Bid writing, Influencing Skills

the art of influence

When it comes to positioning well with clients to set your bids up for success, strong influencing skills are key.

Thoughtful influencing not only ensures that you get the information and insight you need for your submission but it also helps you get the best from your team and stakeholders which is crucial for success.  

As part of our guest blogger series we asked Dan Connors of Applied Influence Group to write a post all about the art of influence.


It’s three years since I took off my uniform for the last time as a Regular Soldier in the British Army and stepped into the commercial world. Since then I’ve been applying my knowledge and understanding of how people work and how to influence them to the commercial sector. When I first left, I didn’t know what a P&L account or an RFP was along with all the other terminology used in the corporate world. Three years on and I’ve seen and learnt a lot and in this guest blog for The Bid Toolkit, I’ll look at a few of the things I’ve noticed so far. 

People Think They Know Their Stakeholders Better Than They Do 

At Applied Influence Group we use a simple model to think about those we wish to influence. Amongst other things, it makes you think about the type of person the stakeholder is, what their attitudes and beliefs are, what they are interested in and what they like and dislike. 

Invariably when we get our clients to apply the model to a stakeholder, they are surprised at how little they know, sometimes about critical stakeholders. Working with one client, we quickly established that a stakeholder who they had been focusing all their efforts on was an interim appointment and was moving to a different organisation imminently. Many of our clients realise that they know nothing about their stakeholders outside of a narrow business perspective. 

When we work with teams, we also regularly find out that one member of the team knows something which the remainder of team were unaware of. 

Understanding your stakeholders well and sharing this knowledge across your team significantly increases your chances of successfully influencing them. It allows for stronger rapport, builds trust and allows you to phrase your messaging in a way that will resonate much more with them. 

Most Influence Challenges Involve Internal Stakeholders 

Many of our clients engage us to help them with improving their success with their clients. Almost always when we begin to apply our methodology to their challenge, we discover that internal influence challenges represent as significant an obstacle to success as client-facing challenges. 

These internal challenges may revolve around winning support for a proposal at the appropriate level, getting people to accept a short term negative impact on their own part of the business for significant longer term gain for the wider business or just getting people to contribute effectively to a team issue. 

Some of these issues are down to organisational design, others to perverse incentives, while some are a result of organisations expecting their people to do more than they are capable of with the resources at hand. 

Ignoring internal influence challenges or accepting ‘that’s the way it is’ rather than attempting to influence the situation can have significant client-facing impacts. 

A Focus on Role and Position Rather Than Influence When Looking at an Issue 

When looking at complex situations with multiple stakeholders, many of our clients remain focused on the position or role that someone holds rather than the impact they can have on a challenge. In one example, a client had several members of their own organisation embedded within a client delivering on existing work but had made no attempt to get them to assist with an influence 

campaign as they had relatively low-level appointments. They’d failed to understand that these people had regular access to deliver influence messages across the organisation that they were seeking to influence. 

Another example we regularly see is clients talking about their challenges with getting appointments with key stakeholders but spending little time trying to build relationships with the Executive Assistants who can make this happen. 

Thinking more widely about who can have a positive impact on your situation and how you can influence them increases your chances of success. 

Missing the Wider Context 

Failing to identify aspects of a situation that are affecting decision-making has led to some of our clients struggling to be successful with what seems to be a very solid proposal. Multiple factors outside of the business case can affect the decision-making process. 

As an example, a change of personnel at the C-Suite level may make a decision-maker less confident in taking the calculated risk of doing something new until the internal dynamics at the senior level has settled down. 

Sometimes these factors may be highly personal, sometimes they may be related to strategic changes within a large organisation. In our experience, these factors are often known but the impacts of them on individual or group decision-making have not been thought through fully. 

Understand what is affecting those who need to make a decision and adapt your approach accordingly. 

Ignoring the Personal Perspective of the stakeholder 

We all have our own mix of desires and fears that shape our personal way of viewing things. If we can understand what these are within the people that we want to influence, then we can phrase our messages in a way that speak to these desires and address their fears. Describing a sound business case in a way that makes sense to someone at an individual level increases its relevance and potency. Someone may have a strong desire for order whilst someone else may be driven by status – the same business message can be phrased differently to speak to both of these. 

When dealing with a panel of individuals, a careful assessment of these desires and fears can ensure that different parts of your influence message resonate with different individuals. 

Align your sound business case with an individual’s desires and fears and it will make emotional sense as well as rational sense. 

Want to know more about gaining a competitive advantage through elite influence? Join us on the 11th September when Dan Connors will be joining us as a keynote speaker at Bids and Procurement LIVE!

Our series of LIVE! events bring together bidding and procurement professionals in a relaxed environment to drive greater mutual understanding and sharing of best practice. As part of this we will also have panel  discussions around Wellbeing in the workplace and bid libraries giving attendees the opportunity to get involved in the discussion and share their thoughts and ask our expert panels and burning questions they have.

