Successful bid management with Rickard Hansson
Bid managers coordinate the entire tender process to secure existing and prospective clients. It's a big job with a lot moving parts to ensure proposals are competitive, complete and comply with RFP guidelines. But not everyone in sales or account management has the benefit of dedicated resources to manage their RFPs. So I'm thrilled to be joined by bid management expert, Rickard Hansson who shares best practices and processes that will help you win that deal!
Bid management best practices
- Be collaborative. Before you put pen to paper on your proposal, assemble the team that will help you win. Define your strategy, build the story, talk to relevant stakeholders.
- Evaluate the RFP. Understand the requirements, timelines, potential showstoppers and activities you must complete to be compliant. Does it meet short and long-term revenue goals, is it aligned with your business model and what are your chances of winning?
- Bid libraries. Create templates from previous proposals to make it easier to respond to common questions.
- Personalize for existing clients. Being a current provider is no guarantee of retaining the business. Tailor responses to demonstrate your understanding of the client's business. Do your homework and address the proposal, not just copy+paste from last time.
- Don't over do it. With hundreds of questions and tough deadlines, it can be a challenge to balance quality with quantity. Keep simple answers simple and invest time and energy on responding to questions where you can really demonstrate unique value.
- Assign roles and responsibilities. The bigger the tender, the bigger the project. Keep the team small and make sure everyone is informed and clear on what they need to do and by when.
- Keep learning. Be curious and continue to develop your skills in bid management and proposal writing. LinkedIn groups are a great way to be a part of conversations that can really elevate the quality of your approach.
How did you find your way into bid management? How did you and doing what you're doing?
I'd been working in the logistics and freight forwarding industry, so I had previous experience and background in the industry when this opening for a bid management role arrived. So I applied, and I was lucky enough to be hired for the job.
What appealed to you about becoming a bid manager?
Bid management involves the entire organisation and building a team of stakeholders internally - coordinating inbound, outbound, logistics - that appealed to me.
People think bid writing is a solo role, but you spend quite a bit of time connecting with different parts of an organisation, talking to other people and learning about the business. What do you think?
Definitely. That's what I really like about it as well because as you involve different people and parts of the organisation, you learn a lot of different things. It could be environmental work, code of conduct, security, capacity, operational stuff, and as you work closely with sales and different areas, you really get to know the business.
Each bid is a little bit unique, isn't it? There's always some little twist or something you haven't seen before. There's always something that gets you thinking, isn't there?
There's definitely variety. Sometimes it's a little bit challenging as well because you have to find the solutions. Yet I think that's also the thing that makes it very fascinating. Because you really need to find the appropriate approach in how to address the tender and what questions or requirements you need to apply to be compliant.
What's like your favourite thing about bid management? What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the feeling when you approach the documents, extract what's essential in terms of requirements, the scope of the business, potential revenue and you sense you've got a very good opportunity. You say to yourself, "OK, I think we have something here."
I also like the involvement with other people: organising the bid team and working with them on the project.
Sales and account management are the internal teams a bid manager works with most. How do you think they can interact better?
Have a collaborative approach. Before you form your idea around what you want to do with the proposal or start involving people, I think the best thing would be to reach out to the bid manager and have a quick chat around what needs to be done. Talk about who does what as well and then take it from there.
Salespeople and others often mistake the bid role as being only administrative. We can take care of the questions, and that's it. But we can bring more to the table in terms of handling the internal bid process. We can define the strategy for the tender, build the story, and involve relevant stakeholders and departments to get the right answers to the questions. We can support all of that throughout the bid process so that sales can focus more on the relationship with the client.
The sooner they involve you, the better. It's so important to start strong and have a game plan for your proposal. What's your approach to making bid management to success? Any advice?
I always try to get the picture of what's the scope of business by screening all the documents.
It can be intimidating because there can be a lot of documents. I try to orient myself and extract all the vital information I need:
- What's the scope?
- What's the potential revenue?
- What are the requirements?
- Are there any potential showstoppers?
- What are the timelines? Are we in a hurry or do we have more time?
