The Pavilion Podcast
The Pavilion Podcast

Episode · 6 months ago

Ep 158: The RFP Playbook w/ Kathryn Bennett of Loopio

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ep 158: The RFP Playbook w/ Kathryn Bennett of Loopio

Part of the TGIM (Thank God It's Monday!) series hosted by Tom Alaimo.

All right, welcome back to the Pavilion podcast. This is the podcast where revenue leaders come to learn about the tips, The tricks, the tactics that can make them successful in their roles. I'm your host. Tom a lame O T. G. I am. Thank God it's monday excited to get into today's episode. Before we do that. Let's give a quick shout out to our sponsor sponsoring. Today's episode is Sandoz. So Sandoz So the leading sending platform is the most effective way for revenue generating teams to stand out with new ways to engage at strategic points throughout the customer journey. By connecting digital and physical strategies. Companies can engage, acquire and retain customers easier than ever before. So definitely show some love to our friends at Sentosa. Can also learn more. I post every single day on linked in my name is Tom Elena, you can learn more about me there. All right, today we've got an episode interview with Katherine. Bennett. Catherine is the director of RFP Excellence over at lou pio a Pavilion member. Formerly, she did work at Dude Solutions running their proposal team for several years and we break down everything that you need to know about proposals in RPS, which is the bane of existence for many sales. People like myself, Catherine breaks it all down. She talks about not just how loopy it helps that solution, but just breaks down. How do you handle it as a vendor? How do you handle it as a seller? It's a great episode where we talk about this topic. So without further ado, let's get straight into my conversation with Kathryn uh All right, we've got Katherine Bennett the proposal. Strong woman on the line coming from colorado, How are you, Catherine? Hi, good. It's great to be here today. Yeah, excited. Too excited to have you on. I have to ask just a second. Did you come up with that nickname? Is that self proclaimed? Did someone come up with that for you? That's my own that's my own nickname.

And the reason that I have that nickname for that I came up with for myself is because I compete in strongman competitions on the national level and actually hold some world strength records. So I figure if I have the strength to endure some serious strongman competitions, I probably have the personal strength to help you all figure out how to drive your proposal management to success. So we will, we will make that happen. I like that, I like that, it's probably easier to have a successful RFP than it is to like pull a tractor or like pick up boulder or whatever it is that's going on in those competitions. Well, you know, you'd be surprised both things really take a lot of discipline, preparation and coaching, so there's a huge amount of overlap between the disciplines of weight training and I think a lot of aspects of sales, so hopefully we can, we can chat a little bit about that as we go into our discussion today. Yeah, yeah, let's do it. So I want to just be upfront and frank with you in the audience if people listen, they know I'm in sales, I've been in sales my whole career and seeing the three, the three letters of RFP, just give me goose bumps, they make me uncomfortable. I get a stomach ache, like it's so I'm excited to hear about like your stance on it, how you alleviate the process and make it probably better for all parties involved. So I'd love to hear, just in general, it looked like you were in the RFP world even before Lupi. Oh, so maybe just walk me through how you actually got into that, being part of your career. Sure. So I've been in the professional communications and proposal writing world proserve marketing um for about 12 years before I came over to Lucio, which gave me a great amount of experience and background in systems that work and systems that really don't serve the businesses that they're housed in. Right. So I saw a lot of great proposal opportunities come down the pipeline to be executed really well. And then I saw some of those systems fail on pretty...

