Specialist Industry Knowledge and Skills: Essential for Bidding Success?

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I found this edition’s subject particularly difficult to write about. My 15+ years of bidding experience are all within the construction industry but I came from an educational background (International Relations and Political Economy) without any industry knowledge at all. I have been able to work in many construction sectors (schools, hospitals, public and private partnerships, government, hotels, residential, and high tech industries). But delving deeper into the thought process on this edition’s subject, I realised maybe so-called ‘industry experience’ isn’t crucial after all.

This article explores the bid management skills fundamental to bidding success and rates the need for industry experience for each. I conclude with a recommendation regarding the transferability of bidding skills across industries.

What skills does a bid manager need?

Project Management

One of the key facets of bidding is the basic requirement to project manage the bid from the time it arrives to the time it is closed. I say ‘closed’ because the bid process includes post-tender clarifications, interview presentations, negotiations, handover (if it has been won), lessons learnt and harvesting good collateral for the bid library. Do any of these skills require industry knowledge? Admittedly no. What it requires is a basic knowledge of Project Management theory (my grounding was in Prince 2) and decent, natural organisational skills.

Need for Industry experience? 0 out of 3

Relationship-building and communication skills

My natural proclivity to forming bonds with people from different backgrounds, industries and levels of seniority gave me the ability to get the job done. A lack of empathy or the inability to form strong relationships with colleagues, stakeholders and clients would have adversely impacted my success. An industry background isn’t crucial to forming relationships but being able to ‘speak their language’ enhances communication and makes it easier for people to open up and give you their time. The door opens far wider if you can talk to an engineer about MEP complexity, or to an architect about the importance of involvement at concept design stage, or to a cost manager about Long Lead Equipment.

Need for Industry experience? 2 out of 3

Technology skills

One of my favourite management philosophies is trying not to task my team with things I am unable to do. This is particularly true with technology. I am able to drive a successful bidding function by being adept at InDesign and PowerPoint, coaching technical teams for tender interviews, using data analysis of CRM systems to understand win/loss ratios and understanding the design of Power BI dashboards. These skills will add value to any sector; none requires industry knowledge.

Need for Industry experience? 0 out of 3

Bid Writing

The ability to write succinct and powerful executive summaries and methodologies is sacrosanct. Converting a collection of bullet points, scribbles or even a quick chat into content that communicates your value and approach is fundamental to being a strong bid manager. This ability combines good communication skills, an inclination to write, a love of words and (to some extent) an understanding of the technical context of the project or service. You will be at a massive disadvantage (from both a writing and gravitas point of view) if your SME conversations begin with simple questions like “What is a data centre?” Their limited availability is unlikely to include time to educate you on the basics of the service or solution.

Need for Industry experience? 2 out of 3

To summarise, a range of important and transferable capabilities (such as project management, technology and people skills) will enable you to drive proposal success in any sector or industry. But understanding the context of the proposal subject and speaking the language of your stakeholders and clients will make your job easier and can give you instant gravitas and respect.

So do you need specialist industry knowledge and skills for bidding success? The answer is a mixed bag – about 50/50 based on my highly scientific scoring matrix. Having industry experience makes your life a lot easier but you will be at a severe disadvantage without basic, transferable bidding skills.

This article was written by Michael Brown .

Michael Brown is a seasoned bid professional having won multiple projects across the built environment throughout Europe, the Middle East, APAC and North America. He is passionate about leading global teams to deliver top quality proposals and pitches to multinational clients.

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