The bid and proposal profession is shrouded in mystery for those who haven’t been part of it. Many people are unaware of the profession and at times, it seems the jargon – PQQ, ITT, ITN, to name a few of the acronyms – is designed to confuse. Despite this, bid professionals play an important role within the procurement function for organisations, with their efforts contributing towards winning millions of pounds’ worth of business, as well as assisting in securing investment or funding and winning awards.
This rough guide provides an insight into what it’s all about. It’s designed for a broad audience, including companies that need to tender for new work but struggle with their preparation, young people looking for advice on career options or anyone considering a career change and individuals who are involved in bid work, but may not realise it can be a full-time profession. Much of the time, companies pull bid teams together from other areas, so it is just a small part of an employee’s normal job role. Employees can be seconded to a bid team without ever having worked on a proposal before before. Naturally, this can be daunting, so it helps to know there’s a community of professionals out there for advice, guidance and support.
What do bid teams actually do?
In simple terms, bid work is about preparing compelling and targeted descriptions of a proposition. It sits neatly between sales and marketing. Marketing is about the promotion of products and services in general, while sales involves direct engagement with the customer. The bidmasters make up the team in the engine room that draws together the expertise from sales, marketing, technical, programme, commercial and finance departments to create a compelling proposition for a specific opportunity against a fixed deadline.
What’s the right terminology?
If you need help with legal matters, you search for lawyers; for help with accounts, you search for accountants; you can search for builders, engineers or salespeople. There’s a generic noun for all of these professions and each encompasses a variety of specialisations. Like every other profession, the area of bids and proposals has a variety of specialisations – and there are names for these – but it has yet to acquire a generic noun that encompasses all of them. Bid writers and bid managers are part of the team and there might be a proposal architect, a bid coordinator and a proof reader. Someone does the graphics and layout, too, but these are all specialisations. We suggest the term bidmaster as the generic noun, using the definition of master as: “A skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity.”
While on terminology, we need to consider the terms given to the documents we prepare: bids, proposals, tenders, pitches, presentations, quotes, estimates, and so on. There are nuanced differences between each, but in general, they are propositions to customers. These propositions may be to win work, to gain funding, to win awards or to encourage investment, but they have the same goal: to best meet the customer’s requirements. Dragon’s Den is a prime example of how a well-prepared proposition supports a product or service and achieves success. The key in the bid world is that the decision is usually binary – there are no silver medals; you succeed or fail. As the outcome often determines the company’s future business success, it is vital to use the right people for the job.
Who does what?
A bid team typically consists of:
These are varied roles that correspond with different skill sets. The ideal is to have each of these roles on a bid team, but in some circumstances, it falls to one person to produce and deliver the proposition. It is a rare and probably confused individual that possesses all of the attributes needed to be successful in all of the roles. Accordingly, companies like BiD Masters exist, to assist and augment areas where skill gaps exist.
Is there a professional body?
The profession has an established international trade association with chapters around the world. The title is somewhat unwieldy: “The Association of Record for Bid, Proposal, Business Development, Capture and Graphics Professionals (APMP). It’s clear we need a generic noun.
How do you become a bidmaster?
There’s not a lot of information out there on how to become a bidmaster. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) website, the academic route is via a degree in English, business management or sales and marketing or a subject relevant to an industry you want to specialise in, like IT, civil engineering or housing. That’s not untrue, but it doesn’t exactly highlight a career path. It’s not a surprise that most people stumble into the profession, rather than making it a career choice.
APMP runs a certification programme for people already in the profession, with a number of training organisations approved to deliver this. The UK Chapter of APMP has an apprenticeship for Bid and Proposal Coordinators, which is the first nationally recognised further education option for the profession.
So that’s a rough and ready introduction. If you’re interested in becoming a full-time bidmaster, we welcome you into the profession.