Categories
Bid content

File or Flight?

How do you handle filing the bid-specific but onwardly useful information? We’re not talking about the content here, but case studies, CVs/bios, and pricing examples that you might not use every time, but provide key information next time you have a bid in the same sector.

Are you the “save everything down” team, or the “tender database” team? Having worked in both team types, there are positives for both approach.

Some firms saved the full bid after submission, in SharePoint or other online repositories. We could search basics, such as the sector, business lead, and work area (as long as they’d originally been saved correctly of course!), but could not ‘search inside’ the tenders to know if they included specific peoples’ bios, or specific case studies when you were looking for something in particular. Unless you’d worked on the tender, you were going in blind. You might be searching through tens of tenders to find the one bio you need, or relying on others in the teams to give you pointers on where to look for certain information. On the flip side, the positives were that when you opened the tenders to search for information, you might find something else that you wanted to use, or spark another idea.

In contrast, at a different organisation, we saved down all the case studies and bios in dedicated folders following every bid. The case studies were saved with the client name, sector and other tag words in the file name. Short and long versions were saved into the same file, so you always had an option depending on word limits etc. Bios were saved firstly in office location folders, then alphabetically by team member, and again with the client name, sector and date in the file name. Yes, it meant we sometimes had 50 bios for one person, but they were all slightly different – vital when you are searching for specific industry experience. With pricing, we had example fee menus saved for the various work areas which – although they were always tailored to the client and the project – gave us a starting point, rather than a blank page or hunting through hundreds of tenders to find examples.

This approach meant that the next time we had a property bid for a technology client, for example, we could quickly identify the latest, most relevant, bios for the required team members, the most relevant case studies, and ideas for pricing. All saving time in drafting and input from SMEs.

While you innately build up a knowledge base in your head over time, and will know where information is stored, new starters or those in linked teams do not have that knowledge

Whichever direction your team takes, the most important factor is to properly share how your system works/should be used, and to give training to any new starters or other teams on where to find information. As with most tools, they only work if we know how to use them. And while you innately build up a knowledge base in your head over time, and will know where information is stored, new starters or those in linked teams do not have that knowledge. Share the love!

Categories
Bid content

Apostrophe Rage, or: How I learned to love the Oxford comma

Who else gets apostrophe rage? Or there/their/they’re, your/you’re, or should of/should have rage?

For writers, grammar rage can be a very real thing. There was even a TV series in the early noughties which referenced it – The Kill Point*, starring Donnie Wahlberg (yes, NKOTB Donnie Wahlberg) and John Leguizamo. Stay with me. Wahlberg plays a police negotiator – Captain Horst Cali – brought in when a bank heist goes wrong. The police and SWAT teams use a local café as command central, and several times, Cali asks one of the officers to get him a spray can. A few episodes in, Cali asks to speak to the owner; he wants to know if he is Marco. He is. Then he asks whether he runs the café alone, or with other men, also called Marco. He runs it alone. You see, the café sign said “Marcos’ Restaurant”. Cali goes outside, spray can in hand, sprays over the incorrect end apostrophe and resprays it to say “Marco’s Restaurant”. It obviously struck a chord as, 13 years on, this is still one of the main plot points I remember!

At our first introduction to Cali, he criticises his SWAT team leader for having once started a sentence with ‘but’ – saying, “in this job, one misplaced word can cost lives”. While a misplaced apostrophe, other punctuation mark, or misspelled word might not cost lives in the bid industry (if it does, you are working for the wrong organisation!) it could legitimately mean the difference between a win and a loss. For an evaluator or the client, it can affect readability or suggest a lack of attention to detail, undermining your professionalism and ‘expert’ authority.

Grammarly will check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure – and even plagiarism

Learning difficulties and disabilities are, of course, a daily issue for many people and I’m not looking to undermine or underestimate that in any way. If you, or your other contributors, struggle with grammar and punctuation (or if you’re just looking to make sure on your writing), there are some great tools available to support you. Grammarly is probably the most well-known, and is available as a free add-in to word processing, email, CRM and social media packages, or as a quick online check. While word processing packages may pick up some issues, Grammarly will check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure – and even plagiarism, which could be useful in our industry.

But apostrophes aside (yes, I start sentences with ‘but’, Captain Cali would not be happy with me…) what about the other common punctuation marks – the dashes, colons, semi-colons, and (eek) Oxford commas. Are you sure you’re using them in the correct way?

