Winning the Business

A Lifetime’s Worth of Wins

The view from outside the comfort zone

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Proposal management is the profession of winning, and we all know what winning feels like. But how much more exciting is winning when you least expect it? And what about winning multiple times in one night? This is a story about winning, in a way I had never experienced before in my professional life.

Stepping Way Outside the Comfort Zone

Back in May 2008, I had just invested my year’s savings to travel halfway across the world to Rancho Mirage, California, from my home in Perth, Australia, to attend my first APMP international conference. I had never been to the United States before and knew no one in the group of more than 600 strangers when I arrived at the conference on the first day. At the time, there wasn’t an APMP chapter I could affiliate with.

The 30 hours of travel and 12-hour time difference meant my body was jet-lagged and my mind fatigued. My nerves were turning cartwheels when I thought of presenting later that day. What could I possibly say to a room of seasoned proposal professionals that they hadn’t heard before? Working crowds, presenting, and networking had never been my thing. To make matters worse, it was happening in a place that was foreign to me. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of my ridiculous decision to attend the conference. I had never felt so far outside my comfort zone. All I wanted was to get in my time machine and crawl back under my little rock in Australia.

What could I possibly say to a room of seasoned proposal professionals that they hadn’t heard before?

Feeling at Home, Professionally

Fast-forward seven years to May 2015. I was at the APMP Industry Awards Dinner at Bid & Proposal Con in Seattle, Washington, for my seventh APMP international conference. Now there existed an Australian New Zealand (ANZ) Chapter, and I was looking forward to celebrating chapter and member accomplishments at this prestigious event, even though the ANZ Chapter was not up for any awards. We had specifically decided not to nominate as we built toward our chapter’s first regional conference in March 2016.

Compared to my experience seven years earlier, I certainly felt much more comfortable. I knew more people this time around, good friends and respected colleagues who I had learned from and shared with. I still felt jet-lagged, but after 20 years in the proposal profession, my body was getting better at coping with it. The biggest difference this time was—while I was still 9,000 miles from where I lived—I now felt as if I was home, at least professionally.

The Night I Didn’t Expect

One of the first awards announced was for the chapter with the most corporate memberships sold. The ANZ Chapter won. I was honored to accept our chapter’s first award. I was surprised but extremely pleased, as corporate memberships had been a focus for us over the last two years. Knowing that our persistence, hard work, and belief were finally starting to pay off was incredibly fulfilling and motivating.

Then the announcement of two more awards really knocked me off my feet. The first was Chapter Chair of the Year. To hear my name was an incredible surprise, especially as I knew there were many wonderful chapter chairs doing great things. It was moving to accept that award and be recognized, especially as it is really an award for the whole chapter. An effective leader is only as good as his team, and this award was a reflection of the dedicated and hardworking people on the ANZ Chapter committee.

The final award announcement of the evening was the prestigious Fellow Award, APMP’s highest honor, based on an individual’s contributions to the industry over the course of his or her career. Learning I had joined that select group, when I know so many other deserving people, was incredibly humbling.

The Winning Feeling That Lasts

Climbing the steps to a brightly lit stage for the third time that night in front of standing, applauding people was just too much for my emotions. Perhaps I had had one too many lemonades at that point. Whatever it was, once again I was truly overwhelmed by the experience at an APMP conference. This time, however, it was a much more enjoyable feeling, and that ridiculous decision seven years ago to step outside my comfort zone was put into stark perspective.

Sure, external recognition and those feelings of exhilaration are fantastic when we win and are rewarded for our efforts, as I found out on that night. The celebrations and fountain hopping afterward are also a lot of fun. But the satisfaction of knowing your thirst for knowledge has been justified, the decision to pursue your passion has paid off, and durable relationships have been formed is the winning feeling that lasts.

APMP is a diverse and eclectic group of individuals. It is through this group that I have found the profession I truly enjoy. I can’t promise that you will win multiple times in one night, but it might just pay to step outside your comfort zone from time to time.


Nigel Dennis, CPP APMP Fellow, is a co-founder and director of BidWrite Pty Ltd. in Australia and the ANZ Chapter Chair. He can be reached at nigel@bidwrite.com.au.

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