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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

Once Upon a Bid…

Storytelling in bids has been a topic of much conversation over the past few years, with interesting sessions from Sarah Hinchliffe and Ashley Kayes recently on the APMP calendar.

In Ashley’s session in the recent Winning Business Virtual Experience, she highlighted the link to Disney – ‘storyboarding’ as a concept started in the Disney studios. This got me thinking about the similarities between many Disney animated films and the bid process. There is a chance continued lockdowns are starting to take their toll… or just that I watch too many Disney films. But there are some shared themes!

https://wallpapercave.com/w/tfUMfjr

The Little Mermaid

  • The Disney version: The film tells the story of a mermaid Princess named Ariel, who dreams of becoming human and falls in love with a human prince named Eric, which leads her to make a magic deal with an evil sea witch to become human and be with him.
  • The bid version: The challenger firm dreams of being “the one” and usurping the incumbent. They look for the insider knowledge, doing a deal to repay the favour with a job if it works out well…

Peter Pan

  • The Disney version: Wendy Darling and her brothers John and Michael go on an adventure to Never Land with Peter Pan (the boy who never grew up) and his pixie friend Tinkerbell. Peter leads a band of Lost Boys who spend their time hiding from and fighting with Captain Hook. After helping Peter win a battle with Hook, the children fly back home. Peter and the Lost Boys return to Never Land.
  • The bid version: Peter and the Lost Boys are the MD and the operational and technical experts the bid manager (Wendy) tries to round up and control to input into the bid; usually seen all the time, now the bid has come out, they’ve gone into hiding.

The Black Cauldron

  • The Disney version: Set in a mythical land during the Early Middle Ages, the evil Horned King hopes to secure an ancient magical cauldron that will aid him in his desire to conquer the world. He is opposed by a young swineherd named Taran, the young princess Eilonwy, the bard Fflewddur Fflam, and a wild creature named Gurgi who seek to destroy the cauldron, to prevent the Horned King from ruling the world.
  • The bid version: Two bidding firms – one of which is the incumbent – battle over a third party expert who will give them the edge in the bid.

Aladdin

  • The Disney version: The film follows Aladdin, an Arabian street urchin, who finds a magic lamp containing a genie. He disguises himself as a wealthy prince, and tries to impress the Sultan and his daughter.
  • The bid version: The bid team that exaggerates or even makes up its experience to get in the door with the client and their advisors. Beware – the lack of experience will be found out!

Tangled

  • The Disney version: A lost, young princess with magical long blonde hair yearns to leave her secluded tower. Against her mother’s wishes, she accepts the aid of an intruder to take her out into the world that she has never seen.
  • The bid version: A client has been with the same service provider for some time. The service delivery team has pushed back on their MD as they feel things can be improved. The client is now coming out to bid for the first time to find something different.

Big Hero 6

  • The Disney version: Hiro Hamada, a young robotics prodigy, forms a superhero team to combat a masked villain.
  • The bid version: In probably the most obvious bid link of the Disney back-catalogue, the bid manager and sponsor pull together a crack bid team with differing skillsets to outbid the competition.

And finally, an honourable mention to Inside Out – set in the mind of a young girl, where five personified emotions (Fear, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Joy) try to lead her through life. Definitely all the emotions the Bid Manager goes through during the bid process…

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Bid process

The Right Team, or the ‘Their Turn’ Team?

How often do you team with a partner organisation (or multiple partners) to deliver a bid submission? Your organisation might only team on a complex, strategic bid, or you may partner on any bid where you feel you need a little extra oomph or sparkle.

One of the key questions at the early bid pursuit decisions is whether you can deliver all the client’s requirements on your own. You should answer the need to partner question honestly for every opportunity, and in comparison to your known (and unknown) competitors. Can you deliver all the requirements as a sole bidder, or are there gaps in expertise or experience for which you need a partner firm(s)? And if the latter, should you lead or contribute in that relationship? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses in both approaches? Which gives you the best win probability against the client’s requirements? The APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) provides a template to help you carry out this exercise.

