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Personal development

Onboarding in the Bid Industry

The volume of positions advertised at present, coupled with the number of people seeking or saying they are starting a new position, got me thinking about how important on boarding is in bid world, where we’re expected to have all-round oversight and knowledge. Bid writers and bid managers need a solid grounding in what they will be trying to ‘sell’ to clients, and how they get stakeholder engagement to support that in a new organisation.

This is not intended as gospel for every new starter or organisation, but in my experience, the most important facets of onboarding for bid professionals are:

  • Understanding the firm’s bid process/framework
  • Gaining knowledge about the firm’s products and services
  • Knowing the right people to go to

Understanding the firm’s bid process/framework

Whether they will be working within or managing the organisation’s bid framework, understanding that process is vital. Some of the core questions to understand include: What is the qualification criteria? Who is involved in the decision gates, kick off meetings, review and sign off? Where are case studies, CVs and previous content stored? How is the content library (if one exists!) structured? Who is responsible for commercial models and contract reviews? How do we track upcoming and in-progress opportunities? What reporting do we produce?

At a more granular level, if there is a team of bid writers and/or bid managers (perhaps also with bid co-ordinators/assistants at larger organisations): How is work assigned (e.g. by sector, product, seniority, capacity)? Who is responsible for which aspects of the process and the bid itself? Is there a peer review process in place?

Gaining knowledge about the firm’s products and services

It’s my belief that a bid writer/manager shouldn’t need to rely 100% on their operational and technical teams for subject matter expertise. With a grounding of understanding in the products and services your company offers, you should be able to draft anywhere from 50% to 75% (conservative guess!) of the more specific/technical sections of a bid, and then go to the experts to fill the gaps or double check against the client requirements. After all, writing for bids is not their day job.

This initial knowledge gathering can take many forms, from reading up on the company website and/or brochures, to listening in on sales/customer service calls or even going out on the road with field representatives, or even sitting in on other staff training sessions. If technology if part of your organisation’s offering, new starter bid professionals could also be provided with access to test systems – further helping their understanding of how a system works in practice, and allowing for walk-throughs when the client requirements come in.

Of course, at present onboarding may be remote – but that’s not to say the new starter shouldn’t have much the same experience as though they are there in person. Video conferences and calls can easily take the place of meetings, online courses to support the new systems rather than face-to-face training, and VOIP/video would allow people to listen in to calls or be virtually ‘on the road’ if that’s required as part of the process.

Knowing the right people to go to

When working on a bid, it is vital you know who to ask about various aspects of the bid response or to get those nuggets of gold to add – especially when you’re up against tight deadlines. While some of this will come naturally from initial knowledge sharing sessions, you may also have a distinct session on who is involved / for what expertise, or just hear about people in passing.

Collating a subject matter expert matrix can be useful when it comes back to remembering who you spoke to about what – their role, areas of expertise, email and telephone numbers (as well as any site or working hours information).

The role of the bid team is not only to win new business, but also to make the lives of the operational teams easier – so it is in their long-term benefit to support onboarding. Above all, if in doubt, ask!

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Personal development

What’s in a name?

While we all work in the bid industry, how many variations of our job/role titles are there? We often see bid managers, bid leaders, bid strategy managers, work winning managers, bid advisers, proposal managers, pitch managers… and that’s before including all the writers, coordinators, assistants and designers!

If somebody asked you to describe the various roles, my guess would be many would say something along the lines of: bid managers lead to end to the end process, writers stick to the content, designers to the images, and co-ordinators/assistants help out where needed. Proposals and pitches are less strategic, shorter, and more proactive ‘punts’. Or, for many, the proposal can be just a small (!) part of the overall bid process.

Both Shipley and APMP Body of Knowledge (APMP BOK) describe the roles within the bid team. APMP suggests bid manager is more UK/Europe focused, and proposal or pitch manager is more US-based. In the last 24 hours on LinkedIn, there were 21 new bid roles and 14 proposal roles advertised in the UK; so there are signs that if that UK/US split was historically correct, this is beginning to merge. There is also a crossover between managers and writers – with many manager positions pitched (no pun intended!) as a ‘writer plus’.

Figure 1: Differences in job titles 1950 to 2013 https://cdn.lifehack.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/job-title1.jpg

But do you fully understand what the various roles actually mean? And what should be highlighted as key differences between the roles?

