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

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.

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.

When it comes to executive summaries and bids in general remember  – 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 executive summary. 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?


Creating Impactful Case Studies

The last piece of the jigsaw of proposal basics is evidencing each response.

The client needs to believe that your responses are accurate, possible, and true. Providing evidence in the form of case studies within your responses provides confidence in your ability to deliver and substantiates your story.

Selecting case studies that are directly relevant to the client and the opportunity is key and should be approached by thinking through the DNA of the example you wish to put forward, both in terms of the client themselves and the opportunity you are tendering for. Does it match the attributes of the client and the opportunity you are bidding for?

Recent and relevant 

Make sure that your case study is as recent as possible and that it could be independently substantiated if the client wished to do so.  Be careful not to include evidence that is not true or related to previous work that did not go so well. It is possible the client could find out and it could cause embarrassment.

A common and useful form of evidence is the use of case studies. When providing case studies we would advocate including the following components where appropriate:

  • Base data on the value, scale and perhaps location of the example. Perhaps include some statistics
  • Provide a brief description detailing some context, and perhaps some challenges and how you overcome them
  • Detail any innovation that was deployed in delivering the example, any added value derived for the client and how are you may have exceeded the client expectations
  • Make sure you overtly spell out why the example is relevant to the opportunity you are tendering. Draw some comparisons between the example and the opportunity.
  • Lastly include any quotations from the client on the example. Make sure that the quotes are agreed with the client of the example in advance. Don’t just make them up.

It is important to only include directly relevant case studies and to highlight why it is relevant to the client overtly. Never make the reader guess why you have included them. Spell it out for them.

Overall keep case studies focused, concise and to the point. Think through the design, using headers / signposting, images and ‘call out boxes’. You should be able to glance at the page and within three seconds understand why the example is relevant and how it supports the argument of your proposal.