When a company has an existing bid team, can there be value in bringing in an external bid specialist? Yes, there are many occasions when a bid specialist can add value for existing bid teams. Bid specialists also help organisations who have no bid team of their own to identify opportunities, review the bidding documentation, gather the required information, structure responses, write them up, manage and upload bids – the whole end-to-end process.
The answer is YES, and this article will discuss some frequently asked questions around this subject.
What are the key attributes of a successful external bid consultant?
The external bid consultant must know what they are doing, see the gaps and be flexible enough to fill them, understand the potential pitfalls and not fall into them. People skills are key, the ability to slot into the team, get on with them, read them quickly and ascertain how to get the best from them.
Consultants need to be curious and ask the obvious questions – they do not always produce the obvious answers and can have far-reaching consequences. We must be prepared to challenge, in a respectful way, as this can help to highlight what the problems are and explain why the company’s bids may not have been meeting with the desired success prior to requesting external help. A company needs to know what it does not know and have awareness of the work required to complete complex bids.
The external bid specialist can be likened to a sports coach whose job is to guide, inspire, and empower team members to reach their full potential. The consultant must have expert knowledge of the bidding world, great communication and listening skills and the ability to tease out knowledge from the company. Just as a great coach is always learning and improving their approach, so too the bid expert will ensure that they continue to work on their own professional development.
Why do organisations sometimes shy away from bringing in external help?
An existing bid team may find it hard to admit that help is needed or worry that they will in some way look bad if outside assistance is required. However, the focus of the external expert is to assist, not replace. It may be that the existing bid team have identified issues and tried to change certain things, but no-one is listening. This is where an external voice can help in bringing a fresh perspective and energy to make beneficial changes and improvements.
There can be fear around privacy and confidentiality. However, we work to high professional standards and reputation is everything. Just as lawyers and accountants will keep your affairs strictly confidential, so too will we, as bid experts.
What sort of organisations and bids benefit from getting outsourced help?
Clearly, where a company does not have a bid team, outside help is a must to improve success rates. Where in-house bid function already exists, an external bid specialist can assist by reviewing the bids and providing a fresh pair of eyes. It can be easy to get bogged down, develop tunnel vision, and lose focus. Someone coming in who is not part of the company can pick up on aspects that are being missed, often the very things that the procurement people will be picking up on and questioning.
For example, an in-house team bidding to a large organisation such as Crown Commercial Service may only do that once every four years when their framework comes up for renewal. However, we as consultants are bidding multiple times every year and can bring a freshness and understanding of what is important to individual buyers. This enables us to work more quickly as we are familiar with the processes due to the frequency of working on these bids.
Sometimes organisations require assistance as they have more bids than they can cope with, key staff may be on holiday or there is a strategic bid, something not tried before (maybe a new sector). Therefore, external assistance can pick up the slack and get things running smoothly.
Why can it make financial sense to use outsourced bid services or even outsource bidding?
Where there is uncertainty over staff numbers required and the cost of keeping a business running, it can be great to outsource and bring in help as and when required. This avoids making long-term commitments to salary, sick pay, holiday pay, employer, and pension costs. Even if you have employed someone, there are no guarantees that they will be around when the bid is in, they may be off sick or on holiday at the vital time.
An in-house employee builds up knowledge of the company and its bids but when that person moves on, much of that knowledge leaves with them. In contrast, as consultants, we will be there to work on future bids with you, always on hand.
Examining the financial implications can be useful. For example, a tier 1 contractor will usually employ a Bid Director at a cost of £100,000 a year, a Bid Writer/Manager for £50,000 and a Bid Executive for £30,000 at a total cost to the employer of perhaps £250,000 per year, when all the other employment costs are added in. In contrast, if SMEs were to bring in a bid specialist, even at a cost of as much as £10,000 per bid, four or five times a year, the cost reduction is significant, and the success rates are better.
How does the virtual world work for bidding?
COVID has forced us to embrace the technology and has made us adapt more quickly in adopting video conferencing as the norm. Even when things improve, it is easy to foresee less meetings taking place in person with the cost and climate implications involved in travel.
Where it is a first meeting with a client, it is good to be able to go, see the set-up and get a feel for the business. However, for existing clients, video conferencing works well. We no longer have to work or live in a certain town or city – for example, travelling to London for a three-hour meeting. Therefore, it seems going forward, that there will be more of a mix. It is clear that remote working is achievable and at times is preferable.
Why is being part of Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) important?
APMP aligns us with the recognised standard of knowledge and skills required to be a bid professional. It provides a sense of community, a network for learning opportunities and ideas. This has become even more important when working remotely. It sets the standard that companies can look for to ensure professionalism in their consultant.
What does the future hold for bid consultancy?
Businesses will want to both win work and cut costs. Therefore, rather than employing people, it may make more sense to employ bid specialists as and when needed. Within the marketplace, there are a range of bid consultancies, providing a variety of services to fill the needs of all, from sole traders to FTSE 100 companies. Consultants will help you to win business and achieve greater success. They will also pass on valuable skills to you and your team.