...epic levels as well, some of which was due to, you know, inexperience of folks within the organization or just a lack of understanding of what proposals are all about, but also a lack of access to technology. So I'm actually a former L. A. P. A user and I loved it so much that I asked them to hire me on board and and came onto this team because I had faced such significant amount of burnout. And when you say that you're nervous, when you see RFP come down the pipeline, you are definitely not the only one. Even proposal managers feel a fair amount of trepidation when they feel like they don't have the right resources to get the job done. And that's why I have thrown my personal brand and my personal, you know, weight behind Lupi Oh, is because I think it's a game changing software and I think that these uh these automation processes that we bring to the proposal management space really help address a lot of the pain, so it helps make our FPs way more enjoyable, much more efficient and much more, much more beneficial to the bottom line of the business. Yeah, I'm curious just from your experience or maybe from customers of lucio and from your own experience before that, how important is it to have, you know, someone with a title like proposal manager or RFP director or whatever it might be that specifically tied for that being there day to day job versus, you know, the sales rep gets it and maybe they're tag teaming with someone in product or in a sales engineer and whenever other types, you know, legal, whatever other types of questions they're asking. My experience has been more of the latter where it's like, you know, a half dozen people all collaborating on a document versus one or multiple people having that as their full time role. I think it really depends on your organization's needs and on the inputs that you're putting into your system. So if you're doing, you know, one or two proposals a month and they're pretty light lifts, you probably don't need somebody with a dedicated title or maybe it's somebody who is a proposal manager who also supports other sales content in the sales enablement realm. Something along those lines. Right?...

Where as if you reach this kind of tipping point of 50 to 75 proposals a year and also about 30% of your revenue is coming from proposals, then you definitely need to start thinking about a more centralized locus of control so that you can maintain a better process flow. So for startups, do I think that you need a dedicated proposal manager? Probably not. But as you start moving into the middle stages of your business life cycle. Absolutely. Having somebody to be able to maintain control of that system will improve efficiency and ultimately deliver on your bottom line. Yeah. And this is definitely not a paid ad for loopy or any means of that. I'm just genuinely curious. You you were burnt out as a proposal manager and you started using Lupita what exactly was it about the solution that drove you to want to work there. Yes. So, you know, it was really interesting. I was, I was on boarding one of my employees as I was working at this previous company and I showed her lou pio and she, she became visibly emotional and almost kind of teared up and she said oh my gosh, how much of my life have I wasted without this software and that powerful impact. The reason that I find this particular software program so effective is that it helps me define workflows and control my work in a totally different way. A lot of proposal managers feel like they're kind of at the mercy of the sales team. So they feel as though they don't have much control or understanding over their work. Whereas if you can bring it into a centralized platform like loop you, you can not only gain a better understanding of your work but also engage teams differently and make sure you have the access to the information that you've used in previous proposals because one of the biggest pain points for me was was folks saying, hey, I know we included something about this, you know, five years ago when we proposed to the city of Denver and then I would have to dive into actual hard copy binders to try to find the documents that we had produced. It kind...

...of, it kind of shows my age there but it really, I was a huge struggle to have to find information, bring my teams together and actually get the document out on time. I would say that I saved between 32 35% on my return, my turn around time with uh, investing in this particular software and I think that that, you know, many proposal managers could really benefit from that from that same approach. Mm hmm. So, uh, something that we had talked about a little bit before we started recording was uh, you know, one of the mistakes or one of the key topics. I think in the spaces just measurement my experiences as a salesperson at some organizations has been you get RFP oftentimes from a large enterprise customer. It's very long sometimes you feel like it's it's not going to paint your product in the best light because you're trying to jam your value prop into a spreadsheet or you're gonna be judged solely on price or whatever it might be. And then you you do it by the timeline that they need and then you cross your fingers and you hope that you win the deal are part of the deal one or a few weeks later. And then you don't know really like how that's going as a whole process, right? There is no measurement. So that's maybe what bad looks like. I'd love for you to flip it for me and help educate me on like how can teams, how can a VP of sales or rev ops like measure this to be effective. Yeah. And I think it's important. So my background also, I've, I'm educated in public health, which is where I draw a lot of my program planning and project planning philosophies. Um, so some of this nomenclature maybe maybe unusual to folks who are, who are in the sales space, but what we like to think about a lot of times in public health with our programs is how is the system working? So that's going to be our process metric is what we call that versus an outcome metric, which is like how many people got tested for cancer using our screening programs or how many people, you know, ended up experiencing this positive outcome by stopping smoking or something along those lines. Right? So when I think...

