The role of the sales proposal has always held great importance as the final and most definitive act in closing a business deal, yet as we look ahead to the new year, market forces will drive greater challenges, along with new opportunities to improve the sales proposal process and more efficiently win new business.
In 2019, companies will be challenged to create more sales proposals, with greater complexity and shorter deadlines, yet thanks to lessons learned in 2018 about how to improve efficiencies, create new processes and streamline workflow, opportunities for increased business and better success rates abound.
An emphasis on excellence in customer service, a focus on total quality and rapid response will be prerequisites to any business relationship. But in addition to this re-energized focus on excellence, what other factors are defining a new strategy for RFP teams and providing opportunities for success?
Below are five key trends shaping the sales proposal process in 2019:
- Healthy economy creating more buyers. As a vibrant economy, which is expected to continue to grow in the new year, produces more buyers of products and services, many providers will become inundated with RFPs and the need to produce increasingly more, and more complex, proposals. Thanks to new and more efficient sales automation technologies, providers will take on the task of responding to those RFPs, since the process is becoming faster, leveraging centrally stored data to reduce the number of man hours and resources required for each RFP. Since statistically, the number of wins increases according to the number of proposals delivered, companies will respond to more proposals, including those which they may have determined to not be worth the effort in the past.
- Tightening regulatory controls driving complexity. Thanks to the surge of high-profile and costly cyber attacks in the last year, coupled with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), security and data privacy regulations will become even more firmly entrenched in the U.S. in 2019. Clients will require detailed addendums to proposals that clearly articulate data privacy and security protocols at organizations. And, companies will be under closer scrutiny to ensure that they’re appropriately handling and securing mission-critical corporate information, as well as customer and employee data. Marketing and sales teams will need to rethink their strategies when leveraging data from third-party vendors and customers in the sales proposal process, which can require sales and IT teams to complete extensive security questionnaires and demands that every piece of content used in proposals is current, approved, and compliant.
- Analytics takes center stage. In 2018, sales proposal automation tools were mainly being used to streamline the sales proposal process. Automation enabled a library of reusable content, centrally maintained and accessible to proposal writers so they would not have to reinvent the wheel each time a new proposal came along. In 2019, however, companies will realize that there is a gold mine of data-driven insights contained within those tools, that can help predict the likelihood of successful proposals, areas where they may need to improve their strategy, and markets where they have the best success rates. Advanced dashboards will increasingly share key metrics, performance indicators and other data-driven insights that can not only improve the sales proposal process but the success of the business as a whole.
- Cognitive solutions augment human intelligence. Related to analytics, cognitive solutions will provide smarter capabilities and augment the work of humans by completing routine answers to standard questions, and increasingly becoming trained to anticipate how specific individuals would respond to questions. As RFP teams continue to increase – often comprising 10-or-more individuals, smarter solutions will keep pace, learning the habits and responses of growing RFP teams and helping to ensure that they don’t spend all of their time writing proposals rather than helping to strategically grow the business in other areas.
- Business relationships get personal. A strong focus on the customer experience dominated business in 2018, and this will extend to the sales proposal process in 2019. While RFPs are becoming more complex, it doesn’t mean they are getting longer. Answers must be concise, short and directly to the point, but even more so, they need to reflect a thoughtful and personalized understanding of the client’s business and a consideration to its corporate values. Clients will want to clearly see that not only will they have a positive customer experience if they select your solutions or services, but the process of reviewing the proposal should be positive, insightful and as time-conserving as possible.
As we close out 2018 and step foot on the path to a bright new year, sales teams have unprecedented opportunities to win more business, glean valuable data-driven insights from sales data and create customer engagements that are fulfilling for buyers and sellers alike. It won’t necessarily be an easy task, but a rewarding one for sure.