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: 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
By: Deb Well PAICR Board of Directors member PAICR Member since 2006
Until now, asset managers have been slow to adopt Social Media. But more are finally jumping into the “social” waters, primarily via LinkedIn and Twitter. But are they getting the most out of their efforts?
With more firms (and content) vying for eyeballs, making your social media presence relevant, meaningful, and impactful is more important than ever. If your firm is committing any of these “Twitter Sins”, making a few changes (some simple) can likely upgrade engagement activity with your content.
SIN #1: LACK OF VISUALS
Numerous studies support the fact that you are more likely to get engagement on Twitter if you include a picture, video, or even emoticons with your text. Yes, a few high-profile folks can get by on just their words – Bill Gross or Jeff Gundlach don’t need visuals. But most of the content being shared by firms does not carry that weight. So look at adding images – it could potentially boost your engagement by up to 200%!
SIN #2: NOT MOBILE OPTIMIZED
Over 50% of traffic on Twitter is mobile. If the link you are sharing is to your site and it is not Mobile optimized – this is a big fail.
SIN #3: NOT TAILORING FOR TWITTER
How often have you seen this – a Tweet that shares the first sentence or so of a blog post, but is cut off mid-thought with a link to the post? Likely, the person was using the automatic “share” function from their blogging platform, which generated the tweet when the post goes live. This can also lead to awkward cutoffs in the text shared.
Automation can dilute personalization. Whether it is that blog auto-poster, or a social media management platform that posts the same content across different channels, you need to put in the effort to optimize your content for Twitter – or any specific social platform – to get the most out of it.
SIN #4: BAD TIMING
Do your tweets that go out every Monday at 9 a.m. perform poorly? This is not a surprise. Everyone who does email marketing knows the importance of optimizing send time – and it is no different in the social realm.
There are plenty of studies about the best time to post for all the various social platforms. And don’t forget to review your own Twitter stats. Analyzing when your followers are engaging with your content should help you fine tune your tweet schedule to get the most out of it.
SIN #5: NOT TAGGING
So your portfolio manager is on CNBC today? Did you remember to tag @CNBC in your post? Or perhaps your analyst was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article. Did you tag @WSJ?
Tagging relevant parties in your posts increases the visibility of your content and the likelihood that it will get re-shared. Bottom line: strategic use of this function can be a big boost for your content.
SIN #6: NOT GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CONTENT
In following several asset managers’ Twitter feeds, I will often see that they use a couple of different versions of tweets to share their blog posts or other content. Which is great … BUT I see those shares on the same day…and then never again.
Given all the effort put into creating that content, one or two measly tweets on a given day is not getting the biggest bang for your buck! Yes, vary the visuals and blurbs, but tweet it today – and a couple of days from now – and maybe a week after that. Space it out and recycle that great content!
SIN #7: BAD HASHTAGS
Tweets with Bad Hashtags aren’t just the ones #with #too #many #hashtags #to #read. Bad hashtags are ones that are randomly placed and not well thought out.
Do your research. Go to sites like Hastagify or Keyhole to gain insights and get the most out of your hashtags. Or search your proposed hashtag to see if it is trending; if it isn’t it might be worth going back to the #drawingboard.
The takeaway: Twitter (and other social media platforms) can be a powerful tool to engage and expand your network and brand voice. To maximize your efforts, make sure you are avoiding these pitfalls, fine tuning your messages so that they achieve their greatest potential in reach and engagement.
Marketing is often built around factors that are hard to control – technology, shifting tastes, competition. Many of those factors are topics at this week’s PAICR Annual Conference. But there’s one aspect of marketing that firms can control – their message. How effectively – and consistently – does your firm communicate its most important messages?
When we say messages, we mean the information and ideas that are central to how your company invests, or otherwise tries to meet investor goals. They typically include:
Product and service information
Investor suitability and benefits
Market point of view and outlook
In our experience, there are two areas of this “core” content that investment firms struggle with most.