Fast forward a few days and you’ve conducted your appraisal, know who you need to partner with, and have agreed to team up. How do you actually decide who leads the bid? Who will be responsible for leading the bid production, submission and relationship for this opportunity?

According to the BOK: “There is a complicated, delicate balance of strategy and tactics required to assemble a winning team. While an effective teaming strategy can significantly improve a bidder’s win probability, a poorly executed strategy can create serious performance, reputation, legal, and financial problems.”

Figure 1: Team Boys or Team Supes? https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/ustv/

With this in mind, your bid lead should be the partner with strongest relationship with the client, the most relevant demonstrable experience, or the organisation who will be responsible for the majority of deliverables/requirements. For each teaming decision, you should assess the opportunity in detail and choose a bid lead for the right reasons. You should not pick a lead party simply because it’s one or the other’s ‘turn’, or the opportunity came into them (either directly, or through their registration on a client portal).

Put yourself in the position of evaluator. Would you not wonder why the firm who would deliver the majority of the work is not leading on the bid?

Imagine your client is procuring for a new software solution, with a requirement for underlying MI analysis. You can deliver all the requirements in the ITT, but partnering with a specialist MI firm will give you an edge. Who would lead? If you’ve worked with the MI firm before, and last time you led the bid, it might be tempting to let them lead to ‘even it out’. However, to the client, this is likely to be the wrong decision. Put yourself in the position of evaluator. Would you not wonder why the firm who would deliver the majority of the work is not leading on the bid?

While you may not need to do this on all bids, there are numerous formal structures you could set up, such as the traditional prime/sub, joint ventures (where a new legal entity is established), or a partnership/alliance where each party contracts with the client. Whether you go formal or more informal, you should negotiate a teaming agreement as early as possible (if you don’t already have one in place with the partner firm(s)), setting out the legal, operational and financial aspects of the relationship.

There should always be a clear rationale on who leads the bid. Which lead organisation offers the maximum competitive advantage and highest win probability? Which makes the most sense to the client’s specific opportunity? Don’t just hand off the lead because you led last time. You could more damage putting forward the wrong team than not partnering at all.

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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.

Categories
Bid process

The Dawn Bid: free climbing the bid process

On 27 December 2014, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson began the first ever free climb of El Capitan’s ‘Dawn Wall’ (Yosemite National Park). As I recently re-watched the documentary covering their amazing feat*, I was struck by the similarities between their challenge and the bid process. The latter with, hopefully, less physical pain and hanging off a wall for days on end.

El Capitan (https://unsplash.com/@shootdajay)

Tommy has completed more routes on El Capitan than any other climber, including numerous first free climb ascents**. He is its incumbent. Over seven years, he spent months climbing and analysing the Dawn Wall, attempting to map a route through the hardest free climb route in the world. Looking up at the Wall, it seems impossible; and many said it was. A vast expanse of apparently blank rock. But Tommy looked between the “known lines”, the existing climbing routes, finding the path (a series of pitches – told you there are similarities!) through the maze. He knew he couldn’t achieve the climb on his own, hence partnering with Kevin.

Does this remind you of anything?! You know a bid is coming out. Maybe you’re the incumbent, the challenger or, like Tommy and Kevin on the Dawn Wall, it’s a brand new opportunity. You prepare; researching the target, and gathering evidence. You receive the bid papers. You comprehend the requirement. You read, read and read again; looking for every small nuance for how you can wind a path through the submission and win the bid. You have no idea where to start. Just a blank page. You know you can’t meet all the requirements yourself, so you reach out within the business, or team up with a third party. Some stakeholders or contributors might think we can’t do it. But we’re going for it.

