Here’s a brain teaser: What’s the difference between Big Data and an RFP in contingent workforce solutions? One is a source of business intelligence that streamlines decision-making processes for sales, marketing, vendor selection and program optimization. The other is a fat, unruly document that promises you won’t see the outside world until you’ve answered hundreds of questions. If staffing’s your game, RFPs are the price of admission. MSPs send them to prospective suppliers, and clients issue them to potential MSPs. This industry sees a lot of RFP traffic. Yet, there’s something about 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. You just need to know where to look.
RFPs Are Business Development in the Information Age
Despite the headaches you may suffer at the hands of RFPs, they make a good deal of sense these days. In a data-driven world — where validation and quantification matter deeply — RFPs are a practical approach to enterprise sales. Today’s projects require a level of detail and vetting that extends beyond a traditional “let’s do lunch” conversation. With a proposal, you receive enhanced visibility into a bidder’s key offerings, core competencies and pricing models. You 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 enhance and expedite decision making.
Just as anyone involved in staffing can’t 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 somehow 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’re now just as essential to contingent workforce sales, human resources, supplier management and recruiting,
At the core of Big Data lives the promise of confident and accurate decisions. I bring this up because there’s a strong correlation between Big Data and RFPs. And it lives in a place few people pay enough attention to: tracking your RFPs. By tracking bids beyond just due dates, wins and losses, we can easily gather incredible sales intelligence. Studying these details can reveal trends, help 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, auto-populate standard questions and some 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 so much more. And our RFP leaders have.
Think about the vital data most RFPs give you in the preamble, pricing sheets or Q&A:
- Total program spend (even if estimated, it works)
- Job categories and position titles
- Worker volume by location
- All locations in scope for the program
- The number of suppliers currently providing services and the number needed
- A brief description of need or pain points driving the RFP
- Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, existing rates or capped ranges based on rate cards
Even if you can’t wrangle all 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 program. Among much of the criteria tracked, here are some essentials.
- The client’s industry — You can use standard industry classification codes such as NAICS or SIC, LinkedIn’s industry codes or create your own your list. It doesn’t matter as long as the labels are consistent and meaningful to you.
- The client’s location — City, state, country.
- Key dates — Proposal due date, client decision date, implementation or start date, etc.
- The service requested — Create a selection of your standard offerings. That could be MSP, VMS, SOW, Payrolling, Staff Augmentation, Workforce Consulting, ATS, RPO, etc. Whatever services you sell, assign categories.
- Bid status — Create a list. 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 those details for every RFP you receive, you’ll give your business development team a data goldmine 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, however, may 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.
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 demonstrates 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 the outsourced workforce management solutions we offer. This information is recorded, monitored and tracked within the RFP database to provide analytics and insight. 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 find in reviewing historical data is fascinating. Take a look.
The series on the far left indicates the pharmaceuticals industry. Notice the constant growth and then the 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.
So what’s shaping up today? Education. Although other industries in our database illustrate similar growth patterns, the spike in staffing requests from the education sector is more dramatic. Pay attention to the plot series indicated by the red arrow.
After reviewing the RFP tracking details, one could say the education market represents an area of sales focus. Would that be correct? According to Brian Berlin, a technology leader in the higher education field, it would indeed:
“Enterprise vendors in the higher education space are seeing a greater number of RFP 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 property company that deals with resorts, explains 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 an entire novel about all the ways RFP tracking can strengthen your staffing 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 monitor 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 says 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 markets, regions and seasons.
The possibilities are endless. We keep uncovering new ways to track data and incorporate that reporting into our database. Sales competition for contingent workforce solutions is intense. RFPs bring an equal level of intensity. Love them or hate them, they are integral parts of our 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 steer you toward Big Business Development success.
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