Almost every RFP asks you to define or explain your business process for something or other. Here are a few of the recent ones that I’ve seen:
- What is your business resumption plan?
- How do you monitor the performance of subcontractors?
- What is your approach to streamlining?
- Describe your staffing plan.
- Summarize your plan to promote access.
- Describe your intake process
- What is your plan to include minority suppliers?
- What steps are you taking to increase diversity?
- What methods of communication will you employ?
- What is your contingency plan for surge requirements?
- Describe your quality management system.
How do you handle these responses? Many growing companies have few formal, written processes for these activities. It’s not that they don’t attend to process needs; rather they are ad hoc and reside with certain people in various departments.
Even if you never respond to RFPs, these questions are good insights into the questions that are on the minds of big company buyers–I’ve called them “whale fears.” Whether they ever ask you these questions or not, big companies expect you to have in place the kinds of processes, plans, systems, methods, checklists and rules that they are accustomed to having. When you don’t, it makes them leery of doing business with you because it raises the specter of risk. (Read more about the buyers’ fears).
Absent a formal process or policy statement, these are typical responses to process questions in an RFP or a sales meeting:
- The quality assertion: “Our communication processes are state-of-the-art and we have a 99% record of response time.”
- The value statement: “We value diversity and do not discriminate in hiring.”
- History lesson: “We have an excellent track record of managing the performance of our subcontractors.”
- Projection: “We will take the following steps to bring a new supplier on board.”
The answers are a hodgepodge—writing down the steps that they DO take, or inventing the steps that they WOULD take if they received this contract, or simply dodging the question. When several people are contributing to the response, some of the process questions will be expressed as flow-chart answers, others as detailed narratives, still others as anecdotes. Some answers will delve into excruciating detail, while others will be global and generalized.
These questions—difficult as they may be to answer—represent clear opportunities to differentiate your response from those of your competitors.
The concept is simple: anywhere that a proposal requires a process, take the following approach:
- Invent your process steps.
- Name your process.
- Trademark your process.
- Publish your process.
In most cases, someone in your company has some kind of a business process that you are already using, or that you will use should an emergency require it. The real problem isn’t lack of a process idea; it’s the lack of formal documentation and dissemination.
Obviously, if you have gone through any formal certification processes (such as ISO standards) , you will tout those accomplishments as key advantages and reference them prominently in your bid. But I often find that clients have power points, diagrams, flow charts, instruction sheets, and other ancillary materials that express process steps for various circumstances. However, in the absence of a name and a dissemination strategy, they remain in the silo or in the frame of reference in which they were created.
If the whale asks for a business process that is unusual or that could become a real differentiator for you, it is worth some extra research and attention. For once you give it a definition and a name, the Buyers’ Table will find it memorable and may expect other bidders to have a comparable process.
Here are two very different examples to illustrate my point.
Question: What are your research methods to identify needs, trends, and insights of (the market)?
Now, if you are in a creative business, you have ways that you identify needs and trends. But it’s doubtful that you have a unique replicable process that expresses those methods. So what do you do?
- Brainstorm all of the ways that you identify market trends
- Identify all of the people/departments that are involved
- Organize those methods and those people into clusters of activity
- Label the activity clusters
- Name and claim the process.
In this example, the respondent might define a process that included the following steps:
- Formal research methods.
- Informal research methods.
- Dissemination methods.
- Continuing education methods.
That’s a good step towards clarity and differentiation. Now, suppose they go one step more, and name it “The Market Insight Strategy.” Inevitably, reviewers will begin to assess other proposals according to the standard set by “The Market Insight Strategy.” If they trademark this name and process, they have a unique advantage in their market.
Here’s a second example. In an RFP looking for a prime contractor to manufacture parts and to source parts from subcontractors, there was a cluster of questions about how the vendor would manage quality. These included “what are the statements in your quality manual;” “what quality procedures do you employ;” “describe your quality management system.”
In fact, the client with whom we were working had a distinct market advantage in producing high quality parts of the kind that the RFP required, exceeding industry standards. But rather than referring to pages and footnotes in various documents that were in use at their company, we encouraged them to create an umbrella concept that incorporated all of their quality approaches, steps, and methods—both formal and informal.
Then they could name it The Quality Assurance Network™ or The Perfect Parts Solution™.
All of these tactics will set them apart in the RFP process. But—and here’s the more important point—if they disseminate this process throughout their company, they will find themselves beginning to practice a more definitive process. Not only will they present better in an RFP, they will actually BE better as a consequence.
Practice this method in your proposals and in your RFP/RFQ responses, and your team will invent new policies and procedures that not only improve your position in the sales competition, but that also improve the performance of your company and its teams. Naming and claiming creates valuable new intellectual property out of the every day good practices and good intentions that reside in your village.
Did you ever have to create new processes because you needed them for a proposal? Leave a comment below!