Still taken from The Dawn Wall (2017, dir: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer)

Day 1 on the Wall. Tommy and Kevin take in the 3,000 feet of sheer granite ahead of them, adrenaline pumping, can’t wait to get started. Day 1 on the Bid, it’s the kick off workshop – the whole team is enthusiastic, raring to go. Win themes decided, production plan shared. Of their attempt, Kevin said “this was Tommy’s world – he had a clear vision of what it should be…I could never tell if we were wasting our time or in pursuit of something grand.” Of our attempt, it’s the Bid Manager leading the team on the vision, the journey to win.

By Day 3, reality has hit. You’ve been drafting content outlines, holding daily progress calls, issuing plans and answering queries non-stop. It’s all-consuming. Back on the Wall? Tommy says he’s “gonna wake Kevin up with some coffee”. Yep, I hear you. Already, spectators have started to gather, watching their progress. For us? Senior Management and Board members are starting to show interest.

On Day 4, Tommy and Kevin are hit by a 70mph snow and windstorm. The portaledge on which they rest and sleep is repeatedly bounced against the wall. It’s chaos. Yet Tommy, grinning, says “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I love this sh*t”. How many of us feel that way about bids?! They can be stressful, even terrifying at times. Ideas and content flying everywhere. But we keep going. Many of us in this career for the long-haul.

Day 8, and Tommy and Kevin have reached pitch 15, the sideways traverse. A sequence of tiny movements over seemingly smooth rock, each to be completed perfectly to make it across. A few false starts, then for Tommy, “it just came together in this amazing, magical way”.

On the Bid? It’s content deadline day, sections start coming in and you have a jigsaw to fit together. Somehow, the response appears.

Word begins to spread, and on the Wall, Day 9 marks the media phone calls, wanting to chat with Tommy about how it’s going. For us, it’s often our stakeholders, checking in. About a week later, Tommy “accidentally” drops his phone – those around him seem to think it was no accident. I’m guessing a lot of us would share that frustration when we just want to get on with the bid but our stakeholders, partners, Board want updates.

Pitch 16 on the Wall is Tommy’s next big problem. There is nothing to grab onto – the only way across is to leap. But then, staring at the Wall, he sees another way; he can down-climb and go around it. Problem solved. How many times do clarification questions seem like a showstopper? Or a resource/technology issue appears we hadn’t thought about? We work our way around, solving the problems and getting back on track. Or we might have a team member like Kevin, who, having previously been stuck on the traverse pitch for nearly a week, makes the leap. A spark of inspiration.

2,000 feet up the Dawn Wall is a landmark known as “Wino Tower” – a lump of rock, marking the first point you can sit (or lie) on the whole route. For the Bid team, we’re 2.5 weeks through, and most of the hard work is done. The content is in and a full draft written. You might be waiting for the red team review or design work to be complete, but you can sit (or stand, or lie) and breathe. And, maybe take the “Wino” part fairly literally by this point…

Tommy reaches Wino Tower: Still taken from The Dawn Wall (2017, dir: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer)

Day 19, and Tommy and Kevin are enjoying their last day on the Wall. They pull themselves over the edge to the top of El Cap, crowds watching live and cheering them on. They’ve done it. The team has made it, despite how unlikely that seemed at times. For us, it’s submission day. Your MD is over your shoulder, watching as you upload, then maybe popping the champagne. The Bid team has that feeling of euphoria when you submit. You’ve all worked so hard for it.

But, as Tommy says, it’s almost bittersweet, because the experience is over. Till the next bid, and the next climb. For Tommy and Kevin, they go home, see their loved ones, and get some rest and motivation for the next climb. I think we’d agree.

*The Dawn Wall, 2017, dir: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?! I also highly recommend the Oscar-winning, equally amazing and somehow more terrifying Free Solo (2018, dir: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) documenting Alex Honnold (Tommy’s friend and fellow climber) attempting the first free solo, i.e. without ropes, harnesses or safety equipment, of El Capitan.

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Caldwell Free climbing is driven by your own body, often just fingertips and toes (and in Tommy’s case, nine fingertips as he’s missing his left index finger!) You secure ropes as anchors along each pitch to hopefully prevent you falling, but they don’t help you climb the pitch.

