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Success Story: Ellucian Achieves High Marks with Qvidian

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When responding to a request for proposal (RFP), many proposal teams spend countless hours sifting through old documents in a number of files to identify and extract relevant content. Qvidian customer Ellucian, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) company with a mission to enhance productivity and communication for clients in the higher education space, faced this problem, finding that its internal RFP workflows were not as productive, communicative and efficient as they could have been.

Proposal teams and thought leaders throughout the organization wasted many hours searching through file names and keywords to address and answer each question in an RFP, making it difficult to meet deadlines and deliver the final document within a reasonable time period. Not surprisingly, Qvidian’s latest customer survey revealed that 45 percent of respondents’ report receiving RFP content on time as their biggest pain point. Also, with a client base of more than 2,400 institutions across 40 countries, Ellucian needed a system that could organize, manage and automate its content via one central solution so it could be sure that the content used in the final document was the most recent – a major concern for proposal teams. In fact, Qvidian’s customer survey revealed that 55 percent of respondents find that their content libraries are only “somewhat” in sync with the changes within the business and product lineups.

With these roadblocks top of mind, Ellucian decided it was in the company’s best interest to implement Qvidian’s proposal automation capabilities. Upon using the platform, Ellucian users immediately understood how beneficial this technology could be for their workflows. Time spent researching file names, formatting and updating responses and correcting human errors in formatting were virtually cut in half – and proposals that were once perfunctory and basic evolved into personalized, well-written documents that displayed Ellucian’s above average capabilities and assets. As a result, what began as a small group of five RFP users in the Ellucian network soon grew to more than 250 licenses to use the platform across the organization in multiple locations.

The time Ellucian employees gained back from streamlining their RFP process was then redirected to other strategic initiatives throughout their organization so they could better serve both their employees and customers. Ellucian’s experience with Qvidian’s proposal automation solution is a prime example of what matters most in the RFP and proposal industry—having the time and resources to develop persuasive content that wins deals.

For more details on Ellucian’s experience with Qvidian and to get a better understanding of Qvidian’s extensive RFP/proposal automation platform, watch the video below.

GUEST POST: The 7 Attributes of the Proposal Athlete

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I believe in the power of stories to persuade and influence but writing these stories is just one part of being a Bid Manager. It’s the most challenging, differentiating and fun part in my opinion but Bid Managers need to have a blend qualities like well-rounded athletes and we share many of the same sorts of attributes. Whether marathon runners or sprinters, shot putters or high jumpers, athletes must have the right blend of seven key attributes for their sport: strength, speed, power, agility, flexibility, stability and endurance. In the bid and proposal world, we have our own versions of these attributes for the proposal athlete and our own focused training programmes to develop them.

Strength

In most sports, strength is the fundamental attribute that forms the platform for all other athletic qualities, especially power and speed, but it also reduces fatigue and helps prevent injury. The Proposal Athlete needs to build a strong foundation of knowledge, skills and repeatable processes on which the other attributes will depend. The APMP and its industry-recognised accreditation programme provides the resources, best practices and professional recognition to build, maintain and continuously develop our proposal strength so that we can bid more effectively, more efficiently and with less stress

Speed

The ability to move quickly in all directions is a key element of a lot of sports. Speed is particularly crucial to the Proposal Athlete both because of our obligation to meet a client’s deadline as well as internally-driven milestones and approval gates. The key to improving speed in bids and proposals is honing our ability to plan well, plan early and plan quickly. The shorter your deadlines the more important it is to invest in your bid management process, tools and templates.

Power

Power is a direct function of strength but whereas strength relates to the maximum force, power determines how quickly that force can be generated. 100m sprinters have incredible strength but it is their focus on power that provides that explosive acceleration out of the blocks. The Power to rapidly ramp up bid activity is vital for the Proposal Athlete who is too often engaged after the RFP is issued. To help you hit peak performance, a well-maintained knowledge management system is crucial to maximise your available power, help you get a fast start and apply your skills to maximum effect so you can keep driving through to the finish.

