Being an expert in a particular industry or sector certainly has its appeal. As a master of your chosen discipline, you can become highly respected amongst peers and your confidence can soar. People also tend to trust experts more freely.
But what if that expertise is holding you back? Maybe you can’t see the wood for the trees. Or maybe you are held in such high esteem you become an unopposed expert. What then? Where is the motivation to better yourself?
Turn the clock back 20 years and very few employers sought bid professionals with relevant industry experience. They were more focussed on your ability to put a winning bid together. You could quite literally jump from industry to industry and there were very few barriers to doing so.
Fast forward to today. We have never seen greater demand for specialist industry knowledge and skills in permanent recruitment. Many of our clients are very specific about the industrial background and experience they seek. Most say they are willing to be flexible but in reality, very few candidates make the cut if they don’t meet the wish list.
The contract market is slightly less prescriptive and we work with both generalists and specialists in equal measure. Clients with short term resource emergencies tend to be more flexible and candidates are equally successful.
So what is behind this drive towards specialists and our self-termed ‘Industrial Evolution’? Large swathes of the bid and proposal profession are maturing at a rate of knots. They are accelerating beyond the traditional ‘sales support’ or ‘sales admin’ function into the ‘strategic enabler’ and ‘trusted advisor’ space. It is in these more mature (and often more complex) businesses where we see the highest demand for specialist industry knowledge and skills.
The slight irony with this trend is that these types of businesses generally have the most capable subject matter experts (SMEs) so are potentially doubling up on the same skills. In our experience, clients with strong SMEs in situ typically need strong bid management or bid writing skills to enhance the process/proposals. The SME has the industry knowledge; it just needs to be meticulously extracted from them and professionally articulated.
Certain industries such as Defence, Construction, Science, IT and Professional Services are more likely to ask for specific experience but they also then tend to pay higher salaries to attract and retain the talent. The recruitment process can also be more protracted in these professions (three to six months is not uncommon) whilst the focus remains on securing their ‘bidding unicorn’.
All too often we see months of intense effort to secure a perfect match candidate unravel because definitions of hybrid and homeworking are also rapidly evolving. The move back to an office environment is very real. Although there is strong resistance to returning to pre-Covid working conditions across our profession, hybrid work now typically means at least three or four office-based days.
APMP’s introduction of micro-certifications is also driving the profession towards more and more specialist roles. While these certificates provide kudos and respect amongst peers, we are yet to see an employer actively seek out such skills. Even those companies stipulating APMP Foundation or Practitioner rarely reject candidates without those qualifications. (APMP Professional has never been requested by our clients on a job specification.) We’d argue that how the prospective employer gels with the candidate has greater sway in the decision-making process.
Geography clearly also plays its part. Some countries are only in the earliest stages of bid and proposal evolution and others are sprinting ahead. There is currently a clear lack of specialist Bid Writers in the UK market but we haven’t seen a move (yet) by clients to sponsor international candidates with the right skills and industry experience. It can only be a matter of time.
We firmly believe capture, bid and proposal skills are transferable across industries. There are absolutely some things you will need to learn about any industry to be successful but none are insurmountable for a skilled professional. And being a generalist is equally as credible as being a specialist. Our recommendation to candidates seeking out a new sector or industry is to focus on your most transferable skills. Examples include working on complex or multi-million £/€/$ bids, leading or line managing teams, influencing stakeholders, developing value propositions, making bid/no bid decisions, and writing social value responses.
Our team of BQ Experts brings an unparalleled breadth of knowledge and experience to this topic and have generously shared their unique perspectives in BQ17. We hope you enjoy the 22 fantastic articles and can take advantage of the many opportunities arising from the Industrial Evolution.
In this issue
Taking an honest look at your skills, style, sector, specialities and self is Sarah Hinchliffe’s advice in “The Story of You”. Sarah explains how she evolved her own story to best represent what makes her bidding skills unique. She provides a blueprint for you to do the same so you can tell your own compelling story.
Sarah labels herself a ‘Storyteller, Organiser, Timekeeper’, demonstrating her work winning experience through great stories, a systematic approach and consistently delivering on time. She continues learning and sharing through her freelance consulting work and volunteering as a writer, speaker and mentor.
Industry expert Tony Birch writes about how bid and proposal professionals must be the custodians of customer needs in his article “Are Bid and Proposal Skills Transferable?”. In his view, the vital component to success is ensuring proposals are responsive and about the customer – even when technological tools are used.
Tony is the founder/current Chairman of Shipley Limited in the UK. Tony served on the main board of the APMP and was elected a Fellow in 2006 for his work in developing and launching the APMP’s Certification Programme. Tony has trained thousands of sales and bid professionals around the world.