Increasingly, it seems it is organisational choice of whether your teams are bid, proposal or pitch, and managers, specialists or writers*. But at the grass-roots level, the different roles and responsibilities should be:

  • Bid/Proposal/Pitch manager: leads the overall proposal development, from bid decision through to post-submittal actions. They develop the win strategy, themes and discriminators and manages the integration of your organisation’s offering against the requirements. They lead the bid team (often multi-workstream) to prepare management/technical content and the commercial offering, schedules and manages reviews and sign offs of content and commercial, ensures the bid is compliant and is submitted on time, and manages any client follow-up, e.g., clarifications, presentations etc. The bid manager also ensures appropriate stakeholder involvement at all times – whether that is your internal senior management, or external third parties.
  • Writer: provides any specialised management or technical content required to respond to a proposal or bid. They will work to the agreed bid themes, win strategies and graphics, and follow guidance from the bid/proposal manager. The writer ensures timely provision of their content and other supporting information within the overall schedule.
  • Coordinator/Assistant: supports the bid manager in controlling the overall process and production plan. They will typically maintain and update the plan and content schedules, provide a point of liaison between the teams/specialists involved, and will support the review and production process including print and collation for hard copy submissions. They may also take on some of the more management focused content, such as producing team charts and CVs.
  • Designer: may solely produce images to be used within the bid, or may work with the bid manager from the bid decision to design the overall look and feel (and layout) of the bid. Adobe InDesign is increasingly used as the bid format of choice, and you’ll often see a requirement to have proficiency in/knowledge of in role advertisements.

Whether you are a bid, proposal or pitch manager, or a strategist, specialist, writer, co-ordinator, assistant or designer, one thing should be the same – we all work together to submit a compelling, compliant and on time submission, hopefully winning our organisations new business.

*For the purpose of understanding the differences between the team roles here, bid, proposal and pitch are interchangeable.

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Bid process Personal development

The Psychology of Bids, Part One

If you’ve ever studied a social science, psychology or business management discipline, or taken any organisational teamwork training, chances are you’re already aware of Belbin’s team roles and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Both have a strong crossover to bid management*. Their application is extremely useful in understanding what is happening in your bid teams, how you respond to a bid, and in identifying any issues and areas for improvement. In part one of this blog, we’re looking at Belbin’s team roles model and its application to internal bid teams.

Internal: Belbin’s Team Roles

Belbin’s team roles model is often used in team-building exercises where you complete a quiz to work out your team characteristics and how well you work together. For anyone unfamiliar, the below diagram shows the nine roles, their strengths, and “allowable weaknesses” (basically an inversion of the strength):

Figure 1: Belbin’s nine team roles (www.belbingetset.com)

It’s important to understand that you don’t need nine people in a team to perform each of the roles – we’re often a mix of primary and secondary characteristics.

When I previously completed the quiz, I was – probably unsurprisingly given my profession and to anyone who has worked with me – a primary Completer Finisher, and secondary Monitor Evaluator. You may have the Co-ordinator role in there instead. These three roles provide many of the key skills for a Bid Manager: maintaining awareness of the priorities and deadlines, encouraging the team, ensuring a high quality response by proof-reading and correcting issues, reviewing content coming in and identifying gaps, and getting the response across the line. Worry and be anxious? Never……….

During a bid, you’ll work alongside many, if not all, of these roles. Your Resource Investigator may be your Account or BD Manager, who knows the client well and initially brings the opportunity in, pushing for its pursuit. No doubt you’ll rely on some Specialists to produce technical input, and have the Teamworkers and Implementers who just put their heads down and get on with drafting content or designing graphics. And how many of us have worked with Plants and Shapers – maybe your MD, CFO, or Sponsor. Those who kick things off, gee the team up, leave you with a great idea, and then disappear off into the night until sign off time when you just can’t get the solution to add up? Can you recognise these roles (or personalities) in your bid teams?

Figure 2: Which type of Plants and Shapers do you know? The Ron, or The Leslie? (https://giphy.com)

While working on a bid, it’s vital we have a combination of roles

Do you have a balance in your bid team; are you too ‘heavy’ in a particular area, or are there any gaps? While working on a bid, it’s vital we have a combination of roles, since there’s such a mix of tasks and responsibilities which require different skillsets. Successful bid teams have this mix, even if you don’t realise it at the time.