  • Dashes: While there are three types of dash, the most common are the en dash and em dash. The en dash separates number/time ranges (e.g., pages 11-12, 13:00-14:00), and the em dash replaces other punctuation such as commas or parentheses, denoting a pause or highlighting emphasis. I recently came across a piece of writing of four lines across a normal desktop screen. It was one continuous sentence, containing eight em dashes**. I almost had to go and lie down in all honesty.
  • Colons: Colons introduce information or a series of points. They can pre-empt a list, a quote, or point to further clarification. For example, our key differentiators are: speed of response, quality of advice, and global coverage.
  • Semi-colons: The easiest way to think of the semi-colon is that it links separate, but closely-connected thoughts – too closely-linked to be separated by a full stop. For example, “I watched the sunrise; it was beautiful”. You can also use the semi-colon in a sentence list, e.g., Paris; Berlin; London; Rome, or as bullet point separators.
  • And my personal favourite, the Oxford comma: When you list items in a sentence, each should be separated by a comma. When you have three or more items, whether you place a comma before the penultimate word (and before the ‘and’ or ‘or’) seems to be a point of some debate amongst writers! There is no right or wrong, rather it is a personal or stylistic choice – but it should be consistent throughout your document. Personally, I love an Oxford comma! I think it gives a hint to the reader they’re coming to the end of a writer’s thought.

You may have an in-house style guide, which sets out naming conventions, abbreviations, whether you use commas or full stops in bullet point lists, or UK or US English for example. If you don’t already have a style guide, think about creating one; they are really useful in ensuring all contributors write in the same style, saving you time at review.

And, be like Captain Cali. Have the spray can – red pen, huge marker, or delete key – ready.

*Currently streaming on Amazon Prime for those wanting to get their NKOTB/grammar-loving vibes on.

**I ran the “sentence” through Grammarly’s online checker; it highlighted seven different issues across grammar, punctuation misuse, sentence structure and style.

Categories
Bid content

The Redundant That

Word counts (and/or page counts) can be a nightmare when finalising a submission.

How often is SME content double the length you asked for? Is your red pen out, hyphenating/slashing everything you can, crossing out to achieve the magic number? Then the £64,000 question: does it still make sense? Is it still persuasive? Is your key messaging included? If compliant, you can use diagrams to replace words. Although appealing to visual evaluators, this may not help where you are page, not word-limited…

Not only does The Great Word Cut ensure you meet word count, it is best practice. The APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) publishes a plain language checklist – including “omit excess words”.

Did you know many commonly used words/phrases are superfluous? The most famous day-to-day example is, as Johnny Rose points out above, PIN number.

The BOK fixing redundant pairs tool shows the common culprits and best practice counterparts. My ‘favourite’ (i.e. biggest bugbear) are:

  • In order to / To
  • Due to the fact that / Because
  • For the purpose of / For
  • In a timely manner / On time
  • In many cases / Often
  • End result / Result
  • On a daily/weekly basis / Daily/Weekly

In addition, there are singular big winners – the redundant “that” and “had”. Consider the sentences below:

The team worked on a project that saved £50m / The team worked on a project saving £50m.

The team had worked on a project saving £50m / The team worked on a project saving £50m.

All options mean the same, right? “That” and “had” are the most redundant words used. 

You can support your SMEs to write more concisely. But the golden rule for final review is be ruthless. Delete what doesn’t add value. And delete the redundant that!

Footnote: this blog was drafted using the concise approach – undoubtedly, you’ll spot remaining redundant words!

Categories
Bid content

Setting up and managing an effective content library

An effective content library is one of the most important tools at your disposal as a Bid professional. It should be your go-to databank of information for not only completing a bid, but also for the storage of evidence and proof points.

A populated content library supports an organisation’s knowledge management processes of “creating, classifying, sharing, and improving what we know about what we do”. As with any software or tool, the content library is only as good as the information within it; and whether you use a defined tool to manage your library, or simply a network folder structure, you should have a defined process in place to regularly review, update/improve and remove content.

The proper structure, filing and coding of your content is the first, and most important, task so that it is easy to find by anyone needing to use the library, or by intelligent bid population software if you use that.

