The fantastic article below from Samantha Burns of AECOM sets out some tips for bridging the gap between technical and proposal staff. In organisations with large sales and bid teams you often hear about the gap between sales and proposals, but in professional services organisations the gap does exist between technical and proposals.
One of the most challenging things I find proposal teams face is resistance or confusion from time-poor technical teams in bid workshops. No matter how well I prepare, myself prep the bid team and brief my technical contributors, I have still experienced blank faces and uncomfortable silences when we move into win themes, hot buttons and bid strategy.
Naturally everyone is more comfortable with allocating questions and just 'letting the team get on with the writing' when the pressure is on.
So how can bid and proposal professionals adapt to these challenges?
Getting senior leadership buy in to the bid process
The culture and attitude towards bidding in a business is directly linked to the senior leadership's directions and actions. If the focus of the business is too heavily targeted on utilisation rates and on winning at all costs, this filters into technical teams. In turn, teams demand meetings, not workshops, and are less engaged in finding creative solutions and differentiators.
Senior leadership teams need to recognise the value the front end of the bidding process brings; shaping answers, messaging and challenging win themes. They need to encourage and champion the creative process within bidding. Often this can be demonstrated by their interest in a bid; do they ask to support and input at the beginning or wait for the final answers to be written to add their input?
Being adaptable in the face of resistance
One of the biggest failings I see in bid managers is not being flexible to the mood and enthusiasm of the room. After spending time preparing a detailed slide deck, bid plans and capture plan, a bid manager naturally wants to follow their process and make sure they cover off everything they planned. But, faced with challenging, disinterested or confused technical contributors bid managers need to be able to adapt their tone, the pace of workshops or even change their objectives for the meeting to make sure they get a positive outcome.
If participants are sitting down and not engaging, being able to quickly switch the pace to make the workshop more interactive or move onto a different subject that might bring the team alive requires timing and experience, and in my view this skill-set is often overlooked in the development of bid professionals.
Not being afraid to stop, reset and try again
It's a gutsy move you can only use once with a team, but if all else fails, bid managers shouldn't be afraid to stop meetings, give the team time to get their thoughts together, and come back at a later stage. Sometimes technical and proposal teams just need a little more time to prepare and there's no benefit in pushing the team into a corner where they resist your efforts and you don't get their best input.
There's nothing wrong with stopping and resetting as long as next time you think you know you'll get a different result!
Ask the stupid questions. If you reside in a world of acronyms, you may know what it’s like to get lost in a meeting. It’s fundamental to have complete clarity when leading a proposal, so ask the stupid questions, push for clear articulation, and keep a cheat sheet of discipline-specific terminology that can be passed on for future proposals. This knowledge capture can feed into a proposal bible.