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 …

Get Your RFP Insights Here

2018 RFP Symposium Committee

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!

Zombies & RFPs – The Problem with the Undead

By: Cathy McLagan
PAICR President, PAICR Board of Directors member

“People talk about the death of the RFP because it’s gotten so complicated,” Christopher Faust (Qvidian) says. “They want to kill it but they can’t. It won’t die. There’s no way.”

Fundfire RFP Automation Tools Set to Alleviate Search Headaches, March 23, 2016

Zombies!  Ever since Night of the Living Dead introduced us to these slow moving non- descript monsters, we’ve seen an explosion of types and characters that are all related to the genre.

RFPs remind me of zombies.  For the last few years, we’ve been told that RFPs are dead. Big name plans announced they were abandoning the tradition model and instead shadow searches would be lurking behind the scenes.  While the traditional RFP model is changing, it’s not dead; like the zombie story genre, RFPs are evolving to keep teams busy and on their toes.

Slow vs. Fast Zombies

 Night of the Living Dead’s black and white zombies move slowly.  You have plenty of time to run away, pause and scream and then lock yourself in the house to wait for them to show up several minutes later and break through windows. Similarly, the traditional RFP model allowed time for review, public notice, along with a period to ask questions (or perhaps stop and scream), followed by the longer (several months) cycle for Q&A submission, receipt of files, etc.  We still see these types of RFPs and have time to stop and scream as we pull together the numerous pieces needed to complete and respond.

Technicolor zombies move fast. In features like World War Z, the slow-moving zombie is a thing of the past, replaced by zombies that overtake you before you reach the safety of home.  Similarly, the timelines for new RFPs are shortening.  You can submit clarification questions but might not get the answers until a few days before the deadline!  These timelines force teams to choose between working on a RFP they may not submit OR producing one in a few days.  Neither case is ideal and both are frustrating to all parties.

Permanent vs. Temporary–

There was a time when a zombie was a zombie and no amount of love could change them.  Today, the zombie genres include people infected by diseases and we learn we can coexist with the living dead. As in Shawn of the Dead or Warm Bodies, medicine, or even love, can cure a zombie returning them to contributing members of society….

Online tools also take these two approaches. Databases such as eVestment and GIMD are permanent homes for your products and information.  Data entered in these systems will live there for years to come (sometimes to your dismay).  No amount of love or medicine will change that ill-fated profile you created and your firm will permanently be explaining why you don’t maintain that 120/20 product anymore.

Now we are also seeing temporary homes for data.  Search facilitators use online portals to allow firms to submit information for a specific RFP or client. This direct connection to a search can cause confusion in-house – is it a database or a RFP?  Which team maintains it and reviews it?

Still breathing …

 Bottom line—if you’re waiting for the final nail to be put in the RFP’s coffin, I think you could be waiting quite a while. Clients and consultants are expanding the search methodologies they use but the industry hasn’t seen a mass abandonment of traditional RFPs. The evolving ways to gather information challenges RFP teams to be nimble and make friends with the Walking Dead.