You may not know it, but I’m better known as an angler than a bidder. I’ve written several fishing books, I edit an angling magazine, and have spent more than forty years chasing fish only to put them back once I’ve caught them. What is the point of all this? It is because, as John Buchan wrote, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” Hence why I see parallels between fishing and bidding – especially ‘capture’ which is designed to influence the fish (or customer) to take our bait. So, with my small but enticingly juicy worm a-dangling, I’d like to share some observations with you.
Famous angler Richard Walker described what became known as ‘the angling career’. It goes like this: “When someone takes up fishing, all they want to do is catch a fish, any fish. This eventually happens, more by luck than design. Then, spurred by success, they want to catch another fish, then lots of fish. As their experience and confidence grows, they might choose to target a specific species of fish. When they’ve mastered the skills needed to catch that species, they might aspire to catch a bigger fish, then an even bigger one, and then the biggest fish (which is likely to be the oldest, wisest, and hardest to catch). They might even become ‘super specialist’ and seek to catch the biggest of each species in every pond, river or sea. Eventually, when they’ve mastered their craft and are content with everything they’ve achieved, they will inevitably take pleasure in helping others to catch fish.”
How does this compare to your career as a bidder? Are you just starting out, looking for your first win? Are you aspiring to win more? Are you specialising in a specific area of bidding? Are you a seasoned expert pursuing the biggest ‘catch of a lifetime’ deal? Maybe you’ve captured enough and now find most pleasure, as I do, in helping others to succeed?
In bidding, as with angling, there’s no fast track to success. We have to “study to be quiet” as Izaak Walton (author of The Compleat Angler) said, completing our apprenticeship then practising our skills before we can become the calm, swan-like master. There’s no universal formula for success other than doing everything we can to understand and entice our target customer. How do anglers do this? They learn the habits and preferences of the individual fish – where it will be at any time of day or night, in different weather conditions and at different times of year; on what bait or tactic it is likely to be caught (including what tactics have succeeded or failed in the past); and what tackle is needed to effectively ‘deliver’ the fish to the net. Then they ensure they’re in the right place at the right time, presenting something that they know the fish will like, while not doing anything that will cause alarm. Then it’s a matter of waiting and hoping – for a bite and tussle before the capture is made.
The very best anglers, as with bidders, need to be goal-focused, ‘patiently impatient’, always learning (being obsessed with every detail involved in ‘getting it right’), energised but irritated by failure (when the fish refuses to bite, or escapes during battle, which forces them to rethink their strategy); and absolutely, passionately, life-definingly addicted to the pleasures of the chase and the rush of success, ultimately having confidence in their abilities, knowing that ‘good things come to those who initiate’.
Thankfully for us, bidding is much easier than fishing. Why? Because people buy from people. Human behaviour is far easier to fathom than attempting to get inside the mind of a fish. Procurement people aren’t that different to bidders, they still go home and enjoy their hobbies – though, like Dr Samuel Johnson, they might consider fishing to be “a worm at one end and a fool at the other”. I wonder, with bidding, who is the worm and who is the fool? I’d prefer to think that ‘capture’ isn’t about fooling anyone. As American fly fishing author John Gierach wrote, “Creeps and idiots cannot conceal themselves for long on a fishing trip.” Better, then, to be caught than caught out.
Capture what you will from this. But remember the old rule: if you wanna catch fish, you gotta go fishin’.
This article was written by Nigel Hudson.
Nigel is passionate about professional development. He 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.