In the 22+ years that I have been involved in bids never before have I seen so much activity as there is now. Bid professionals are super busy. Colleagues are starting consultancies. Owners of microbusinesses have recruited staff for the first time.
But why is our industry having a period of great prosperity? In a pandemic especially? I sense that the reasons I suggest may resonate with others.
Compensations and perks
It is a candidate market at the moment. Market forces have created this inflated compensation bubble. Was the market undervalued before? Hell yes! The perks have also changed. Working from anywhere (WFA) is the new equivalent of Google’s free lunches and onsite laundromats (yes, some people like to wash their clothes at work).
Recently, someone approached me with a bid management role with an incredible package and great benefits. I carried out due diligence on the company as it seemed too good to be true. And it was! There are opportunities out there that you may never see again. Research them thoroughly.
Virtual collaboration software
An avalanche of collaboration tools has sprung up, changing the way we do business. WFA is definitely easier now. Even your grandmother is using Zoom (other suppliers are available). These digital tools have also helped to attract new talent to our industry who may not have considered a career in bid management before.
Impact of COVID restrictions
Pre-COVID, salespeople would go out to see customers. They would wine and dine them and build up enough rapport to secure a sale. They would often win a contract without participating in a formal procurement process. Briefly ignoring implications for transparency and anti-bribery policies that most companies now have, bid teams have mostly been invisible within this typical sales cycle. Bid professionals would operate unseen and mostly interact face-to-face with customers only at bidders’ events, or negotiation stage. Otherwise they’d stay in the background.
Then COVID restrictions happened, and the scenario I’ve illustrated didn’t work as well anymore. There was no travel. No appointments made to show customers the products and services on offer. No taking clients out for lunch to catch up on competitors’ news. I witnessed salespeople’s frustration first hand, with my sales colleagues who were unable to meet with their home-bound customers.
Bigger role for procurement teams
Despite this, companies still needed to buy services and products. In the absence of flashy sales presentations or freebies given out at sales meetings, procurement officers withstood the worst of this new landscape. Did you know that New York State resorted to posting on Twitter to find vendors at the apex of COVID infections? On the other hand, even companies not subject to public procurement rules began running tendering processes that resemble those of current public sector bids.
In the absence of contracts won via salespeople influencing customers, bid teams got busier, aided by newly available digital bid management tools. While a salesperson is naturally talented at building rapport, they are rarely good at managing a proposal, especially remotely. In contrast, even younger or less experienced bid professionals finally had an opportunity to get in front of the customer (albeit virtually) and submit responses to increasingly higher numbers of opportunities.
Shall we celebrate this changed scenario or proceed with caution?
I’ll sit on the fence on this one. Definitely lots to celebrate. Finally, we are in demand for our skills and ability to respond with agility to ‘unprecedented changes’ (two words some companies use to justify poor customer service – but that’s another article altogether).
Sure, opportunities and crazy salaries abound. However, do your homework before you jump ship. We still don’t know for sure if this is a bubble. For the record, I didn’t apply for that job vacancy. For me compensation is not everything. You may think differently and may want to secure a salary resembling those in the financial sector.
For those of you hiring without big budgets, make the most of the APMP apprenticeship scheme and partner with a bid consultancy on the important projects you simply must win. Consultancies can help you win in the interim while you build your permanent team.
Sales professionals meanwhile are keen to go back to what was the status quo. If you gained access to your clients in key accounts and developed virtual relationships during this period, make sure that as things go back to (the new) normal, you keep those relationships alive. Stand your ground with your sales teams and ensure that you are there for all the important conversations.
Personally, I am lucky to be a fully-fledged member of our commercial team. If you feel you are relegated to the position you had pre-COVID, push back and continue to find opportunities to develop that expanded role further.
As bid professionals, working with uncertainty and planning for all eventualities is what we do best. That’s why we all thrived during COVID. We are good at herding our Subject Matter Contributor cats, even virtually, and are best at contingency planning. Suddenly, bid professionals in this changed environment are recognised as vital agents for achieving success.
Long may this continue.
This article was written by Rita Mascia.