...about the way that my proposal management system works, I'm looking at it from the same lens, I want to understand how the system is working through process metrics. So for instance, a lot of companies find that they struggle with turnaround times in different aspects of their proposal. One of the big complaints is that, oh, perhaps the sales team gets the proposal on their desk and then it sits there for three weeks while they consider whether or not we want to proceed and then by the time we get it, gosh, it's just too late and we can't do a good job. So what if you measured the time from first release to the time that you actually kicked off the project. And what would that tell you? Interestingly, I did a project back in 2016 where I actually did a research study for The Marketer, which is the SNPs Marketing Journal. And I found that the win rate was directly correlated with how fast we kicked off the project. So there are a lot of factors that go into that. Right? How prepared were we did we have a good relationship with the customer? Did we know the document was coming down the pipeline? Right. So we think about the way in which our process works. But we also want to think about the outcomes associated with our FPs that go beyond just win rate. Because if we think about the ways in which our proposal is advancing. So consider first maybe we got to the short list but then we failed in the demo. What does that tell you about your system and how does that help you make improvements? I'm a huge advocate of measuring, but I do think it's really important that we think about what decisions we can make from the measurements that we're collecting. So I would say first identify some pinch points in your proposal process. Where do you where do you feel like there's some opportunity for improvement measure around them and then try to see how you can improve. Yeah, I think it's, you know, it's definitely common stance for a leader to, you know, say what, what gets measured, gets managed, right? Is the quote. And so to try to be able to understand where there might be holes in the process. What are from, from your experience or from some of the customers that you work with. What are some of the mistakes that people tend to make in the RFP process, whether in...

...management or just like how they're handling the whole process. Like if they if they don't do it that frequently. Sure. One of the big, big red flags is the fact that folks will propose on work. That doesn't make sense for their organization simply because they don't want to miss out on the opportunity to promote their brand. And I would say that primarily if we think about proposals, they are farther down the decision making stream or down that marketing funnel, then we often give them credit for if you're introducing your brand to a customer with a proposal, you've already lost the deal. Probably so. So we think about in cases like this, if you feel like you're rushing around and you're handling too many proposals at once and you don't really feel like you're getting the traction or the win rate. Maybe think about implementing something like a go no go process, which helps us uh, filter out to those opportunities that don't really suit our organization. So we might think about being very intentional about the verticals that we pursue or the dollar value of the contract associated with this proposal, Right. That's one of the best and most reliable ways to increase your win rate. Paradoxically, is to to prepare fewer proposals and it tends to drive higher revenue by being more selective and improves, improves the perception of your brand as well. It sounds like there's a lot of discipline that needs to be set in that standard because it's hard to avoid the bright, flashy RFP even though it's not a fit, there's that dream that what if we win this and it could change the corridor for us or whatever it might be from a sales lens. But it sounds like discipline needs to be a factor. Yes. And how are we, how are we finding out whether or not we did a good job. I think, I think the discipline that we were talking about, you know, with weight lifting and the discipline associated with, with proposal management absolutely plays a role here. And if you're not finding out whether your proposal was positively received after the fact, if you're not doing a...

...win loss or some kind of debrief analysis, then you're not really sure why you're losing. And, and I would recommend here's the risk. If you send in a bad proposal, is that I've debriefed with customers who have literally laughed at me and said we did not understand why you proposed on this. It was a beautiful proposal and it was well written, but we threw it in the bin immediately when we received it because you are not in our domain of practice and we know you're not. So why did you even propose? So the risk that you run is not just the lost cost associated with proposals, which by the way, are one of the more expensive mechanisms for sales capture right for the vendor and for the, for the person proposing. So you're wasting a lot of money on that end. But you're also taking a big hit on your brand because people are going to remember that they laughed at you because you didn't, you didn't understand the assignment, you know, so, so you're, you're advocating that, you know, after you felt the proposal, let's say you lose the deal for whatever reason to ask for a debrief and say, hey, what would the message look like to the, to the prospect there if you didn't win. But you wanted to learn maybe where you fell short. Sure most prospects and we've done it. We've done a fair amount of research on this. Most prospects are more than happy to hop on a 15 minute call with you if you just schedule it both in the public domain where they're kind of required to give you a debrief in a lot of situations, right. Legal mandates dictate that public entities do that for you, but also in the private space and, and really what I advocate in this instance is keeping the discussion pretty simple and just asking for general impressions of the document and asking for, you know, what sections really drew your interest and what was the deciding factor in whether or not you chose our organization so many times and this is something I'm trying so desperately to debunk and I know there are a lot of people on this mission as well, but price is not the determining factor in most are FPs we find the procurement teams really care about value. So how are you describing...

