As COVID-19 moves from pandemic to endemic, it seems a good time to reflect on what has changed in the world of professional services bidding. Some fairly significant developments have been noted over the last three years both in what is being asked of bidders and also of employers of bid staff. In this article I list 5 bid requirement trends and 5 bid employment trends that we have noticed in professional services bidding.
1. Social Value – This is now looked for within most bids almost regardless of the contract spend. It can be called different things including community benefits and ESG (environmental, social and governance). It is no longer sufficient to just list some charity activity and pro bono work that you are already doing. Instead, clients are looking for both specific commitments and additionality i.e. what is the extra that you will deliver because you have been awarded this contract? New jobs, apprenticeships, paid internships, job placements, mentoring and employee volunteering will all be well-received. Don’t be afraid to use clarification questions to get closer to what the buyers want and importantly how the social value delivery is going to be monitored.
2. Sustainability – Especially since 2019 when the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency and with the added emphasis that the climate received last year due to COP-26 being hosted in Glasgow, many clients are putting bidder sustainability credentials under some scrutiny. Having an ISO 14001 certified Environmental Management System in place can help provide some assurance of the seriousness of your intentions. Also, baselining your current carbon footprint and having measures in place and a target date to reach net zero give further evidence of your commitment. It is unlikely that any credit will now be given to pledges from yesteryear such as to move towards a paperless office and to switch to LED lighting.
3. Cyber Security – Both public and private sector clients are increasingly concerned about data security and the difficulties caused by breaches, hacks and ransomware. It is not uncommon to see large data security spreadsheets to be completed in conjunction with a bid. Climbing the ladder of cyber security from Cyber Essentials (self-certification), through Cyber Essentials Plus (independently assessed) to ISO 27001 Information Security Management (assessed by a 3rd party certification body) will certainly help your evaluation scores.
4. Employee Engagement – Whereas bid questions from even 5 years ago would have confined their scope to asking for the delivery team CVs, clients are now looking for providers who have exemplary employee engagement arrangements in place. Staff suggestion schemes cannot be the only way of bringing staff ideas into the firm; there needs to be mechanisms and opportunities for people to have their voices heard. You want to be able to evidence tangible examples of how you create a culture where employees feel able to make a difference.
5. Diversity & Inclusion – As a middle-aged, white man, I can say this … but the days of a firm presenting itself with a leadership team and/or workforce that is wholly or predominantly male, white and middle-aged / older are well and truly over. Be prepared for questions on your gender pay gap and ethnicity statistics. Don’t major too much on equality – equality is the law so this is now a given – but instead show how your firm has progressed beyond equal treatment for people with the 9 protected characteristics to become an employer that truly embraces diversity and the important benefits this brings. These can include improvements in attraction and retention of both clients and staff as well as increased profitability (there is a lot of evidence to show that greater diversity improves profitability) just to name a few of the benefits.
6. Remote/Hybrid/Flexible Working – This is now very near the top of most professional services bid writer candidates’ essential criteria when considering a new job. If the job could be done from home for 18-24 months at the height of the pandemic, why now try to force people back into the office 5 days a week? Gone are the days when the employer held most of the cards and the staff member was expected to be grateful to have a job. Trust is a key factor – the employee needs to feel just as trusted when they are working from home as when they are in the office. Most people want to retain some connection with their colleagues and the office with many finding that 2-3 days per week in the office works well for everyone. There are generational differences though with many under 40s (and especially under 30s) preferring to be in the office 4-5 days per week. Be careful not to be too prescriptive as you could be putting off candidates who could do a great job for you. If you could limit how often the person was required to be in the office, you can considerably widen the geographic reach of your vacancy.
7. Sector Experience – Professional services firms (especially legal ones) have long preferred candidates with sector-specific experience. Whilst this is understandable on some levels, most professional bid and proposal staff could ply their trade anywhere. Good bid people will very quickly be able to get up to speed with sectoral terminology, practices and nuances. Holding out to only take candidates with sector-specific bid experience will considerably narrow the pool of available candidates. Be prepared to help support either new joiners to the sector or people already in your sector but now seeking to move to a bid role. There is support available for this transition e.g. the Ultimate Tender Coach training programme.
8. Remuneration Packages – Bid and proposal salaries are on the rise, however, many professional services firms have not kept pace with where the market is at. The 2022 UK Bid and Proposal Salary Survey reported average salaries of £58,007 for Bid Managers; £53,795 for Proposal Managers and £44,732 for Bid/Proposal Writers. Whilst these are average figures from respondents with these job titles including all sectors and experience levels, work-winning staff are increasingly aware of their real value to firms. Benefits packages including annual leave entitlements, pension contributions, bonuses and other flexible benefits will all be weighed up by candidates along with working patterns, development opportunities and company culture when deciding which job offer to accept.
9. Vacancy Period – In the current challenging bid recruitment environment, it is not unusual to see some posts taking 6-12 months to fill. Hirers who can provide some of the flexibility outlined earlier in this article will be able to shorten the recruitment/vacancy period. In drawing up your new staff contracts of employment, give thought to a 3-month notice period for bid staff and a 6-month period for more senior, business-critical bid staff. Engaging the services of a recruiter with experience of recruiting bid staff and a databank of relevant contacts is also a wise move.
10. Use of External Consultants – There are many ways that specialists bidders can assist professional services businesses. These include: delivering bid training for your people as part of your investment in their continuing professional development and importantly helping improve their bid success rates; the provision of interim bid staff to cover absences / help at peak period; bid writing / bid review services bringing you the benefits of an external assessment of your bids and proposals; and potentially helping to achieve some savings by the consultants fulfilling your bid writing needs rather than your having to keep staff on your books if they are not going to be kept busy all year round with bid work.
Written by Andrew Morrison, Founder & BD Director at AM Bid & Ultimate Tender Coach. In May 2022, Andrew was named by APMP (Association of Proposal Management Professionals) as the Global Thought Leader in Bids and Proposals. AM Bid is helping clients in all sectors to consistently achieve 80%+ bid success rates.
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