For as much opportunity as they represent, they can be three dreaded letters:
While Requests for Proposal present potentially lucrative opportunities from large prospects and customers, they can also be daunting -- especially in terms of their technology requirements. For one, the technological terms, and the technology itself, can be hard to understand. Sales-minded professionals usually aren’t over-versed in technology systems architecture. Everyone knows a good buying experience when they encounter one. But fewer actually know the nuts and bolts of the technology, especially integration, that creates it.
And there’s a second, more important, difficulty when it comes to RFPs and their technology requirements. Even once the technology requirements of the RFP are understood, many companies don’t have the technology infrastructure, or the immediate access to the technology infrastructure, to meet those demands. The comparatively seamless buying experience that consumers experience in B2C environments requires integration between customer management, order management, operations, accounting, ecommerce and more. Often in B2B environments, those responsibilities are managed in separate systems that are not only not integrated but difficult to integrate. Even once the technology requirements are understood, meeting the requirements is either costly, time-consuming, or impossible.
And so when a potentially lucrative situation like a Request for Proposal comes along, RFP can can become three dreaded letters.
Technology advances in other industries, specifically in B2C industries – the "Amazon experience,” to use the common phrase – is rapidly evolving buyer expectations. This makes the B2B RFP conundrum more acute. When a person on the weekend buys a television from a B2C retailer and then comes into the office to do business purchasing, the in-office B2B experience feels clunky by comparison.
Automation is lacking as business technology systems, both in-house and from disparate other parties, are less likely to be integrated than they would in the B2C world. Since the systems don’t "talk” with one another, visibility is lacking for the buyer and seller alike. The manual data entry and re-entry from the lack of integration stymies the transaction process, lengthens turnaround times, and leaves both buyers and sellers manually seeking information that otherwise might be exchanged automatically and in real-time.
Technology evolves, expectations evolve, and therefore needs evolve. Yet many B2B companies are using the same static, dis-integrated software that they’ve used for five years or more, incapable of meeting the new expectations and needs. The result is that the business purchaser arrives to buy, experiences a halting transaction lifecycle, and is left wondering why it’s not like buying that TV on the weekend.
How do B2B companies, potentially with incompatible, dis-integrated back-office systems, meet the expectations of the rapidly advancing B2C experience? How do they meet the expectations of the large prospects and customers issuing RFPs?
There are two ways to meet the advancing expectations.
One is manually. Companies can hire more and more workers to enter and re-enter data, such as from purchase orders and online carts into sales orders; generate operations documents like pick lists and work orders; communicate common business information like inventory counts, order status, and shipment notifications to buyers; populate and update customer portals; generate and send purchase orders, product configurations, and payments to suppliers; perform accounting, job costing, payables, and receivables; and to have it all work seamlessly to create the transaction experience and turnarounds that consumers expect and that big customers and prospects are seeking in their RFPs (with no guarantee that the RFP issuer would even accept a manual solution for some or all of the parts).
Of course, that’s extremely time- and labor-intensive, as well as costly. If the manual efforts even were able to manage considerable order volumes, it’s doubtful that it would translate into an "Amazon-like” experience.
The other solution, which is the only real solution, is improved technology. Talk of the "Amazon-like” experience centers on the customer, namely how quickly they can receive an item without ever leaving their home. Fewer people talk about what makes that Amazaon customer experience possible, which is technology, namely integration. Integration that allows systems to communicate with one another, and people, automatically and instantaneously is why Amazon can receive an order, process it, pick, pack, and ship it, and have it arrive before some companies can even open an email. Amazon has the order moving on a warehouse floor before some companies even know they received an order. It’s hard to get an item to a door in hours if every part of the process requires manual intervention and labor.
Which brings us back to the three dreaded letters: RFP.
The issuer wants an Amazon-like experience. That requires technology. And not only are the technology requirements hard to understand, but most companies don’t have the technology infrastructure, nor the ability to build it. There’s nothing like being presented a big opportunity only to discover it’s almost impossible to understand and implement. Hence the dread.
Some companies will stop at this point. But this is not the place to stop. The opportunity actually is in reach. It just takes a technology partner who understands the technology requirements and how to implement them. Companies in the business of selling certain products can’t necessarily be expected to master the technology as well, or to have an advanced technology team in house. The technology partner handles the technological RFP requirements for you.
So you can lose the dread and win the opportunity.
Find news, webinars, technology, trends, and more in the Essent Connect email newsletter.
Essent is the leading provider of fully-integrated business management software solutions and services for process-intensive industries and the largest trading network for the promotional products industry. The Essent family of fully-integrated products and services combines best practices, business processes, software automation, and network communications to deliver unparalleled, unified business management solutions. Since 1980, Essent has offered the systems, service, software, and support critical to success in today's highly-competitive marketplace.