RFP's - Room for Improvement

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The modern day experience of responding to RFP's has to be one of the toughest experiences for any sales team.  You work hard to build a relationship with a client.  The time comes when they are ready to buy what you have been discussing with them for the last 6 months.  And then you get an email titled, "Congratulations, you have been chosen to take part in an RFP."  What a punch in the gut.  The relationship went from being...well, relational, to completely transactional.  Its like finding out that your girlfriend in high school has 3 other boyfriends across town.  Ouch.  What you thought was a close relationship has now been relegated to strictly business.  I have experienced this many times.  RFP's have a somewhat troubled past in the business world.  I've heard them called the dreaded "RFP Process," or its "being opened up to RFP."  Like some company decided that they didn't have the best vendor in front of them and still need to play the field to see what else is out there.

A few years ago my team uncovered an opportunity to bring on a large chunk of business.  We were probably the most qualified participant in the RFP since the scope included our strongest offerings.  The details even contained a lot of our terminology and everyday verbiage we used around the product and our services.  You would think we were a shoe in right?  You can see where this is going.  We werent allowed a Q&A session about the details of what they wanted.  The request was very high level, the scope was very broad.  Regardless, we wanted the business.  We divided the request up into about 6 parts, handing off each section to one of my teammates to divide and conquer, each person working on their particular area of expertise.  After 8 weeks, our response was complete.  Even our highly crafted response seemed like it was missing the mark.  How could we respond to something when we didn't have all the details?  I know it sounds obvious now but we weren't in the best position to win this deal.

Its okay to say no to an RFP request.  Even if its one of your biggest customers.  True story: a very large client of ours came to us and asked us to take part in an RFP that they were about to release to the world.  The specific details of the request were right up our alley of expertise.  There would be no opportunity to ask questions.  All we were allowed to do was respond. Ahhh!!!  Right back on the crazy train.  In a bold move, our President said no.  Yes, NO!  The client was shocked.  No?  Is this a joke?  Actually it wasn't.  How can we respond to something that we don't have enough information to respond to?  Why should we burn a bunch of company resources on something that was half-baked.  The client asked us why we declined a response.  We responded with a request of our own.  Let us put one of our people on-site to do an assessment.  Find out what is really going on.  What the business really needs.  Then we will give you our response.  We won't charge you if you don't go with us.  If you do go with us, we will invoice you once the work begins.  Small risk on our part...some labor for a week.  Very little risk on their part.  With an NDA in place, we spent a week on-site.  Found out all kinds of information and issues that were not addressed in the RFP...formed a response of our own based on what we found out...do you think we won the business?  And they are a client to this day.  How come this is not the norm? 

I've been a part of a board for a company here in Denver.  I understand why RFP's are necessary.  Its the fiduciary responsibility of the leadership of any company to make sure they are spending company resources wisely and on the right things.   This is where things get sideways.  To me, RFP's are the direct result of a price driven conversation.  Price!  Which is important.  Of course, companies can't be spending money on an initiative without keeping this in mind.  But where is value in the conversation?  What is the impact on the business over the next year, 3 years, 10 years?  These questions need to be asked, and answered!!!  The RFP process only works when the vendor is allowed access to the real problems.  It can be work to let them on-site, give them access to the specific teams for interviewing and data mining.  But it is completely worth it.  The entire RFP process as it stands today is broken.  Talk to any salesperson and find out what they think about RFP's.  Its not positive to say the least.   If major things don't change in this area, your only chance is to make sure you are the one helping the customer write the RFP.  This is rare and requires a strong relationship, but it can be done.  

Next time you are offered an opportunity to take part in an RFP, ask these questions of yourself.  Did we in any way shape or take part in the writing of this RFP?  Does our offering align fully the request they are making?  Do we have a high probability of winning this?  Is there an opportunity to go on-site and assess the real issues addressed in this RFP?  Even though we might want or need the business, are we willing to say no if they don't give us an opportunity to learn more and ask questions about the RFP?  If you are not able to answer these quesitons confidently, you are better off moving onto other companies who are interested in the value conversation and looking for a partnership.

Process vs Capabilities

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We don't talk enough about capabilities.  In response to the article by Joe Pomales on CIO.com.   Let me share a story with you....two people are following the same process...wouldn't you agree the person with the best capabilities and skill-sets will have the best outcome? We spend countless hours on process, but the real differentiator tends to be capability and skill. ITIL methodologies and process provide a great framework to do work efficiently but capabilities shorten the timeline and increase the quality of the outcome.

