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Skip the “pick and plunk” – use storyboards to plan your solution sell

Skip the “pick and plunk” – use storyboards to plan your solution sell
Jolie Newman
  • On December 3, 2010

When responding to RFPs, service providers all too often fail to devote optimal thought-time to the presentation of a solution that fully addresses each prospect’s unique situation. Instead, they resort to the unfruitful “pick and plunk” method, pulling content from past documents and pasting it with minor modifications into the corresponding area in the current bid document. But by starting earlier, and with pre-planning focused on what is important to each individual prospect, this sub-par scramble can be avoided.

One of the most successful techniques outsourcing service providers employ when planning how to respond to an RFP is the use of storyboards. The term storyboards hales from the movie business where they are used to track shots for a scene. Each scene is broken down into a sequence of actions. Each action is captured on an individual sheet, or storyboard, which allows the director to see what resources each shot will require for going to the set.

In the outsourcing industry, storyboards are a neat, clean method that helps ensure service providers consistently focus on the prospect’s specific needs, issues and pain-points, map their strengths and capabilities to these variables, address gaps they may have, and eliminate inclusion of unfocused or irrelevant information in each individual RFP response. Armed with a storyboard before any writing begins, each contributor has a clear, consistent roadmap for what must be woven into and addressed in the response.

While there are a variety of storyboard formats in use today, the most effective I’ve seen is also the simplest, as in the example below.


Using storyboards to plan your response

In most cases, it’s relatively easy to determine the prospect’s needs, issues and pain points from the RFP document itself. If you need clarity or additional insights, you can usually obtain them from a key contact within the prospect’s organisation, or from the sourcing advisory firm the buyer has engaged for assistance (if an advisor is involved in the deal.) Once you’re clear on these points, populate the storyboard with them.

Next, identify your corresponding selling points and include them in the storyboard so you can incorporate them into all appropriate areas in the response document. So for example, per the above sample, with a need to standardise F&A processes across ten countries in the U.S., Europe and Asia, you’ll want to emphasize throughout the response document that your proposed delivery location is your F&A Centre of Excellence, and that your associates have experience in all the in-scope geographies and processes. To address the pain point of this being the prospect’s first-ever outsourcing engagement, highlight that your robust change management program has enabled smooth and successful first-timers’ transitions, and provide relevant examples.

Gaps? While uncomfortable, you simply cannot ignore them. Gaps are surmountable in many cases, and addressing them head-on is a must for starting a potential relationship out on the right foot – of course, it’s always an unknown whether or not the prospect will accept your proposed gap-closing solution. If one gap is that you’ve never taken on such a large engagement, make it abundantly clear that every level within your organisation, all the way up to the CEO, is fully committed to, and will be directly involved in, the success of the initiative. (A brilliant way of handling this exact situation was when then-Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina told Procter & Gamble executives during a 2003 run-off between itself, EDS and IBM – albeit in a face-to-face meeting, rather than in a written response – “If you select HP, we will be your Wal-Mart.” With Wal-Mart being P&G’s largest customer and P&G Wal-Mart’s biggest vendor, neither could succeed without the other. Her strong message was that HP intended to deliver. And yes, HP won the engagement.) And if you have a gap, per the above example, in specific country governmental regulations, present that you will partner with an organisation with expertise in that area, or another creative solution.

Want to increase your chances of being down-selected? Use strong techniques such as storyboards to carefully plan your RFP response before putting pen to paper.

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