Winning – but at what cost?

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Performance management and measuring success have both been discussed at length across the bidding industry. To no one’s surprise, it is hugely subjective. For example, a Pipster Solutions #BidBites session in early 2022 focused on win rates and how different firms/leaders tracked their wins. By the end of the hour we had many examples and opportunities for how to measure bidding success but no agreed singular approach to best practice. Plus ça change – ’twas ever thus!

The measure of success for senior management teams who are not involved in bids in any tangible sense often boils down to “What’s our win rate?” – possibly plucking an arbitrary percentage out of the air for bid teams to aim above. (FYI, Loopio’s annual trends report provides market comparisons on win rates which is helpful for those conversations should you need it). Revenue targets may motivate teams (as they have a clear goal in mind) but are also somewhat futile. More often than not the revenue gained from a winning bid is determined by the fee or client spend – in other words, it’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it! Bid KPIs or targets are also best avoided. In professional services, the business stakeholders are our client and they have final say on the bid. If they choose to ignore the bid team’s expert advice, there is an argument the team should not be penalised if those bids lose.

Despite all this, measuring success is often not win or lose but whether myriad other considerations have been taken into account. What about conversion rates? What about developing new content? What about a low win rate but an absolutely stonking ROI? What if you won the bid but your team are getting signed off for exhaustion one by one?

Perhaps a better way to measure success is assess it more holistically rather than purely using metrics. This is where performance management comes in. In the legal industry, the bids team does not receive commission or incentives if a bid wins. There are no client dinners or awards for a job well done. Bonuses are not linked to targets (in my experience) as we do not have sales managers.

Instead I manage performance by ensuring my team members are mentally robust and healthy, they are not burning out and they feel supported in saying, “No, I won’t be able to do that for you tonight” to stakeholders who make requests at 5:29pm on a Friday. Are the workloads balanced? Does the team feel supported by each other and by me? Do we all have each other’s backs? If we can answer “Yes” to all those questions then, to me, that is a success – and it’s not easy to achieve in the bidding industry, as any of the BQ16 contributors will attest! To manage performance this way means my team achieves success in other areas (stakeholders telling them they value their advice, for example) without attaching a data-driven value to it.

Is it exciting and uplifting when we win? Yes, absolutely. There is no question that, for a bidding professional, a call or email starting with “We’re pleased to inform you…” gives a buzz like no other (particularly if it was one of the more onerous RFPs!). But the team is also excited and uplifted when we get through to interview stage, or when we’ve finally cracked the wording on a particularly difficult piece of text, or when the sales team comes through with some really useful capture information. Taking pleasure and encouraging pride in the less tangible or obvious wins is key to ensuring the ongoing high performance of the team. It also helps soften the blow of any losses.

The bidding industry has a high burnout rate and often diminishing job satisfaction the longer one is in the profession. This is why performance management and measuring success should not have the same criteria for the bid as for the bidder. It is fundamentally necessary to differentiate what success look like between the two and to find the wins where one can – both personally and professionally.

This article was written by Anna Maysey-Wells.

Anna is Head of Bids and Operations. 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.

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