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Bringing Certainty to Our Volatile World

By Sally Jacques, CP APMP


Sally Jacques, CP APMP, who works mainly on commercial proposals at Standard Bank South Africa, ref lects on her experience of how RFPs are becoming more complex as clients demand certainty. She share s her five tips to ensure our proposals do just that.

From every angle, we’re being thrown into a world where everything is changing: politics, economics, pre- dicting the future, even raising our children. It’s a VUCA world. When faced with this amount of change, it’s natural to seek certainty and under- standing. We want to know that if we do something now, it will have sure consequence for the future— despite history repeatedly disproving this theory!

In the world of proposals, we’re seeing RFPs becoming more complex as our clients demand certainty.


For organizations who understand their complexity—be it from a changing environment, mergers, or new regulations—the result is a highly complex RFP. Sometimes these RFPs seek simplicity for complex issues: for example, asking for the same service across a number of countries in a single RFP. I work in the world of banking in Africa, where 14 countries mean 14 banking regulations, 14 currencies, and 14 market conditions.

Along with the complexity come detailed questions. No longer do our clients ask if our banking systems can connect to their accounting systems. Now, they want to know exactly how that happens, when it happens, and what we will do if something goes wrong.

Not only are our clients asking detailed questions, they want proof that we can do what we say we can do. It is not enough that we have a valid banking license. Documentary proof that we participate in certain industry forums is demanded. The audit report we publish as a company listed on the stock exchange is not enough. Audit reports are required for specific products and processes.


So, what is our response? Being blinded by the VUCA headlights is not the answer. Here are my five tips:

  1. Offer certainty. Look for ways you can give your clients certainty, such as fixing pricing over a three-year period when you usually give annual price increases. If you can’t do this, then at least offer the illusion of certainty, with a clearly set out compliance matrix and a well-organized proposal.
  2. Reduce ambiguity. Answer questions succinctly and don’t + APMP .org 17 give your client too many choices. Sometimes offering a couple of options makes sense, but recommend one of them. Give evidence that you can do what you say you can do. Include case studies and graphs to illustrate your solution. Distinguish between simplicity and complexity. A client may want a solution that is simple for end users, but you have to demonstrate you can deal with the complexity of installing the back end. A complex solution written in clear and simple language will more likely be understood.
  3. Engage— with both your clients and your internal stakeholders. If you haven’t built a relationship with your client before the RFP is issued, you are probably out of the running. After all, in this VUCA world, do you want to deal with an unknown entity? Your internal subject matter experts have to know that their vague answers of yesteryear won’t cut it. Customization of each answer is even more important today.
  4. Be flexible— and constantly review your processes and approaches. The solution that worked brilliantly for one cli- ent may not work for another, even if those clients are in the same industry.
  5. Be brave— and challenge what you are given. There remains room to challenge your clients on demands for unreasonable certainty that could put your business at risk. And be brave on who you bring into your team. It is not the time to reject new graduates just because they don’t have the experience you are looking for. Hire on their ability to navigate a VUCA world.

Sally Jacques, CP APMP, is head of information management, investor services for Standard Bank South Africa. She can be reached at +27-011-721-6206 or

APMP Journal Volume V Issue 2

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