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.

Bid writing

How to create winning bid CVs

Compiling a collection of standout CVs is one of the most important parts of any bid 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 must-haves…

Set a structure 

Determining a standard structure for your 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 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 ‘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 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.

 

Bid writing

Top tips for successfully kicking off your bid

It is vital that bids start positively. A good start provides direction to all involved, clarity of actions and drives momentum.

We find that traditionally many organisations, and indeed proposal consultants, tend to mobilise bids with a full team kick off meeting. In our experience there is a relatively high probability that these meetings can fall off track and become a bit of a zoo, with too many voices, not enough action agreed and a subsequent scattering of team members without a clear view of what they have been asked to do.

Don’t rush into being a collection of busy fools

Our key piece of advice is to not rush into starting up your full bid team. We advocate a focused strategy meeting prior to a full kick off. Bring together a smaller leadership group first to understand what is being asked of you in the clients’ documents and to define the win strategy. Ensure that the strategy session has clear leadership, with people encouraged to bring enthusiasm for the opportunity and a detailed understanding of the client, their influences and the opportunity

We would say that attendees should be limited to your executive sponsor for the opportunity, the designated bid leader (if one has been selected), your sales lead for the opportunity, a bid manager for the submission, your service delivery lead (who is likely to be the key delivery CV for your submission) and your commercial lead.

Make sure an appropriate amount of time is set aside for the strategy development in this session. Try to defend that time together, it will reap benefits later. This session is likely to be at least half a day and quite possibly a full day. If the opportunity is worth pursuing, then it must be worth spending time together to understand how to win it.

The attributes of the strategy meeting are:

  • That it is a focused leadership meeting
  • It is facilitated by the bid leader with participation from all
  • It is a ‘Blue sky thinking’ meeting, where innovation and enthusiasm about the opportunity come together
  • Its focused on how to win.

Now you can kick it off with control

Once you have your strategy nailed, then you can brief your wider team of contributors in a full kick off meeting.

The attributes of the kick-off meeting are:

  • That it sets the direction for the bid, affirming commitment and sponsorship
  • The meeting is led by the bid leader with a firm grip on the agenda
  • It is a more methodical action orientated meeting
  • There is an understanding of compliance among the attendees
  • Attendees are enthusiastic about the opportunity and going the extra mile

Splitting Strategy from Kick Off has the following benefits:

  • It gets your senior team and Sponsor aligned, so there is no confusion or dirty washing aired in front of the wider team – there is nothing worse than senior people disagreeing in front of room of their staff, appearing unprepared or setting a negative tone.
  • It provides clear direction, unpicking action from strategy – allowing you to brief the contributors and then focus on what you need them to do
  • Although it creates an additional meeting, ultimately it is more efficient and effective

Some basics – meeting preparation:

  • Distribute information at least 24-hour is prior to the meeting
  • Ensure you have appropriate meeting facilities booked in advance
  • Make sure you have the right people in the room, push for people to have their availability freed for the session
  • Make sure there are copies of the client documentation and any research in the room
  • Print off the agreed bid strategy and key messages and place them on the walls of the meeting room
  • Lastly, the bid leader and bid manager should develop a pre-populated draft bid plan in advance
Bid writing

Writing an epic executive summary

We’re bored of being bored by boring Executive Summaries. Bored.

We’ve lost count of drafts we receive with an opening line of: “we’re really pleased to have been invited to tender for this prestigious . . .something something commitment, blah blah” Yawn.

Clients do not care about you. They care about what you are going to do for them – what value are you going to create for them?

We’re also tired of being brought in towards the end of bids and teams are struggling to write a compelling exec sum. Your bid leader should be able to draft at least a decent draft executive summary based on the outcomes of your strategy session right at the start of the process.  If they can’t, why are you bidding for it?

Anyway. Grumble over. Instead, follow these top tips – be epic:

Order it for the client, not your ego – talk about them first

When you see a big group shot of a wedding you attended, what’s the first thing you look for? That’s right, yourself. Clients want to hear about themselves and to know that you get them. They want to know that you understand what they need, what their concerns are and how it needs to be tackled. Talk about the client first. Let them you know that you get their issues. Give them an introduction centered around your understanding – talking about their situation and needs, and why it’s important to them.

Make an impact

Then, once you have demonstrated that you understand their situation, the challenge and what is required – hit them with an ‘Impact statement’. This is a high-level strategic statement that demonstrates how you are going to solve their issues and the value you will deliver. It needs to be short, two or three lines at most. It’s a headline that should grab their attention, like in a newspaper. Preferably it should come in the first person from your delivery lead, the accountable person they will work with day to day.

Land your value proposition

Now unpack a bit more of how you are going to deliver value of that impact. Provide three headlines with associated details of your proposition.  This is the core of your exec sum, the value proposition made up of your win themes.  These should be the three big messages that the client remembers about your bid.

Don’t just talk about how much your service will cost, but walk them through the value. Sure, talk about your team, but focus on how their experience de-risks the project or speeds up mobilisation. Talk outcomes.

Bring the boom!

If you’ve got an impressive USP that sets your delivery apart from the rest, now is the time to tell them about it. Wow them with something they will find interesting and that they will remember.

Put your big guns last

And finally – do the ‘big guns’ bit. Provide a statement from your sponsor for the tender, a senior executive who will ultimately be responsible. This is where the commitment “blah blah” bit should go. Last.

Test it with the client?

Lastly, can you test any of it with the client before submission?  Can you at least double check that your proposition resonates with them? Ideally this should take place early on in the bid process to enable change and to provide confidence. You should ask yourself – if you don’t have a relationship where you can phone someone up at the client and test ideas with them, does somebody else?