Writing a tender can be stressful
Tight deadlines, missing information, ambiguous questions, red team reviews, managing multiple contributors, collating evidence, and constantly editing and re-editing can all take their toll on bid writers.
Imagine then if you are simultaneously writing multiple bids for multiple sectors for different companies week after week, month after month, all year long. Welcome to the world of tender writing at Executive Compass®.
On any typical week each one of our writers will have between four and eight projects on which they are working. The projects will range in size and value, scope and complexity and duration and may include a PQQ, a tender, a presentation or even a policy suite. Now, many internal bid writing and bid management teams have multiple projects but there the similarity ends. Here are some of the differences between the writers at Executive Compass® and an internal bid team who work for one company with say, three divisions. It is thought provoking and provides some insight into why we have an open staff vacancy that appears impossible to fill.
Executive Compass® bid team
1. Unlike internal teams we have no bid library. Yes, we have some stock responses for generic PQQ questions, but that is about it. For us, it means creating a new response every time.
2. Working in a company, even one with multiple divisions, means that your tendering activity is quite narrowly focused. It allows you to really get to know your company over time and to build up a clear picture of its differentiators, key competencies and unique advantages. While larger projects allow us to do this too, on average, we have between 3-6 weeks. Tough? Yes, but our overall win rate is now 87%!
3. The same is true of the products and services for which we tender. It is necessary to become subject specialists very quickly. Hitting the ground running is not an option: one must hit the ground sprinting and be prepared to soak up a lot of new information. On large bids and tenders that could include learning the names and functional responsibilities of 30 people and the dynamics between them.
4. Multiple deadlines are not unusual for either group but ours are compounded by the number of companies we work for and the different formats and submission types we are required to submit. Hard copies, e-mail, portals and CDs are just some of the ways in which we have to submit our work. Deadlines are driven by the type of submission. For example, a hard copy requirement reduces the writing time by at least two days. Our deadline is always shorter than a firm’s because it has to be signed off by our client. Often, not always, companies writing their own PQQ or tender will not have it signed off but will simply submit. The number of deadlines also takes its toll. No sooner is one project finished than another begins or is due for submission.
5. Methods of working have to be adapted to suit our clients’ requirements. If you are working for only one company it becomes easy, over time, to create an effective and efficient way of working that accommodates all the different stakeholder personalities and preferences. This can work for us too with our long standing clients, but generally working with clients means we will adapt our way of working in some way. This may mean us speaking to them at 6am in the morning prior to their working day or 8pm after the day to day maelstrom of phone calls, e-mails and firefighting activity has died down for them.
6. Weekend working is common for all bid writing projects, especially the really important ones. Every bid we do is important to our client: that’s why we have been hired. This makes weekend working de rigueur and non-attendance at Christenings and family events is the norm.
7. To be successful as an independent bid writing consultant one must be comfortable with ambiguity and blurred boundaries. Many of the clients we represent do not have the systems, processes, procedures and functions in place that they need. There is no evidence bank or bid library and they may not fully understand or be able to demonstrate competence for the requirements of the project. It is up to the writer to write around the information gaps, to paper over the cracks and chasms and provide a coherent, persuasive response that can win the bid or pass the PQQ stage.
8. Capture planning is a complex area for an outsider. 99% of the time clients have no real idea on what their bid theme will be, what story they want to tell or what their own differentiators are. They just know they can deliver the work better than their competitors. Running workshops, interviews and story boarding have a part to play, but with an owner-managed business with only 10 employees this is not the process most internal writers are familiar or comfortable with. Often clients will say “just write something, that’s why we hired you”. They still expect to win and will blame you if that particular question only receives 6/10 even though it should really have received 2/10 as the client function is so poor.
9. Access and contact with the decision makers and/or information providers is much more limited when working remotely. This often means receiving information late or not at all. A PQQ or tender put together at the last minute is always poor and so managing our clients can be demanding, frustrating and very time consuming.
10. Lack of feedback and recognition is sometimes galling. Working flat out on a bid, evenings and weekends and sometimes through the night is tough. Winning the bid after all of that is of course satisfying, but often the efforts of an external writer go unrecognised. This is not deliberate or ungrateful. One has to move into the mind-set of the client to understand it fully. To them, they were always good enough to deliver the work and their belief that they are better than the competition is resolute. The writer was the translator, nothing more. Of course, once the bid management project is complete the writer has left the client’s site and is no longer calling and e-mailing every day. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” comes into play and the writer’s efforts are consigned to history. An internal team or employee will receive far more plaudits and we have found the lack of external/client recognition a problem with writers who join us from sector-specific bid teams. In five years, none has gone the distance (which is why we train our own.)
Of the ten items it is probably ambiguity and lack of information that are the most frustrating and difficult things for new writers to deal with. Leaving the comfort of their bid library and the safety of their sector knowledge is a big step but the rewards are high.
Job role satisfaction is immense. There is nothing better than winning a large contract that you know the client could not have won without you. In addition, there is the opportunity to learn about business and all the different industries and sectors for which you have to write. It is a tremendously rewarding and interesting job, that is, if you can manage all the challenges listed above.