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The RFP problem - no trouble with Tribble

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher May 16, 2024
The thinking behind Tribble and how it helps Sales organizations not only scale the RFP process, but also support the entire Sales cycle.

(A Tribble )

One of the most painful processes for enterprise sales is the RFP process. Collecting all the information needed and creating a response can take days or even weeks. The process involves many people who provide the knowledge and expertise required to complete an RFP or an InfoSec, and information is often spread across many different systems. Step forward, Tribble. 

Tribble provides a streamlined approach to completing RFPs, and it's not another app; it's an AI agent. CEO Sunil Rao and his co-founder are ex-Salesforce executives. They founded Tribble to address the friction they saw in the go-to-market process while at Salesforce, he explains: 

I was a product GM, and prior to that, I ran an organization called Go To Market. A lot of the work that we did was twofold. One, it was building the right product for customers, but also really understanding how to correctly message and speak to customers, really understanding their business processes and the industries that they were in so that we were able to best create the right product for them but also make sure we're messaging correctly across all lenses. And there was a lot of inefficiency in that process, right? Because you had teams that didn't necessarily understand the industry that you were selling into very well. Teams that didn't understand the business process with those customers or the depth of product knowledge. All of this lends itself to a lot of inefficiency.

Rao argues that this is a common problem across many companies - a limited number of experts have the necessary knowledge and expertise. One area where these inefficiencies can be seen most clearly is during the RFP process. Tribble has narrowed in on this process and focused on two personas, the Solution Engineer (SE) and the Proposal Manager (PM), who share responsibility for preparing RFP responses and security questionnaires. These two personas are also often the go-to experts who support teams across the company with product and industry expertise, explains Rao: 

A lot of what we've built in Tribble is to look at those two roles and take off of their plate some of the workflows that they inherently would have to manage themselves. And that's really been the basis of the company and the products that we've launched, and we're really excited with this agent release because it takes an approach to software, which is very different than how things have been done in the past and my experience in the last 20 years. This agent-like experience really looks at it from the lens of how I have a digital teammate that helps me get this job done, as opposed to, 'Let me use this tool to make this process better'.

Mike Lazerow, co-founder and managing partner of Velvet Sea Ventures, has invested in Tribble and describes why the platform caught his attention thus:

Tribble is a company that hits home because of the amount of time I've spent on RFPs over my career. Like, I just can't get that time back. It's an ungodly amount of time basically doing the same thing over and over again. With little nuances to hopefully win the deal. And so I was like, Oh, if you could kind of at least automate the first draft of it and get us to a point that we've used all the learnings from what we've won and what we haven't won to create better responses. That's what I'm interested in.

Not another app to learn to use

You may think this is another app to add to the long list of apps you use daily. It's not. This is a true digital assistant that works alongside the systems you already use. From day one, one of the design principles was not to create another interface that people would have to log into separately to manage their workflow.

Instead, Tribble works as a Chrome extension and an agent within Slack and Microsoft Teams. So, if you're in a portal where the RFP questions are, you can port them into the Tribble Chrome extension, and Tribble will answer them. You could also get a spreadsheet or RFP via email, which you could send to Tribble in Slack and have it complete the information. Rao compares this to having a teammate to whom you hand off work, and then you get back a first draft.

Tribble integrates with backend systems where information is stored, including Google Drive, CRM, website, legacy RFP system, etc. That information is then connected with what Rao calls secondary information, such as Slack conversations. He explains: 

Conversation is happening between the engineering team, the product team, the marketing team, and the sales team. This is before content gets created by the PM team and before the content marketers ship it out. There's always that supply chain. So we tried to tap into that as well because a lot of our customers are moving so fast that their published content comes out later than when it's being discussed in channels and with customers. So our philosophy is how do we make that available to them earlier on as they're talking to their customers.

Finally, Tribble can also reach out to the wider Internet when it can't find the information it's looking for internally. All the information is combined into a knowledge graph dubbed the Tribble Brain.

As to how the problem of stale or outdated information is dealt with, users can set expiration dates for content. The tech also treats data coming from different sources differently and applies a decay to what is considered quality data (Think one-year-old Slack conversations).

One claimed benefit to using Tribble is that people can find outdated data faster when reviewing the answers Tribble generates to questions. They can then go into the sources and update the information.

This is an important point - Tribble completes the RFP responses based on the data it accesses, but a human still needs to review and approve, or update the information. If they feel they need help, there is a button to request assistance, and depending on the company's own processes, that request can go to an individual or a group Slack channel. When it's answered, it's fed back into Tribble automatically. The responses can also be edited directly within the Chrome extension or Slack, or you can download the content (e.g., Tribble can generate a completed spreadsheet or RFP response document) and fix it there.

Of course, generative AI is a driving force here. But for Lazerow, it's not about AI. He argues that no company automates the entire process; humans will always be involved in making the final decisions. But it does enable the scalability needed to compete today, he adds: 

It's about how do you get more productive, and productivity drives profit margins, and profit margins drive stock prices. So it's directly tied to the cost side of the P&L. This happens to be revenue as well because it's proposals.

Plus, think about the reporting you get from Tribble. You can see what proposals were accepted, what features might be missing that caused the deal to be lost, what content drives the most engagement, or what content you need more of.

One customer’s experience

Clari, an enterprise revenue platform, is an early adopter of Tribble and is running a proof of concept. Although Clari hasn’t yet completed any formal benchmarking to show how much Tribble has improved their RFP process, Chief Revenue Officer Ben Fiechtner was able to give me an idea of the impact of this new platform to date. He says the average cycle for an enterprise RFP was typically three to four days, involving various stakeholders from legal, InfoSec, solutions engineering, product, and even R&D. Now, with Tribble, they are turning RFPs over in a day.

Solution Engineers are the primary users of Tribble for the RFP process, but Fiechtner says this is only their first use case. He points out there is a lot of information spread across their many systemsThe autonomous AI agent can give everyone access to that information when they need it, whether they are new or have been with the company a long time, he suggests: 

How do we make everybody have that baseline knowledge and get really, really smarter to turn cycles faster, and hopefully win more deals and be able to get into the more fun part of the conversation of how do we help continue to solve our customer's problems?

Conversations about how to use Tribble in the future have included the idea of prepping for a sales call and doing customer research upfront, including technical components and technical product fit. But it's also about getting easy access to ongoing conversations that put answers into everyone's hands at all times. Fiechtner says: 

How do I make sure longtail pursuits or add-ons or renewals that are getting asked some of these technical questions, how do I use the agent to fulfill that gap and then put the human on the absolute seven, eight-figure deal to make sure that we're really really thinking everything through that way?

My take

A new way of working.

How many sales products and platforms are available today? Tribble could have created another one to add to the pile. Instead, it's taken a different approach, allowing sales teams to continue working with the tools they use daily. It's a much more innovative way to build tech today.

Lazerow reckons this is going to be a competitive space. Already he sees hundreds of pitches and proposals a week that are basically another app. But Tribble, from the beginning, bypassed apps in favor of AI agents. Agents that will get stronger over time as they are used, which leads to them getting used even more. Our reliance on traditional UIs will diminish over time, he arguee, and we’ll start to see more of these agents.

It's important to remember that agents like Tribble do only some of the work themselves. Human oversight is still required to complete final RPF or InfoSec responses. However, with much of the basic work done, SEs and proposal managers can focus on making the response the best for each customer. There's more opportunity to truly personalize the responses. And that's what companies want, after all, to be truly customer-centric.

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