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Project managers...Good bid managers?

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APM Corporate member, Airbus, kindly hosted this event at their facilities in Filton.

Martin Wicks, Director of Harmonic (a corporate member of APM), took a very interesting and enlightening look at the skills needed for effective bid management, whist asking the question whether project managers (PMs), who are often asked to do bid management, really have the skills to do this role.

Martin sees that there is a lot of overlap in the competencies needed for project management, bid management and sales, but that there are critical differences.

In many ways managing a bid is the same as managing a project, it requires to be done on time, to cost and quality (TCQ), and a PM is well able to do this. But although TCQ are necessary, on their own they will not necessarily achieve the objective of winning new business, which is about convincing the customer that your bid is better than the competition. Quality in the bidding process is about convincing the customer your solution is what they want, it is better than the competition which requires very effective communication to get maximum evaluation marks. Customers are human, and often emotions will have significant effect on decision making. It is important for bid managers to recognise this and plan to manage this.

A bid manager has a number of tasks, firstly to run the bid as a project, secondly to define a win strategy, to work out how you can win, and if not, recommend a no bid, thirdly to define a solution that meets the strategy, to give the customer what they want, that meets the requirement (both tactic and implicit), and beats the competition, and finally to write a proposal that persuades the customer to select you, it is easy to evaluate and justifies the decision.

Martin explained that qualifying whether you should bid or not is key to profitability. Bidding can easily cost 2% of the contract value, and with a typical 20% success rate it is important not to chase all bids, but to choose those you have best chance to win. A 75% will rate could dramatically improve profitability.

In defining the strategy it is important to understand the stakeholders, particularly the customers and what they want. Identifying and testing with the customer their Hot Buttons; the 3 or 4 big issues, or customer worry beads is critical. It is then possible to compare your bid with the competition and to identify the key discriminators, those important to the customer, between you and your competitors.

Your win chances can be improved by improving your solution, changing your team, changing your customers opinion and changing the competition. Your bid strategy will need to emphasise your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, play down your competitor strengths, and highlight competitor weaknesses, but not directly attack them.

Writing the bid is very important, you must respond to the customers request, follow instructions and answer all questions. Dont allow your bid to be dismissed because of silly mistakes. The bid must tell the customer why they should pick you, focus on customer benefits (the hot buttons), provide evidence to support your claims, identify added value. Lay the bid out to make it easy for the customer to assess, good structure responding to the requirement, clear, easy to read, and effective use of visuals. The use of critical thinking techniques is very powerful approach for this.

Martin summarised that bid management was a critical role that should not be left to untrained staff. Bid managers need PM skills, technical skills and journalistic skills, and successful organisations needed to develop a cadre of skilled and experienced bid managers. He also considered that the proposed delivery PM should be part of the bid team to increase customer confidence.

Martin Gosden
SWWE Branch Chairman


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