Culture Trumps Process

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In my career as a bid and proposal consultant and trainer, I have been in an extremely privileged position to help all sorts of customers. And when I say ‘all sorts’, I mean all sorts of shapes, sizes, nationalities, industries and languages.

I have seen bidding from many different angles. There were many ‘standard’ proposals such as bidding for IT projects, consulting assignments, or infrastructure projects. But I have also helped to sell fighter jets, bid for a telecom licence (for a mobile operator on the Solomon Islands!), sell production facilities for the semiconductor industry (worth billions of dollars) and produce a winning bid for a company securing their national lottery licence. (That actually turned out to be one of the most fascinating projects I have ever conducted! Before, I had been under the false impression the lottery business was boring).

As you would expect, every industry and corporate organisation has developed their own distinct culture. Yes, the defence industry is indeed very different from the gambling industry. And yes, German engineers do have their own style! Of course, the auditing and consulting industries (‘people’ businesses) are (generally speaking) a bit more advanced when it comes to selling people – in other words: presenting their teams. And I can confirm the US and the UK are divided by a common language – for instance, Americans tend to use the words ‘awesome’, ‘great’ and ‘fantastic’ a bit more often!

You might ask which industry, culture or setup breeds the best bidders? And what can we learn from them? I have asked myself this very question many times and I have always come to the same conclusion: there is no ideal environment for bidders. Despite huge differences in products or services, and differences in the cultural or ethnic background of the bidding teams, I have not been able to identify a single industry or region that masters the art of bidding better than any others. No.

But there are stunning differences between bidders. I tried to make a simple list of the most successful organisations within our network in terms of achieving outstanding win or capture rates and generating large amounts of new business over a longer period of time. I ended up with a list of eight bid teams.

So what makes them special? Do they have a better, more sophisticated bid process? No. Do they have the latest and greatest tech? Some of them. Do their org charts look different from other organisations? No. Do they get paid more? Some of them.

However, they all have things in common. While this is not the result of a scientifically thorough analysis, I am highly convinced we have identified the main differentiators of high-performance bid organisations.

Five characteristics of high-performance bid organisations

They all share the following five characteristics:

  1. They love their job, and they have fun.
  2. They permanently measure their performance in many dimensions.
  3. They constantly work on improving their performance.
  4. They have a strong dislike for ‘common practice’ and a strong passion for ‘best practice’.
  5. They have a strong internal standing (and are not perceived as sales support).

It all comes down to people and leadership. In all eight teams, I found an outstanding passion for their job. These high-performance bid teams generate more business more efficiently and face very low people turnover simply because they love what they do.

They measure their performance more often and in more dimensions than others. They typically measure their win/capture rates for different segments and compare them over time. They run ‘lessons learned’ reviews (both internal and external) on a very regular basis. They usually have a 360o review system in place.

They train their team members more often. Their training efforts go far beyond the typical ‘one training session per year’ and they involve sales, too. They ensure sales and bid management are aligned and are open-minded to new approaches. Their willingness to improve and learn leads to a passionate culture comparable to that of successful sports teams. They want to win, and they do everything for it. If they are successful, they also earn the necessary respect and acceptance in their organisation.

Ok, this is all not very surprising, is it? Of course not. This is certainly applicable to many other teams of any kind, too. Still, many bid teams could drastically improve if they understood that successful bidding is much more about a positive team culture than following a corporate process. It is about the team’s values, attitudes and goals, and about winning deals, competition, and relationships.

This article was written by Chris Kälin.

Chris is a global authority on bid and proposal management. He was co-founder and chairman of the Germanspeaking APMP chapter and regional director for Europe/Africa. He is APMP-certified at Professional Level (CPP APMP) and is an APMP Approved Trainer. In 2013, he received the prestigious Fellows Award.

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