A great process does not keep one from documenting the project correctly.  Or promise a timely resolution.  The real reason I believe process finds itself as a part of the discussion lies in the fact that process is scalable.  For a company to really grow, processes are necessary to make sure that all team members are performing tasks in a similar way.  Can you imagine if a company with a service desk fixed a recurring trouble ticket 6 different ways?  We laugh and shake our heads but this happens all over the place to companies large and small.  In addition to scalability, process makes sure that critical things like documentation takes place.  This is probably the most overlooked and underutilized task in any business unit within any organization.  The amount of re-work is unbelievable within the average organization, simply because changes or knowledge bases weren't recorded in documentation.  Sounds very similar to a hamster wheel.  Its like going on a run and feeling like you were already there once before, maybe even deja vu?  For teams to be productive and complete the most efficient work, documentation is a must.  I think its fair to say that the average worker bee can't stand documenting changes or tasks.  

Capabilities are features of a particular worker that set him/her a part from other workers.  Yes, there can be two people with similar capabilities.  But can a whole division have similar capabilities, ones that set them a part from other divisions?  I mentioned earlier a scenario where two people understand and have knowledge of the exact same processes for accomplishing a task.  Lets say the task is assembling a table from IKEA.  Both people understand the process and can read directions on how to assemble the table.  By the way, assembling an IKEA can be brutal with all the parts, the directions have no words, just pictures, etc.  Worker 1 is methodical paying attention to each step carefully.    But slow...oh my goodness slow.  Slow and deliberate at piecing the table together.  Still following process but at a snails pace.  This guy does not really enjoy the job and would prefer to work at Starbucks.  But it pays okay and has good benefits.  Still following process but at a snails pace.  Worker 2 is quick to move through the directions.  Not only is worker 2 experienced but he also loves furniture.  So in a weird way this is fun.  He sees this as an art form.  He flies through page 1, page 2, and before you know it, has a majority of the table put together.  If this is an assembly line, which worker would you want on your team?  The slow deliberate worker, or the fast paced worker who feels passionate about the process.  One is definitely more capable than the other.  Both make tables that are sturdy and server their function.  From a production perspective, worker 2 is more capable of producing a higher number of tables, and therefore more ideal to have on the team.  

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There are many examples of this in the IT space.  On the service desk, there are many employees who know process, how to open tickets, find resolution, use the knowledge base, etc.  But the real differentiator at this level is the specific capabilities of that person.   How quickly can they resolve the problem?  Can they use the knowledge base effectively to find answers to problems they have never seen?  Is documentation a part of the process and how well are things documented?

In my opinion, process should be built and trained into each and every employee.  The individual training around capabilities is not discussed and encouraged enough.   This is the magic sauce in the whole conversation.  Where things come to life and new paths to a solution are forged.  Think about it, when you are meeting with a customer and they ask you to talk about your company, do you talk about the process or your capabilities?  

2018 - The Year of the Customer

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I've been hearing a lot lately about customer experience.   Companies spend so much money on marketing, social media, brand awareness, all so that a potential customer will buy.  All this work happens to get to that crucial moment, and then wham! they buy.  Then something goes wrong with the product, the service, they have a question etc.  So they go on chat, or call the customer service line.  Many things can happen at this point..curious if you have experienced them?  You call in, get someone who is less than pleased with working at this particular company, they sound bored out of their mind, or even worse, annoyed that you called. 

I can remember on more than one occasion thinking to myself, "I am sorry I called Mr Customer Service, I am trying to spend more money with your company and it feels like I am doing you a favor by calling in to get help."  Moving on....this happens a lot.  So millions of dollars get spent to get people to buy, they buy, then when they need help, they get a less than favorable experience.  Not always but have seen this happen quite a bit.  I've seen average products responded to with great customer service, and awesome products responded to with average or bad customer service.  To me, it seems like customer service can make or break a customer's loyalty, regardless of how great the products is.  That person on the phone in customer service is really "a part" of the product whether they know it or not.  I think the person answering the phone is really the first touch and face of the company and should be one of the most highly trained, and excited people in the company.  They are the first experience!  Typically people aren't calling in to explain how excited they are about their experience with you so far.  That frustrated caller should be met with a smile and an attitude of "I'm here to help you figure this out, and will be with you until its complete." 

This is how brand loyalty begins.  Recently I had an issue with my alarm system.  Every time I called in, they would try and transfer me to the right department, only to hang up on me.  Something was wrong with their call routing system.  Every time I would call back, wait on hold, then get transferred, then get hung up on.  I told them what was about to happen every time, they would act interested and then do it again!!!!  Unbelievable.  This sort of thing is not uncommon.    The flip side of this is experiencing that person who answers the phone, the line is clear, they appear glad you called, confident they can help you, lots of empathy for your problem.  They already have your information with a few clicks so you don't have to go through a thousand questions to identify yourself.   They give you the number to the department they are transferring you to in case you get disconnected, and they send you to the RIGHT department.  This is not crazy or complicated stuff we are talking about.  So far I have talked about the people side.  But what about the technology that makes this happen.  Some of what I shared already has to do with speed.  But what about process?  I mentioned earlier getting sent to the wrong department and how frustrating that can be.  But what if the company has the right processes in place to determine where to send you, what questions to ask, and would if they can do this quickly!!! 