“Where You Hang Your Hat” is Nigel Hudson’s perspective on the changes he’s seen in 25 years of bidding across several sectors and his move into defence bidding in 2017. He breaks down the components of complex bids, the danger of focusing more on the solution than the customer and how “the devil in the detail” on big bids becomes a nuisance on smaller ones.
Nigel designed and delivered the APMP award-winning Bid Academy for Vodafone and co-authored Europe’s leading proposal syllabus with Strategic Proposals. He’s trained more than 4,000 people worldwide.
Beth Wallace presents a procurement perspective in “A Day in the Life of…”. In this article, Beth illustrates the value of spending a day in the metaphorical shoes of clients and suppliers, to gain specific sector knowledge. She also explains how different approaches and best practice from other sectors can enhance rather than limit offerings on both sides of the bidding table.
Beth is BQ’s procurement specialist. She has extensive experience in negotiation and supplier relationship management across a wide range of service sectors.
Pippa Birch’s highways expertise shines through “The Write Lane”. She advocates the importance of sector knowledge and terminology in understanding the nuances inherent to highways bidding. She also highlights the shortage of skilled highways bid writers capable of supporting this sector.
Pippa owns Pipster Solutions Ltd – an award-winning bid consultancy. She is well known in the highways sector, is an active member of the Institute of Asphalt and has won several industry awards. She is APMP Professional certified, mentors other bid professionals and established #ThursdayThrong and #BidBites – free online meetings for the bidding community to reduce isolation.
In his article “A Young Person’s Game”, Jon Williams highlights the changes in our industry since establishing his first proposal centre in 1999 when bid teams were often classed as “glorified admin” rather than career professionals. He acknowledges our industry’s ongoing journey and issues a plea for younger voices to interact with seasoned practitioners to shape our future.
Jon is an award-winning leader in the proposals profession. He has led numerous bid and proposal centres; managed, reviewed and benchmarked countless proposals; and trained many thousands of course participants in over 35 countries.
Mike Reader is adamant in his opinion that sector experience matters in “Breaking Down Barriers”. He explains how bid team functions have matured as tenders have become more complex. He also offers suggestions for supporting the development of sector specialists to increase the resource pool and ensure our industry continues to evolve.
Mike is one of the UK’s leading work winning professionals, helping senior leaders navigate the bidding and sales world. He leads a specialist team at Mace who work across all continents pursuing mega built environment and infrastructure projects.
Holger Garden builds on his civil engineering experience in “From Water Tables to Win Themes” to explain the importance of technical knowledge in the context of the bid lifecycle. He acknowledges the benefits of including non-technical colleagues in the bid team and the value of continually learning from each other.
Holger is a bid manager, bid writer, and a personal/ team performance coach. He supports construction clients bidding for civil infrastructure and building projects and has used his transferable skills in the medical, charity and security arenas. He works with businesses of all sizes to help them win more work.
“So What?” describes Dr Karen Croshaw’s journey from academia to her bidding consultancy practice and expounds on the idea that success isn’t predicated on subject matter knowledge. She provides insight into her methods for gaining new information every day and suggests being able to ask the right questions means you don’t have to know all the answers.
Karen has 25 year’s bidding experience and her consulting career spans public and private sector bids including government frameworks, nuclear, rail, road, construction, digital, defence, healthcare and skills. She has strong Middle East bid/project delivery experience.
Lisa Readman’s article, “Towering Achievements” scales the heights of bidding on utility vegetation management and tower painting contracts. She highlights the unique characteristics of these niche operations and provides common sense tips on how to plug into proposal work in this interesting sector.
Lisa is an APMP Certified Practitioner, an expert Content Evaluator and a highly skilled proofreader and copy editor. She has been a bid and proposals professional since 2003 and established her own business, Readman Writes, in 2018. She continues to deliver winning bids in utilities as well as in the public sector and facilities management.
Paul Harding provides an insight into bidding in the niche Forensic Science sector in “Maximising the Talent Pool Using Compromise and Cultural Fit”. He explains how a compromise between sector knowledge and cultural fit can positively influence hiring criteria.
Paul is Head of Group Tendering with Eurofins Forensic Services, part of the world’s largest Testing, Inspection and Certification Group. He combines more than 20 years of bidding expertise with his scientific, commercial and legal qualifications to deliver high success-rate bids. He holds APMP Professional certification and actively supports bid professionals through APMP UK’s Rapport mentor programme.
Ceri Mescall’s excellent article “Breaking the False Dichotomy” sets out comprehensive reasons for both industry specialisation and generalisation, with enjoyment being top of the list in each. She also explores ways for companies and individuals to get the best of both worlds.
Ceri is a Work Winning Consultant based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Over her 17-year career, Ceri has enabled clients to secure c$1 billion in sustainable, profitable work. She’s one of only 22 people globally holding all four main APMP certifications. Ceri is also an APMP 40 Under 40 Award winner (2019) and an APMP Fellow (2020).
