and if that is the case, you need to know why.
  • Also find out from the participant any specific concerns they may have about their presenting ability, which they would like to address during their session. (Remember, the training has the potential to broaden the person’s skillset, not just for the role they currently occupy, but for the benefit of the business more broadly.)

Set clear objectives and realistic expectations

You need to know who is behind the decision to do the training and what they want the business (and each of the participant’s) to get out of it. And how will they measure its success?

  • If you believe the expectations voiced by the person are unrealistic, you need to say so, or somebody is going to be very disappointed when the job is done! For example—if one of the people to be trained has had training numerous times before to address the same issue, it would be unreasonable (and unrealistic) to expect that they will suddenly see the light after one more session with another trainer! There’s a strong chance that a more fundamental issue is at the heart of the problem than the person’s skills as a presenter—and it’s likely to be something a trainer has no power to change!
  • Regardless of the issue that needs to be addressed with each presenter, the person requesting that the training be done needs to understand that one training session can only help the participant achieve so much. Sustainable improvement in their presentation skills will only come from presenting regularly.

Timing isn’t everything … but boy can it make a big difference

If you have the flexibility, schedule the training so that each of the participants has an opportunity to put into practice what they learn from their session very soon after—ideally at an external meeting within a week to 10 days (for which they should prep for in-house beforehand.) The sooner they get to use the pointers they’ve been given, the better.  And the more frequently you can get them to meetings subsequently the better also. Practice may not make it perfect, but it will make a difference.

  • Use familiar content for the training sessions: Unless the purpose of the training is to test-drive a completely new presentation, I recommend that you get each participant to use presentation material for their coaching session with which they are reasonably familiar/possibly have presented before. If they don’t, then any presentation weakness you identify is as likely to come from their lack of familiarity with the material, as their core ability to present.
  • Capture it on video: The best way for a presenter to understand the errors they are making, is to watch themselves on video doing just that. And you don’t need any expensive equipment to capture that. Many investment professionals use iPads or similar tablets for work, which can be easily mounted on an inexpensive tripod stand to record the session. And they get to take the prize home with them J But seriously … it really does make a difference when they can see the things you are pointing out to them.

So when it comes to developing your content strategy, don’t forget about investing a bit of your time and budget in the people you depend on to deliver your message and secure the client. Ultimately, the face time a client gets with them may be the deciding factor in choosing you as their manager—and not the brochure they found on your website.

Ready, set, go! Eh … maybe! Overcoming Writer’s Block

By: Anne Banks
Principal, gr8 communications LLC
PAICR Board of Directors member

As anybody who does a lot of writing in their job will tell you, writer’s block isn’t the exclusive domain of blockbuster novelists. We’ve all had those days … those projects … when we know we’ve got to get our head down and write, but we just can’t seem to make it happen. It’s painful. Like pulling teeth without anesthetic!

We obviously find a way around it, or we wouldn’t still be in the job. But what works for you? What helps you get “in the zone?” There is no silver bullet—but here are a few things that I have found have worked for me over the years.

Procrastinate some more

You may think that’s terrible advice, but quite frankly if you’re really struggling to get into “the zone” you just might be better off to defer starting the job/project until your head is in the right space … assuming you’ve got some breathing room on the delivery date. There’s nothing more disheartening than making numerous efforts to start a writing project and finding yourself constantly canning the copy you’ve written. Also, some people write best when they are “under the gun”. If you’re someone who regularly crammed for exams at school and university, this might prove your go-to option. It’s not my preferred option … but if it works for you, go with it! But if you do that, and you are partnering with a colleague on the project, please give them a heads up that that’s how you roll. One less meltdown might be spared.

Send or leave yourself a message

Have you ever been working on another project, or been in a meeting, or been in bed … and found yourself getting inspiration as to how to approach another project? It happens regularly to me, and I find if I don’t capture the idea in some way or form I’ll probably forget it. So I keep a notepad by my bed … regularly jot down ideas on my phone … or email the ideas to myself. Maybe talk to Siri and ask her to take a note. Those little nuggets could prove to be the key to unlocking your writer’s block.

Create an outline … any outline

Some of you may be wagging your finger at me at this point, but when you’re at zero, the most important thing is breaking the ice in some way. Now obviously, if you’re right up against the wire on delivery you’re going to have to be more thoughtful about the outline you create. But if you’re really just looking for a way to get your creative juices flowing, take a blank sheet of paper and start jotting down some ideas.

  • For me the title for the piece often comes first. Probably because it’s one place where I can often have a little fun with the content … but also set up the broad premise for the story I’m about to write.
  • Then I often note graphics and charts I really want to bring into the story. I still may not be sure how or where I want to incorporate them … but at least they’re on my shopping list.
  • If I’m drawing on industry or client content to create some new content, I always keep my eyes open for what I call the “zinger” statement, which I will more than likely want to use somehow, in some format. Those zinger statements often lend themselves to being great “callouts” in the copy, and can be an essential part of the story’s takeaway.

Just start writing … anything related to the topic

If you are down to the wire, and still struggling—despite an outline—you’ve got to take the bull by the horns. And that means getting something down on paper! And you don’t necessarily have to start at the beginning. So, for example, if you know exactly what you want to say on a specific point, but it’s likely to come on the second or third page … write it. And you can apply that same principle to other sections of the copy as well.  Just get your first cut down on paper (you can refine it later).

As you create more pieces of the content jigsaw, it will become clearer what needs to go where, what link copy needs to be created to connect all the pieces, and how you might close out the story. Mind you, if you have some idea of what the ending should be before you have another piece of copy thought out, write it down too!

Slán go fóill

(That’s Irish for “Goodbye for now.”)

RFPs – All the Things You Didn’t Know You Need to Know

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.

5 Principles for a Successful Shift to Collateral Automation

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.

AutomationThere 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

3 Easy Steps to Making your Conference Attendance a Success

By: Steven King
PAICR Board of Directors member

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.

Using Data for Good

By: Peter Hans
Co-Founder & CEO – Harvest Exchange Corp.
PAICR Gold Sponsor – Harvest

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.