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There are many types of technology out there that can help with this.  I have spoken in the past about how each business unit is really a service within the company.  HR, Facilities, Customer service as mentioned above.  Many technologies handle one thing really well.  But there are few technologies that connect all the business units to perform work efficiently and quickly.  Automation is a key piece to this equation.  The ability to automate everyday tasks and bring humans in when needed is key to making these processes move at light-speed.  There is a reason that ServiceNow is in the upper right quadrant of the Gartner matrix for IT Service Management.  The upper right quadrant is the leader category, where ability to execute and vision come together.  The CSM module within ServiceNow brings together the backbone of ITSM and integrates Customer Service so that the two are no longer separate.  It is time that companies start to see Customer Service as important as HR, or the IT department.  Customers are the ones who pay the bills and keep the company moving forward.  And it all starts with that first touch in customer service.  What is your company doing to improve Customer Experience and loyalty?

Knowledge18 ServiceNow

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If you attended Knowledge18, ServiceNow's annual conference in Las Vegas, you might have noticed some themes permeate the conversation.  From the beginning John Donahoe, CEO of ServiceNow, during his keynote spoke of work and the importance of work in our lives.  ServiceNow at its core is a platform that enables people to do work, and do it well.  The impact that work has on our society is not lost on the attendees.  It is why we were all there.  Mobility was a big talking point.  How come we have such amazing access to mobile apps and are able to get things done with such ease in our personal lives, but when it comes to the network we access through our occupation, that work is stifled.  Think about it...most of our personal lives are enabled by some type of cloud app on our phones, but when we need something at work, we have to log into some disparate software program, then log into another program to log our daily tasks, then log into something else to request time off.  This is not efficient, clearly. 

When people ask me what I do, I say that I promote software that helps companies do work better and more efficiently.  Every time I say this I am dumbfounded how large organizations manage work every day.  So you have 20,000 employees, and your IT department consists of 5000 people.  How are these people working together?  How are they getting work done efficiently?  Without some sort of platform or strong leadership, there is no way work is being maximized.  To that end, during Knowledge18, my colleagues and I noticed some common themes among users of ServiceNow.  The issues brought up seemed to be independent of the software itself, but more had to do with cultural differences or norms within these organizations.  3 common topics came up throughout the week:

  1. Development Backlog - Almost every customer we talked to has some level of dev backlog.  The typical IT department has tasks that never stop, and growing companies experience this on an even great level.  The development work seems to get shelved because of the immediate needs of today.  The reason the development tasks were documented in the first place has to do with making the system better and more efficient.  Yet it gets shelved.  There are many reasons why this can happen...lack of resources, lack of priority, lack of process and efficiency.  Something drastic has to happen to right the course. 
  2. Process - Many organizations are struggling with overall strategy or the level of process needed within each business unit.  The term "right-sizing" was used many times.  Some teams have too much process.  Simple tasks are bogged down by drop downs and boxes to check that are unnecessary and slow work.  Tier 1 customer service might only need 3 or 4 pieces of information so they can route the call to the right team, but because the process is too cumbersome, it takes minutes to figure out where to send the customer.   Some processes are too "process light" and therefore items and key pieces of information are missed.   This only causes more work down the line, or a customer whose needs are not met appropriately.  There are certain business units where a deep process needs to be built to get all the right information.  This is a case by case basis.  Someone who understands organizational process and efficient work flow must be tapped to help strategize and fit the right processes to the right business unit.  
  3. Strategy - Within IT Services management, it is clear that strategy taking a back seat.  It takes a pretty high level approach to determine the strategy between services within a large organization.  Typically a CIO is the kick starter of this high level strategy.  When you start looking at every business unit as a service, that strategy and its impacts get way more complicated.  If you think about it, every group within the org is really a service.  HR, Operations, Facilities, these are all examples of business units that need services.  They request things like setting up a new employee,  new HVAC systems, marketing materials, etc.  The list goes on.  So simply picking a strategy of how these groups should work, the processes they need to be successful, who should be involved in each incident or request and why, its not so simple. 
 Knowledge18 Las Vegas - Bill Mell, Charley Witt, Matt Duntsch, Tommy Morris, Cheri Morris, Amy Lind

Knowledge18 Las Vegas - Bill Mell, Charley Witt, Matt Duntsch, Tommy Morris, Cheri Morris, Amy Lind

Mobility, strategy, process...these are the items that are top of mind right now.  What are you doing to discuss strategy...how are you enabling your employees and customers to move towards mobility...what processes are you putting in place that allow teams to collaborate and get more done?  It starts with a platform that allows your company to build a foundation from which to do work.  The days of spreadsheets and phone calls are done.  I think it is fair to say that every company can improve in these areas, but I will also say that some companies are figuring this out.  They are experiencing the benefit when these initiatives are deployed.  This is the year of the customer, and the customer benefits the most from these strategies when they are executed well.