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In the perpetual search for competitive advantage, more executives are scrutinizing proposal management functions. Are they cutting-edge? Are competitors employing best practices that win more jobs?
Proposal management professionals now have a powerful new tool for engaging their leaders in the quest for continuous improvement. APMP members have long asked for insights into their competitive status and organizational effectiveness, and APMP delivered with the 2019 APMP U.S. Bid & Proposal Industry Benchmark Report.
“Data-backed information allows us to say that there’s a best practice we’re not following, and if we were to implement it, we would get an edge on the competition,” said APMP Executive Committee Chair Ginny Carson, CPP APMP. “When my organization implements best practices, we find success. I am hooked on being a student of best practices, because it has paid off for me and my business many times over.”
“The survey results made me feel more confident. I was getting similar results. I could see I was aligned, and it gave me confidence that I was doing the right things.” — APMP Fellow Neil Philipson, CPP APMP, senior bid manager, buildings and infrastructure, southeast, Mott MacDonald
A Meticulous Benchmarking Process
As befits a report on best practices, the study followed a rigorous process. APMP’s Member Research Committee initially queried U.S. members on the areas to explore. Five buckets emerged, ranked in order of priority:
- Process: What are companies’ processes for managing proposals?
- Leadership engagement: How involved are C-suite leaders in proposal functioning?
- Outcomes: Do companies get better win rates from their processes and leadership involvement?
- Tools and resources: For instance, which software systems best facilitate team collaboration?
- Support data: How are teams organized, and how does that impact results?
Findings are presented as comparative data, segmented by job title or role, geography, industry, and business size. Users can assess successful practices, while comparing their win rates against peers.
When proposal managers can point to data showing, for instance, that doing competitive reviews before release can increase win rates, “that’s motivating to the C-suite,” said Carson. “It takes a top-down and bottom-up effort to effectively and sustainably implement process changes.”
Putting the Study to Work
A well-run proposal center exerts tremendous influence from its seat at the nexus of a business’s technical, commercial, and operational aspects, said Joe Halberda, professional services manager, strategic accounts and proposals, at Charleston, South Carolina-based BSI Group America. The benchmark study draws a data picture of the proposal center’s vital importance and is stocked with practices driving continuous improvement.
“It helps me hone my messaging and build credibility within my organization,” Halberda said. “Those benchmarks help me highlight my talk about win rates and the critical business practices of proposal management.”
The benchmark study is for APMP members, by APMP members, noted APMP Fellow Neil Philipson, CPP APMP, senior bid manager, buildings and infrastructure, southeast, at Mott MacDonald in London.
“The survey results made me feel more confident,” said Philipson, the research committee chair. “I was getting similar results. I could see I was aligned, and it gave me confidence that I was doing the right things.”
The findings add to the APMP Body of Knowledge and can be customized to the needs and cultures of individual companies, Philipson added. “This arsenal of information helps to change perceptions within your organization about the value of excellence in proposal management.”
“If you want to dig into the data, the report is really rich. The executive summary alone could change your life.” — APMP Executive Committee Chair Ginny Carson, CPP APMP
The Leadership Connection
The benchmark study offers a conversation starter with executives on win-generating processes, resources needed, and return on investment.
Segmentation of the responses also yielded eye-opening findings on perceptions of leadership involvement. Company leaders, said Carson, “think they’re engaged, but that’s not what we’re seeing from the ranks.”
Halberda discovered a possible reason for the perception gap by using the findings as a springboard for conversation among proposal management professionals and a Charleston-area business executive. At an APMP chapter meeting, the executive said that leaders feel involved because they have “articulated a strategy” for business development. The triggers for assessing the win and customers’ priorities are in place, and the processes for proper gateway decisions are embedded—all because the leader “created a really good strategy that’s understood, and everyone executes on that strategy.”
“There’s a conversation to be had around that perception gap,” Halberda said. “This benchmark study enables proposal professionals to have really good discussions with the leaders of the company. It gives them a seat at the table for influencing strategy.”
A Worthwhile Investment
APMP members can download the executive summary for free and also purchase the complete report for $275—a substantial discount from the $475 nonmember price that’s closer to the norm for comparable reports in other sectors.
The rich findings constitute a strong business case supporting the purchase:
- Gaining efficiencies: The findings effectuate sharper business processes that win more work. Companies “gain a better understanding of the most important aspects of winning proposals,” said Halberda.
- Advising strategic planning: The report offers “a different lens to look at why we are chasing something and going after this work,” said Halberda. “We need to prioritize what we’re spending our time on, particularly the proposals. It’s all about understanding how quickly we can get to what’s going to win.”
- Aligning with industry norms: Philipson sees opportunities for discussing key points with management, winning buy-in for sustaining existing best practices, and adopting additional elements shown to produce wins.
“Labouring” on a UK-Specific Study
APMP expects to repeat the benchmark study every other year, alternating with its popular salary study. An Oct. 28 APMP webinar provided guidance on using the report for practice improvements and higher success rates.
In the United Kingdom, a similar benchmark study was completed and made available after its presentation at the October 2019 U.K. conference. The U.K. study elicited information similar to the U.S. report and found similar results, but it was customized to norms and idioms of U.K. users.
Comparing the U.K. results to the U.S. findings could reveal enough similarities or dissimilarities to help determine whether rolling out benchmark studies—always a costly proposition—in other global hotspots would be worthwhile.
Useful on Many Levels
The benchmark study “fills a need,” said Halberda. “It needs to be shared. It needs to be digested by many different people, not just proposal professionals, but by any organization that proposes on work to clients. It’s a game changer, in a lot of ways.”
As Carson said, “If you want to dig into the data, the report is really rich. The executive summary alone could change your life.” The report arms proposal management professionals, already adept at building relationships with colleagues and leaders, with facts that justify powerful improvements.
“When we put that power in the hands of APMP members, we prepare them to contribute to their organizations in substantive ways, which should result in them improving their own careers,” she said. “If nothing else, it makes going to work a little bit more fun.”
Visit APMP.org/store to order.
M. Diane McCormick is a freelance journalist.