The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines best practice as “a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.” Based on my observations of the bid and proposal industry, the concept of best practice can feel rigid and static. I prefer to use the term leading practices, recognising that we need to scale how we do things according to different scenarios (i.e. what is best in one situation may not be best in another), and we need to adapt over time (i.e. what is best now may not be best tomorrow).
When many of us began our careers in bids and proposals, we relied upon traditional resources and experience. This included the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) certification syllabi – I still have a well-used copy of the Shipley Guide Third Edition I originally used to prepare for the APMP Foundation exam. And there was advice from direct line managers, many of whom had “fallen into” bids and proposals.
Due to the evolution of our profession, the impact of technology, and the abundance mindset of most proposal people, we’re seeing the rise and democratisation of leading practices. This article explores how you can access leading practices through content, community, and coaching and mentoring.
You can consume a variety of curated content, including the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK), books and articles.
- The APMP BOK: The BOK comprises 51 topics organised into seven categories. There’s also a full-text search capability, a glossary, a list of acronyms, and a repository of tools and templates. APMP updates the BOK based on members’ feedback – it would be fascinating to see a log of the updates made and the reasons for them.
- Books: Titles on your bookshelf may include newer Shipley Guide editions, SMAwins Program Lifecycle Body of Knowledge book series, Neil Cobb and Charlie Divine’s Writing Business Bids and Proposals for Dummies, Tom Sant’s Persuasive Business Proposals, and Jon Williams and BJ Lownie’s Proposal Essentials.
- Articles: Your browser bookmarks may include Bid Solutions’ Bidding Quarterly, Strategic Proposals’ white papers, APMP’s Winning the Business and the PropLIBRARY. However, many of your “a-ha” moments may have been in relation to LinkedIn posts – Rachelle Ray, Juliet Fletcher and Kathryn Bennett are three individuals who are top of mind for me.
In addition, you’ll see updates from BidCraft, the APMP and the British Standards Institution (BSI) on their development of an international framework for the bid and proposal industry. I’m already impressed by their consultative and transparent approach to this important project.
You can seize opportunities to engage with fellow proposal professionals through social media platforms and groups, conferences, and online workshops.
- Social media platforms and groups: Three notable examples are Proposal Industry Experts (PIE), Women in Bids and Proposals (WIBAP), and the APMP’s Affinity Groups (LGBTQ+, Military and Veterans, Professionals of Colour, and Young Professionals).
- Conferences: Recent conferences have included APMP’s Bid and Proposal Con and Women’s Virtual Summit. Upcoming events include Loopio’s Loopicon 2022. We’re seeing the crowdsourcing of topics and speakers.
- Online workshops: There’s been a shift from traditional webinars (where the flow of knowledge was one-way) to more interactive, collaborative offerings including PIE’s Office Hours, Baachu Scribble’s Insider Training, and Pipster Solutions’ Bid Bites and Thursday Throng.
Coaching and mentoring
You can receive coaching and mentoring through formal schemes, informal learning, and tools:
- Formal schemes: Formal schemes include the UK Bid and Proposal Co-Ordinator apprenticeship which launched in 2019. Katie Dongworth (Pipster Solutions) recently passed her apprenticeship with Distinction. There’s also APMP UK Rapport – a highly professional programme that focuses on the individual’s career situation and aspirations within the bid and proposal profession. The aim of Rapport is to help individuals to be the best they can be in their current role and to provide a platform to help them achieve their aspirations.
- Informal learning: Examples include teaming senior and junior proposal professionals on an opportunity. The senior resources can learn as much from the junior resources as the junior resources do from the senior resources. There are also opportunities to learn from new hires who have joined from a competitor, and from colleagues in bid/proposal-adjacent roles (e.g. account management, pricing, marketing). There are fresh insights when working with other organisations (as part of a consortium bid) or with independent proposal consultants. There are pre-mortem sessions (per Eve Upton’s thought leadership), internal lessons learned sessions and external client debriefs.
- Tools: Proposal-specific examples include the My Proposal Coach and the Proposal Benchmarker (and accompanying webinars/white papers) from Strategic Proposals. However, there are a variety of writing-related tools (e.g. VisibleThread, Hemingway and Microsoft Word’s Editor) and presentation-related tools (e.g. Microsoft’s PowerPoint Presenter Coach) that provide real-time guidance too.
Bid and proposal leading practices will continue to evolve. Each one of us has a part to play – I even asked three former colleagues and good friends for ideas for this conclusion. After reading this article, I encourage you to:
- Consider the “why”: Mehnaz Thawer suggests that using leading practices should generate benefits such as improved win rate, elevated quality scores or increased job satisfaction. Micheline LeBlanc argues that many leading practices have been developed in lessons learned sessions after challenging proposal submissions.
- Adapt as needed: As Shradha Talwar states, you can scale leading practices according to individual/group communication styles, organisation (bidder and client) industry and geography, and proposal timeline
- Share your knowledge and recommend other resources: The content, community, and coaching and mentoring examples I have referenced barely scratch the surface – comment on the article with your tips and referrals.
This article was written by Ceri Mescall.
Ceri is a Work Winning Consultant based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Over her 16-year career, she has enabled clients to secure over $850 million in sustainable, profitable work. Ceri is one of only 19 people globally (as of March 2022) who holds all four Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) certifications. In addition, she is an APMP 40 Under 40 Award winner (class of 2019) and an APMP Fellow (class of 2020). Ceri is a presenter/panelist, article author, and awards judge.