Good is the New Normal

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I can’t wait for October’s APMP UK conference. It’s been too long since we last gathered face-to-face as a profession; too long since we spent time in a room with colleagues who face the same issues – and share the same joys – of life as a bid and proposal professional.

I have one slight hesitation, though, thinking back to the last of these events in 2019. Sponsors of the event are given stands: ours was right at the end of the exhibition area. And I remember standing next to ours, looking out over the crowd, and thinking: “I’m one of the old folks.”

Given I set up my first bid centre not long after I’d turned 30, and then co-founded APMP UK with Chris Whyatt soon after – that came as something of a shock. And it led me to reflect on the journey we’ve come on as a profession.

I’m fortunate to get to spend time with bid folks from numerous organisations around the world when running courses or bid workshops. And the joy of those sessions for me isn’t just about imparting enthusiasm and ideas: it’s about listening to the experiences of those in the (real or virtual) room.

And you know what? Those experiences have changed so very much. Let me share a few examples.

I’ll often tease about the “bid/no bid” decision. “Do you have a qualification process in your organisation?” “Yes,” people confirm. “Then you never find yourself working on a bid where you’re not confident you’re going to win, or without the necessary resource?”

Years ago, people laughed and shook their heads. Now, many nod. What used to be best practice is now merely good.

“Do you work with your sales teams before the RFP lands?” In the past, people looked incredulous: where would they find the time in the merry-go-round of responding? Now, capture and pre-proposal planning are de rigueur for so many.

I share examples of (suitably redacted) proposal design, carefully crafted by my team. The stuff I show is probably an eight out of ten: not the very latest or most leading work by our designers, but enough to illustrate key principles. I ask attendees to give a comparative score their own bids, from a design perspective. A few years ago, it was threes and fours. Now, I hear lots of sevens and eights.

Over the years, too many libraries of pre-written content have merely enabled their organisations to write poor proposals faster. Now, for so many, they’re more carefully curated, adding far more value.

And so on… Things that challenged us in the past are still challenges for many, of course. Not every organisation really “gets” the power of the proposal process as a source of competitive advantage (yet).

The things we used to view as best practice are now merely good, merely normal. The bar has been raised – significantly. We’ve reached Bids 2.0 – but our journey is far from done.

I see clear parallels with the world of procurement, where I started my career. Back in the day, “buyers” had no real voice at senior levels: now the chief procurement officer is a key contributor in board-level conversations. But when did you last meet a chief proposal officer?

Best practice has to be striving for true influence at the top table. Campaigning to ensure that bids and proposals are high on the radar of the C-suite, recognised as the value generation engine for much of the organisation.

It’s only with that senior sponsorship we’ll truly embed the processes and behaviours that enable us to contribute to exceptional growth in revenues, jobs and profitability. To move away from the continual fight for attention, buy-in and resources that characterise life for too many in our profession today – to a world where the red carpet in the (perhaps virtual) office leads straight to the door of the bid centre.

And then that “best” practice, that Bids 3.0 – will feel like merely the new good practice, and we’ll need to push still further. Bids 4.0, anyone?!

This article was written by Jon Williams.

Jon and his team work with clients worldwide to help them establish winning proposal capabilities and to capture major deals. He has built and led numerous bid and proposal centres; managed, reviewed and benchmarked countless proposals; worked in over 35 countries; and trained many thousands of course participants.

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