A frame work for early tender engagement

In what percentage of your bids do you engage before the RFP is released? Who engages and how, can be the crucial difference between submitting the bid vs winning the bid

We all have heard of the famous saying in B2B sales – don’t bid if you have not spec’d the RFP. While everyone may not agree with this adage it certainly holds merit in most cases. So how early is “early”?

Broadly, we can classify the bid stages into 3:

• EOI

• RFI

• RFP

And we would like to add one more stage i.e. Pre-EOI.

The responsibility and the tactics will vary based on the stages. Some organizations have distinct functions – Marketing, Business Development (BD), and Sales. While some roll the sales+BD role into one. Here’s sharing an engagement model that can help you qualify and win more bids.

EOI stage>>

As the opportunity is in its early stage it makes more sense for the Marketing/BD team to be involved. They can engage internal experts to communicate the thought or industry leadership in the given domain to customer/market stake holder and influencers. This is the stage where the client/influencers are more open to inputs as the formal decision-making process has not kicked-in yet.

The key personas to be targeted would be:

1) Customer – End user

2) Customer – Evaluator

3) Consultant/Advisor

The key engagement mediums could include: ABM or Account-based marketing in a relatively young (B2B) marketing practice. It talks about targeting accounts with specific interaction tactics. The key point to note is that the tactics are to be based on the buyer persona and are to be executed in a regular/periodic manner. The tactics could include a subject-matter webinar for the Users in the account. Or an Industry Analyst white paper for the Evaluator. The User interaction will focus on the business value whereas the Evaluator interaction will focus on competitive differentiation. External buyers such as the Consultant/Advisor should be already familiar with your offerings but you must focus on the specific associates who are working with the account.

With or without the ABM process, your engagement should include – analyst reports, case studies, white-papers, and webinars. With a focus on named account users and evaluators. As much as possible, try a neutral platform compared to your own content. This will help improve the validity of your claims.

This is also a good stage for establishing your expertise and competency thru customer briefing/visiting centres – a place where you house your best offerings and experts, to showcase it to the clients or consultants. More about CBCs/CVCs in the Pre-EOI stage below.

RFI Stage>>

Things have begun to heat-up now and sales+BD should take more percentage of the responsibility, with Marketing taking a bit of a step back. The target personas will remain the same. But the tactics to influence them will vary.

At this stage the sales objective is to influence the RFP favourably. It can take clues from the RFI and thru its own customer interaction elsewhere, to plan focussed communication regarding – its unique proposition, how it relates to the client objectives for the project, where have they done it before, what problems were solved/benefits, and which technologies/tools were used. Newsletters, Expert talks, webinars/seminars are the different means available.

Will also strongly advocate the use of User (UG) conferences at this or the EOI stage. More about UGs in the Pre-EOI stage below.

RFP Stage>>

We are now entering the final stage of the lap. We have screened the RFP, done the Go : No-Go evaluation, and decided that we will pursue ahead.

The target audience will now include:

1) Customer – End user

2) Customer – Evaluator

3) Consultant/Advisor

4) Customer – Buyer

Secondly, the BD team will move away to other opportunities, and the sales team will now be joined by the pre-sales experts in the pursuit. And of course the battle now turns into a hand-to-hand combat.

At this stage the focus will be on submitting a compliant response to the RFP. While parallely putting your best foot forward i.e. your senior leadership. Mapping of executives should be supported by content which highlights client stakeholders’ individual priorities. The User may want to know how the solution will make his/her life easier, the CXO may want to know how the solution will help the company get ahead in the market place, the evaluator may want to know your future road-map, where as the buyer may be focussing on the TCO. While the sales team orchestrates the execution, having the right content in form of – Feature comparison doc, Business value estimator, 18-24 months road map, and a TCO calculator – to highlight the proposition must be made available.

From an “early” perspective though, B2B companies should define a Pre-EOI stage.

Once the target accounts have been identified, this period will be owned primarily by Marketing and will be the period to establish strong credentials with everyone who matters from a decision-making perspective. The tools could include:

1) Lead Nurturing – Or Digital Marketing. Or Inbound marketing. Leveraging SEO and SEM strategies to share relevant content/info with the relevant decision makers based on the stage of their buying process. The key points to note – create different content for the User, Evaluator, Buyer or the advisor. Either pay for being found (SEM) or employ SEO tactics to be found in the online world. See the next point.

2) B2B Social Media – The B2B social media can be your channel to reach the decision makers or users or influencers. As mentioned in the above step, if you have created a good content strategy relevant to your buyer personas it can be re-used on these platforms to establish yourselves as an expert in your field. LinkedIn, Quora, Medium are some of the prominent B2B social media platforms today.

3) User Groups – Even if you have as much as 25 users, you should start one. A user group is a platform where the users of your products/services come together. They share best practices, solve common challenges, exchange notes, and network. It gives the users a felling of community both from a decision-making perspective (hey there are already so many people using this solution) and an eco-system perspective (there will be good availability of knowledge and resource to support me). Many companies do this on an annual basis and is amongst the most trusted marketing vehicle in B2B.

4) Customer Briefing/Visiting Centres (CBCs) – Imagine this to be a place where you showcase your best offerings, expertise and skills. A common practice is to get a particular set of buyer personas from different organizations, let’s say Evaluators (within an industry) and plan a 2-day agenda to mesmerize them with your capabilities, leadership and vision. Not easy to build but you can start small and scale as you get better returns. Must-do – physical or virtual.

5) Industry conferences/ exhibitions – This is done and tested. I’m sure many of us have been doing this for years. A nice trend is where now exhibitors also hold presentations within the exhibition. This is a good platform for marketers as the audience would also be interested to know about the industry/market/solutions. If you can have one of your expert to share your knowledge/expertise/thought-leadership, it will add weightage to your credentials.

Assigning the responsibilities and having quantifiable KPIs will ensure that all of your executives are focusing their efforts on the right audience with the right content and at the right stage of the opportunity. Don’t wait .. do it as “early” as possible.

Comments and observations welcome at hello@pricebid.co.