It’s the dream of many a bid team – a single repository of bid content that is up to date, quick to access and ready to go at your fingertips. Really when it comes to helpful tools for winning bids it’s the ultimate – access to a comprehensive bid content library that is.
Remote or not, many ‘lucky’ bid teams already have a comprehensive bid content library operating in their business. Well-conceived and maintained bid content libraries make the bidding process vastly more efficient and bring other important benefits that increase in value over time.
Many anticipated 2020 procurement processes have been delayed or deferred due to COVID-19 so now may be the perfect time to finally tackle some strategic projects such as creating your own centralised bid content library.
And, of course, those teams aren’t ‘lucky’ – bid content libraries can (initially) be hard work, but those teams are fortunate to be working in businesses and with management that recognise the value of a creating and maintaining a centralised bid content library.
What is a centralised bid content library?
Simply put a bid content library comprises easily findable and well-written responses to common (and sometimes less common) questions that address client or bid requirements.
Ideally these pieces of content can be quickly assembled and ‘individualised’ or ‘personalised’ or ‘customised’ or ‘tailored’ for new bids. A bid content library should also contain frequently used ‘assets’ (e.g. master proposal templates, photos and diagrams) and ‘reference’ documents or other evidence (e.g. insurance certificates, policy documents, statistics).
Generally, a bid content library will also contain final and complete versions of all of your past tenders, bids and proposals. However, unless you’ve personally authored the entire bid it can be hard to know what kinds of content may be available or how to find the most recent or ‘best’ version of something. The best bid content libraries break up content into relevant categories for your industry or sector and bids.
Benefits of a centralised bid content library
Why bother with a centralised bid content library?
The benefits of centralised bid content libraries include:
Maximising efficiency in face of tight deadlines, making it faster to assemble a first draft. This buys your team time for the customisation and refinement necessary to put forward ‘winners’ for each particular opportunity. Efficiency gains offer your business a clear competitive advantage compared to less organised competitors who submit lacklustre bids.
Reduces stress and unproductive time so your team’s expertise is better used. Various studies that show workers can spend up to 30% of their day looking for information needed to do their jobs. According to one McKinsey report some knowledge workers spend up to 20% of their work time looking for information – that equates to 1 day a week! A day when your team is not creating anything or adding value.
Saves reinventing the wheel, chances are your clients and prospective clients have similar and overlapping needs that crop up in each RFT, even if the language or precise requirements are different this time, if you can quickly refer to an existing response, model or approach it will short cut some of the hard thinking.
Consistent messages and approaches to your clients and the market. If you are a complex, multi-service and geographically diverse business a ‘centralised’ bid content library that all bid, marketing, sales team members can access and reference helps boost consistency in your ‘outbound’ tenders, bids and proposals. It also saves time when it comes to ‘making changes later’ in your bid’s development by avoiding reworking new or independently created content so it will ‘fit’ with your business’ position and approach.
It’s already validated (either through being part of a winning bid) or at least has been previously approved internally. This means the content should be reasonably non-controversial and you won’t have to waste time seeking sign-off on every aspect of the content (perhaps just new elements). This can help enormously when you are trying to manage a bid remotely and obtain decisions or approvals quickly.
Removes risk of over-reliance on one or two key people by systemising content organisation rather than relying on ‘memory’. Usually in high volume bid teams it isn’t smart to rely on one tenders and bids person to ‘recall’ previous responses. As on the ball as most bid managers are memory and humans are fallible. In larger organisations with lots of bids and contributors on the go it can be dangerous to have a ‘system’ that relies on one person’s ‘memory’. Ideally your bid content library will be accessible and indexed in a way that is meaningful to those who need to access it regardless of any one team member’s availability.
Over time your win rate should improve. Per the first point, by quickly producing accurate and high quality ‘first’ drafts early in the life of a bid your service teams can spend the necessary time customising solutions and approaches to meet each client’s requirements. Instead of stressing the night before submission you don’t yet have a complete first draft and it’s a mad scramble just to submit a compliant document, you can coolly submit your ‘perfect’ bid. As we like to say ideally any bid will go through at least 3 rounds of reviews and refinements to become a ‘winner’.
Understanding what a bid content library will (and won’t) do for you…
It’s important to understand some key principles and be realistic before you start your bid content library project.
A bid content library isn’t going to a be a ‘total’ bid solution. To be effective your bid content library will require organisational ‘buy-in’, resourcing and an appreciation that this is not a one-off event, but an ongoing commitment to a system.
While a bid content library will see your bid team gain efficiency, it isn’t going to wave a magic wand and suddenly automate development of all your tenders and proposals.
A good rule of thumb is to regard a bid content library as taking your bid draft to around 70% complete (and quickly); leaving only 30% heavy lifting (customisation and tailoring) to be done for each opportunity.
Also, you cannot just ‘dump’ old bid content into the library and run. Unfortunately, complex service businesses change all the time, and thus even simple things like the number of employees may change week to week. Good bid content libraries require some critical thinking up front to organise the information and then regular maintenance.
So really, just like a garden, to be useful and productive, centralised bid content libraries require planning, pruning and regular tending. Or in other words, the old database adage, garbage in garbage out applies equally to your bid content library.
