The Dreaded Question – Musings on Meaning

Home / Bidding Quarterly / The Dreaded Question – Musings on Meaning

I can feel it coming, every time I sit with a new starter in the firm and explain what my team does. The question. The Dreaded Question. “Have you got an example of best practice we could look at?” 45 minutes of going through process, content libraries, templates, policies, you name it – and it always, always comes back to that question.

It’s not an unreasonable question. Frankly, it’s a question I myself have asked in interviews (and I might as well use this platform to apologise to any of my previous interviewers when I asked that question without really understanding what I was asking). The problem is, despite the best efforts of the APMP, bidding best practice cannot be applied to every bid in every industry. I remember thinking when I was studying for my Foundation exam it must be amazing to work in one of these places where you have sales managers, content writers, bid managers, design teams and so on. Often you’re lucky if you have enough bid specialists to manage the number of bids coming in without having to drop something else (let alone the rest of it). More commonly all those tasks are just another part of your everyday role. Most bidders I know, across a variety of industries, have to find a way to do it which works for the resources we have.

So how do you answer that question? How do you demonstrate best practice? I know for many people an example of best practice is the bid which won the biggest deal – but is that best practice or just very satisfying? I know I have written and produced bids which looked fantastic, ticked all the boxes and showcased a fantastic win strategy but we lost it on pricing, or because the process failed us. By contrast, the bids which we have pulled together in record time in response to an email (which are definitely not examples of “best practice” but make up a decent proportion of the team’s work) are the successful bids more often than not.

Because of all this, the idea of what “best practice” means feels a bit subjective. In my team we have the same set of standards we hold every bid to, absolutely. These standards start with asking the basic questions (“Have we supplied everything the client asked for and answered all the questions?”  “Are we within the specified word count throughout?”) and continue with asking more involved ones  (“Is our win strategy clear?” “Is the bid client-focused rather than talking about us?”). Are these questions examples of best practice or processes tailored to the needs of the team (much like our bids are tailored to the needs of our clients)? It seems the phrase “best practice” is not describing “a set of working methods which are officially accepted as being the best to use in a particular industry” (thank you Cambridge Dictionary for the helpful definition). Instead it is a catch-all phrase asking, “When it comes to how you bid, what works best for you?”.

In law, bidding teams don’t tend to be enormous; if they are, bid specialists are aligned to a particular area of the law rather than being jacks-of-all-trades. We develop ways and means of managing bids efficiently and effectively which don’t necessarily follow APMP or Shipley standards. Instead we use elements of and are influenced by those standards to create a broad process and a communal goal for the team. It’s why to be a bid person you need that very particular combination of a Type A personality and the ability to quickly adapt and revise your plans – because you never know what you might face from one RFP to the next!

So again – how do you answer the Dreaded Question? The truth is I don’t; not really. Not in the manner which most would expect anyway. I don’t provide examples of snazzy bids we have previously won or deliver a highly detailed training session in what steps you should follow for every bid – because in my experience you cannot treat every bid the same way. Instead, I respond “We don’t have one particular example of best practice here.”

What I mean by that is every bid is done to the highest standard possible given the time, resources and involvement of the fee earner available. Some days that looks like industry-approved best practice. Some days we sit back and say, “We’ve done our best”. And other days, it can look a bit like we’re just rolling the dice.

This article was written by Anna Maysey-Wells.

Anna is a Senior Bids & Operations Manager. She has been working in bids for nearly ten years following a brief stint in journalism and freelance copywriting. She now specialises in legal professional services and leads a team at a Top 25 European law firm.
Anna is a strong advocate for work/life balance and equality for women in the workplace. She also contributed to the Pinnacle Pitch Management Survey 2022 alongside other esteemed bidding colleagues in the legal industry. When not popping up on LinkedIn bid posts, Anna enjoys travelling, pottering around the garden and winding up her nieces.

Back to Foreword