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Today’s market for bid management software is huge, and it continues to grow. There are three main areas where such software can help companies efficiently manage their bid process and wider business development cycle:
- Organizing and managing a content or knowledge library
- Saving time and resources by efficiently populating a PQQ/RFP response template, either through basic search/copy/paste software or advanced tools that “read” a questionnaire and auto-populate answers
- Updating, tracking and reporting the pipeline
The continued rise in artificial intelligence (AI) technology is also expected to impact the bid industry, (and already is, to some extent), potentially automating more manual tasks such as shredding a PQQ/RFP to create response matrices or using programmed algorithms to make early bid/no bid decisions. In addition, from the opposite side, AI can assist procurement teams in the initial sifting of compliant and non-compliant responses.
There is little doubt that, depending on an organization’s size and rate or volume of bidding, bid management software in any category can help streamline the bid production process. Just a few benefits include:
- Immediate access to the most up to date and accurate content, as well as quick population into a response template (whether automated or manual)
- Providing key users and stakeholders an at-a-glance view of all opportunities, stuck opportunities and upcoming renewals/re-tenders, allowing for proactive management
- Freeing up resources to source intelligence within the business; help design the template and required graphics; manage the overall process, review and production stages; and allow the bid manager to truly add value to both the submission and the organization
However, one factor is at the foundation of all available technologies: They are only as good as the information we put in. And with compliance and “answering the question” being the cardinal rules of bidding, no matter how sophisticated such tools are or become, the result will always need a human eye to review.
Whatever technology you use or choose to deploy in-house or through third party, here are some key things to think about in relation to the content library, responding to a bid and managing the pipeline to ensure technology is truly an aid to the process.
A Practical Content Library
More important than the technology used is the proper structuring, filing and coding of information within your library first, so the technology knows where and what to look for. If your content isn’t properly filed, you could miss out on including vital proof points or end up drafting text that already exists. Content — whether it’s boilerplate responses, facts and figures, or supporting certificates or policies — should be easy to find, either by a bid team member or intelligent software. Set keywords or tags in document properties for searches and clearly group answers by topic — for example, at the highest level by people, process and technology, then by related sub-categories, e.g. recruitment, training, engagement and performance management.
In addition, define a process for regularly reviewing and updating content after each new bid has been submitted or debriefed. Do not be afraid to remove outdated or inaccurate content when appropriate. The risk of not reviewing/archiving can include potentially presenting inaccurate information to the client or failing to showcase your latest and best evidence.
Answering the Difficult Questions
Cognitive load theory positions that humans have limited working memory to process information, and where this information is ambiguous, we have to concentrate more. We must effectively handle and, more importantly, decode any information we receive to successfully understand its meaning. With this in mind, how, then, would technology process and decode an ambiguous question to determine the right content to select when auto-populating a response?
For standard PQQ or ITT/RFP questions, such as those asking you to define your quality management or health and safety procedures, software might successfully carry out this task. But what about the questions that require a more detailed interpretation and response? For example, those that ask how your values reflect those of the client, how you’ll track spend against a specific deliverable or how you’ll specifically invest in the relationship.
While you could simply choose to accept the content inputted by the software, no technology can — without human input — rewrite content, tailoring it to the client’s exact requirements or taking account of client and competitor intelligence from within the business. After all, persuasive writing is key to a successful bid.
There is a risk that we may not have enough time if we rely on technology to do a first pass and find upon review we need to step in and amend or replace content. There may then be an argument that it would have taken less time for the bid resource to complete the draft in the first instance.
However, we can give the technology the advantage it needs to be truly efficient. It comes back to the effective coding of the content library and the transfer of this coding to the wide variety of questions we have or may come across. We need to help the technology think, process, decode and understand.
The Effective Pipeline
Pipeline software can be at the core of your business development cycle, showing what opportunities are in progress or upcoming, or it can be as fundamental as prompting you to contact a client at the right time.
Again, more important than the tool is starting with a baseline of current, accurate information on each client and opportunity, along with a process for managing this. Key deadlines, review flags and ownership should be added to encourage regular updates after account meetings, bid submissions and/or presentations, etc. Add renewal dates after contract awards to proactively plan for re-tenders. Make the information genuinely valuable.
Taking your stakeholders on the journey with you is critical, as it ensures they know how to use and understand the pipeline tool, and they are signed up to continually update and share intelligence. As soon as a pipeline is out of date, its usefulness is largely reduced.
While bid management software certainly has its place in our profession, it is important that we do not simply rely on it to write the bid for us or to push the sales cycle forward. Instead, we must properly manage it, being proactive in its implementation and in its consistent usage, making sure the technology effectively accomplishes our goals, along with those of our organization. Software should be an aid to the bid process, freeing up resources to tackle the strategic responses and effectively manage the opportunity life cycle.
Ellen Lavender, CP APMP, is a global bid manager and the creator of Bidonomy. With over 12 years of experience across the software, outsourcing and professional services sectors, she is passionate about developing the underlying bid process and content libraries, driving best practice across the whole organization.