Agility

Closely related to Power, Agility is commonly viewed as the ability to quickly stop, start and change direction. When things change, we must react to quickly and efficiently switch direction and set off down a new path with the minimum loss of energy. I’m a big fan of contingency planning to build bid agility (even my contingency plans have contingency plans!) because it means we can anticipate, pre-empt, and safely negotiate any unexpected twists and turns. Contingency plans mean that, when the unexpected happens, we already know exactly what to do, what we need to do it with and what impact (if any) it will have on our final results.

Flexibility

For an athlete, Flexibility provides a greater range of movement, opens up more options for your game and protects against some types of injuries. The Proposal Athlete applies industry best practices, schedules rigorous plans and always has ideas for contingency but also knows that change is inevitable. Processes, procedures and templates must always allow the flexibility to dynamically stretch, bend, and recover.

Stability

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then you’ll be a Bid Manager! When the pressure is on, the deadline is looming and people start to panic, it is the Proposal Athlete who remains calm, focused and in control. We know that all our careful planning, contingency management and risk mitigation provides the stable base that will see us across the finish line

Endurance

I have left Endurance last because many people equate sports endurance to “fitness”. Fitness for sport really means working on all seven attributes as these combine to help you play harder, run further and perform longer. The same is true for the Proposal Athlete but, for Endurance in bidding, I will add three tips to help prevent fatigue:

  1. Invest time and effort in improving tools, processes and your own skills because if you don’t Sharpen the Saw you will waste energy on a blunt blade.
  2. Actively seek variety in your work because a bored Proposal Manager produces boring proposals. Find an exciting new project or implement innovative ideas – a change is as good as a rest.
  3. Work hard, rest harder! Give yourself time to recover your energy, relax your mind and body, replenish yourself with some healthy nutrition and treat yourself to some quality sleep.

Darrell Woodward believes in telling powerful stories that explain how to solve business problems. He is inspired to engage audiences by combining persuasive structure, elegant writing and professional methodology. As an APMP certified Bid Manager, he leads multi-functional teams to develop compelling proposals and bids that are client focused and persuasively written.

GUEST POST: Pitmaster & Proposal Admin Finds Inspiration from Qvidian Community

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I’m the pitmaster of a competitive BBQ team named “The BBQ-tioners”. The competition is fierce, so we’re always looking for that extra edge. Sometimes you need a fresh perspective to generate or inspire new ideas. That’s why I frequently post questions to BBQ forums to get suggestions and feedback on our strategy. These forums, in essence, are similar to the Qvidian Customer Community. The Qvidian Customer Community is just one of several ways Qvidian strives to give its customers that extra edge in the proposal world. They provide plenty of on-site and online trainings, open weekly Question and Answer sessions and a rockin’ customer conference each year. What they’ve discovered is that Qvidian customers approach similar problems in very different ways, and often times, their differing perspectives result in short-cuts, insight and true inspiration.

Fresh Perspectives

This is an example of dynamic feedback and there’s hard evidence it helps uncover improvements in techniques and processes. An excerpt on the matter from someone much smarter than I:

“Scientists are frequently most productive a few years after they have crossed over from one specialty to another. New ideas in science frequently emerge, not from paradigm shifts at the heart of the discipline, but when scientists run out of interesting research questions—and new ideas emerge in the conflict of perspective, the clash of disciplines, the murky waters at the edge of a science, the technology that doesn’t quite work, on the boundaries of old knowledge.” (Leonard-Barton, Dorothy 1996 Wellsprings of Knowledge. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.)

Well said, but what the heck does that mean? Gaining a fresh perspective helps create innovative solutions. Which is, in my humble opinion, the most valuable feature of the Qvidian Customer Community.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning” – Albert Einstein

As a knowledge manager, I support the content requirements of our proposal writers. I realized the need to improve how we retain new request for proposal (RFP) questions and answers (Q&As) that have been deemed reusable. Using the Qvidian Customer Community’s forum, I posted this issue and within a few days I had many suggestions from other experienced Qvidian administrators.