...that value? Not only in the RFP but in the capture process that precedes it and also in the demonstration or interview process that comes after that proposal is submitted. So there's a whole whole opportunity to think about the way that you're delivering value throughout that entire capture stream. Can we talk for a minute about the flip side of the RFP and you know, coming from the perspective of the RFP giver versus the RFP receiver, I'm curious, let's stick with the private sector, let's avoid government and things like that for now, but but let's say, you know, I'm a VP of marketing and you know, I want to, this is the world that I used to be in was like in the demand gen intent data space and that's where we got a lot of our FPs and so let's say I want to throw an RFP out for, you know, a demand generation program to all these providers or or maybe I'm evaluating a solution. When would you suggest that an RFP is the correct move versus you just go out and do it on your own and have those calls with sales people and go through a normal sales process with say a half a dozen vendors and do your evaluation that way. Sure. There are a number of factors that would weigh into that decision. And the first would probably be the dollar value of what you're looking to procure. If it's a one off, you know, you need some technical support for a small marketing effort. I don't think a proposal makes sense. But as you get into those higher risk categories and you start thinking about how deeply entrenched and different organization or provider might be within your own services, um really what, so what does an RFP do for the issue where it helps reduce risk is really what we're coming down to reduce risk, maximize value. We find that if you're using the proposal management process, you're probably going to save on the order of 20 to 30% on the bids because folks are just much more competitive. Like that's why many entities choose to go through proposal instead of going through traditional sales methods. So also where there...

...might be a perception of a conflict of interest or, or frankly if you're not particularly familiar with the space. So if you think about the ways in which proposals kind of evolve, You start with this request for information so that you can learn more about the space and get an understanding of the capabilities of the providers in that domain and then you move on to the request for qualifications so that you can understand those specific individuals and then finally to the request for proposal. So if you're if you're looking into a domain that you're just not very sure about running a full proposal process can save you a ton of money, reduce your risk and actually lead to far better outcomes. So long as you scope your document very thoughtfully communicate how you will measure success to the person providing the services and also provide transparency on scoring and how you intend to make the decision. So those are the three things that I would say are really important is described the outcome you want, describe how you're going to measure the outcome that the vendor delivers and make sure you're transparent about how you make the decision and who should if we stick with that marketing example, we'll say we're at a startup, who should that VP of marketing, consult internally about this RFP like obviously, you know, she or he is maybe the decision maker may be the most affected by this, but I'm sure they, in many cases they have folks that work for them, they might, you know, work cross functionally with sales or rev ops or customer success, like should they be looping in some other folks or I'm sure it depends on the situation, but what's your guidance on that? Yeah, absolutely. If you're creating an RFP to solicit additional services from outside your organization, you have to include the frontline staff that will be either utilizing the service or product or engaging with the providers in that instance, um because ultimately, you know, that as a decision maker in this realm, you know, the business outcomes that you're looking for and the frontline staff can help bridge the providers proposal and help you understand how that will...

...actually impact your business outcomes. Um in addition, in this context, I would definitely think about engaging your legal team very heavily and making sure that if you've got risk management or procurement people on your team that those are, those folks are also engaged, but please, please, please don't forget the frontline staff that will actually be doing the work because they have a really great finger on the pulse about what's what's going on in this area. Mhm. I want to change gears a little bit towards uh lou pecan, it's coming up soon after we record this, but it will already have happened by the time that the listeners are tuning into this show, so maybe you could just tell me a little bit about what's what's gonna be happening at the show and how folks maybe can get access to it and what some of the talk tracks are. Yes, so 20, is our annuals. We're having our annual user conference. It's not just for users, it's for all folks in the proposal space and frankly people in the sales domain who are interested in learning more about how proposals affect their everyday lives. The recordings will be made available on the loopy a website. Just stay tuned for those. We have some great keynote speakers who are discussing how to maintain great body language over zoom and also how to bring happiness into your, into your everyday life and how to make sure that you're bringing happiness into your job, which I think is pretty compelling in this day and age. Um, but really we also have some exciting product information that's being released. I don't want to spoil it about about new technologies that are coming about and, and Lupita is really moving aggressively in the machine learning space to help folks not have to hire, like, not to have to necessarily higher on a full other team member, but having our software with the machine learning aspect of it can really empower your staff to act with the power of multiple folks, right? Like it increases the power of their punch. And so I think it's really important to talk about the machine learning aspects of our systems and how...

