Next up in our series of interviews with folks involved in the proposal profession around the world is Martin Smith, a Director of Bid Solutions – Europe’s leading recruitment consultancy for bid and proposal people. Martin also serves on the UKAPMP sub-committee reviewing membership services.
How did you first get involved in sales proposals?
Honest answer… it was the best-paid job after graduating from my MBA Programme! It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, jack-of-all-trades bid management role for a global IT organisation. I earned all the usual badges: 37 hour sleep deprivation badge; late night printer engineer badge; impoverished social life badge. You know the deal!
To offer a slightly less materialistic perspective I’ll share my reasons for continuing in the profession for a further 12 years following that initial decision. I firmly believe bid and proposal management has huge potential to grow in to a trusted, proven and respected discipline, across all industries and on a global scale. The pace and credibility with which the Accreditation Programme has been both implemented and adopted is testament to this. I believe as a discipline, bid and proposal management offers professional people an unparalleled, immediate and real exposure to all key business functions.
Every proposal professional has a favourite horror story of the proposal that nearly (or actually) went wrong. What’s yours?
We worked on an all night bid, eventually finishing at 9am the following morning. The deadline for delivery was 10am.The location was just two miles from our location in Central London. We ordered a bike to ensure timely delivery. Very pleased with our achievements we headed off for a celebratory breakfast at Simpsons-on-the-Strand.
Unbeknown to us, the courier company sent a car as all the bikes were in use. If only the congestion charge had been introduced several years earlier the average speed of the car might have exceeded the two miles per hour required to get it there on time…! Deadline missed and lesson learnt the hard way.
What’s the single most successful thing you’ve done to improve your organisation’s proposals?
In my previous role, as head of opportunity management for a major company, I introduced a resource model that linked the size of my team to reflect not only the total number of proposals worked, but also proposal quality. It sounds very straight forward and simple (which really it was) however, the key to success was having total buy-in to the model from the Financial Director.
In real terms, it ensured that must-win deals weren’t compromised by a lack of resource availability whilst providing immediate transparency to those deals in which we were clearly making up the numbers – if a deal landed that pushed team utilisation from 100% to 140%, it quickly became an extremely effective qualification tool if sales people knew they had to pick up the phone and ask the FD to fund a 40% increased resource requirement.
How do you respond to those who claim that, “It’s all about price”?
I don’t believe that price is necessarily a flawed strategy. To not pay full attention to the customer’s requirements because you are relying on price is however, unforgivable.
In a commoditised market, differentiation is not always sufficiently tangible to generate long-term customer loyalty. In such markets (and in my experience) price is often the key driver, albeit not in the complete absence of product / service quality considerations.
In the consumer market, price driven strategies are paving the way for success for many organisations. Websites such as ‘Go Compare’ for Insurance or ‘Kelkoo’ for Electronic purchases often remove the customer-loyalty element from the consumers buying decision. Whether such platforms could replace corporate strategic purchasing decisions remains a topic of great debate. To rule it out completely would be arrogant in a digital age.
Any advice for proposal people needing to get greater sponsorship from senior colleagues within the business?
In my experience, far too many bid and proposal teams fail to link the team’s objectives with those of the business. As a result, Senior Execs often view the bid and proposal team as a tactical sales support function rather than a strategic asset. Declaring win-rate aspirations or total revenue won is simply not sufficient. To truly build bridges (and influence) and engender sponsorship from the places that matter, I believe the objectives of the proposal team (and each and every one of its members) should be implicitly tied to those of the business. Only then can you truly influence and ‘manage up’ the chain of command.
For example, whilst most executives are focussed on a specific business unit or sector, bid and proposal teams are generally in the privileged (?!) position of having deal visibility across all sectors. By proactively, objectively and rigorously assessing the sales pipeline and win-rate data – something I believe many senior sales managers fail to do well – bid teams can (and should) be first to flag potential gains, issues, and shortfalls in the business plan. Clearly, flagging them to senior management is really only the first step to improved relations, providing implementable recommendations is the real aim and ultimately the ‘holy grail’ to building bridges and increased sponsorship.
A word of caution…this is fundamentally different to the reactive approach of informing management that there are too many deals on the pipeline and you need more resource!
Thanks for that, Martin – some great advice, mixed with some good and challenging ideas.