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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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RFPs Are a Big Pain But They Bring Big Data to Your Sales Strategies

Our industry sees a lot of RFPs. They come with the territory, especially when pursuing large enterprise clients, government contracts, and massive MSP programs. They’re the things salespeople love to hate. The stuff of nightmares. Fat, unruly documents that hold entire teams of subject matter experts hostage until they’ve answered hundreds of questions about metrics, corporate history, implementation plans, and recruiting strategies. But there’s also hidden gold in all those pages of gobbledygook, which most people miss. RFPs can be untapped troves of Big Data that can fuel your sales strategies. The secret is knowing where to look.

Business Development in the Age of Data

In a data-driven world -- where validation and quantification matter deeply -- RFPs are seen as a practical approach to enterprise sales. Today’s projects require levels of detail and transparency that surpass an informal “let’s do lunch” conversation. With a proposal, clients gain enhanced visibility into a bidder’s key offerings, core competencies, and pricing models. But let’s face it, the questions get pretty intimate. It’s like writing a check at RadioShack. You’re sure, at some point, you’ll be asked to provide a copy of your birth certificate, dental records, and a retinal scan.

That said, RFPs draw out 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. Analytics help us discover new connections to spot business trends, prevent diseases, combat crime, and hire the right talent. Mining and interpreting data have become instrumental practices in media, marketing, advertising, and journalism. They’re just as essential to talent acquisition, human resources, procurement, and recruiting.

I bring this up because there is a correlation between Big Data and big RFPs. By tracking bids beyond just due dates, we can gather meaningful sales intelligence. Studying these details will help your organization reveal trends, forecast sales targets, predict demand, and even pinpoint regional prospects.

Don’t Just Attack That RFP, Track It!

There are scores of proposal automation tools on the market. That’s how prevalent RFPs have become, 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 the RFP itself: wins and losses, client behaviors, your team’s participation, scheduling, and more. But you could discover a bigger purpose. 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 description of the pain points driving the bid
  • 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 fingertips. Whenever our proposal team receives an RFP, they enter very specific information into a database they’ve created. It doesn’t have to be an expensive piece of software or complicated tool. You could use Microsoft Access, Excel, Google Sheets, or some other spreadsheet application. Here are some essential data points you can capture without much effort.

Client Industries

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 impactful 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. Pay attention to trends in seasonality regarding the volume of RFPs you’re receiving, the nature of the requests, and so forth.

Services Requested

Create a menu for your standard offerings. That could contain selections such as MSP, VMS, SOW, Payrolling, Staff Augmentation, Workforce Consulting, ATS, or RPO. Whatever services you’re selling, 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 Uncover 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, or wait for BLS updates. 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.

Is that data accurate, you ask? 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. If you weren’t chasing down clients in biotech or consumer goods between 2015 and 2016, you may have missed out.

RFP Industry Trends Data

Seasonality

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 Tales 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 limited only by your imagination. We keep uncovering new ways to track data and incorporate that reporting into our strategies. 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. So don’t file them away and forget about them once the submission date passes. There’s Big Data in those bids that can steer you toward Big Business Development wins.

If the thrill-a-minute world of RFPs remains a mystery to you -- or just a giant pain in the butt -- feel free to check out some of the RFP tools we've created to help folks in the industry.

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, thought leader and influencer who is transforming the way companies think about and acquire talent. Blending vision, technology and business skills honed in the most innovative corporate environments, he has launched a new model for recruitment called Crowdstaffing which is being tapped successfully top global brands. Sunil is passionate about building a company that provides value to the complete staffing ecosystem including clients, candidates and recruiters.
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