If Belbin’s team roles model can help us look inwardly at our bid team, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help us really understand what is important to the client and to focus on the right areas in our response. We’ll cover this in part two, next week.

*In fact, in its more recent iterations, the APMP Body of Knowledge references Belbin amongst other traditionally social science models.

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Personal development

Bid management metrics are not just about the win rate

A few weeks ago, I saw a post asking for suggestions on SMART objectives for Bid Managers. Ask anyone how you should assess the performance of a Bid Manager, and I would guess 9 times out of 10, the answer you’ll get is by their win rate. However, this is extremely limiting – both to your Bid Manager, and your organisation.

While the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) doesn’t focus specifically on the performance management of Bid and Proposal Managers, it does provide guidance in putting in place a programme of metrics to measure your organisation’s business development performance. This guidance can be adapted and transferred to managing the performance of your bid management team. Continuous improvement should still be the key factor underpinning such metrics.

Having previously been asked to set my own objectives, I believe a Bid Manager’s performance should be measured across three factors – business, personal development and organisational development. 

Business

Back to the dreaded win rate. Clearly many organisations, and their Bid Managers, are ultimately measured by this metric – how successful are we? Unfortunately, as many of us know, we can write the highest quality bids in the world, some decisions will always just come down to price. And any win rate based on volume will be impacted by the success of your bid pursuit decision process. APMP and Shipley both point to capture ratios as a more effective measure – the value of bids won as a proportion of the value of bids submitted, with a higher rate meaning you are winning more of the larger, often more competitive, competitions. Rather than state a % capture rate as a blanket measure, or even maintaining a capture ratio within a particular window, perhaps instead make it relative to your organisation e.g. improve last FY performance by x%.

There are undoubtedly other bid workload measures which could be used as SMART goals. Success to your organisation might be winning a particular opportunity that is coming out to tender, winning a particular new client, unseating an incumbent or entering a new sector. Or simply implementing and maintaining a regular reporting pack.

Underpinning all this, any bid only ever has a chance of success if it is submitted to the client’s compliance criteria and, of course, on time. 100% compliance of submitted bids is a given.

Personal development

As the BOK sets out, an effective metrics programme monitors and improves performance. The same applies to your Bid Manager – their own development and improvement is just as important. After all, if your teams aren’t motivated, will they put their heart and soul into a bid for you?

Personal objectives should not just be about what training your Bid Manager can undertake – however, developing a skill set through undertaking IT training (for example, Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Project), APMP or management qualifications, and attending APMP webinars / conferences strongly merit inclusion.

Leadership soft skills are equally important – both their own, and developing others. As an example, one of my objectives was to develop and run training workshops for operational staff who regularly contributed to bids. As a secondary benefit, this increases your organisation’s ability to respond, through a wider resource pool who can input into the bid writing process.

Or, if they don’t already, perhaps give your Bid Manager an objective to attend some of your Management Board Meetings with your organisation’s key stakeholders to present on the bid pipeline, capture rates and lessons learned.

After all, if your teams aren’t motivated, will they put their heart and soul into a bid for you?

Organisational development

The BOK refers frequently to proof points – quotes, awards, past performance – as a key part of writing a compelling bid. But how often do we wait for the bid writing stage to collect and manage this information? Instead, the continual collection of proof points and update into the bid/knowledge library should be a formal objective of the Bid Manager’s role. Perhaps they could establish a bi-monthly or quarterly meeting with key operational leads? Face to face discussion can often lead to evidence naturally being shared that might have been forgotten or not thought important when requested for a specific bid.

A second area could be measuring your Bid Manager on analysing debrief feedback to understand where there are key organisational improvement areas. If you regularly receive feedback that, for example, your technology is not as intuitive as other bidders, or training of staff is lacking in a certain area – could your Bid Manager then work with the appropriate operational teams to act on this and make improvements? Of course, analysing debrief feedback to identify gaps and sharing with the right people might be an objective if you don’t already do this systematically.

There is no one size fits all, and there are many more organisational-specific (and even industry-specific) objectives that will be valid to measure your Bid Manager’s performance. The key is ensuring they focus on continuous improvement – both for the individual, and your organisation. It’s not just about the win rate.