Are Bid and Proposal Skills Transferable?

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In my experience, most bid and proposal skills are transferable from industry to industry, and from business culture to business culture. The ability to convey complex information clearly and persuasively while remaining customer focused is particularly transferable, and will become even more important in the future.

Most of us are hoping (but don’t know for sure) that technology will improve some elements of what people in bids and proposals roles do every day. Technology will make us more productive, meaning that some organisations will produce proposals faster. But is that same technology going to help us produce customer-focused proposals more efficiently?

I have been in the bids and proposals profession for more than 30 years now. A lot has changed, mostly for the better. At the same time, it has been interesting to observe how technology has, in many ways, slowed us down. For example, I remember when RFP software was first rolled out, giving organisations the ability to store and re-use material for bids and proposals. In many cases it meant proposals were developed more efficiently. However, this more efficient development process often led to less customer focus through the reuse of materials originally written for another customer’s needs.

In today’s competitive environment, how do you make your solution stand out? How do you make evaluators and decision makers select your solution? Of course you have to be offering the right solution for the right price to even be considered. Over and above that, you should be making it as clear as it can be in your proposal that your organisation understands the customer is buying a solution to a business issue, not just because they want to spend some money.

People who work in bids and proposals will have to become custodians of customers’ needs. As custodians they will look at proposals from the customer’s perspective and ensure the proposal is written for ‘them’ and not just about ‘us’.

“Responsive” proposals clearly and persuasively communicate an understanding of what the customer is planning to buy and why. They demonstrate an understanding of the customer beyond the customer’s written requirements. Responsive proposals address the customer’s goals, underlying concerns, key issues and values that might not be spelled out in the request for proposal. Responsive proposals communicate how an organisation’s solution will help a customer achieve their business goals (not just project or procurement goals).[1]

Our industry’s professionals (as custodians of customers’ needs) will ensure developed content is about the things each particular customer values. They will get the information required to be responsive from the person who knows the customer the best; someone who has had those insightful discussions with the right people in the customer organisation.

Kick-off meetings on larger proposals should include a brief for all contributors, ensuring an understanding of the reasons why the customer is buying what they are buying and how to weave this into the appropriate parts of the response. Reviewers should be made aware of the customer’s underlying needs so any improvement suggestions they make will keep the proposal as customer focused as possible.

I don’t see how technology is going to learn to be responsive, but I am sure that it will one day. Until then, people working in bids and proposals will be the ones to ensure all proposals to all customers are as responsive as possible, from the Executive Summary through the body of each part of the proposal.

As we begin to rely more and more on technology, we will have to overcome the challenge of losing customer focus. Not deliberately, but rather as a byproduct. That is I why I believe the ability to convey complex information clearly and persuasively whilst remaining customer focused is a very transferable skill.


[1] For a good description of the difference between Responsiveness and Compliance, see the APMP’s Body of Knowledge.

This article was written by Tony Birch.

Tony Birch is the founder and current Chairman of Shipley Limited in the UK. Tony served on the main board of the APMP for four years and was elected a Fellow of the organisation in 2006, for his work in developing and launching the APMP’s Certification Programme. Since founding Shipley, Tony has trained thousands of sales and bid professionals around the world.

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