Crown hovering over the word content | blog post Content. What’s the point?
Bid writing

Content. What’s the point?

By Kathryn Potter

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. 

Bid writing, blog, Roles & Responsibilities

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity

Guest blog post by Jack Strickland

I recently offered to assist a project director in drafting sections of his content for a bid submission. I have worked in construction for over 20 years, and whilst I may not be able to lay a brick wall, I can write a compelling explanation of how you go about it, given even a scant explanation from somebody with a bit of technical expertise.

The PD in my story, however, looked at me as though I’d just confidently advised him that the Earth was flat. It struck me that the role of bidding people in many organisations is more confused than ever. Our work crosses over with that of so many others, and yet we often find our work constricted by fear, rooted in a lack of understanding of what we do. We’re asked consistently to do more in order to get our projects over the line, but also simultaneously to do less as our organisations backfill bid teams with dodgy consultants and ill-suited operations staff.

Bidding professionals must carefully define our identity and purpose. In many cases we cannot control or suitably influence what those around us are doing, and it then becomes critical to clearly understand who we are, and what we do.

This will largely be achieved by development of strong and capable teams, and understanding what leadership really means in the context of a bid process. These two elements, in equal measure, can have massive impact. They are also major contributors in fortifying the position of the bid team, and offering protection when dealing with challenging situations. The impact of the stresses of our roles should never be underestimated, and the more effectively we mitigate these through a bid process, the better the service we can offer.

So, a few things to think about as you go into battle. These are by no means exhaustive, but represent some of the more important concepts that I’ve tried to imbue in those I’ve managed over the years.

Be the best that you can, before expecting it of others

Something that bidders and non-bidders alike will know, is that the sector is awash with people doing the job, but by no means excelling. The profession is fun and exciting, and is well-paid for relatively junior people lacking in experience.

To identify yourself as outstanding, there is a real need to set great examples and achieve. Winning is paramount, of course, but a rigorous and structured approach to management of process helps enormously in governing the way your stakeholders will behave. The same is true of a wide assortment of other traits – clear, open and honest communication, all the way through to maintaining and metronomically distributing updates to your bid plan. By asking more of ourselves, we can expect more of others.

This statement has become especially critical to success of late, in relation to a creeping realisation of the criticality of assessing the service of our suppliers – particularly recruiters. Offering the best service means doing so by sourcing the best people. All too often I find that recruiters ask us to accept mediocre, or to interview a candidate with spelling errors in the opening line of their CV, because that’s the one to hand (rather than the one that’s right for me). I truly believe that standards are raised by a collective push to do better, which has to start with us.

Bidding and the associated outliers – consultant writers / managers, repro firms, 3d printers, 4D visualisers, graphic designers et al. – Need to be made to work harder for their (often considerable) money.

There’s a strong and clear reason that your employer offered you a contract…

Businesses need bidding people for an array of reasons, but principally it is because we offer something that nobody else can. The combination of strong project management twinned with creativity, plus sheer grunt when absolutely required, is a mix that is rarely found in any sector.

Always remember that you can offer many valuable things to a delivery team, no matter what industry. The ability of bidding people to apply logic, process and concept to somebody else’s ideas should never be underestimated.

… And it’s not because they needed another administrator!

In construction, particularly, our offices are awash with administrative staff fulfilling ill-defined roles – businesses do not actively seek bidding people because they need another to add to their ranks.

In any business, however, we all need to remember that the specialist knowledge provided to us as the components of an offer are often simply not that complex. Our contributors would like us to believe that their words are tantamount to complex works of genius, but it is our task not to be cowed by this. Having the courage to speak with confidence, with the aim of achieving the best outcomes for the working group, is a key component in establishing a bidder as being credible.

Whilst everybody should be treated fairly and not have to prove themselves, we all also know that it can be necessary. Remember your value to the process, and leverage it within your team.

“Why am I here, and what am I doing?!”

Jeremy will love the fact that I’m saying this, but it’s increasingly becoming a problem in construction – the roles and responsibilities of each person working on the bid must be clear to them, and moreover must consist of things that they can achieve.

For instance, on a massive recent bid we had upwards of 30 people contributing. A clear definition of what each of them needed to do is the very thing that would have assisted us in reaching a successful conclusion. However, we had a commercial director giving feedback on artwork; a design manager who believed his only task was to fill pages; a project director wasting meeting time complaining that he was too busy (although also not then contributing the bits required of him); an operations director being asked to complete sections of content even though we all knew he wouldn’t do it…

Lots of the contributors we all face don’t work on bids all the time, and in fact it may have been a long time since they last did so. Helping them to understand what they need to do will go a long way to limiting your frustration. Moreover, by properly briefing everybody at the start, it removes their ability to renege on fulfilment of their tasks.

Define the outcomes for yourself, nobody will do it for you

Usually referred to as ‘being the master of your own destiny’, the point is the same. Bidding as a profession, in terms of the elaborate and complicated form it takes presently, has not existed for a very long time. 15 years ago in my industry, a tendering exercise involved a sheet of paper featuring some numbers, placed inside a brown envelope.

