Making Response Management A Practical Reality
What RFPIO’s Recent Acquisition Tells Us About the Future of B2B Buying and Selling
A revolution in sales analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is redefining the sales technology portfolio in ways that can dramatically streamline, simplify, and enhance the cumbersome and slow B2B buying and selling process. One way this convergence of traditional software categories is manifesting itself is to redefine conventional notions of sales content management and sales enablement. It is now technically, financially, and practically possible for CMOs and sales leaders to arm every customer facing employee and channel they use with faster, more relevant, and more complete answers to customer questions. This confluence of capabilities is called Response Management.
Response Management uses AI and machine learning to create a knowledge-base of content based on actual question and answer exchanges between customers and sales reps. The software makes this aggregate knowledge available to entire revenue teams, on demand, with no wait times. A simple query provides the answer your salesperson needs to deliver their best answer, with immediate results whether a rep is writing a text, email, proposal, presentation, or an RFP.
This notion goes beyond the prevailing content management practices of writing content to spec, creating top down information hierarchies to organize it, and establishing a “single source of truth” as the control point of all content. And it’s a lot faster and simpler than having sales reps using many different digital asset management, content management, CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote), and sales enablement’s systems to find, tailor and deliver the content they need in live selling situations.
Response Management is fast becoming a core component of a “Revenue Operating System” that turns expensive selling assets - selling content, customer data, and engagement technologies – into customer conversations and selling outcomes that grow revenues, profits, and enterprise value. This is blurring the lines between a wide variety of traditional software categories such as digital asset management, content management, configure, CPQ, and training and development.
Growth leaders need to care about Response Management. Modern selling is increasingly centered around owned digital selling channels and sales enablement software that rely heavily on timely, targetable, and personalized content. Unfortunately, current models for finding, organizing, customizing, and delivering RFPs, proposals, and customized selling content remain largely manual, slow, and expensive. This makes them inherently unscalable. That is a big and growing problem because sellers are investing more in content and buyers’ expectations for speed, quality and 1:1 personalization are rising. 80% of organizations are increasing their investment in content and the systems that support its delivery in context, including: guided selling, next-best-action, playbooks, recommendation engines, real time scripting, and sales enablement solutions. At the same time B2B buyers are demanding faster, more complete, and relevant content as they engage with front line sales, marketing, and service employees across direct, virtual, and digital touchpoints. Sales managers rank the demand for more relevant and personalized content as the number one factor impacting their ability to sell in a virtual setting according to the Remote Sales Productivity Study by the Revenue Enablement Institute.
“Generic messages and delayed response times are no longer accepted by technology buyers,” says Angela Earl the Vice President of Marketing of RFPIO, a leader in Response Management Software. “Success today is dependent on collaboration and an organization's ability to respond to customers with hyper relevant and lightning fast answers.” This need for speed, scale, and context has B2B growth leaders rethinking their approach to content creation, digital asset management, and sales enablement to focus instead on making the notion of Response Management a reality. This is because response management scales to the degree that it provides a practical way for business leaders to control, govern, speed up, and enhance the way their organizations respond to every customer question. This creates a much simpler, more data-driven, and scalable basis for managing and monetizing the commercial content assets of an organization. “Managing complex, granular, and real-time content is first and foremost about clients,” according to Patrice Trichon, the CMO of 1919 Investment Counsel. “It really begins with how much information can we get about the client so that we can actually systematize our ongoing interaction with them. All of that information is essential to defining what type of content we want to deliver to those clients.”
This trend represents a significant opportunity for B2B organizations to generate the next level of growth from their revenue teams. Senior growth leaders that use Response Management as a “North Star” to re-configure their sales technology stacks will more fully realize the potential of technology to leverage revenue teams, grow margins, and differentiate the customer experience.
Evidence of this shift in thinking can be seen in the recent acquisition by RFPIO, the leader in Response Management Software, of RFP360 - which makes software that completes the RFP (request for proposal) cycle.
This acquisition makes common sense because the combined entity will evolve the way buyers request information and sellers respond to those requests. RFPIO helps sellers quickly and compliantly respond to RFPs, security questionnaires, and sales proposals in context. RFP360 takes the time and effort out of the process of buying complex solutions and services by helping buyers craft better RFPs. Buyers win. Sellers win. And the commercial process is more efficient.
