In most organizations, when the requests for proposals (RFPs) come in, the groans begin. A significant portion of every organization's sales process is wrapped up in the creation of these complex, lengthy documents. And even after the document is created, there's no guarantee the organization will win the contract.
Typically, RFPs arrive in hard copy or on computer disk and must be completed in a specified format. These requests generally contain questions about products or services. The sales force has undoubtedly answered these questions many times before, yet each RFP contains slightly different wording and stipulates different requirements. Thus, each RFP requires a unique response.
Pragmatech Software CEO Brooke Savage says a number of factors make the RFP process so painful. First, most RFPs are very long and require highly detailed answers to a variety of questions. Second, the requests typically set very tight deadlines. Organizations that don't meet the deadline fail to become major competitors in the bidding process. And third, many organizations don't have an automated system for responding to RFPs.
"People who have the responsibility for responding to these requests are always reinventing the wheel," he says. "Problems our customers face are a lack of consistency in responses, or even inaccuracy."
Pragmatech offers a suite of products tailored toward automating the request for proposal process. This automation, Savage says, can make all the difference between merely answering an RFP and creating a winning document that can help an organization win a new contract.
"I think for a long time writing a proposal was just a necessary evil," Savage says. "But it's clear now that the proposal document is one thing the prospective buyer has in front of him or her that represents the seller. It's a document that gets passed around and has a life of its own and will live within an organization for quite a long time. It's also something that can be used in good ways and in bad ways. It can be used to eliminate you from competition. That's typically what an RFP does, it will get you eliminated if it's not well crafted."
Pragmatech's Sales Effectiveness Software Suite contains six core products to automate the proposal process: Proposal Assembler, Proposal Express, RFP Machine, RFP Express, RFP Tracking System and Web Publisher. These components can automate up to 80 percent of the RFP process, allowing businesses to respond to requests faster and with more consistency. At the same time, the products allow organizations to present their information in a clean, professionally published format.
"The RFP is a great leveler," Savage says. "It forces all the vendors to create a document that can be viewed objectively by the buying management team. In a way, it reduces the effectiveness of the traditional three-martini-lunch sales process."
Leveling the Field
Pragmatech's products attempt to give organizations the tools to put their proposals on the top of the buyer's short list.
The Proposal Assembler is a document authoring and publishing tool that automates the creation of proposals and other documents for sales and marketing departments in industries such as financial services, healthcare, the legal industry and others. Key components of this Web-enabled solution include: a Dynamic Knowledge Base that stores commonly used content, including formatted text, graphics and other elements in a native Microsoft Word format; User-Definable Blueprints include reusable and easily customized templates that link to the knowledge base and allow users to create content in real time; and an Intelligent Forms Builder that queries and prompts users about information required for a proposal. Forms can head-up self-service proposals on a company's Web site or intranet, or can be implemented as stand-alone proposal initiators.
Proposal Express allows sales reps or other users to detach the completed, formatted proposal from the knowledge base. These proposals, called SmartDocs, are delivered as standard Microsoft Word documents and are easily customized. This allows the mobile professional to create proposals without being connected to the knowledge base.
The RFP Machine, Pragmatech's flagship product, enables companies to maintain a central base of responses to commonly asked questions. The RFP Machine automatically responds to RFPs by using a systems language processor to read each question, search the knowledge base and insert appropriate answers into the proposal document.
RFP Express allows users connected to a Web server to have transparent Internet access to the underlying RFP Machine knowledge bases directly from Microsoft Word. Users can connect to the knowledge base via HTTP across an TCP/IP network.
The RFP Tracking System gives managers the tools to record, classify and monitor proposal activity, and Web Publisher allows companies to create Web sites for the quick deployment of Pragmatech knowledge base content to the Web.
Dst Innovis, a provider of customer management and open billing solutions to video/broadband, telephony and utilities industries, installed Pragmatech's RFP Machine, RFP Express, Proposal Assembler and RFP Tracking System in March 2000. In only a short while, the solutions helped the Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based organization to improve its RFP response rate, says Brian Hendrick, senior sales development executive with Dst Innovis' worldwide sales.
In 1999, Dst Innovis responded to 73 RFPs worldwide, Hendrick says. By August of 2000, the organization had already responded to more than 100 requests. "We'll be able to double the amount we did (in 1999) with less resources," he says.
Dst Innovis has 17 offices around the world and its solutions are used by providers of cable television, wireline and IP telephony, direct-broadcast satellite, electricity, water, gas, waste management, utility and multiple services to bill nearly 50 million customers in more than 30 countries.
Hendrick says an analysis of the organization's proposal process revealed a significant change in the number and size of RFPs being submitted. "Essentially, we were getting more bids, we had less time to complete them, and they were far more complex," he says.
He adds, "We would have to turn away bids because we couldn't respond due to resource issues. The time frame was getting shorter and shorter. Two years ago we were seeing a month to two months as the deadlines given to respond, now it's two weeks and most often one week."
Typically, he says, the proposals are very large and require answers to about 1,500 technical questions, as well as an executive overview or summary, pricing details, and a number of other factors.
In the past, Hendrick says, the process for responding to RFPs was inefficient, unorganized and extremely reactive. Pragmatech's solutions have allowed Dst Innovis to greatly streamline the process.
"What would have taken us five days and multiple people to do before, we can now do in approximately three hours," he says.
At the same time, the knowledge base supplied by Pragmatech's solutions has become an invaluable training resource for new employees and is useful in keeping current staff informed of changes. "We're really in the mode to empower the sales associates with everything they need," Hendrick says. "We really consider ourselves to be in software warfare. We've been around a long time, but new players are popping up daily. Anything we can do to give us a competitive edge is something we need to be doing."