The first is maintaining and refreshing it. Perspectives and points of view will evolve with the market environment, and engaging with investment staff or other time-pressed senior executives on a regular basis can be frustrating on both ends.
The second challenge is incorporating these messages consistently across all investor touchpoints. If you pull together every communication about a particular investment product – including RFPs and call center scripts – they sometimes don’t sound like the same product.
Building the Messages on Which Everything Else Is Built
There are 3 steps you can take to enhance your control over your firm’s messages.
Document — Core messages often exist only in materials that have since been produced and archived, such as annual reports, marketing collateral, or RFPs. We advise clients to gather and document core messages separately from the production of any one collateral piece. That way, your interactions with investment staff are focused on getting the most important input in the most efficient way.
Update — Re-engage with your company’s subject matter experts on a regular basis by asking for updated input in a structured way. That way the process remains the same for your SMEs even when marketing strategies change.
Distribute — Make your core content an input to any communication process you have.
Constructing your messages around this core content builds consistency and credibility in your communications, while also making your communication processes simpler and more efficient.
Contact: Derek Napoli, Director of Business Development – (240) 452-5200
I’ve had a lot of managers through the years, but only a few I would consider leaders. However, I’ve tried to take the best from all of them. It is with that experience and knowledge that I’ve built a leadership framework of success that you can use to establish yourself as more than just a manager.
From Rookie to All-Star – Every Team Member Matters
EVERY member of the team is important. The opinions, efforts, and contributions from your most junior employee to your most senior veteran matter. Every member should feel valued and know how their efforts contribute to the success of the team. We all have an all-star employee, but you need every member playing their part to win the game.
One Playbook – Everyone Should Know the Game Winning Strategy
You absolutely need to be clear about where the team is headed. What are you trying to accomplish this year? How does this align with the corporate goals? I’ve found that most people are problem solvers. As such, if they know at a high level what the team needs to accomplish for the year – and how this aligns with the firm’s goals – they’ll figure out a way to do it. Your team wants to show you, and the firm, the value they provide. Your job is to point them in the right direction.
Once a Player, Now a Coach – Share Your Knowledge and Experience
There are two parts of this statement. The first is sharing the knowledge and experience that you’ve accumulated through the years. I know some managers are afraid to share what they know. They believe that keeping information to themselves makes them more valuable and indispensable to the firm. However, sharing this knowledge is not only respected, but it will only make your team stronger. And leading a strong team, with a foundation of knowledge and experience, often produces remarkable work.
The second part of this statement is the importance of transparency. You must be transparent with your agenda, inner conversations, conflicts, and concerns. There are some topics that require discretion, but overall your team is far more effective if they have all the information. Plus, if you model transparency you are on the fast track to building trust.
Create Chemistry – Every Great Team Revolves Around Trust
Believe it or not, you don’t know it all. Remember why you hired each person on the team. Your team members have talents, knowledge, and opinions that are different from yours. Embrace it! This is part of what makes a great team. Spend time listening to them. Learn from them. Often you will find that where trust is earned it is also given. Having a foundation of trust will foster an environment of open communication which is invaluable. If you can’t trust your team or they don’t feel like they can trust you, you’ve got some work to do.
Game Time – Now It’s Time to Let Them Shine
Now it’s game time and your job is to let your team shine. I cannot say this strongly enough, do NOT skip this step. If you skip this step, you will find that all your previous hard work was in vain. Why? Because I personally don’t know many people that like to do all the work and never get the credit. As a leader, you must get comfortable letting your team take center stage. And I believe that a team built on transparency, trust, and respect will be a team that wants to celebrate their leader.
This approach has served me well over the years. I don’t have to manage the day-to-day activities of my team as they know what they need to do. I trust them to work toward the vision of the team and the firm. They trust me to set them up for success. So how do I know that this makes me a manager and a leader? Because I know my team would tackle any problem we face without hesitation –not because I told them to, but simply because it needed to be done.
Registration is now open for the PAICR Annual Conference November 13-14th in New York City. Register Now.