March 25, 2009

Automating for the Right Reasons

The old joke about proposal automation was that if you didn’t do it right, you achieved the dubious reward of producing bad proposals much faster.

But what if you did it right? And for the right reasons?

That is our topic this time.

Tom Sant

Automating for the Right Reasons

Years ago I made a sales call on a public utility in Pennsylvania, one that was wrestling with the newly competitive, deregulated marketplace. I was there to present our proposal automation system. I had set up my computer and projector in a second floor conference room and was chatting with the division head who was our host when I heard a group of people stomping up the stairwell outside our door. One voice rose above the rest, a strident female voice, vehemently insisting, “I don’t care who else is using it, it won’t work here!”

In marched a small knot of people. At the head was the woman who had just bellowed her defiant prediction. She scowled, radiating all the warmth of a middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears. The division head cleared his throat and looked a little embarrassed. “Allow me to introduce you to the manager of our proposal operations,” he said.

I’d love to tell you a story about how I turned this situation around, but the truth is—No, it didn’t get better. Nothing she heard and nothing she saw mattered. She had already made up her mind. Oh, she had her reasons: “It won’t work because our business is different.” “Because our clients don’t want a fancy proposal.” “Because our industry requires that we do things the way we’ve always done them.” “Because…” “Because…” Just because, that’s why! What a fearful, closed-minded attitude!

Some people are just digital Luddites who try to save their jobs by defeating innovation. Generally, though, that kind of behavior is less common than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Instead, in today’s society people are more likely to be cynical about technology. And why not? They’ve seen millions poured down a porcelain chute called CRM and gotten very little back. Why would proposal automation be any different?

The problem with CRM has been that traditionally it’s been too abstract and amorphous a tool to be applied in a concrete way to specific problems. That’s not the case with proposal automation. Proposal automation, unlike other technical innovations that have been ballyhooed by the business and technology press, actually works. In fact, proposal automation is a paradigm example of a technology that produces improvements in both efficiency and effectiveness. And in today’s economic climate, every business needs to be more efficient and effective.

Efficiency is all about driving waste out of the sales and proposal process. Typical problems include finding the right content, assembling a draft quickly, coordinating the activities of a team of contributors, and getting the whole operation to follow a reliable methodology. Efficiency issues are not trivial. For a medium-sized company they can add up to hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars of effort spent in non-value adding activities. And I’m willing to bet that no sales manager in the world wants his or her sales people sitting in front of a computer, hunting and pecking, cutting and pasting, wrestling with the word processor. So automating the writing of proposals eliminates a major area of waste.

Other sources of inefficiency include:

1. Loose to non-existent control over the information going into proposals: One of our clients found they had 11 different databases containing product information and pricing, seven of which weren’t even being maintained any more! Unfortunately, sales people still went to them to cut and paste information for proposals—thereby offering products and services that couldn’t be delivered. Yikes.

2. Corporate Alzheimer’s: Somewhere somebody has the answer to the questions in this RFP. But nobody can remember where it is or who has it. So we’ll just reinvent the whole thing one more time, okay? No, not okay. It’s a waste.

3. The “ask Betty” syndrome: This form of inefficiency is common in smaller and mid-sized companies. One person, call her “Betty”, knows where everything is located—all the answers to all the RFPs ever answered in the past, all the case studies, all the team bios, everything… God forbid that Betty should ever get the flu, take a vacation, or retire.

4. Too many steps: In manufacturing environments, waste comes from handling a product without adding value to it. The same thing happens in proposal environments. By automating one of our clients, we moved them from 28 different steps involved in producing a finished proposal down to 13. That eliminates a lot of wasted effort.

Effectiveness? What about effectiveness, you ask? Well, the ultimate test of proposal effectiveness is whether it wins or not. Saving time is nice, but winning business is crucial. The greatest value of using proposal automation technology comes from improving win rates by implementing a consistent, structured process. By using a simple automation tool you give everybody the ability to put the right content into the right order so it delivers the right message—every time. In fact, that’s a key reason why our clients have experienced an average 29% improvement in win rate. They’re also able to create sales documents 36% faster.

If you’d like some help in making sure proposal automation improves both your efficiency and your effectiveness, give us a call. Our roots are in best practices and proven methodology. We know what it takes to write a winning proposal. And we know how to automate the process successfully. Trust me. And ignore that woman bellowing on the staircase. It will work here! See a demo of Sant Suite at

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