I have over 5 years of experience with Qvidian. I would consider myself a seasoned administrator yet I’m continually surprised by the suggestions and creative ways others are using Qvidian. The Community has helped me refine our reporting, manage our permissions, and leverage metadata enabling me to access even more of the functionality inside Qvidian. I’m frequently amazed by the number of ways in which other Community users apply features familiar to me.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Community has more to offer than just the user forum. There’s a wealth of searchable information including quick reference guides, training videos, and helpful articles.

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned Qvidian user, anytime you encounter an issue, need input, or just flat out don’t know where to turn next – use the Community. It will open doors you didn’t know existed and enable you to see new solutions in something familiar.

Jim Cunningham has been working with Qvidian for over five years and currently holds the position of Knowledge Manager at Fifth Third Bank. He presented “Nine Neat Tips for Novice Admins” at Connect 2016.

The Science to Managing Content and Creating Winning Proposals

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In my previous blog article, I discussed ways that the best content and proposal writers use an artistic approach to developing content. In other words, they apply a more creative mindset to develop content that doesn’t sound like everyone else. And that’s a good thing.

Yet at the same time, there is – and should be – a scientific method to managing content and building proposals. Think of this as the part of the equation where proposal teams can automate manual processes, improve collaboration between key stakeholders, and create great proposals faster and much more efficiently than ever before.

It’s a real opportunity. On average, Qvidian customers create sales presentations 40% faster and increase their win rate by 28% … and you can, too.

This blog examines the role the right proposal technology can play in the “scientific” part of the process and takes a closer look at the benefits of RFP technology.

Improve Accessibility

According to our 2015 Content Automation Trends Report, 83% of salespeople reported that they had a hard time finding content. This challenge is bigger than just creating frustrated salespeople, especially when you consider that when they can’t find what they need, they may rely on outdated content.

To solve this challenge, use RFP technology that offers functionality to serve up the most appropriate content resources for each selling situation. RFP solutions can also provide search capabilities that help salespeople and proposal writers quickly find exactly what they are looking for.

Personalize Content

Personalized content is an extremely effective way to stand apart from competitors’ proposals and effectively demonstrate that your organization really understands the prospect’s challenges. RFP technology delivers powerful personalization functionality that uses existing data from your CRM system to customize content in real time.

Collaborate with Subject Matter Experts

Content doesn’t update itself, so it is critical to improve collaboration between subject matter experts and content owners. Users can take advantage of technology to assign content, request updates, and track assignments or expired with ease.

Tracking and Analytics

Speaking of tracking, RFP technology also helps proposal teams take advantage of powerful content analytics so they can track the popularity, usage, and effectiveness of content. This is clearly the most obvious example of the scientific approach being the opposite of art. This removes all subjectivity and individual opinions and attempts to help users make the most effective decisions possible.

Bring this scientific philosophy to your writing, and you’ll be vastly improving the ways that your company reaches out to prospective customers. By using the right technology to help manage content, your organization can see results where they matter most: topline revenue growth and a stronger bottom-line.

To learn more about applying art and science to your proposal efforts, please download our new guide, The Art and Science of Developing and Managing Sales Content, today.

When it Comes to Proposals, Dare to be (a Little) Different

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Let’s face it. When it comes to creative materials – writing and design – everyone has their own interests and tastes. You might not like what I like, and I may not gravitate to what you’re interested in. By their very nature, creative materials are subjective.

The same principle applies to the art of creating sales materials. Yet with the exception of technical, scientific, or factual information, there is the potential to use a creative approach to generating sales content and proposals. Many people may make the mistake that this is an artistic approach, and one that they could never do well. Yet they fail to realize there are certain best practices that they can learn – and that these strategies will make their content better.

Take the First Step

Clearly, sales content and proposal content falls into the larger category of business writing, which means it can’t be overly edgy, controversial, or humorous. Yet just because this kind of writing is being used to communicate in a business world, it doesn’t mean that it has to be bland.