...these are moving to really support proposal teams in a totally different way. So that's what we're really excited about presenting at loop Con this year. That's great. That's great. And I'm curious maybe you do or don't have insight into this presentation yet, but any zoom body language tips that you can share with me and with the listeners that you know of. Yeah. You know, I'm still waiting to see if we've got Erica Duggan who is a, who is a Harvard business Harvard business grad who's going to be teaching us all about the, all about the zoom body language, but I'm sure I'm going to learn a lot. Yes, what I always think is weird is that you've got the camera up at the top and then you're in the middle of my screen and so if I look at you like you, you then I'm not looking at the camera and if I look at the camera then it's like I'm not looking at you, it's everyone knows what I'm talking about. It sounds weird to say, but everyone can relate to that, I'm sure of it. Yes, yes, it's a big challenge. So I'm excited. I think this year's lubricant is really going to showcase. Uh not only our software, but also the extreme business acumen that proposal managers bring to their businesses and I think it's something that's really overlooked is the business insights that proposal managers can bring to people who are making decisions about the ways in which revenue is collected, right? We talk about the fact that proposals are tend to have a higher dollar value. So they're riskier, right? But the reward is a higher pay off. So if you can dial in the way that you do your proposals again, speaking about the go no go about the debriefs about using the right tools to streamline your processes. There's hundreds of millions of dollars just waiting to be tapped. And honestly, most proposals, did you know that the average proposal only has four folks who submit. So you have, Yeah, they're not it's not they're not as competitive as a lot of people think like, like the average proposal. And I think on the outside of the outside edge, it's like 99 people that submit. So, so the fact is that the statistics...

...back up that it's a it's a pretty good risk to take if you're able to actually execute on the plan. And and so I think in investing in those additional insights, you know, the proposal managers are on the front line, they can collect a lot of really important and valuable data that can be action upon to drive your business forward. So when you're ready to grow, start doing proposals in my opinion. And it sounds like the proposal manager has a unique opportunity to, as you're saying about the business document to actually shed light to the VP of, of different revenue departments that they might not know about right if you're seeing questions come up or maybe the way that you're answering something isn't resonating with prospects or customers. I'm sure the VP of sales maybe knows how reps are doing that on calls or on demos, but maybe they have a blind eye to how the market is perceiving them from an RP perspective. So I imagine you have a lot of this data as a proposal manager that you can really use to add a lot of value and you know, boost your, your own credibility and, and career internally. Uh, if you use that in a strategic way and there's a direct line if especially if you're incest, there's a direct line from RFP that should be going to product and here's why it's because because proposals ask those questions about product functionality that will give you clues about how your competitors are behaving and that will also help you identify what the market demands. So you can actually get from those innocent from those questionnaires or from those capability statements or whatever else it is. You can see who your high stakes customers might be evaluating in additional in addition to your firm because you can see features maybe that, you know, your competition offers that you don't that you don't and you see it show up in the RFP, but you can also see really, you know, where is the market shifting and what do these customers want and it's codified in a document. It's not just somebody, you know, somebody mentioned it one off, it's like an actual request. So very, very powerful tools. Yeah. I want to as we're wrapping this up, do a...