A good general approach is to split content by people, process and technology/tools/systems, with a separate repository for supporting or supplementary information such as case studies, CVs, certificates and policies

How you structure your content library really is dependent on your organisation, and your products, services and workstreams. But a good general approach is to split content by people, process and technology/tools/systems, with a separate repository for supporting or supplementary information such as case studies, CVs, certificates and policies. Each folder can then be split by topic areas. Examples of this approach in Windows Explorer are shown in the figures below:

Figure 1: Layout of Supporting Information folder in content library
Figure 2: Layout of People – Training folder in content library

As shown in both Figures, each lowest level file should be date stamped so you can quickly see how up to date it is, and whether it may need review and improvement.

Remove out of date files where appropriate to do so – for example, you might only ever need to keep the current year’s insurance certificate in the content library, although your commercial teams may keep an archive elsewhere.

You can add key word tags to the document properties which are then searchable if someone is unsure where a document is saved. An example of this in Windows Explorer is shown in the figure below (to add the tags, in your document go to File > Info > Add tags and type in your tag words separated by semicolons or commas). Alternatively, you might want to produce a ‘living’ index document which your colleagues can search in and locate the correct folders.

Figure 3: Applying key word tags to a document and searching by key word in Windows Explorer

Collect feedback from anyone who uses the library to understand how user friendly it is, and do not be afraid to make changes to improve the usability if you discover issues.

Above all, ensure you review and improve the content regularly; that way, you – and anyone else using the library – can be assured that they’ll be using the last, best content.

Categories
Bid content

Using creative case studies and CVs for bids

What proportion of the bids you work on ask for the provision of case studies and/or team CVs? At the ITT/RFP stage, a conservative estimate might be at least 75%. And even if they’re not formally requested, are you missing a trick by not including case studies of your previous work and brief bios of your team in relevant answers?

Both are what the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) Body of Knowledge terms proof points: “Proof points are facts that provide verifiable evidence for your solution’s features and benefits. They support your company’s win themes and discriminators. Without proof points, proposal evaluators may question whether features are proven and benefits are achievable. Proof points make your proposal compelling to a customer.”

Put simply – the bid response showcases what you could do for the client – case studies and CVs prove it.

Keeping a log of the case studies, along with details of the last time you used them is a useful tool

Of course, for case studies, you should always ensure you request and receive your clients’ sign off to use their name and details of the contract in future bids. File them in your content library by sector, and/or using key word ‘tags’ that can be added to the document properties. The general rule of thumb – prompted by public sector bids which similar give this timeline – is that case studies used should be no older than three years, so their regular review is an important task. Keeping a log of the case studies (including whether you need to request permission each time, or you have a blanket ‘ok’ to use), along with details of the last time you used them is also a useful tool; especially if you are using the case study as a formal reference – after all, there could be a risk of annoyance to your client if they are asked for every bid you submit.

CVs for all team members should be filed in your content library with the bid/client and date in the file name. This will help you see at a glance which are the most recent and, more importantly, relevant for each team member as the CV should be tailored for the specific opportunity; particularly important if your organisation works across multiple sectors, common in professional services for example. Again, regularly review to ensure leavers are removed from the library.

But how do you make your case studies and CVs really stand out from the competition, even before the evaluator has read one word?

Do you now use a simple template to include in an Appendix, or a call out box in the main body of text? While the structure may of course be client-prescribed, a more recent – and more creative – approach we’ve seen is to use an infographic style presentation, either as a full case study, or as a lead in for more detailed text / client examples summarised in bullet points underneath.

Many people prefer, or more quickly process, images to words

Take a look at the basic examples for a client case study and team CV for a contact centre bid below. As an evaluator, would these capture your attention more than a full page of text? Do they bring the subject to life, and would they make for a more compelling or appealing response compared to bidders using text only?

Figure 1: Example of a client case study infographic
Figure 2: Example of a team member CV infographic

It’s often said that many people prefer, or more quickly process, images to words, so why not give your proof points the best possible start during the evaluation process? While these examples were produced quickly in Microsoft PowerPoint for the purpose of this blog, there are many free infographic templates available, or you may be lucky enough to have an in-house design team who can produce an all-singing all-dancing page spread.

It can be time-consuming to produce a case study or CV, but once you have built up your library, they can be quickly tailored to resonate with specific bid requirements or to show how you’ve previously, and successfully, handled any client pain points. And, for the right clients/opportunities, used creatively to illustrate your proof points.

The key with these, as with all things bids, is to file with relevance, review and update regularly and use with intent!