And also what does the client expect in return from us?
- Are there question areas?
- Are there any requirements we need to apply?
- Any confidential information or NDA's signed?
- Do we need to confirm we will participate?
It's very easy to be overwhelmed with all the documentation so it's very important to be clear on those things. It helps you stay focused and know what needs to be done in the bid process.
Do your teams ever have to write their own proposals or does everything have to go through you?
In our organisation, sales colleagues are responsible for creating the solution, the value proposition, and how it will appear in the tender. As a bid manager, I'm more involved in general overview questions like key figures, environmental work, code of conduct and that sort of thing will also involve other content experts when their help is needed. (Customer service, IT security, operational capacity etc).
However, as we do a lot of bids and we have good experience with different types of business. We can share similar previous bids with the sales team that they can refer to or re-use. So it's a collaboration as well. A couple of years back I did more of the writing but today there's a shift in focus with sales writing the solution/proposition while I focus or on running the bid process.
Is there a difference in how you respond to RFP's for existing customers vs prospects? Do you think responses should be different if you're the incumbent - if you're trying to retain the business you already have?
If you play the cards right and you have a good relationship with the client, then the chances are bigger you should be able to keep the business. But I think it's a risk to to get too comfortable around being a current provider because competitors are out there.
It's a good time to spend a little more time on the bid and the proposal to show that you have thought it through and that you still want to be their supplier. You are ahead of the competition because you know a lot about the client, you know how they work, you know the people, you know the decision-makers. Those kinds of things should allow you to be more accurate on what you address and how and your approach to your proposal.
Take the time to do your homework and address the proposal, not just copy+paste from last time.
You're right. It's a mistake I've made myself when I haven't answered a question fully because I think as an existing customer, they should already know. Or copying a standard response from a bid instead of investing the time to really customise my answers to demonstrate I know this customer inside and out.
The client can see through that and it looks lazy or like you don't care.
With that, a bid manager once told me, "The bid only needs to be good enough to get us to the next round." That shocked me because they didn't seem committed to making the proposal as good as it could be. But I also realised they had to manage their workload and not every proposal can be a work of art. Sometimes good has to be good enough. What do you think?
That's a common attitude. Just the other day I ran into a sales colleague who told me that the client wouldn't be making their decision on our tender, but in the next steps during the negotiation - so don't over-do the proposal.
It's very tricky. There are periods I'm very occupied with lots of tenders and short timelines to deliver. So it's a balance. I will use previous bids to answer as much as possible, so I can spend my time on the questions that remain unanswered. Often it's only a matter on the client wanting to rate your response to those questions, not that they read through all the answers in detail.
I've submitted proposals in the past that were 120 pages long, and I wondered, "Is anyone even reading this?". Sometimes I think they're overwritten, with answers that go on for pages when a simple "yes" would have done.
It's a very good point. And that's where you can save a lot of time if you just adhere to the structure and questionnaires and how the client has organised request for proposal or quotes. Look at where can we be as uniform as possible and re-use things that we have done before in terms of how we answer and where do we really need to adjust and be very client-specific?
A lot of tenders just come as Excel spreadsheets. Answers must be submitted in a spreadsheet. But then they'll invite you to include an optional supporting proposal in your own format. What should you do? If you don't send one and everyone else does, you'll look bad. If you do send one, then you're spending a lot of extra time on something that's optional anyway?
If you know enough about what the client and decision-makers care about and you have a possibility to outline the things they value without too much effort, I think you should take your time to add your own proposal. Keep it very client-oriented: they want to hear about what's favourable in your proposal and the value you could bring to them.
So if you can address that, you definitely should.
I like that. You're talking about a compelling executive summary. Showcasing the highlights of the proposal and make the value proposition stand out. Not just replicating the entire spreadsheet into a document.
What do you think is a mistake that a lot of bid managers make or, or sales or account managers make when they're working with you? What's something you see that comes up a lot?
Often the bigger the tender or RFQ, the more people get involved. And when more people get involved, it can be quite frustrating and hard for everyone to understand, "What's my part in this? What's my responsibility? What do I need to be aware of?"
