How often have you faced the question ‘what do you do for work’, only to answer and have blank faces look back at you? The truth is we could talk all day about what the role of a Bid Manager is, but the need for constant chameleon qualities means that it’s never the same on any given project – what remains the same is our purpose, helping those who primarily earn fees to win more work, in a more efficient way. Beyond managing a team to deliver on client requirements, where can we add value that not only results in compliance, but creates a lasting cultural change?
I could summarise the below article in 8 words: make them feel safe, make them feel excited.
I use this phrase for both personal clients and for the end clients that we’re trying to win work with. If you can achieve both excitement (building empathy and rapport) and trust (curating a firm belief in you as a leader), then a client will have a hard time not appointing you. Influencing hearts and minds isn’t a new concept, and there is of course a bit of trial and error to know what lands well with different cultures and personalities, but there are some tangible ways that you can begin to influence through the bid process.
Become a trusted critical friend
We are moving towards a time where proposal professionals are recognised as such, and within that we can position ourselves as a critical friend within teams. A critical friend must position themselves as an external specialist advisor, who has a common goal and demonstrates empathy to individual circumstances. This can be done in a formal or informal way depending on your stakeholders, but my experience has led me to believe that adopting a ‘people first’ approach will always get the best out of teams. Take the time to get to know your colleagues, if there is behavioural profiling available as part of your company then read up on preferences and working styles. If there isn’t one, consider suggesting it as an initiative. It’s our responsibility to work in a way bespoke to those teams we work with, and to build a rapport that allows for some of the harsher critique to be received.
In addition to this, it’s important to harness the growth mindset for your individual development. For others to trust you as a critical friend, you need to act with integrity and demonstrate a level of self-awareness that creates a space for stakeholders to feel safe in vulnerability. If you’re able to, ask someone you trust or a mentor for some feedback on areas where you think you can improve.
Put simply, don’t be afraid to be authentic.
Ask the ‘dumb’ questions
Those responsible for developing solutions often get so embedded in the weeds they don’t ask themselves the logical and simple questions that can truly add value. Our role is to facilitate these questions, and to bring it back to the most important person, the decision maker.
Often, when it feels like a client is asking for the ‘impossible’, it’s only through asking the dumb questions that you can uncover innovation. Bid managers are in a unique position to challenge the ‘what if’, where more technical contributors may be bound by industry best practice. What if we could produce to that timescale, what would we need to do to facilitate that, and so on.
Once you’ve uncovered the innovation, the so what brings it back to the scoring criteria and ensures it’s resonating with client hot buttons. Those marking submissions have a mandate to justify why they attribute certain scores. This is the formula I use when writing a response ‘does it answer the question, does it score well against criteria, could the marker copy and paste my response to justify appointing us’.
And don’t be afraid to keep asking the above – you’re unlikely to get it in one hit!
Lead from the side
I understand that everyone has a different leadership style, but as the role of bid managers evolves and our opportunities to influence become greater, I advocate leading from the side, as a coach to your teams. Our ultimate role is to motivate and deliver against a programme and that will never change, but what we can do and the value we can add outside of this is abundant. Great leaders know it’s not about them, and more about the common goal – setting out a ‘what do we want to achieve’ agenda up-front with your bid team will help align and position yourself in this way. A common goal can be wider than simply winning, it can be about driving the team in a certain direction, uncovering company innovation, building rapport with wider clients/business streams. If you have a clear vision, you can be the ‘right hand person’ to help your team get there.
Passion breeds passion, and if there’s one thing people remember, it’s how you make them feel. This is what I tell clients all the time when going in a room with the decision makers, so why should it be any different for their bid managers? By showing a genuine interest in your profession and that of your stakeholders, you will inadvertently make them feel safe (through your demonstrated knowledge and passion) and (hopefully) excited, through showing you care about what they do. This is turn creates an opportunity for added value, which can be unlocked through joining the dots and creating holistic offers.
Staying on top of both industry best practice and remaining curious with your stakeholders will do two things; 1. It gives you credibility as an advisor; 2. It creates genuine connection and empathy within the teams you work. Find something that your passionate about and cheerlead it within your organisation – and within our community.
“Yes, in all my research, the greatest leaders looked inward and were able to tell a good story with authenticity and passion.” -Deepak Chopra
Sam Burns CP APMP, is a Senior Bid Manager at EiB. Sam has over 10 years’ experience and has worked in both the private and public sector, helping clients win transformational projects across the UK.