No matter how good you are as a bid and proposals professional, no matter how strong your position and relationship with the client and no matter how good your proposition and win themes are... get the wrong technical input and you're not going to win your next pursuit. 

The problem many bid team face is the reliance on subject matter experts who also have a day job. This is a particular challenge for those in the professional services world as you might end up with a wide pool of SMEs who may only do one or two bids a year, balancing utilisation targets to try and maximise their billable hours. 

So how do you help them get the most out of their knowledge and expertise and get their great ideas and solutions onto paper?

We faced this problem at Pick Everard, and for a time, we thought we could solve it by employing more bid writers and expanding the bid team. But that led to SMEs becoming overly reliant on the writers and didn't prove sustainable. The size of the team needed was too great given the number of bids Pick Everard was pursuing, and the difference in quality between bid team led bids and bids managed by technical teams was quite something!

A few years ago we developed and rolled out a bid training programme, snappily titled Bid Smarter, Win More.  We spent hours training technical teams on bid writing,  management and theory, and gave them big hefty training guides that captured everything we wanted them to know.

This all sounds great... but...

  • By the time people were allocated back onto a bid they had forgotten their training. 
  • We had trained people who were bad at bidding, and whilst the training had moved them in the right direction a little, they were still just... bad!
  • People left the business,  new people had joined and the training was quickly lost.

Overall, in hindsight, my first foray into bid training wasn't successful because it wasn't sustainable. We had focused too much on the text book and not enough on behaviours, process and culture.

Since Bid Smarter, Win More, bid training has moved on. When revisiting it last year, I worked with my colleague Jen Cotterill to take a different approach, a mixture of discipline and training, which led to a significant increase in consistency across the practice's bidding. 

Here's what I've learned so far:

Be selective 

We worked with business units to select the best bidders to go forward for training and development. Rather than bidding becoming something everyone does, we focused on small groups from each business unit. This meant we could focus efforts and build teams which support one another and learn and develop together. 

Embed bidding in business processes 

Bidding is business critical, so we made sure it was part of the business fabric, from the staff induction process right up to reporting win rates by business unit at the Senior Management Group meeting. This in turn helped to get people to want to commit to training and learning, it fired up new starters who'd never been introduced to bidding and made improving the process, not just celebrating wins, important for our senior management team.

Break the training down

Staff in professional services business aren't any more busy than those in other industries, but the scrutiny on utilisation was  a big factor we had to consider. This statement will make all bid training colleagues shake their head, but we condensed and broke up training into smaller chunks, typically half day workshops. This provided the benefit of providing more tailored training, and enabled people to being more selective over what the focused on.

Provide an online training resource

We used the improvement programme to trial online training. I don't believe online training can replace in person training, but as a quick guide for future reference it was a lot better than hard copies which can go out of date, get lost and are generally less user friendly. 

The intention was that people would only be able to access the online training if they'd completed the in person course, but whether that was achieved I'm not sure.  I left Pick Everard before the bid improvement programme was fully rolled out, so perhaps Jen will follow on from this blog with an update (hint hint Jen!). 

I understand it, teams are continuing to improve their win rate, are more consistent in their approach and, most importantly, don't find bidding stressful and something they try to avoid.

I'd be interested to hear from you - in training bid teams or receiving training what has worked for you?