Consider an example from the world of fine arts. Just about anyone could draw a series of neat black squares, yet an artist like Mondrian transformed such a simple subject matter into high art by adding color, seemingly random patterns, and other approaches. This example is perfect for sales proposals. By adding just a small touch of creativity, your proposal will stand apart from the competition and will be more likely to move to the next phase.

Dare to be Different

Yet this is just the start. If you stop here, you run the risk of being too formulaic or sending the message that your sales process is on autopilot. You have to keep pushing the “content as art” angle to demonstrate that there is real thought and effort going into your sales proposals. Like an artist who throws paint at a canvas to see what it could look like, some of the best content developers and proposal writers are willing to throw out the rulebook and go with something different. It could be going a surprising concept or theme that engages the reader’s attention, a great headline, or even a story that weaves its way through the proposal.

Clearly, the writing needs to be persuasive, which means it needs to be tailored to the people who are reading it. You don’t want it to seem like the proposal was written for anyone in the industry, so it needs to seem customized and targeted toward your particular audience. It has to make the right points, and it helps to make them in a creative way.

For example, you can lead with “please buy our products,” or you could tell a compelling story that establishes the need for that product, describes the perceived benefits it can deliver, and highlights the pros and cons that come from acting or failing to act. You can also be more creative with quotes, analogies, anecdotes, and all of those things that “timid” writers may shy away from, thinking they’re too far from the status quo. But what they fail to realize is that the status quo isn’t good enough.

Dressing Up Proposals

Another step in the creative process is to experiment with style. Just because you have function within the writing doesn’t mean you have to neglect style. This starts with fonts and font sizes, but there’ also the benefit of adding images and rich media that dig into what the writer’s trying to say, and that complement that creativity.

So yes, there is an art to writing proposals. Maybe you don’t want to go as far as flinging color onto the canvas. Maybe you want it to be more concrete. But instead of just adding black squares like our example, above, adding creative is your chance to add character, dimension, and passion. And your readers will respond.

To be clear, we’re not recommending creativity for creativity’s sake, but something that works to differentiate yourself and your organization.

To learn more – or pick up a tip or two – please download our new guide, The Art and Science of Developing and Managing Sales Content.

Hope is Not a Strategy

While the rest of the world was drinking green beer and looking for leprechauns on March 17th, I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar titled, “Hope is Not a Strategy: Proposal Secrets from the Field.” While I host many webinars for Qvidian, this was one of my favorites as it provided a forum for some very successful customers as well as expert Qvidian staff to share their tips and tricks for people to improve their proposal management operations at their own companies. Our panel included:

  • Darrell Woodward, Proposal Manager & Lead Architect, Verizon Enterprise Solutions
  • Blake Stillman, Manager, Strategic Proposals, O.C. Tanner
  • Steve Snow, Manager, Content Services, Qvidian

The practical advice given by these experts provided key takeaways for attendees to implement right away for quick results. Each of the recommendations fell into one of the three major areas key for successful proposal management: Strategy, Process, and Content. Here are a few of the highlights, but be sure to check out the full recording to hear details on each.

  • “Plan early, and plan for when the plan changes.”
  • “Write proactive proposals whenever possible.”
  • “Always expand your network.”

One of my favorites – “Don’t let perfect get in the way of much better.” Starting with just incremental improvements sets you up for future success. Be sure to contact us for a brief proposal audit to learn areas where you can see an impact quickly!

Hope is not a Strategy: Proposal Secrets from the Field. Our panelists shared some of their tips, tricks, and lessons learned from looking deeper at their proposal process. Click here to watch our On-demand webinar

10 Things Proposal Evaluators Hate About You

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For many, the 14th of February marks a day of love, whether that’s with a relationship (cue the chocolates and flowers) or enjoying your singlehood with a fun night out and the sweet taste of freedom. Whatever your cause for celebrating, there’s likely to have been bumps along the way.

