Member Spotlight on: Kathryn Potter – The Power of Certification and Content Management

Kathryn Potter is the UK Partner at CSK Management, an APMP Approved Training Organization – CSK Management handles APMP certification training and arranges for people to sit the exams. On top of her day job, Kathryn has also been collecting certifications like they’re going out of style, with 75% of APMP’s available certifications under her belt at the time of writing!

I sat down with Kathryn to discuss her background, her emphasis on the importance of good content management, and her commitment to developing her professional acumen no matter how far along in your career she is.

Can you tell me a little bit about your professional background?

I come from South Africa originally, and moved to the UK in 2004 and ended up in a sales support role. I quickly realized there was this whole world of bids and proposals that I had no idea existed. I’d studied journalism and here I was doing bids and proposals! I worked out that this was a great fit for me, as I could actually use my writing skills to do something meaningful for organizations.

I worked in business travel initially and then moved into contracting with various IT outsourcing and communications companies. Along the way, I started getting very interested in content and content management. I began doing more and more contract work and shifting more and more towards trying to make life better for bid people. I decided to focus wholly on doing that in about 2017, and took time out to freelance to be able to put forward this content management idea of mine.

This led me to speaking at conferences and doing webinars all about content management. Along the way I met Chris [Kälin – Managing Partner at CSK Management] and we got on really well and realized we see bidding the same way. We started to look at where we could collaborate, and the upshot was bringing CSK Management to the UK.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by content management?

In bids and proposals, we write lot of content in response to questions that our clients ask, and we end up with a lot of information written down. What I want to see when I’m talking about content management is bid people saving useful pieces of information and collating them in a system that is searchable and central.

80% of what we do is theoretically reusable, with the other 20% being the tweaks and embellishments we put on top. We can’t change our account management process for everybody we work with, so that’s already about four pages of information that we can essentially just lift, shift and adapt. Our products and services always do the same thing – although the benefits will be different for each customer, but what we’re actually selling underneath has the same set of features.

If we use the metaphor of a car, it will always have four wheels and engine. I might need a car for a different reason than you need a car, so we’re looking for different ‘personalization’, but the core of it is the same. We need to find those reusable things – the things that never change and the things that only change a bit and are easily updated.

Then, we need to have all that reusable content somewhere where everybody can find it – it should just be a few clicks for you to find what you’re looking for. There are lots of different ways of managing it. The idea is to have pre-written building blocks that you can put together to make a better puzzle. All the lines are there, they just need to be colored in slightly differently for each opportunity.

It’s important to talk about strategies on how to manage it and how to get to that point. Quite often, we’ll have an answer that scored really highly and intend to hold on to it, but we’re so busy jumping on to the next bid that we never get the chance to do that. So, for me it’s about trying to teach people a process and a system that they can use to maximize their time.

What sort of work do you do with CSK Management?

Chris has been running CSK Management for over 20 years, providing bid training, consultancy, and live deal support. As customers often have global footprints, moving into the UK felt like a natural progression. Our aim is to see how we can help our clients – new and old – move forward and improve what they’re doing by learning and implementing best practice.

It doesn’t matter how big or how small your company is or how big or how small your tenders are, there’s best practice that you can apply across everything. You can take out the pieces that you need and that can be adapted to your situation. For example, you might not have time for four reviews, but if you build it so that you’ve got some sort of incremental review process, using some of the review gates you didn’t previously, you’ve implemented best practice.

So, from that perspective, I’m working with Chris to help people through the APMP training courses and working towards getting more and more people onto a trajectory of making the bid and proposal profession something that is recognized and an intentional choice. We want to make sure that bid people are not just seen as a glorified salesperson or glorified admin person, but really highlighting those specific skills and assets we have and can bring to the world of winning business.

As an Approved Training Organization (ATO), we can do all the APMP certification training and arrange for people to sit the exams as part of that. The advantage to our clients of us being an ATO is that they can feel confident all the training we provide is based on the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) and will meet the same criteria whether we’re providing a bespoke course to meet their organization’s needs or an APMP certification training session.

While there are several ATOs out there – this gives organizations and individuals the choice to work with whichever one of us best meets their requirements and is the best fit.

