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Crowdstaffing featured as Rising Star and Premium Usability HR platform in 2019

Crowdstaffing has earned the prestigious 2019 Rising Star & Premium Usability Awards from FinancesOnline, a popular B2B software review platform. This recognition is given out annually to products[...]

May 13, 2019

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How a Little RFP Tracking Can Uncover Big Data for Your Sales Team

Summer carries with it the anticipation of many things: exotic trips, family outings, afternoons of lazing beneath the sun, baseball games and, in the workforce solutions industry, requests for proposals (RFPs). Although bidding activity experiences a noticeable spike toward the end of October, the period between May and August sees a consistent influx of requests -- those fat, unruly documents that hold salespeople hostage until they’ve answered hundreds of questions about metrics, corporate history, implementation planning and recruiting strategies. Yet, there’s a compelling byproduct of RFPs that nearly everyone misses. They are untapped troves of Big Data, filled with gems of intelligence that can steer your business development efforts toward real treasure. The secret is knowing where to look.

Business Development in the Information Age

Despite the headaches you may suffer at the hand of RFPs, they serve a purpose. In a data-driven world -- where validation and quantification matter deeply -- RFPs are a practical approach to enterprise sales. Today’s projects require levels of detail and vetting that surpass an informal “let’s do lunch” conversation. With a proposal, clients receive enhanced visibility into a bidder’s key offerings, core competencies and pricing models. They also get comprehensive answers to crucial questions, which produces a document that lends itself to in-depth analysis. In that way, like Big Data, RFPs have the power to enhance and expedite decision making.

Just as anyone involved in staffing can’t really escape RFPs, they also can’t escape the push for data in this digital era. Nearly all aspects of our private, social and business lives are tied to data and the value we extract from this information. Vast, complex sets of analytics help us discover new connections to spot business trends, prevent diseases, combat crime and hire talent. Mining and interpreting data have become instrumental practices in media, marketing, advertising and journalism. They’ve become just as essential to talent acquisition, human resources, procurement and recruiting.

At the heart of Big Data pulses the promise of confident and accurate decision making. I bring this up because there’s a strong correlation between Big Data and RFPs. By tracking bids beyond just due dates, wins and losses, we can easily gather incredible sales intelligence. Studying these details will help your organization reveal trends, forecast sales targets, predict demand and even pinpoint regional prospects.

Tracking Your RFPs

There are dozens, if not scores, of proposal automation tools on the market. That’s how prevalent RFPs are, regardless of industry. These systems save time, develop boilerplate content and auto-populate answers to standard questions. Some even offer support for “analytics.” I put that in quotes because the analytics are usually limited to wins and losses, client behaviors and your team’s participation. You could do much more.

Think about the vital data most RFPs give you in the preamble, pricing sheets or Q&A sessions:

  • Total program spend (even if estimated, it works)
  • Job categories and position titles
  • Worker volume by department or site
  • Locations in scope for the program
  • The number of suppliers currently providing services and the number needed or desired
  • A brief description of the pain points driving the RFP
  • Sometimes, if you’re lucky, existing rates or capped ranges based on rate cards

Even if you can’t wrangle all of these details from a client, you still have a lot of intelligence at your disposal. Whenever our proposal team receives an RFP, they enter very specific information into a database they’ve created. You could use standard software like Microsoft Access, Excel, Google Sheets or some other spreadsheet application. Among much of the criteria tracked, here are some essentials.

  • Client industry -- You can use standard industry classification codes such as NAICS or SIC, LinkedIn’s industry codes or create your own list. It doesn’t matter as long as the labels are consistent and meaningful to you.
  • Client locations -- It’s one thing to know where a client is headquartered. However, it’s more meaningful to understand where the demand for positions is greatest. Recording the cities, states and countries in scope will help you build a wider model that depicts potential openings or markets facing saturation.
  • Key dates -- Important times include proposal due dates, client decision dates, implementation or start dates, etc.
  • Services requested -- Create a menu for your standard offerings. That could contain selections such as MSP, VMS, SOW, Payrolling, Staff Augmentation, Workforce Consulting, ATS, RPO, etc. Whatever services you sell, assign categories.
  • Bid status -- Build a list that illustrates the process steps or workflow. Examples could include “Under Review,” “Declined,” “Canceled by Client,” “Advance to Presentation,” “Lost After Presentation,” “Lost - Not Invited to Present” and “Won.”