Sometimes when we get so involved in something, whether it’s a relationship, home renovation, or project at work, we may even start to hate it. But what about when you’ve worked so hard and so long at something but you get no love in return? As proposal and content professionals, this happens all too often. You spend hours, days, maybe even weeks pouring your heart and soul into a proposal that doesn’t win. So then what? You are left defeated and over-worked; it’s not a fun or rewarding feeling.

So what gives? How could this possibly happen? Well, there are a few common things that can occur in a proposal, despite best efforts to prevent. With so much going on – tight deadlines, even tighter resources, competing priorities – these things are not uncommon.

This leads me to the heart of the matter (see what I did there?) and this blog post: 10 Things Proposal Evaluators Hate About You.

  1. You don’t demonstrate understanding of their needs
  2. You don’t clearly identify your differentiators
  3. You present a vague solution
  4. You provide minimal answers
  5. Your content is irrelevant
  6. You fail to answer their questions
  7. You bid on an opportunity that wasn’t qualified to begin with
  8. You didn’t check it over for credibility killers – poor spelling, typos, etc.
  9. You don’t provide a compelling (and relevant) value proposition
  10. You make it tough to understand and use – big (superfluous) words, unclear statements, poor formatting, etc.

Inspired by one of my favorite movies from my high school days, this campy film revealed how despite attempts to despise each other, the main characters fall in love. The evaluators reading your proposal – your blood, sweat and tears put into prose – don’t mean to hate, but if you do everything you can to help them get what they need from your proposal it could be love at first sight. If you need a jump start – check out our 7 Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing guide.

Now just imagine what you can accomplish when you actually like what you do and don’t put in effort trying your best to be miserable?

4 things you need to know for creating a winning proposal

What goes into a winning proposal? Or, put differently, what do buyers really want?

In today’s ever competitive selling landscape, marketing and sales need to write more (and better!) proposals than ever before. As industries become more complex, customers have become both more confused and more demanding. As a result, they are likely to listen to a presentation, nod their heads, and utter those familiar words, “Sounds good! Why don’t you put that in writing for me?…

While every proposal is different, there are specific techniques you can incorporate to ensure that your materials are on point, selling effectively to each unique buyer.

Your proposals must be more than a compilation of data, tables and boilerplate text. They need to focus on the prioritized business issues the client cares about, the key strengths you bring to the business relationship, and the value-added benefits of selecting your company.

Here are 4 categories of content that winning proposals must contain:

  1. Prove you understand the client’s business problem or need. People view major buying decisions with anxiety. Reduce anxiety and minimize any perception of risk by demonstrating that you understand their problems, issues, needs, opportunities, objectives, or values. Whatever is driving the client’s interest, show that you understand it and have based your solution on it.
  2. A recommendation for a specific approach, program, system design, or application that will solve the problem and produce positive results. Surprisingly, most proposals contain no recommendation at all, and instead contain descriptions of products or services. A recommendation explicitly links the features of a product or service to the client’s needs and show how the client will obtain positive results.
  3. A compelling reason for the client to choose your recommendation over any others. This is your value proposition. Remember that you may write a proposal that is completely compliant with the customer’s requirements, that recommends the right solution, that even offers the lowest price, and still lose. Why? Because a competitor made a stronger case that their approach offered something that happened to matter more to the customer. NOTE: Most proposals don’t contain any value proposition at all. They contain pricing but no estimation of the rate of return the client will get from choosing you. Failing to address the client’s needs and failing to present a compelling value proposition are the most serious mistakes you can make in writing a proposal.
  4. Evidence of your ability to deliver on time and on budget. You want to show the substantiating evidence that answers the question: “Can they really do this?” Good evidence includes case studies, references, testimonials, and resumes of key personnel. Avoid throwing in everything -stay focused on the areas the customer cares about.

Every scrap of data and carefully chosen phrase must contain proof you understand their needs, unique recommendations, your unique value proposition, and evidence you can deliver on time and within budget. You’re now equipped with the key ingredients of a winning proposal.

Hungry for more? Download our guide to creating winning proposals.