Tickets cost just £25 (+ vat) and include breakfast for more info and to secure your spot click here.

More information about Applied Influence Group and their services can be found here, alternatively you can contact Dan direct via email on dan@appliedinfluencegroup.com.

Events

YPO World of Procurement – Enabling change through the procurement process

For more than a while now austerity and efficiency has dictated that something needs to change in how the public sector procures. Budget pressures are now driving you far beyond simply looking for a better deal, doing things together and driving down cost. We’ve reached the breaking point.

Whichever way Brexit goes now – whatever they say – Government will have no choice by to maintain the downward pressure. They may well invest in vote grabbing services and infrastructure to bolster industry, but what about the stuff that the public doesn’t see? Or that doesn’t win elections? The expression ‘do more with less’ may well become all too painful. Well, unless we do something about it – think like entrepreneurs and refocus on the business outcome your organisation needs.

I’m really excited about speaking at the World of Procurement event this year. I attended last year just before we signed our partnership agreement with YPO and found it to be a really vibrant and insightful day.

I think I may well be being positioned by my YPO friends as a fairly provocative speaker, and I guess they would be right. I’m not a procurement person. I’m from the ‘dark side’ – I’m a Business Developer and bidding specialist who among other things now teaches the private sector how to deliver compelling compliant bids to you lovely public sector procurement lot.

The benefit of now being an impartial consultant in the forum I’m presented with in July is that I can really genuinely tell you the truth. We’re finding there is a great deal of value in putting procurement and bidding people together away from live procurements to share ideas and best practice. We’re going to be in a room together with the doors shut, away from a competitive procurement situation and without any agenda. I’m not going to be pushing a client or a proposition. I’m just there as a friend to ‘have the conversation’ as I call it.

I’m going to talk you through some of what we have found through our work with YPO and their suppliers – in trying to raise the game of suppliers in bidding for work to obtain a better value outcome for the buyer. Beyond the basics of compliance and best practice writing, my YPO friends have been fascinated to hear about how we bidders (should) profile them and their stakeholders, strategise, and build solutions to not just meet the clients needs, but to enable a greater value business outcome. And we’ve had some really constructive conversations about what the private sector wished you’d do, dare I say, better.

We’ll talk through:

  • How the private sector mirrors your strategic sourcing approach with capture management and how we are missing a trick
  • How we wish we could share value with you, and
  • Some things we wished we’d talked about before the ITT came out

Please do contribute to the session, ask questions, challenge, give me context, etc. I’m looking forward to it.

Details of our partnership with YPO can be found in the Supplier Hub https://www.ypo.co.uk/suppliers/procurement-tools

Events

Bids and Procurement LIVE! 2 a round up

We held our second breakfast event, Bids and Procurement LIVE! 2 on the 12th June.

These events are essentially mini-conferences for people with an interest in bids and procurement.

We find it’s a great forum to bring together both sides of the story in one place to drive greater mutual understanding and sharing of best practice and current insights.

The speakers and panel members are drawn from UK industry across both the public and private sectors. The event was near capacity again, with an audience from a wide variety of organisations of all sizes.

We followed the same format as before with two panel discussions and an interview. The panels were on ‘bid and procurement tech’ and ‘leading and developing great teams’. The interview was with Simon Boyle, award winning Chef and the brains behind the social enterprise Beyond Food. Conducted by Red Review co-host Mike Reader, the interview focused on the subject of leveraging more social enterprises into procurements and bids.

Bid and procurement tech

The first panel made for a lively start and the panel had some great questions to answer courtesy of the audience.

The immediate theme that emerged was that we are seeing a change from tech just getting the bidder side community to a ‘first draft’ to a new focus on getting us to a ‘final draft’. We’re seeing collaboration becoming the focus, working together online, for example leveraging integration through Microsoft Office 365 and their teams platform.

There’s a need to use existing technology smarter, stuff that already exists, combined with a real trend of new entrants in the content management systems space – pushing the boundaries.

The key question that should be considered with thinking about how and what tech to deploy should be – where are you looking to drive efficiency?

For instance – document analytics insights from Tilkee show that people only truly read a small proportion of the content they are sent. Stéphane said that: “people are only taking four minutes to read 80 pages.” Andrew Gittins commented that: “The game has changed from people taking seven minutes to read four pages to them only taking one minute.”. They are skimming content looking for triggers that are relevant to them.

The way people consume content and make decisions is changing fast.

Victoria Whitcroft and Andy Perrins talked about how the public sector are under pressure to change their behaviours and to drive efficiency in their procurement documents, their requirements and how they are scored.