If you enter details like these for every RFP you receive, you’ll give your business development team critical data to inform their sales strategies. Now, let’s look at some examples of how we generate useful metrics.

RFPs Can Spot Hot Sales Regions

It’s not always easy to know where to target your sales efforts. You can read a ton of articles, pore over Census data, attempt to study employment trends from the Department of Labor, and so forth. RFPs sometimes offer a quicker and more direct route. As bids come in, you can track the locations of client sites or positions to be staffed. Comparing that information with similar data from past bids gives you the ability to trend and forecast.

Early in 2015, for instance, we noticed a month-over-month increase for workers in the South. In the simplest sense of supply and demand, that information demonstrated a big uptick in regional requests (demand) for staffing (supply). More specifically, we also began noticing that manufacturing requests were growing in certain corners near the Great Lakes. If a staffing firm wanted to act on this data, it would concentrate a sales initiative in those locations.

The question becomes, is that data accurate? Yes, it turns out. According to 2015 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the regional predictors we witnessed in RFPs were right on the money. The largest share of contingent talent went to states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina. What about the manufacturing scenario? Illinois and Michigan topped the roster of states with the most temporary workers in that field.

Identify Industry Trends

Attempting to forecast which industries will trend, in terms of staffing, is one of the biggest advantages RFP tracking delivers. Based on incoming bid traffic, and not actual clients, we can predict trends within industries seeking outsourced workforce management solutions. This information is recorded, monitored and tracked within the RFP database to provide analytics and insights. Basically, we query a count of bids issued by a client industry for a given date range. Years are the easiest to track. What we can find in reviewing historical data is fascinating. Take a look.

Industry-Trends.png

The series on the far left indicates the pharmaceuticals industry. Notice the constant growth, followed by a huge spike in 2013. Sure enough, that year saw a substantial rise in the number of contingent work requests for the pharma space, based on industry and government numbers. We detected the trend early on and reached out to pharmaceutical companies. They became some of our most lucrative accounts.

Last year, education started to appear on the radar. Although other industries in our database illustrated similar growth patterns, the jump in staffing requests from the education sector were more dramatic. Pay attention to the plot series indicated by the red arrow.

Education-Industry-Trend.png

After reviewing the RFP tracking details, one could say that the education market represented an area of sales focus. Would that have been correct? According to Brian Berlin, a technology leader in the higher education field, it would have indeed:

“Enterprise vendors in the higher education space are seeing a greater number of RFPs than ever (Request for Proposal), and can expect this trend to continue. That hasn’t always been the case. Generally vendors were able to differentiate themselves enough that a formal bid to review all appropriate vendors in the space wasn't worth time, effort and expense.”

Let RFP Season Guide Industry Specific Sales Seasons

Not only can this level of tracking help uncover industry sales targets for staffing, it can narrow down the times of year to approach prospective clients. Every industry has its own “RFP season.” In the leisure and hospitality space, we find an increase of bidding activity between mid-summer and early fall. Procurement leaders in the industry validate the observation.

John Manderfield, president of a commercial resort property company, explained in Hotel Business Review: “Of course, you should be receiving and responding to RFPs throughout the year, but because many travel management organizations plan on a calendar-year schedule, you will receive most RFPs for the upcoming year during July through September.”

RFPs Have More Stories to Tell

We could probably write a novel about all the ways RFP tracking can strengthen sales strategies. Even for internal performance metrics, RFPs have a rich story to tell.

  • You can determine the popularity of the services you provide by using the database to total the numbers of RFPs received for each. This process allows you to identify your best offerings, those in need of improvement and even emerging solutions.
  • By monitoring the progression of your bid statuses (e.g., Advance to Presentation, Win, Loss), you can analyze the overall performance of your proposal and sales teams.
  • Consider taking all the job categories and positions from the pricing sheets that accompany RFPs. This information tells you quite a bit. You can judge positions that are gaining steam, losing ground or just stagnating. You’ll also learn how these positions are performing in specific industries, regions and seasons.

The possibilities are endless. We keep uncovering new ways to track data and incorporate that reporting into our database. Sales competition is intense, especially in talent acquisition. RFPs bring an equal level of intensity. Love them or hate them, they’re integral parts of this industry’s sales processes. Don’t just file them away or forget about them once the submission date passes. There’s Big Data in those bids that can expand business intelligence for your sales team.

Bret Bass
Bret Bass
Vice President of Special Operations
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