In my experience, it's best to involve as few people as possible and give them the responsibility to get clarifications or decisions internally. For example, if we need to include legal, I will be the person in charge of coordinating responses from legal. That way, you have all those things moving parallel to the bid process with the small bid team and avoid all those people.
I've been on bid teams with 20 people. It's impossible to get anything done. Half don't turn up to meetings, and the rest never submit their stuff on time. You waste so much time chasing people. So I agree, the smaller, the better. Think long and hard about who needs to be involved.
And that also goes back to the point I mentioned earlier where I think it's very good upfront to take a collaborative meeting between sales and the bid manager and decide on where do we go from here.
I created a responsibility matrix to use to assign tasks to those people in the bid team. Then as we go along with the bid process and have those meetings, we can just look at the matrix see who's responsible or in charge of what we can have a brief status.
That's a good idea. I really like it. How do you keep the team informed and on track?
You could use project management tools online, but in my experience, I think good old email and phone work the very best. Sometimes I joke that people are in love with their emails. If you need action or to address something, email is the channel to go.
Some people are more of a phone person, so for them, it's much better to call and have a chat. If I follow up on something or if there is any question that's of vital importance in the bid process, I follow up on email or phone. And then I have virtually weekly status meetings during the bid process to follow up the task responsibility matrix.
We recently began using MS teams which might be helpful for “co-authoring” documents in the cloud rather then piece together different versions that different colleagues in the bid team contributes with.
How do you stay informed on bid management trends and best practices?
I go to LinkedIn. There are different groups on LinkedIn, focusing on bid and proposal management. I spend time there, and if there are particular things where I face challenges, sometimes I'll ask people to share their view or how they were able to solve the situation. It's very good because you get people who have the same role sharing their ideas and thoughts.
I also spend time at Strategic Proposals because they have a lot of resources, white papers and webinars on Bid management, how to create persuasive content in your proposal and so on.
Thanks! I hadn't heard of that resource. To wrap things up, what's a piece of good advice you can share?
Embrace whatever situation you are in. You might feel frustrated and stressed about what needs to be done and think, "If only we had another week." or, "If only we had more people on the team" or this and that. You have to play with what you got. So make the best of the situation by doing your very best. I think that will help you.
In addition I also think it could help you prioritize which case to invest time in if you have been able to rate your chances and or desirability on the specific RFQs beforehand.
I'm thinking about it, and realising every single thing a bid manager does has a deadline, doesn't it? And deadlines that are dictated by the RFP, so you don't have any control over them. You have a lot to deal with when it comes to time pressure.
I've been through it myself: all those moments of frustration, and at some point, I decided to embrace the beauty of just letting go of that frustration and working with what I got. Should it be that you are not able to finish all the attachments or questionnaires in time to submit then, you still have options.
Exactly. It's not the end of the world. You can bring in extra people to help, ask for an extension or even a partially submit the most important sections and send the rest later.
If you're really clear from the beginning on what's on the table, what challenges might be involved and so on - for me it's a way of taking control early in the process. And if I feel that I have control, the stress burden decreases a lot, and you can cope and stay focused on what needs to be done.
- Bid Managers LinkedIn Group. Over 14,000 members share information on processes and best practice about the creation, development, presentation, and negotiation of proposals, tender responses, and bids.
- Bid and Tender Management - Professional LinkedIn Group.
- StrategicProposals. Bid writing and management is a specialised skill. If you don't have dedicates resources, why not outsource them. StrategicProposals has a range of solutions to get any kind of proposal support you might need. They also have great free resources included whitepapers, webinars, guides and assessments. If you don't have a dedicated bid writer or manager, why not outsource.
- The Art of Procurement Podcast. Outstanding resource to help you better understand buyers. Many episodes are dedicated to procurement strategy, sourcing and contracting.
- Tasks and Responsibility Matrix. Rickard designed this task and responsibility matrix to reduce complexity and gain clarity on the tasks involved (and who'll do them) when responding to a bid. And it's yours for free.