There is a drive for Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS). There was some debate on watch outs with DPS not having guaranteed workloads through them and having numerous suppliers on board versus the benefits of the ease of getting on them. I challenged the need for public sector users of the DPS approach to be forced to use the same ‘mini-bid’ template and questions, to drive efficiency for bidders and reduced cost of sale. We’ll watch this space.

Lastly on the future, the panel talked about the rise in the use of online procurement portals in recent years. Andrew Gittins feels that in the future there will be a convergence of procurement portals with the seller side to drive efficiency and ease of use, including passporting standard / compliance content (H&S etc).

Stéphane had some great insight on how clients have begun using document analytics to maximise the response to tenders and to see where sellers are looking at documents and for how long in order to improve tender documents, the same as web designers optimise their websites.

Leadership and Teams

The second panel tackled head on some of the key challenges facing us as a bid community in terms of driving recognition of the discipline and the value we create.

They explored the art of building and leading high performing teams, both as a bid function of bid managers, writers, graphics pros etc, but also actual multidisciplinary teams deployed to go and win competitive tenders with a bidding pro at their heart.

A key theme surfaced on how bidding professionals can be reduced to an administrative function, constrained in the value they can create and the visibility they deserve.

Jack Strickland said that we all as bidding pros feel passionately about adding value as sales professionals. He said that in leading organisations we are seeing change in that bidding people are becoming valued as an investment, but that we as bidding professionals need to hold the line in terms of the quality of recruitment and development we undertake with our people. I also added that we need to ‘act as if’ and build confidence as the sales professionals in the room and demonstrating the value you create through innovating and going the extra mile. Simply being passive and ‘on receive’ doesn’t help anyone.

Kerry Jarvie said that she looks for three key attributes in good bidding people: positivity – people who find solutions and innovate, proactivity and practical skills– people who can implement and influence. You’ll have to ask her about the third one . . .

Julian Wathen said how he looks on the Business Development and bid team as the future of the business. The business has to regenerate itself through the business winning process.  He outlined his view on the attributes of sales and bid functions that succeed, including having purpose – through agreeing what the team trying to achieve, aligned to the boards directives, which guides the shape of the business and the pipeline. He also talked about teams needing to be obviously ‘customer focus’ but also solutions minded – focused on innovation and driving value for the client.

We also talked about the challenge of finding good contributors / SME’s with capacity to work with when the business is busy and by definition the good people are utilised.

We talked about the importance of being clear on the roles of people in teams on bids, and in particular how vital leadership and accountability are, making sure everyone knows what they are responsible for with a leader who drives the team forward. Process and structure has its place, but it only works where its imposed.

I mentioned how I believe in writing bidding accountabilities in to the personal objectives / scorecards of every member of staff, an ongoing debate among my bidding friends and I. And I talked about the ‘hero’ roles in the bid toolkit process content, including that of the ‘Sponsor’, with our research showing that where a Sponsor plays a part in bids from the beginning and checking in from time to time, you are much more likely to win.

Lastly, we talked about wellbeing – and how our people need to bring in their whole selves to work, how we need to allow teams to rest and re-energise, as well as spend time with their team to learn lessons and develop.

The Simon Boyle Interview

I’m very committed to supporting social enterprises however I can, through my business and through influencing others to do the same. It was one of the reasons for starting Growth Ignition and the bid toolkit, to do more good and to do it better – mostly for the sales and bidding community, but additionally wherever else we reasonably can.

Brigade Bar + Kitchen is top of my list. Yeah we had a bit of a noisy extractor fan going in the kitchen at the back of the room which we’ll think of a way to tackle for next time, but other than that – Brigade appears to be, and is, an extremely high quality facility to visit, eat and drink, have fun and do business at.

I’ve committed to holding all my London training events, breakfast events and dinners there. I’d urge all the London based readers to look to do the same and / or look to research and engage other social enterprises where you can. Why wouldn’t you? Perhaps start with https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk

In the interview Mike Reader and Simon talked about his background in social impact around the world, his passion for solving displacement and homelessness and the journey of starting Beyond Food.  Simon landed the staggering stats that there has been 169% increase in homelessness in the UK since he started Brigade eight years ago and a 15% increase in the last 12 months.

The guys talked about how social enterprises are the fastest growing space in UK business, with more of them starting than any other type of organisation. Simon mentioned that corporate businesses can and do have a huge impact working and partnering with social enterprises and how true partnership is important to success. He talked about how product and service quality is critical. How social enterprises have to be competitive with the private sector, but with the profits going to doing good.  In order to do so they must have to be clear that it’s a professional high quality business and not a cheaper vanity project. Honesty and transparency has to be in the DNA of the enterprise.

Simon provided some tips for starting a social business that included – a strong business proposition and plan. The social aspect is almost secondary. They have to be transparent and honest about what they are looking to achieve and who they are looking to help. You can’t help anyone if you aren’t making money

Sadly, Mike highlighted some recent data from Passle that shows that in 2018 social enterprises share of work won through procurement had dropped by 28%. Given that there are more starting than in any type of bidder or supply chain partner, this seems rather odd. They talked about the challenges of bidding for work when bidding isn’t a core competence of the organisation. Perhaps corporates and we bidding pros could help out?