But there’s a bigger story here. RFPIO is applying the experience it has gained making the proposal management process smarter to help B2B organizations accelerate top line growth by improving the quality, speed, compliance, and relevance of customer responses across every person and digital touch point that engages customers. This blend of capabilities creates all sorts of top line and bottom line benefits. It helps sellers drive revenues by improving the customer experience, increasing conversion, reducing latency in the sales cycle, and differentiating their offerings. It takes the time, risk, and effort out of the process of buying complex solutions and services. And it creates enormous efficiencies to both in terms of visibility, collaboration, selling costs, and the return on content investments.
“We founded RFPIO with two objectives in mind,” reports Ganesh Shankar, CEO of RFPIO, and a leading mind in the evolution to Response Management. “The first was to build a solution that supports revenue generation from RFP response. The second, and more ambitious goal, is to develop ways to leverage AI to build commercial intelligence that can transform buying and selling through Response Management.”
What is simple and profound about the approach RFPIO is taking is it breaks selling down to its core components – a series of questions and answers between buyers and sellers. This “virtual cycle” of requests and responses is inherently more scalable because it uses AI to identify the most important questions, find the best answers, and assemble the most contextual responses – quickly and compliantly.
This is financially important because it creates a far more scalable basis for organizing and prioritizing selling content, automating commercial interactions, and creating intelligence assets that can improve performance, differentiate the customer experience, and reduce risks to both buyers and sellers – according to Shankar, who co-founded RFPIO. “Our clients respond to day-to-day questions from a wide range of customer requests, ranging from RFPs, RFQs and RFIs to service questions, product questions, and regulatory and compliance questions,” continues Shankar. “Our perspective is the more questions you respond to, the more you learn, and the more intelligence you create to inform both selling and buying. It’s a virtuous cycle if you do it right.”
This concept moves far beyond the scope of the traditional sales enablement or RFP automation tool categories where analysts have RFPIO pigeonholed. The notion of response management is far bigger because it naturally extends to every customer facing employee in the business from sales to service, to marketing and technical support. For example, the company recently launched LookUp which gives customer facing employees the ability answer client questions from anywhere and Autograph which embeds e-signature capabilities right in the proposal creation application.
At Microsoft, thousands of users are using RFPIO’s platform to access compliant, compelling, and customer-focused information and content to support customer engagement. “A year and a half after implementing RFPIO, over 7,000 Microsoft users already have access to the platform,” according to Rhonda Nicholson, a Senior Business Program Manager of Microsoft. “In the 18 months since deployment, Microsoft users have pulled over 36,200 ready-to-go RFx responses from the managed RFPIO Answer Library.” With a conservative estimate of 20 minutes saved per response, Microsoft estimates $2.4M in savings.
Another big problem Response Management solves is taking the time, effort, and risk out of the process of buying complex solutions and services – while improving the customer experience. “Organizations that leverage AI in the response management and sales processes are freeing up time for sales teams to invest in more strategic ROI-driven work,” continues Ganesh Shankar. “Response management enables sales to respond to anything with confidence and eliminate the need to chase down others to get the deal done.”
Mitigating buyer risk in particular has become a big factor in B2B selling success because a customer’s confidence in their purchase decisions has emerged as the single biggest sales challenge today, according to Brent Adamson, Distinguished Vice President, Advisory at Gartner - who has led significant research on the B2B buying and selling process. “With more information, options, and people involved in a buying process, buyers are paralyzed when trying to move forward,” says Adamson. “Sales teams must affirm customers’ confidence in their decisions to drive account growth.” Gartner research with B2B buyers found that the strongest driver of account growth is the confidence customers have in their ability to make good buying decisions. Customer decision confidence drives 2.6 times the likelihood of a high-quality account growth purchase. The move to response management addresses this issue head on because one of the top factors underlying a B2B customers decision confidence include the ability to ask the right questions to make the right choices and anticipate change. Adamson’s most recent research reaffirms this point. “It’s not customers’ confidence in suppliers, but customers’ confidence in themselves and their ability to make good buying decisions that is in critically short supply,” writes Adamson.
Ultimately, this “question and answer intelligence hub” upon which Response Management is based represents a scalable platform to rationalize the upstream content supply chain and intelligently and quickly provision downstream customer engagement channels with selling content that actually answers customer questions. That will provide Chief Marketing Officers and the operations teams that support them a point of control over the quality, compliance, and consistency of response across the entire customer journey.