Ask the Expert

Are bid content libraries really worth it or just more work for already busy bid teams?

Question by: Peter Gordon

Do bid content libraries/pre-written content actually have a purpose? Does having a central content library actually work any better than just using the last few submissions (that are current) and copying out what’s needed? If having a bid content library is really worth it, how do you make the case for one? How do you do to keep one up-to-date?


This is a series of questions that pops up over and over again. People have varying experiences of content libraries and their usefulness and in some instances also wonder whether there is any sense in spending all the time on them when you could simply be writing a bespoke response.

Let’s start at the beginning and say yes, there is a real purpose and case to be made for a bid content library and pre-written content, and good libraries work much better than consulting the last few submissions for answers. Keeping them up-to-date isn’t that hard if you can explain the value and get buy-in for the time and resource (whether internal or external) to work on them. But first let’s be clear – a bid content library isn’t the library of bids that have already been submitted.

What is a Bid Content Library really?

Okay, so if it’s not a library of bid submissions, what is it and what does it look like? A bid content library should be a source of accurate information that can be reused over and over again to pull together a good first draft response to any of the various questionnaires that procurement departments send out to suppliers, as well as unsolicited proposals that are put together by sales teams when they’ve approached a prospect who is interested in their product/service. It can look as familiar as a collection of folders and subfolders on a network drive or be something as sophisticated as records stored in a proposal automation tool that are assigned owners and workflows. Most importantly though, it should be a comprehensive catalogue of all the information relating to an organisation from certificates of incorporation and vision and mission statements to product and solution details. Admittedly these are all in that collection of submissions you have stored somewhere.

The problem with that collection of submissions? Duplication; one-off answers that are entirely specific to THAT tender and no other; outdated information; poorly written answers that didn’t quite match the questions; things that have been written on the fly and not reviewed or approved (sometimes they are complete fiction and yet get lifted and used again and again); no easy way to find what you’re looking for; incomplete information… There is quite a bit that isn’t right with using the last few submissions (or even the last few years’ submissions) as the source for new responses, including the risk of copying the wrong client name or information into a new bid and not picking it up on its way out the door.

An efficient bid content library should hold information that is:

  • Useful
  • Accurate
  • Up-to-date
  • Well-written
  • Approved and owned by a person/department
  • Consistent in its tone of voice
  • Properly formatted
  • Correctly indexed and tagged
  • Able to be used to build a GOOD first draft response
  • Able to save time and effort

The Buts…

So that’s what a bid content library should be. Then the ‘buts’ start… These are the reasons given for not sorting out libraries or giving them adequate resources, they are usually along the lines of:

  • We can’t do it because ____ (insert any of ‘not enough resource’, ‘too many bids’, ‘no budget’, ‘not enough time’ or any other reason)
  • We’ve never needed one, using our old bids works just fine
  • We have an automation tool that has all the information in already (is that information still current?)
  • We don’t have the buy-in from senior management
  • Our product/service offering is too individual to each prospect to be able to build reusable content.

Those are some of the reasons or justifications for not having a working library or even any library. On the flip side are ‘buts’ like these to argue the case for having a proper, working bid content library:

  • We’d win more often if we could respond faster
  • We’d save time if we didn’t have to ______ (insert any of ‘spend hours searching for simple information’, ‘write everything from scratch’, ‘ask the SMEs every time we needed something’, ‘chase people for standard stuff’, these are a few examples)
  • We’d have the branding and formatting right and not have to spend hours sorting out oddly cut and paste formats at the last minute
  • We’d feel more confident about our chances of success
  • We could actually tweak the answers and tailor the document to the client if we had a decent first draft.

Actually (and this is without any offence to any software providers out there) any automation software you have in place benefits from up-to-date content as well, as it is then using accurate information to develop those almost-instant responses. The problem with holding outdated or poor content in automation software is people stop using it and go back to the last few bids they worked on and the vicious circle starts again, and more often than not the software is blamed when really, it’s not the software it’s the processes employed by the people using the software that is at fault. “Garbage in, garbage out” is the phrase you’ll come across in the IT sector, and it’s absolutely true here too.

So HOW do we get one?

I’ve convinced you, haven’t I, with those last five bullet points? I can see you thinking and imagining the positive vibes filling your bid team and your day as you know that you can tackle any questionnaire that comes through the door, quickly, easily and accurately. That the long, unsociable hours will fade, the grey hairs diminish and more importantly, the success of your submissions increase. Just as quickly though, you’re seeing the obstacles, the things you’ll have to overcome to convince your organisation at large that creating and maintaining a library is really worth it. So, I’ll help you out.

