When Jeremy asked me if I’d be interested in writing a guest post for his blog, I was more than happy to be able to jump on my soapbox to sell the point of content. At the moment I think content is possibly even more valuable than before. Let me expand.
Since 2004, I’ve been part of work winning teams, selling a wide range of products and services across a multitude of industry sectors and into an even wider range of customers. I’ll admit it’s taken me a while to come round to ‘work winning team’ as a descriptor for what we do, but it’s true, and it allows for the full range of people who should be involved in pursuit, response and capture to be included.
First, as a writer, there are definitely skills that are transferable in the bid world, which allowed me to contract and work in sectors I had little or no knowledge of. Being able to interview someone about something very technical and translate that into something that an evaluator (who might not be technical) can understand is what I do best. It’s all about the ‘So what?’ factor. Why does Company A buy Seller C’s offering instead of Seller E’s offering? Seller C may not have been cheaper, but they likely communicated the benefits better and quite often worked harder on the relationship management before the opportunity came out.
Second, I learned that content is a constant in the world of bid and proposals. You need clear, concise, consistent and current content to draw on when you’re pulling that response together. That is true regardless of the sector you’re working in or the size of the work winning team. Working for organisations where the duration of bids they worked on had 18 months or more from RFP issue to submission, to sectors where 4 weeks start to finish was a luxury, quickly convinced me that without usable content you cannot meet the deadlines. Or, put another way, you can meet the deadlines, but at what cost? Cost to accuracy and completeness. Cost to mental and physical health and wellbeing. Cost to team morale. Sometimes even overall cost to company. One organisation I worked with on a long and complex bid saw us decide to no-bid at the eleventh-hour, because the red review had turned up questions that we just hadn’t answered fully, because of a lack of baseline content.
Content – a different perspective – one where ‘Content is King’ and ‘Context is Queen’.
Before we go any further, I hear the arguments for and against ‘boilerplate’. I agree wholeheartedly that ‘boilerplate’ has no role in the bid world unless it is in terms and conditions and caveat text. Reusable content though is a whole other topic. Reusable content is when around 80% of your answer can come from pre-written content that is correct, written in a consistent house-style, shows the benefits and can provide evidence. The other 20% is where the Sales Person/Account Manager/ SME’s knowledge of the customer and their requirement comes into play. Call it tweaking/refining/tailoring – whatever it is – that is the 20% that lets the customer know you know and understand what they actually need.
Having 80% of the answer ready to go means that you can really concentrate on refining the 20% that counts.
It’s at this point that people will ask about automation and what systems to use for libraries and/or proposals. It’s at this point that I will say that the quality of your content is the most important factor, then storing it centrally in a system that is easy to navigate and that works for your company. After that is making sure it is current and approved. After that comes automation. There are a wide range of proposal automation systems and providers out there and the choice of which one to use is entirely an organisational preference that should be based on a range of factors you consider when going out to tender for any tool/system/software. Regardless of how well the system finds information and proposes the answers that fit the question you have to have a process in place to govern and manage the content behind the scenes. You need to make sure it is actually approved and correct and not simply the most recent or most used answer in the database – and that needs a human and process.
In order of priority – content comes first – you need a good base to build on. Without properly organised, governed and approved content, you cannot build consistently good, well-written first draft proposals. Next up is context – without real human input and understanding to be able to tailor that foundation content to the buyer’s specific and unique requirements you still won’t have a winning submission.
Focus on your content and have a good foundation, understand the context clearly with a robust capture plan and you’ll have the makings of a winning bid and time to spare for a post submission celebration.