Perceptions within business are a funny thing... Marketing teams can be labelled as ‘wacky spectacle wearing extroverts’, while product experts are ‘sandal wearing introverts’. The list goes on, with finance, legal and support all coming in for the same broad-brush clichés. Sales aren’t immune from these stereotypes – we’re often painted as lone wolfs, where our own egos and the next deal are all that matters.
Of course, as sales professionals we know that (in the main) these stereotypes are woefully incorrect and that behind every successful deal is a team of people working together to make it happen. If proof were needed, look at the internal workings of the bid team…
Bid teams are often the sales equivalent of a butterfly – short lived, a little unglamorous at the start but finishing with a beautiful crescendo. Depending on sector or deal size, they can be a core part of your sales strategy or merely a team hastily pulled together to respond to a specific opportunity. Whatever the reason for their presence, they can make the difference between an acceptable performance or a year to remember.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a bid team is a collection of people who simply didn’t step back quickly enough. The reality is that a successful bid team is a carefully constructed mix of different personalities and seniorities with a set of very defined roles. Here at Sales Engine, we’ve identified five key roles within a successful bid team:
Ingredient 1 - The Bid Leader
The key word here is ‘leader’ not ‘owner’ – this has little to do with ego, status or job title and everything to do with enthusiasm and passion. A bid leader is omnipresent; motivating and exciting the entire team towards a single goal – in short, they’re a whirling dervish of energy.
The bid leader represents the heart of the bid, from representing the voice of the customer all the way through to defining the strategy and process behind the entire bid. These are big shoes to fill, especially when others turn to them when in need of that all-important enthusiasm and focus that keeps the wider team engaged with the bid (even during the boring/stressful bits).
Our insight: On paper, this role looks rather glamourous, doesn’t it? Our experience from working with a huge range of bids is that this is role is the first area to show the cracks when there is a lack of structure or planning for how they will drive the bid. A strong bid leader is worth their weight in gold but can also be the biggest threat to your bid – choose them carefully…
Ingredient 2 - The Process Person
If the bid leader is the ‘heart’ of the bid, the Process Person is the logical brain. It’s their role to back up the leader with ownership of the sometimes unglamorous nitty gritty stuff – the timelines, the Gantt charts and the lists of who does what when. While they may not necessarily have the highest profile within the team, they are an ABSOLUTELY VITAL cog in the bid machine.
Our insight: Putting it bluntly, we’ve seen some process people treated pretty badly by other members of the bid team, either being ignored or served up bland and poor quality content that does little to support the bid. Make no bones about it – there is no room for ego in a bid team. Yes, the seemingly constant stream of nudges for content, updates and reviews can become a little tiring but if they’re not asking the questions and keeping it on track, who is?
Ignore them (or, worse still, belittle them) at your peril.
Ingredient 3 - The Content Writers
A common mistake in many bid teams is to assume that the subject matter experts are the single source of content. Now of course, most bids will require a number of different content contributors – it’s the nature of the beast. The potential time bomb starts ticking when questions are handed out willy-nilly without a proper brief (win themes, key messages, timelines) and to people who sit on the periphery of the bid team.
The role of the content writer goes way beyond answering individual questions in a figurative silo. Instead, their role is to tie their expertise to the overarching message of the bid – the secret sauce mix of their knowledge, coupled with a clear understanding of the vendor’s specific requirements (typically voiced by the Bid Leader), is a vital ingredient behind many a successful bid.
Our insight: Time is a precious resource for any bid... but is the lifeblood of content writers. We’ve seen (and also been in the thick of) content writers drowning in last minute amends, tweaks and new information while simultaneously attempting to knit everything together. The result is inevitable – it’s a mess and completely misrepresents the hard work put in by the rest of the team. Yes, technology can provide some support, but ultimately it’s about being sensible and pragmatic about this - give the content writer a chance to do their job to the best of their ability by giving them the gift of sufficient time. It’s not too much to ask, is it?
Ingredient 4 - The Reviewers
The review process is typically left until towards the end of the bid cycle. You’ll recognise the situation – energy levels are dropping and passion for the bid is starting to falter and then the review team dive in and point out all the things that were missed. Never a good time...
To make matters worse, it’s often senior management who start offering their opinions at this last minute, throwing disruptive grenades into an already fraught environment. Deadlines don’t move, yet this seems inconsequential to many a senior reviewer who has a new steer on a topic at the very last minute.
Our insight: To truly add value, reviewers need to be involved much earlier in the process and be seen as an integral part of the team rather than an opinionated obstacle that the rest of the bid team need to navigate their way around. Importantly, the role of the reviewer shouldn’t be the exclusive right of senior management – peer reviews within bids play a vital part in keeping the proposition grounded and in focus.
Ingredient 5 - The Critical Friend
The final piece of the jigsaw is ensuring that the bid gets an external view. Bid myopia is a common affliction; so turning to people not just outside your team, but also outside your business, can deliver the all-important perspective that many bids miss.
In much the same fashion as the Reviewer, your Critical Friend should not be pulled into the fray at the last minute. Instead, use them as a sounding board throughout the process and pay heed to what they have to share BUT do not let them cloud the entire process.
Our insight: The role of Critical Friend is the first casualty of a disorganised or time starved bid. Wherever possible, schedule their involvement right at the start of the bid and remember to cast your net wide. We’ve used a range of different people to deliver in this area, from our own ‘tame procurement manager’ through to senior directors in completely unrelated sectors. Their role is to ‘keep you honest’ so use them with as much gusto as you can…
Five roles. Each plays an integral role in the success of your next bid.
If you’re in the thick of a bid, take a moment look around you – does everyone have a clear role and are they all pushing in the same direction? If not, take a moment to step back and identify where the holes (and congestion) lie. What can you do to make the team work better? With countless bids under our belts, we can assure you that even the most marginal of gains will have a marked impact on the quality of the end product so we (respectfully) suggest crack on and make the changes happen.
After all, the success of your bid may well depend on it...so what’s stopping you?
By Steve Robinson, Managing Director, Sales Engine Ltd, a leading bid support company serving customers across the UK and Europe. To learn more about Sales Engine, visit their website or give them a call on 0800 328 0817.