Categories
Bid process

Is remote working the new normal or the always normal for bids?

Much has been said about a rise in remote and virtual working during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. And while this may be true for many organisations who permanently co-locate, for a lot of bid professionals – particularly those in central bid teams working across multiple UK and/or global offices, or bid consultancies and contractors who ‘parachute’ in to support clients – working remotely is nothing new.

Often, large corporates and professional services organisations have a central business development function; sometimes spread across multiple offices, but always supporting the entire company – wherever the need arises. A bid manager based in Manchester for example, working on bids with the Tokyo or Berlin office, or even closer to home in Leeds (but still regularly only speaking to the team on the telephone, email or video conference). While it may be helpful to be on site with the responding team, this isn’t always an option, or really required.

Increased remote bidding has been talked about a new challenge during the last few months. But, in over 12 years, I’ve been based in the Midlands whilst working on bids with teams in Sheffield, Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester, London, Norwich, Doha, Dubai, Paris, the USA and Victoria Australia, and liaising with third party firms across the world.

There’s time differences, language barriers, cultural differences. Sometimes, those challenges can provide a benefit.

Can remote bidding cause issues? Of course! At a basic level – not being able to walk round the corner and sit with someone to storyboard a question, or to speak to them in person if they’ve missed a deadline. For global teams, there’s time differences, language barriers, cultural differences. However, these challenges can provide a benefit. Not having to travel 2.5 hours each way to the team, or working across time zones? The hours per day available to work on a bid can hugely increase.

The same core process should apply whether you’re working onsite with the responding team, or virtually – you might just need more forward planning and control, both to ensure the submission deadline is met, and to build a strong team even if you never actually meet them face-to-face.

Create a ‘virtual proposal centre’ (as defined in the APMP Body of Knowledge). This could be as simple as a shared folder, or a formal extranet depending on the bid and team scale. Save the client documentation, content plans, bid production plan, team calendars etc. in here – anything that will add real value to the team. You should confirm with all team members they can access it and, more importantly, that they know how to use it.

Hold a kick-off meeting by telephone or video conference as though you were on-site. Schedule a telephone/video conference at a time suitable for all key stakeholders and contributors (taking into account any time differences of course), have a clear agenda, provide an outline of the opportunity and the proposed content plans, and bring client and competitor intelligence. Discuss the virtual proposal centre, the production plan and review meeting schedule.

Define and share file naming, version control and font/design conventions, hopefully saving you time re-formatting at the eleventh hour. On larger bids, and/or with numerous contributors, you might want to share a design sheet or template with header and body text format, colour palettes and image styles.

Share the bid production plan, so everyone can clearly see their responsibilities/accountabilities and the key milestones. Ensure any team holidays or non-bid priorities are included, and most importantly, ensure any required updates/changes are reflected and communicated.

Schedule regular progress catch ups at the outset by telephone or video conference (again, at a time convenient for all) and/or daily/weekly update emails to a bid distribution list. Follow the same structure each time, focusing on progress against key tasks, any risks/issues and the next due tasks. Follow up calls by email with the notes and actions, and save into the virtual proposal centre.  

Pick up the telephone! Not only does this help build rapport between you and the team, it helps underline the importance of the task, especially if you are working with busy operational team members for whom the bid isn’t their day job, and for whom it may be easy to miss an email.

The end goal is still to submit a compliant, on-time, bid. All that’s really different is how you communicate with the team.

If you are used to working on-site with your bid teams, this extended period of working from home / away from your usual office may feel like a completely new way of working. For those of us who regularly work remotely with bid teams, even if that’s just a train ride away, perhaps even we’re feeling a little more isolated than usual. But the end goal is still to submit a compliant, on-time, bid. All that’s really different is how you communicate with the team. You still have all the tools and processes you need whether you are working on the next desk to them, in a different city or even a different country.