Javier Escartin offers a personal perspective in “Freelancing as a Way to Explore Industries”. He details his journey from Aerospace Engineer to bidding professional, and from a niche specialisation to freelance bidding across a range of sectors, to support his theory that bid management is a transferable profession.
Javier is a full-time freelance Proposal Manager and is the founder of DeepRFP.com, a business to make our work easier with artificial intelligence. He also runs the proposals newsletter jescartin.com, and manages proposals for worldwide technology companies as a consultant.
Andy Haigh’s “The Joys of Public Sector Bidding!” discusses both the predictable and unexpected pitfalls public sector bidding can present and how to overcome them. He makes suggestions for meeting client criteria and also provides submission recommendations for all contracts, large and small.
Andy is an expert in bidding and tendering, specialising in competitive formal bids into EU Public Sector organisations. He is an authority on EU procurement legislation and can bring all these capabilities together to initiate and drive major complex bids through to a successful completion.
Michael Brown explores fundamental bid management skills and rates each against the need for industry experience in “Specialist Industry Knowledge and Skills: Essential for Bidding Success?”. He shares his pathway into bidding from an education background and concludes with a recommendation regarding the transferability of bidding skills across industries.
Michael is an international bidding expert with more than 15 years’ experience in Public/ Private Partnerships (schools, hospitals and infrastructure), engineering, design, cost and project management projects (hotels, residential, commercial, mixed use, data centres, life sciences), and much more in between.
In “Look Before You Leap”, Jeremy Brim discusses bidding maturity and the differences between bigger firms and smaller competitors. He also presents both sides of the argument about whether to be a sector specialist or a generalist, advising thorough research before you leap to a new sector.
Jeremy (CP APMP) leads Growth Ignition – a transformation, consulting, training and enabling tech firm in the work winning space. Their mission is to help clients maximise sustainable growth and encompasses business planning and marketing, account management, capture and pursuit, and generating insight from structured client feedback programmes.
Rita Mascia examines her multi-sector career in “Sector Experience: A Blessing or a Curse?”. She argues that being a bid agnostic is an advantage and shares her experience of the amazing learning curve presented when moving between sectors. She also provides an opinion on the difference between specialist and generalist recruitment.
Rita is a bid professional with 21 years’ experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Her expertise includes business development, capture, bid management, bid writing, and contract negotiations. Her passion is leading teams to win business by producing persuasive proposals that deliver what they promise.
In “Variety is the Spice of (Bid) Life)…”, Charlotte Rees defines the challenges and benefits for bid professionals moving into a new industry. She also provides her top tips on how to get the most out of industry diversity within bid teams.
Charlotte’s 10-year bid and proposal career spans professional services, engineering, IT services, facilities management and construction. She is the founder of the Wellbeing and Inclusion in Bids and Proposals (WIBAP) community, targeting gender inequality within the profession and providing a space to share experiences and overcome the challenges we all face on a regular basis.
In “Spot the Difference: Can You Win Across Different Industries?”, Graham Ablett features the differences between the technology and professional services sectors for buyers, internal teams and public vs private end customers, highlighting key characteristics and top tips for success in both.
Graham is a Consulting Director at Strategic Proposals, where he helps clients to win specific opportunities as well as implementing effective and efficient proposal processes. He is a former board member of APMP in the UK, holds APMP Professional status, and is an APMP Approved Trainer.
Isabella Stevenson’s unique formula for bidders working in differing sectors is the focus of her article “A Force of Nature: The Power of Osmosis and a Deep-rooted Tree”. She breaks down the components of the formula to demonstrate how they can be combined to achieve success in any sector.
Isabella has 14 year’s bidding experience, with the last 10 as a Bid Manager (mainly in the built environment). She enjoys collaborating with technical teams to build win themes, install best practice and develop creative thinking to win more contracts and help organisations meet their business development objectives.
Samantha Burns writes about industry bidding maturity and AI and tech trends in “A New Era of Bidding”. She also provides a view from the procurement side of the fence, discusses skillset non-negotiables and the balance needed between people and process, and creativity and volatility.
Sam (CP APMP) is a Senior Bid Manager at EiB. She has over 11 years’ experience working in both private and public sectors, helping clients win transformational projects across the UK and globally. She has a passion for technology and pioneering solutions in the full business development lifecycle.
Izane Cloete-Hamilton’s uplifting article “Evolution of the Bid-Slinger: A Maverick’s Guide to Mastering the Proposal Game” journeys through a kaleidoscope of viewpoints, indispensable ingredients for success and the need for evolution, exploration and exuberance in the bidding industry – whether you’re a specialist, a generalist, or someone looking to conquer a new sector.
Izane is the Master of Inspiration at nFold, a strategic proposal consultancy in South Africa. She is a compassionate leader and has held senior management positions in business development, marketing, and bid management for over 20 years. She inspires success through thought leadership, training and strategy development.