Get your team to consider and evaluate:

  • How long you spend on average looking for standard information on things like Health & Safety, Environmental information and initiatives, and Company Strategy Statements.
  • How certain you are of the accuracy and currency of what you’ve found when you’ve found it.
  • How many emails you have to send to extract information from owners and Subject Matter Experts (and how much time they spend a week/month writing answers to the same questions).
  • How much time you have to really tweak and tailor your submissions properly.
  • Whether the products and services you offer are made of standard building blocks that are put together and tailored to meet the clients’ needs. Or whether your solutions truly are unique to each and every client situation (I’ll buy you a coffee if you can prove to me that there is no commonality whatsoever in your solutions to different clients).
  • When you were last absolutely 100% sure that there were NO wrong client names or confidential information that slipped through the net into a new proposal from a copy/paste scenario.

I’m confident that most people, when they calculate the time they spend (or waste) on searching for and chasing information, will be horrified, as it’s a lot more than most people think it is. They are also not so happy about the amount of time that they actually had to really tailor and review the proposal properly. And if we are honest, submissions often score well on the technical response and fail on the standard information sections. Armed with this information you can take your request to management able to show the benefits listed below against the actuals what you have found out from your evaluation of the status quo.

The argument for bid content libraries and keeping your content up to date comes down to being able to realise improved:

  • Confidence – knowing you have all the relevant information and that it is approved, accurate and sanitised (using merge codes).
  • Compliance – no-one has inadvertently popped old or inaccurate information in on governance issues (e.g. RIDDOR statistics or insurances).
  • Consistency – tone of voice, style, branding, and formatting are consistent across your website, your marketing, and your tender submissions.
  • Cost Efficiencies – time saved through quick and easy searches for accurate information means more bids can be answered well by the same team.
  • Company Success – better proposals faster, mean more successful submissions which translates to better win rates and increased revenue.
  • Morale Boosting – teams that feel less stressed perform better and are happier leading to better quality of work/life balance and overall success.

There is a lot of technology out there to help bid teams be more effective and efficient. It’s my belief that without good, quality content, most of those aren’t much, or any, help at all. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you manage your bid content library: whether it’s a simple folder structure on a network drive; a complex library with workflows and approval processes in SharePoint or something similar; or one of the many proposal automation tools like Qorus, Qvidian or RFPIO. Again, if you put garbage in, you get garbage out.

Making it work

Now you know what to do to get a library and how to develop the argument for one. The next question is how do you get it to deliver compelling success to keep it going and prove to people it really was worth deciding to have one.

There are a few simple steps:

  1. Plan your library review as a project with milestones, owners, review gates and get executive sponsorship. Figure out a process to maintain it once it’s done.
  2. Decide how you want to structure your library and what the key areas are that you want to file things under.
  3. Agree formatting, styles, and tone of voice. Keep these to a one-page writer’s guide to make it easy to stick to the rules.
  4. Go through all your existing content and delete everything that is duplicated or out-of-date, file what is left in the new structure, allocate an owner.
  5. Review existing information against a set of criteria to determine how good it is. This will help you to decide what needs a refresh/rewrite.
  6. Create new records to replace outdated information or brand-new content, allocate owners and set review dates. Tag them properly so they’re easily found.
  7. Keep records short and concise, use field/merge codes to keep things clean and not risk pulling other client names across into new proposals.
  8. Remember that some information needs a regular update and schedule it using a system that works for you – a team calendar or the workflow processes available in proposal automation software or other knowledge bases.
  9. Breathe a sigh of relief after you’ve submitted a bid, and two or three days later come back to it and take out what’s good to improve/update or replace what is already in the library.
  10. Keep track of how much time you spend searching for things so that you can either add new content, improve existing content or delete useless information.

It helps to keep some metrics of how often you use something or how much faster it is to find what you’re looking for to prove that it was a worthwhile exercise. While proposal support and content writing and managing are often seen as something that isn’t that important or that there isn’t really time for as people should be working on new, live deals, it is the foundation that builds effective, complete and successful responses to those new live deals.

My advice, spend time on your content library to save time on compiling your first draft and gain time for reviewing and tweaking it properly. You’ll be glad you did. The overall end result should be more wins, happier bid teams and less time wasted. (And if you have any technology in place to help you manage and automate your bids it will be able to deliver the ROI it should.)