...couple of rapid fire questions with you. So the first obviously Pavilion community to help people, you know, add value to each other network etcetera, build relationships. What's your number one networking slash business relationship tip for people? Oh yeah. Be willing to talk to people that you don't think have anything in common with you like like seek a diverse, diverse network. Because I've started taking coffees with folks who asked me to do random coffee's on linkedin and you would be astonished the type of connections that I can make with that. So yes, I I connect with folks who I don't think I have much in common with and it has helped me really challenge my own assumptions. So I love it. We're big learners on this podcast. Everyone that listens knows that. Any books that you recommend that have helped you in your life in your career. That maybe just something that you have read recently or listened to recently and uh any topic is fair game. Yeah. Well, one of my best ones and let me, I'm just gonna peak over here really quick cause I gotta get the title of it right, Give me go for it. All right. It is the ultimate bid and proposal compendium kris K put this together. He is a C. P P A P. M. P fellow, It is very affordable here on Amazon. So if you're interested in learning more about proposals and you don't really know where to start. That is my, it's sitting on my desk 90% of the time so that I can use the principles from that book. So 10 out of 10, the ultimate bid and proposal compendium highly recommend. That is a thick book too. That a lot. That's got a lot of info in it. It's a hefty one. It's a hefty one. And then also just some other readings that I think are extremely useful that come out of the loop Eo brand. Um, honestly, the lupo benchmarking report helped me advocate for additional resources when I was in the proposal space. So I would recommend checking out the loop Eo 2021 benchmarking...

...report to understand the industry a little bit more effectively. And also, um, we've got a metrics guide coming out. So all of these things will help you build out a really strong foundation for your proposal management roles? I love it a couple more to let the listeners know a little bit more about you. Um, what is, what's going on in your Spotify playlist? What's Catherine listening to nowadays. I really love um, nordic folk music. Okay, yeah, there's this guy, there's this guy of Norwegian guy called war drona or Drew? No, that's really great. And then also I've started listening to a band called rainbow kitten surprise. Okay, It's also really great. But I love like new new wave techno and yeah, Norwegian folk music. That's kind of where I'm at right now. That's great. I've I've asked that question to a lot of people that have yet to hear nordic folk music. So that's great. Thanks. Um and then any any um any podcasts that you tend to tune into, it could be business related or not. But I'm just curious if there's anything that you got going on on on Apple podcasts, Spotify or anything like that. Yeah. You know, I love Levar Burton reads and I'm going to check because I really want to make sure that I get the, I get the name of this podcast correct. Um Yes, one of my favorite ones is Tracy, Otsuka. Uh it's A D. H. D. For the smartest women. Um because uh because I struggle with executive function on some occasions and to have somebody who understands my perspective about business and about how to get my how to get my life in order. It's really nice to listen to her podcast too. So Levar Burton reads and a PhD for smartass women. I love it. What's the Levar Burton reads? I'm not familiar with that. Oh yeah, it's the guy from reading Rainbow and he reads to you read stories. It's amazing. Yeah, it's amazing and it has helped me access so many new authors that I never would have and they're short stories. So...

...maybe 20 to 30 minutes. It's not a huge commitment and uh it's really cheerful. So I love it. I love it. Catherine, thank you for spending the time today to to walk through some of this. If folks want to reach out, grab a zoom coffee with you, learn about our FPs, about strongman competitions or anything nordic folk music, anything in between. Uh what's the best place to to connect with you? Yeah, so I'm obsessively on linkedin. Like it's open all the time for me. My handle there is Katherine Bennett writes. So it's just my name with the word rights after it. I am also pretty uh pretty frequent user of the Pavilion slack space. So you can find me there in the Denver channel on a frequent basis. And then email Catherine dot Bennett at lupo dot com. I'm available for questions or to chat to chat about any of the topics that you mentioned. Yes, awesome. Catherine, thanks so much for your time. Thank you. And everyone go check out Blue pecan on rubio dot com. Thanks so much for checking that episode out of the Pavilion podcast again. You can hit me up on linkedin. My name's Tom Alamo. Otherwise, this episode was brought to you by Sandoz. So they deliver modern direct mail, personalized gifts and other physical impressions that make your outreach more personal. Until next week. We'll see you on monday. Get after it Peace, say something Mhm.

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