At CSK, we will often work with clients to consolidate what they’ve learned on a course as a team by giving support on a live deal or deals afterwards, pointing them in the right direction to incorporate the skills they have just acquired. This improves not only their confidence, but also their bidding success.

How did you get involved with APMP?

When I started out in bids and proposals, I was a permanent employee at a company that was not willing to pay for APMP membership (and you couldn’t claim it off your taxes then either!), so I took this huge leap of faith to fund my membership myself. Back then, I was on a much smaller salary, and it was a lot of money to have this big annual membership fee. But I really saw, and see, the value in this community of like-minded people. It’s so great to be able to share your frustrations and successes with others who understand. It’s also a valuable arena for industry recognition, and for us as professionals to recognize each other for things that we’re doing well. Without APMP, there would be no real space for that.

I think APMP is doing a great job now in showcasing the breadth of roles and scope in bid and proposal management, and how the industry is evolving with the changes in technology and ways of working. That’s where APMP is critical – we have a professional organization to show we have a real profession, with valid certification and recognition of our skill sets.

There’s just so much that’s good and exciting about bidding. Looking back at the time when I first joined APMP, it was a lot quieter then than it is now. But as it’s grown, I’ve continued to think: “Yes, this is something that I’d like to keep being involved with”. I’ve benefited from the mentorship program. I’ve benefited from just being able to network with people and be encouraged to keep looking at what options they are out there. And I’ve benefited from the certifications too.

How has your experience been with APMP certifications?

I have my practitioner and capture practitioner certifications. Capture practitioner was particularly interesting because it really laid out how we secure clients and how we know what they’re looking for. It solidifies that capture is a formal thing that is part of what a bid person does. It isn’t just something we just expect sales to do anymore.

I love the micro certifications. They really underpin all those best practices and encapsulate just that small piece of the process. It really confirms that these skills are real and valuable because somebody has certified it. It teaches you how to look at and evaluate things to make your proposal better.

And all these little skills add up – even if you don’t feel you are at the level to do a practitioner or a professional certification – pick one of the smaller ones to give you something that you can use every day to grow your career.

So, as someone with years of experience in the industry, where do you see the value for yourself in completing micro-certifications?

So, for example, I did some training in executive summaries years ago and I’ve sort of been falling back on that all the time. The great thing about doing the micro-certification for me was being able to read a really concise study guide and apply that back to some things I’ve already done. Then I could sit an evaluation that really examined whether I understood what I was doing, and the result is a qualification that says to me, and to everybody else: “Kathryn really knows what she’s talking about when it comes to how to do an executive summary.”

It means I can then teach my colleagues and clients that I’m working with. I can review their executive summaries and give advice on best practice – and with that little micro-certification behind my name, I have the validation that I know what to do. If I’m freelancing, it gives me credibility with my customer.

Yes, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but having the micro-certification helps me to demonstrate that I am keeping up with the industry and that I’m up-to-date. It also gives me the confidence that I know what I’m doing and underpins and updates my existing knowledge and understanding.

If you’re a person who’s new to the industry – if you’ve done your foundation and you feel like there’s this huge gap until you can do practitioner because of the experience you need – you can go and do these micro-certifications and feel much more competent and qualified.

The micro-certifications are these bits and pieces that I think that will open people’s eyes, either to specializing in a particular aspect of a bid or just assembling the building blocks to be better at everything.

What are your goals in your role with CSK Management going forward?

The goal is to get more people APMP-aware – to get as many people as possible out there understanding what APMP is and does. Promoting the value of doing those certifications, the value of sharing best practice, the value of networking with others who do the same thing you do. I’d like to see how far we can go and how many people we can empower. In addition, I want to work with as many organizations as possible to give guidance and support at critical points in the bid process and ensure their growth and success through training and application of those skills.

I want to make sure our role is actually seen and valued in organizations, so that we’re not answering bids over Christmas anymore!

APMP is definitely going from strength to strength. I want to keep emphasizing value of micro-certifications and CPD and continue to help people get on that trajectory and make bidding and intentional career. I’m very excited about that and looking forward to getting moving on all of it.


Join the Conversation