Having been a bid and proposal professional for many years, I’m naturally very familiar with what we do, but there are many people completely unaware of the existence of the profession. I’ve prepared this rough guide to provide an insight into what it’s all about. It is aimed at a broad audience, including those doing the work without realising it’s a profession, as it’s part of their normal job role, and companies that need to tender for new work but struggle with their preparation. They need to be aware that there is a community of professionals they can turn to for advice, guidance and support. Other audiences include young people looking for advice on career options or anyone considering a career change. Finally, passing the word to everyone who has never heard of the profession will make my life easier when describing what I do for a living.
Let’s consider what search terms you would use if you were looking to find out more about the profession, as it’s really difficult to search for something you don’t know exists. If you need help with legal matters, you search for lawyers; for help with accounts, you search for accountants; you can search for builders, marketeers, plumbers, engineers, etc. You get the picture. There is a generic noun for all of these professions, but within each, there are a variety of specialisations. Like every other profession, the area of Bids and Proposals has a variety of specialisations, but it has yet to acquire a generic noun. Bid writer and bid manager are frequently used, but these are specialisations. We suggest the term Bidmaster, 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 descriptions of propositions to customers. These propositions may be to win work, gain funding, win personal or business awards, or to encourage investment. Clearly, the proposition that best meets the customer’s requirements will be successful. Dragon’s Den is a great example of how a well-prepared proposition, which is focussed and well-presented, achieves success. The key thing about these opportunities is that the decision is usually binary – there are no silver medals, you either 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.
In simple terms, our profession is about preparing compelling and successful descriptions of a proposition. It sits neatly between sales and marketing; it is neither and sometimes both. Marketing is about the promotion of products and services in general, while sales is about direct engagement with the customer. We’re the team in the engine room that draws together the expertise and knowledge from sales, marketing, technical, programme, commercial and finance departments to create a compelling proposition for a specific opportunity against a challenging and fixed deadline. The Bid Team typically consists of specialists with very different talents:
As you can see, these are very different roles with very different skill sets. The ideal is to have a fully populated team, but in some circumstances, it falls to one person to produce and deliver the proposition. It would be a rare and probably confused individual that possessed 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.
The profession has an established international trade association with chapters around the world. It has a global membership of approximately 10,000, which is a small proportion of people working in the profession. This association was originally set up as the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP). As I indicated earlier, bid (or proposal) management is just one of the roles, so the association opened its membership to encompass this. To reflect this, the new title on its website is “The Association of Record for Bid, Proposal, Business Development, Capture and Graphics Professionals.” Oh, how we need a generic noun.
I’ve researched the UK national careers advisory website and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) website to find out what information is available. Not surprisingly, the information is limited at best: https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/bid-writer, and https://www.ucas.com/ucas/after-gcses/find-career-ideas/explore-jobs/job-profile/bid-writer. I found it quite amusing that according to the UCAS website, the guidance for the Academic Route is “Degree in English, IT, Civil Engineering or Housing.” Given this lack of reliable information, 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 initiated an apprenticeship for Bid and Proposal Coordinators, which is the first nationally recognised further education option for the profession. In addition, there are a number of specialist training companies offering relevant courses.
I hope this has whet the appetite for those considering a career as a Bidmaster, and helped those who ask me what I do for a living.