In this article originally published in Winning the Business, Nora Navin, an independent consultant in professional services and technology business development, shares her thoughts on best practices for implementing a smooth and effective proposal intake system for professional services organizations.
Technology is playing a larger role in business development teams across all sectors, and in professional services, tech that assists business development teams is on the rise. CRM, pitch automation technology, and quote-to-cash systems are the norm in most organizations. But how is your pitch team getting requests for proposal support? A phone call? An email?
In many organizations, the old school processes for requesting support are still in place, but consideration should be given to systems that automate the support requests, especially when that intake system can provide vital information quickly for teams assigning and completing the RFP. Intake or ticketing systems are growing in popularity as professional services organizations undertake digital transformation and try to make more efficient manual processes.
A common complaint in professional services firms is that partners or sales executives let an RFP sit in their inbox or on their desktop until they get a chance to call the proposal team or business development for support. With competing priorities in a billable hour world, the best intentions can turn into days or even weeks of delay. An intake system could help alleviate that, as it is something that can quickly and easily be outsourced to administrative support for data entry. As soon as a request is entered into a “ticketing” system, the proposal team can have a look and work to assign resources.
There are third party options that can be customized to meet the needs of almost any team, or some companies have built their own proposal intake system. With work from home here to stay, automation of requests seems a logical place to go, but what do you need to know? What do you need to think about? How do you make the most of an intake system?
Whether customizing a commercial system or developing one in-house, thinking about the bigger picture and longer-term use before diving in is imperative. Let’s dig into best practices a little to help you determine what data is needed to make assignments.
Questions to begin thinking about—and why they are important
In your firm, what questions are typically asked when someone requests proposal support?
Think through the typical phone/email request for support and determine what information is typically conveyed:
- Potential/estimated value
- Service line/practice group/product line
- Lead partner/consultant/sales executive
- Due date
- Complexity or size of RFP/opportunity
What other information would be helpful?
- Do we have the request in writing from the client or is this a heads-up that it is coming soon?
- Why has the opportunity arisen?
- Is this opportunity related/add-on to prior work we have completed?
- Does leadership know this has come through? How high profile is the opportunity?
Are there other systems that need data around a new opportunity? For example, does client acceptance or a conflict check need to be complete before/simultaneous to the pitch being assigned?
- CRM/sales pipeline/funnel
- Client acceptance
- Conflict resolution
- Legal/T&C review/signoff
- Time recording/charge code opening
- Go/no go
- Pitch log
- Internal chargebacks
What additional data is needed for simultaneous processes to take place (i.e., conflict check, go/no go, sales funnel entry/attachment)?
- Work with IT and other departments to get specific data points that are needed to complete automated processes or move the request to/through another system
What information is needed for the next step of the proposal process?
- Is there a personnel scheduling system that needs to be consulted for availability? Or is the intake system also handling scheduling/assignment?
- What information does the proposal writer need to begin pulling together the base document?
- What might be needed for a kickoff meeting with the pursuit team?
What information is needed from a strategic value? Pricing value? Client status (such as a top tier client vs a new client)?
- It can be difficult to get accurate pricing estimates at the project onset, and requesters often inflate the value to get higher levels of attention; is there anything that can be done to alleviate this?
- Does tracking pricing from start to finish on the pitch, through the win, provide any information helpful in the long term?
- Do priority clients get priority resources to manage the pursuit?
What may not be known at the time of request, but will be needed from a data standpoint later in the cycle? Anything needed before an assignment can even be made?
- A return from the conflict check?
- Important T&C information about the specific client (such as meeting diversity staffing requirements or other specific vendor requests)?
- Go/no go?
What reporting or KPI will need to come from the proposal intake system, and what data will be needed to meet those requirements?
- Proposal support requests that are denied, not cleared by conflict check, no-go, etc. will be halted or closed at this stage
- Reporting on why a pitch does not move forward will be helpful for staffing and other reasons
- Talk to stakeholders about what they might want to know at this point in the request process
Another major consideration may be the updating of the intake request as the proposal moves through to completion (although another system such as pitch automation software may handle this task).
- Does the system keep the entry open until assigned or completed?
- Is the proposal writer responsible for updating the status as the request is fulfilled?
- What might the important status option be (open, assigned, in process, closed, etc.)?
If the proposal intake system also functions as a project management status, then all above questions will need to be revisited to see if it changes any of the thinking around adding more information about the request as it becomes known and if that will be needed for reporting.
There is not likely an out-of-the-box solution that will meet your needs, so customizing an existing product or building a new product will be necessary. Given that, what additional questions arise?
- Is this compatible with the pitch automation system?
- Can the pitch system receive data?
- If so, can a template be selected, and document started based on the data provided to the intake system?
There is no one-size-fits-all request system but thinking through the bigger picture, as well as what might be needed longer term, should set your pitch team up for a smoother request process that takes less time to assign and tracks the proposal development more accurately.
To learn more about proposal management for professional services, check out the QorusDocs Professional Services Resources Hub. This curated collection of resources is tailored to the unique needs of professional services organizations and includes a proposal management guide, a range of downloadable templates, pursuit checklist, presentation tips, and more.