In this sense, a lot of what we’re doing is entirely new. The ‘best’ or ‘right’ way in the eyes of one person is not always suitable for somebody else. Bright and capable young people get into this profession because there’s the opportunity to develop new and innovative ways of working which can have real impact.

I’m not a fan of the APMP personally, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work wonderfully for many people around the world. The point in its value is that a group of people took a chance on its development, and the validity of a set of tools. There are not many types of work where just a few people (or even one) can have that sort of impact, but ours is just that.

If we think we can do better – understand the problem, devise a solution, and then make it work. Never be afraid to challenge the accepted norm.

Conclusion

The title is a quote from Tsun Tzu’s Art of War, which a friend of mine recently gave to me as a birthday gift. The sentiments contained within it are hundreds of years old, but have stood the test of considerable time to now be used as a guide to effective business practice. This has stood the test of time because it was created to test the boundaries of what was possible, and to look to define an entirely new way of thinking.

As bidding folk, if we can be effective in the use of everyday methods whilst simultaneously innovating and exposing others to new and untested practice, we can lead our teams to victory.

Bid writing, blog, 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.

Bid writing

How to create winning bid CVs

Compiling a collection of standout bid CVs is one of the most important parts of any response, yet it’s one that can often be rushed through at the last minute – with a couple of word changes as an attempt at customisation.

To help your people stand out from the crowd guest blogger, Samantha Shilton has compiled a list of bid CV must-haves…

Set a structure 

Determining a standard structure for your bid CVs is a great place to start, and length-wise they should be no more than two pages long. You want to guide your audience to the key bits of information that differentiate you from your competitors. We recommend the following content areas:

  • Brief career overview and commitment to the project: Resist the urge to write War & Peace – just include some high level statements that demonstrate suitability for the role.
  • A snapshot of education and experience: This can usually be contained to a pull-out box, set to one side or positioned underneath the picture, and should include your most salient Years of service with employers is also highly valued, but there are certain countries where this is considered discriminatory – so feel free to leave this out.
  • Personal statement: A succinct quote from the individual about why they want to work on the project, and the skills and expertise they will bring to make it successful.
  • Cultural fit: A short statement on why the person is the right fit for the client organisation can give your CV a competitive edge. People with a track record of open, collaborative work practices are highly sought after, and any particularly innovative work as well as relevant previous experience should be clearly called out.
  • Practical experience: A shortlist of three mini case study-type examples will really bring your bid CVs to life. Focus on the achievements of the individual as opposed to the company – highlighting their specific job roles, ways they added value to the project and, crucially, why it’s relevant for this client on this project. You can even bold this or add as a subtitle of sorts to really make it stand out on the page.

Customise to the client 

Has the client requested references, or other elements not included in the above structure? In this case, make sure your template allows for the inclusion of these and do a little wordsmithing (with their approval) to make sure references read well and are tweaked to suit the project in question.

Demonstrate team efficacy 

If your team has worked together on a previous project, or for the client in question, insert this as a table in your submission. Teams that have worked together before and can demonstrate success from doing so tend to be more valued by clients in procurement processes.

Bid writing

What are win themes and why are they important?

We often see confused use of the term ‘bid win themes’, with various different interpretations within even a single organisation or a business unit, let alone across sectors or markets.

We see anything from great big long lists of what we would determine as client needs or service features to a single statement that is inward facing and means nothing to the client. Here is our interpretation …

Your bid win themes are your big memorable messages that will resonate with the client. We believe they should be three clear, succinct, client centric headline statements that sum up the outcomes you will deliver for them and the value those outcomes create.

So, what does all that mean?

We always say – visualise the key decision maker at the water cooler in their office talking to a colleague after having appointed a winner of their procurement process. When asked who has secured the business with them the decision maker should respond with your name followed by your three win themes as their reasons why. Your key messages. “Company A won the deal because of X, Y and Z . .  .”

Win themes are the ‘golden threads’ that will run throughout your executive summary, into your submission and your presentation. They should be the proposition at the heart of your exec summary and wherever possible – at least one of them should feature in every response or area of your bid. They should be the key anchor pillars of your presentation, and referred to at the start and in conclusion.

Win themes should:

  • be the ‘sum of the parts’ of your proposals, linking to your solution and propositions
  • resonate with the client as solving their issues, delivering their needs, and deriving value
  • be easy to understand – the client should ‘get it’ for each win theme in three seconds
  • be client centric, articulated in their language and terminology
  • provide clear unique differentiation from your competitors
  • be restricted to three big messages only, as people do not tend to remember more than three things from any form of communication.

Why are win themes important?

Your bid needs to be exciting and memorable. But more importantly, it needs to tell the client what’s in it for them and why they should select you – very clearly and quickly. Having well defined win themes that permeate throughout your proposals helps you achieve that. They provide three hooks that draw the client in and help them believe you are the supplier for them.

The development of win themes early in the bid process also helps galvanise your bid team, giving them belief that you will win and to go that extra mile by having clear differentiation.