They rounded the interview off with the point that it will be interesting to see how the sector develops, when we start to get professional services and wider industry delivered by social enterprises as opposed to products and basic services.

Bids and Procurement LIVE! 2 – the video

Missed the event? You can hire an online video of the full event if you would like to watch the panel debates and the interview again or to share it with your team or colleagues. Head this way to check it out.

Bids and Procurement LIVE! 3

I hope everyone enjoyed the event and found it useful. Our next one is on the 11th of September at Brigade Bar + Kitchen, London Bridge. You can book your tickets here.

The format is going to change slightly with a keynote speech by Dan Connors of Applied Influence group. Dan will be talking about what AIG have found in the three years since they landed the elite influencing skills and methodology they developed working as part of British Military intelligence in Afghanistan to influence the Taliban in the UK corporate world. Dans speech will lead into a panel debate on capture planning of pursuits.

We will then have two further panel discussions on wellbeing and bid content libraries.

Lastly, I should say that we will be looking to expand our events geographically, with an event in Manchester in November to be confirmed.

Events

Bids & Procurement LIVE 1 – a recap

In February we launched a new key initiative as part of our partnership with YPO – a series of breakfast events – ‘Bids and Procurement LIVE!’ with our first event in London.

The events are mini-conferences for people with an interest in bids and procurement. They bring together both sides of the story in one place to drive greater mutual understanding and sharing of best practice and current insights.

The speakers and panel members are drawn from UK industry across both the public and private sectors. The first event sold out, with an audience from a wide variety of organisations of all sizes.

The panel themes for the event were Social value in pursuits and bids, What do procurement departments really want? And WBIAP a new initiative all of which provided a platform for some interesting discussions and viewpoints both between panel members but also the attendees.

Bids and Social Value 

During the social value panel we found a consensus that when focused correctly – more than 20% added value can be created for communities through the way that services are delivered, but that the client and their procurement professionals have to set the contract up for success – shaping the service specification and requirements to deliver the benefits of social value, rather than just asking some unconnected questions in the tender. Maximising the outcomes requires thought and alignment. We also discussed how suppliers must align their service delivery with clients issues, views and policies on social value and how measurement and quantified evidence is important, but that telling stories of social value examples can make a fairly grey government policy a bit more human.

What Procurement People Want 

In the ‘what procurement people want session, beyond some great debate on the usual compliance issues, suppliers focusing on themselves and not the clients issues and using the clarifications process properly – we found that the challenge facing procurement functions at a basic level is the constraints on their ability to deliver the service through austerity. They are under pressure to do something different to generate savings while not having the resources to do it. Generally, procurement professionals are not able to spend enough time with suppliers to understand their categories to deliver greater efficiencies and more robust procurements. Interestingly, there was a clear view that there is a need for the market to come forward with ideas and innovation to change the game, engaging with clients early to understand their drivers and shaping future procurements so everybody wins. Easier said than done perhaps, but an admirable aspiration.

Women in Bids and Proposals 

The third element of the event was an interview with my friend Charlotte Rees, talking about the Women in Bids and Proposals (WIBAP) initiative that she leads, in the run up to the annual conference they put on in March. You can listen to an interview with Charlotte reviewing her conference and talking about the initiative on my podcast, The Red Review, that I do for a bit of fun with my friend Mike Reader. Available on Anchor, Spotify, etc.

The next event 

The next Bids & Procurement LIVE event is taking place on the 12th of June in London. This time we are holding the event at Brigade Bar + Kitchen in London Bridge, an initiative that is close to my heart.

Brigade is powered by Beyond Food – a community interest company and charity that works with people who have been at risk of or experienced homelessness. By providing culinary training and other support, Beyond Food motivates and inspires people to gain meaningful, long-term employment.

Our interview segment at the event will be with Simon Boyle, an award-winning Chef who leads Beyond Food. We’ll be discussing how the public and private sectors can leverage social enterprises into procurements and bids to generate a lasting impact.

Our two panel discussions are on tech in bids and procurement, sponsored by Hobs Repro (who will have some of their tech to play with in the coffee area) and on building and leading great teams. We’ve got speakers including Julian Wathen MBE, former BD Director of ISS, and Kerry Jarvie who leads pursuit teams at PwC.  We already have attendees signed up from WSP, Mace, PwC, Pick Everard, Willmott Dixon, Santander, NG Bailey & Morgan Sindall.

We will be holding a further event in London in September and will be expanding nationwide in Q4/19 with an event in Birmingham in November.

Tickets for our events can be found here: https://thebidtoolkit.com/events/