Since ChatGPT became available, everyone is talking about AI (Artificial Intelligence). The smart chatbot talks like a human super-expert on anything available on the internet. I have tested it myself, and it is truly mindboggling, scary, and fascinating all at the same time. A friend of mine even used ChatGPT to create a plan for his family’s summer holidays. The result turned out to be far better than his travel agent’s suggestions! Examples like this show us the enormous potential of AI. This is certainly why it triggers many bid centres to rethink their tools and tech strategy (or develop one).
So should we now focus on AI tools? No. While I truly believe AI will eventually and significantly impact the bid and proposal business, I suggest tackling this question from a completely different angle. Overall, we should start looking at using those tools and those pieces of technology that provide us with the most squid for your quid, right? From this point of view, we are distinguishing between three groups of tools and tech in the bid and proposal space.
The basic stuff
The first group contains those simple tools we all use anyway: Word, Excel, simple checklists, forms and templates, sample documents, prewritten text. The basics. We usually don’t need to request additional funding to leverage these tools.
The second group is slightly more sophisticated. This group can include dedicated calculation tools, specific project management tools, software tools to manage CVs and case studies, and so forth. They typically require a certain degree of adaptation from the software supplier as they go beyond plug-and-play. They also require some investment but it is mostly a moderate amount of money, and the integration in your IT environment shouldn’t take too long either.
Complex, ‘all-in-one’ tools
Then there are the more complex (and therefore often rather costly) tools. They are usually integrated ‘all in one’ tools that support you throughout the entire bidding process. Although potentially very powerful, they require a large degree of customisation to your process. Integrating them in your IT environment is a bit of an exercise. These tools require training and whenever something changes in your company’s setup, they potentially need to be adapted. Depending on your setup, they can indeed bring a lot of value. But there is also the indisputable risk that the time and money you invest will outweigh the benefits of using them.
Do your homework first
As you would expect, the low hanging fruits are in the first group. They must be priority number one! Are you using a user-friendly Word template? Are you using helpful checklists throughout the process? Have you got a basic set of prewritten text elements for typical sections of your proposals? Do you have a repository with the documents you will need again and again? Is your proposal storage well-structured and organised? You are getting it. Although very basic, reality shows that too many organisations still fail here.
Once you have done your homework with the first group, you can then think of going one step further. In most cases, it will be preferrable to explore the second group and not to jump directly to the third group. Of course, some vendors will argue their software covers everything in groups two and three. They may also argue it is a waste of time to develop a multitude of tools first (groups one and two) before replacing them all with their all in one tool. And yes, they might be right – if you choose the right one and manage and populate it properly. The challenge for this type of software is that most bid processes are very cross-functional and interact with many IT systems across the organisation. The bid process itself is also far from standardised, so any software package needs to be extremely flexible and customisable to any bid and any organisation.
And one more thing: Don’t get fooled by product demonstrations. They often make you believe these tools are super-easy to use to help you create stunning proposals within minutes. Too often your use case is different from the one shown, and you won’t benefit from the tool in the same way. (Hey product vendors: please forgive me but you know it is true).
Here is my conclusion: Do your homework first and get the basics right: templates, checklists, storage, etc.
In most cases, these will make your life much easier without investing a fortune. Once this is done (and yes, this is usually a bit more work than expected), you might want to look at group two – the dedicated, advanced tools. As an example, if you regularly need to provide multiple CVs/résumes and case studies to your clients, it might be beneficial to manage them with a dedicated tool to avoid regularly collecting, re-writing and formatting them.
If you believe you are ready for the third level, make sure you go through a thorough evaluation process. This should include reference visits and a pilot/proof-of-concept phase. Plan enough time and resources to do so. Then and only then will these tools truly boost your bid centre’s efficiency.
But remember: A fool with a tool is still a fool!
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.