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.

Ever wish someone had told you sooner?

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:

  • Completing questionnaires
  • Quality checks
  • Final reviews and approvals, and
  • Content management.

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.

Brand Ambassador

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.

Customer Service

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).

Stay tuned for the next installment …

Constructing the Messages at the Heart of Your Marketing

By: Kyle Purcell
President of Purcell Communications
PAICR Gold Sponsor
www.purcellcom.com/

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
  • Investment strategies
  • Investor suitability and benefits
  • Performance perspectives
  • 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.

Purcell logo

Contact:  Derek Napoli, Director of Business Development – (240) 452-5200

So Many Channels – So Little Time

By: Deb Well
PAICR Board of Directors member
PAICR Member since 2006

In the beginning, there were three: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You had to decide which of these channels made sense for your firm, work with Compliance to form a process everyone was comfortable with, and then move forward. All was good.

But now we also have Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube, and different permutations of the existing platforms: Facebook Live, Instagram Stories … and the list continues to expand! That’s made the decision of where and how to distribute your content more complex – in addition to the burden of maintaining active feeds in all of these channels.

Maybe you think you don’t need to consider going beyond the basics. But if you don’t consider it now, you risk being left behind. Video and visual assets are dominating online marketing. You need to have a visual content strategy and consider distributing your content via the channels where visual plays best.

Here are three quick tips to effectively expand your social reach and help you successfully expand beyond the basics:

Every Picture Tells a Story

If you have been involved in marketing on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, I am sure you are familiar with the stats on how posts that include visuals – pictures, video, or even emoji – get higher engagement stats. One such stat shows that Tweets with images earned up to 18% more clicks, 89 % more favorites, and 150% more retweets.

If you are already using visuals on these main platforms, is it such a stretch to think of how you could leverage them on Instagram or Pinterest? Or that video content on YouTube or Vimeo? As stated in a previous post, you have 8 seconds to get the average person’s attention. Today’s fastest-growing channels are visual based. Estimates are that 84% of communication will be visual by 2018. So you need to act now!

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

How annoyed do you get when you see a text-only tweet that is just a link to an Instagram post? Plenty of sites allow you to post to other sites at the same time. So, when I post the cute pic of my cat, Buttons, to Instagram, I have the option to post it to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. However, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Messages should be customized to take advantage of what works and resonates on a platform. It is fine that your posts in all these different places may ultimately lead to the same source content. After all, these platforms, and those who you reach on them, often represent widely different audiences. That’s why your message should be tweaked to fit the specific audience you are addressing.

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

While some of your content is going to be more “spontaneous” – something big happens and you need to respond in the moment – most of your content strategy should be planned out. That doesn’t mean a plan that’s “set in stone.” Your strategy needs to evolve to reflect data and analytics on which content is succeeding and where. That’s why you really should be using a social media management tool or a social media aggregator. Whether that is Hootsuite, Buffer, or any of the numerous others out there, these tools can help you:

  • Queue up content ahead of time
  • Provide analytics on what is succeeding (and what isn’t),
  • View interactions
  • Find relevant related content to share, and
  • Adjust your sharing and strategy based on insights you’ve gleaned

The Tenets of Success

Build. Measure. Learn. Repeat.

Start small. Test concepts. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be complacent.

These are the keys to an effective and efficient plan to improve your social media reach. The ways in which you effectively communicate with your audience is rapidly changing. You don’t want to be left behind.

Technology Isn’t Process: How to Make Expensive Systems Work

By: Kyle Purcell
President of Purcell Communications
PAICR Gold Sponsor
www.purcellcom.com/

We see it all the time: clients battling the technologies that were meant to solve day-to-day communications headaches.

At the recent PAICR RFP conference, I shared a panel with Kent Jones, Director of Process Excellence at a Fortune 500 company. His insight was simple yet powerful. For better results, focus first on your work process—the human activities that drive the work.

“Process involves people, and people involve behaviors,” Kent says. “If you haven’t addressed behaviors that result in waste or duplication, then you may just be automating waste and duplication by adding technology.”

I couldn’t agree with this more. Coordinating automations and content management systems is a big part of our client engagements and in almost all cases, success or failure depends entirely on the people involved.

Kent had 3 great tips for people looking at implementing a new technology.

  • Your challenges are unique: Understand what works in your culture and solve for what doesn’t. Don’t assume an expensive or flashy new system will help.
  • Process starts with people: Clarify roles, set clear and measurable outcomes for each person at every level, and foster greater inter- and intra-team communication.
  • Seek good ideas from all levels: The knowledge you need already resides in the minds of your team. Having a good process can unlock that experience in a way that a costly technology may not be able to.

We share Kent’s belief that technology isn’t always the answer, and we have our own ideas on how to implement it. Technology doesn’t make a broken process function any better, whereas good process will always make a technology more effective. A well-defined, consistent process with buy-in from everyone is the first and last step in producing good work outcomes.

Purcell logo

Contact:  Derek Napoli, Director of Business Development – (240) 452-5200