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Take Command: Insights From Bid Management Champion Adrian Collins

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How did you get your start in bid management?

Like many bid managers I’m aware of, I essentially stumbled into this role. While I was working as an implementation project manager, I told my boss that I wanted to write for a living, though, in reality, I really didn’t know what I wanted to write about. Previously, I had been on and led customer service teams and had also worked as a business improvement officer, writing customer-facing web copy.

Out of the blue, one of the managers for a company I was working at tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Look, we’re in a situation.” I said, “What can I do to help?” He then shared that he was about to go on leave and that the current bid manager (the company’s only one at the time) was also rather inconveniently on leave, yet we had a very important bid opportunity come into play. He told me that he needed me to pull it together with the new head of business development who had been there for a grand total of about five days.

So, what did we do? We pulled it together with a lot of copying and pasting. There were obviously a number of other details involved, including contract negotiation, pricing positioning, and so on. Long story short, we submitted on time and ended up winning this major bid.

Following this first win, I was dusting the shoulders off, feeling pretty confident about the situation and thinking this bid management thing wasn’t too hard. When I got to the post-win feedback meeting, however, I was told by the head of HR that the bid was the worst she had ever read in her many years of managing procurement and HR, but I had fluked enough detail in my clear copy-paste efforts that we had progressed in the process.

That was a massive reality check. It sparked something very important within me, though. I had actually found something that was interesting. From that point forward, I made it a mission to talk with people who were smarter than me, who had more experience than I did. I learned different perspectives from team leaders, SMEs, lawyers, operations managers, heads of sales. Couple that all with the amazing exhilaration of the win and I absolutely loved it.

From there, I realized there was so much opportunity in bid management, and a year down the track, I wasn’t at all bored. Two years down the track, I still wasn’t bored. I was still learning, still realizing just how little I actually knew and how much I needed to learn to be good at this. It just clicked. Not much in my career up to that point had clicked and kept me interested. For some reason, this career just made sense and aligned with how my head worked. I felt that the career world was opening up, that I was so small in knowledge in a world with so much to learn. That got me going.

Q: What are some key best practices you’ve learned that you wish to share with your global bid management peers?

First, the thing I wish I had done better early on was to create and learn my processes and structures instead of flying by the seat of my pants. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve learned that my time control and my processes have become like breathing. If someone says that I have a response due on a certain date, I’m automatically working backward mentally to ensure I have my SME reviews, design asks, redline reviews all in order so I can focus on the fun stuff: creativity and critical thinking to refine the winning narrative. When you’re still trying to figure out your structures, I think you’re missing one of the best parts of bidding and winning opportunities. In hindsight, it’s a great argument for doing your APMP foundation as soon as you’re eligible.

Second, you need to learn to get the most out of your team’s creativity. If they’re having a great team session, coming up with winning ideas, sometimes you just need to learn to shut your mouth and take notes. If the creativity dies down, learn to ask a guiding question to get the team going again. On the flip side of that coin, you also need to recognize the moments when you frankly don’t have the time to muck about (like when you have two days and a packed agenda and simply need to get the bid done).

Third, always be looking out for new ideas, new products, new case studies, and new discriminating factors to get an edge on the competition. Talk to people. Go to the company socials and introduce yourself. Even if you’re a severe introvert, go find that small extroverted spark in you and speak with people and learn new things, you’ll be amazed at the perspective and new copy ideas you can gain.

Finally, learn to divorce your emotions from critical feedback. If you have your wonderful, flawless, polished document reviewed by a colleague and they come back to say they hate it, then you need to very quickly get over the personal hurt in order to understand what it would take to turn it into a winning pursuit. In the end, the results of what we do are very black and white: you either have the contract at the end of the process, or you don’t. If you are consistently hurt by what people say, you’ll really struggle to be successful and enjoy this role.

Q: How can bid managers work better with their cross-functional colleagues?

Get to know your cross-functional stakeholders really well. It’s incredibly difficult to succeed in any way if you don’t do that. Truly pay attention to the people you work with. Learn their mannerisms. Learn their motivations. Find opportunities to make their jobs a bit easier. In my mind, great bid managers are great with people.

Ultimately, the most important thing is respect. Respect your colleagues’ time. Keep your commitments. Don’t miss deadlines. Deliver.

Let your team members see that you’re passionate about winning and that you truly care. Finally, don’t overcomplicate the business winning process. Keep things simple, challenge colleagues to produce their best work, challenge yourself, be flexible where you can and inflexible where you need to be, celebrate the contracts and the learnings, and everybody wins.