So, how can you ensure that your bid content library isn’t a stinker and thrives?
With the above in mind in our experience understanding and committing to a bid content library means working out:
- What should go in your bid content library – critical thinking here is a must to ensure content is useful and maintainable – it’s not an everything but the kitchen sink approach
- Who will maintain your bid content library – a commitment by more than one person in the business to contributing and maintaining content is crucial
- How often should you update your bid content library – a staggered schedule throughout the year is generally best and at the end of each bid submission
- What system will you use to manage your bid content library – it doesn’t necessarily need to be specialised software, but it does need to ‘work’ for your business.
What content should go in your bid content library?
How long is a piece of string?
So, you don’t get in a tangle the best approach is to consider what questions and requirements typically arise in your world for most bids and start to list and categorise common content from there. Many large organisations have literally hundreds of past bids to refer to, so you may also decide anything older than say 5 years is not relevant to include for instance.
Pro tip: Don’t strive for perfection, or you’ll never do it. Start small by picking 2 – 3 recent ‘winners’ to run through and identify common questions, themes and repeated items. This will help you establish a master index or list of ‘categories’ to include in your bid library.
From there breaking down ‘full’ proposals into smaller bites of content makes future searching faster and in turn for quicker tailoring or weaving snippets into a new proposal.
Another obvious bid content library starting point is collecting basic information or facts and figures about your business including things like locations, addresses, number of employees, years in business, key service or product lines.
Categories for a bid content library
For most service businesses over time you can build up succinct ½ page to one page write ups for your bid content library that give you a consistent model for responding to questions around:
- Service delivery (e.g. audit process, litigation approach, recruitment model, project plans – whatever the steps are to the services are you deliver)
- Relationship or account management (e.g. approach, team structure and communication model)
- Organisation infrastructure (e.g. systems, data security, other tech, management, policies, procedures)
- Editable diagrams, schematics or flowcharts that encapsulate process steps that can be then tailored or top and tailed with some mentions of the client’s name or other specifics
- Policies and procedures commonly requested in bids that can be included ‘as is’ or lightly tailored to respond to this bid (e.g. quality control, corporate social responsibility, IT and data security)
- Professional profiles/resumes/CVs/bios for each service team member that are nicely laid out and are easy to edit for each opportunity
- Capability and track record (e.g. project lists, deal lists)
- Social ‘proof’ in the form of client feedback survey results, performance data, client references and testimonial quotes
- Case studies or project highlights to provide evidence of your performance and capability
- Awards and industry recognition lists, award logo types or emblems and other external endorsements of your business and service delivery
- Statistics and other data that are useful evidence of your capabilities.
In addition to ‘common’ questions and corresponding responses it can also be useful to include (and categorise) any highly customised, one-off answers, approaches or other special elements. These may be useful reference to ‘inspire’ other special responses and to help answer ‘unusual’ questions and will help leverage all the hard thinking that went into creating that content rather than it being lost to the mists of time.
Pro tip: Going forward as part of your bid wrap up process index, cross reference or otherwise update your content library after each bid hands in. Clearly flag new or improved material and make it easy for your team to access. That means housekeeping to assess then archive or delete superseded content. And make sure it’s clear (by some sort of time and date convention) what is most recent so you don’t create version control issues, revert to an out of date CV or old content.
Pro tip: Avoid retaining 10+ variants of the same answer in your centralised bid content library – pick the ‘best’ one and keep that as the primary source. It can be confusing for bid content library users who maybe rushing and who will struggle to identify which version is most recent or ‘best’.
If there are important variations e.g. a service capability overview – written for a private hospital and you will bid to other private hospitals you can index and keep that separate as a ‘sub-category’ to your ‘general service capability overview’.
Who should manage and maintain your bid content library?
As noted above, really if you’re relying on one bids person to ‘remember’ where all the best content is located that’s not a system or a library.
While convenient (and possibly best for smaller businesses or those who bid infrequently) if your key accounts rely on renewals or retention through tenders, bids and proposals that’s a big revenue and business risk that should be proactively managed. A bid content library is one way to reduce risk in this area.
In order to properly resource a bid content library project it is critical that management see it as important and provide resources to make it happen – be that freeing up the bid team’s time, providing money for software, or employing an additional or temporary team member.
Mostly it makes sense to take a two-pronged approach to managing and maintaining your bid content library.
Designate an overall ‘librarian’ or the bid team to manage the day to day of the bid content library with maintenance supported by relevant subject matter experts who contribute reviews and updated content at scheduled intervals.
If you build it they will come. The better maintained your bid content library the higher the level of trust in the accuracy and quality of its contents and the more likely it is to be relied on by your team.
How often should you update a bid content library?
Once your bid content library is established you might develop an ‘update’ schedule and have the relevant ‘subject matter experts’ validate content at these intervals:
Monthly for content that changes frequently (e.g. employee numbers by service team provided by HR)
Quarterly for content that may change two or more times throughout the year (e.g. organisation charts, company statistics provided by group management)
Annually for bigger business-wide updates and changes (e.g. latest insurance certificates from Operations, new award win list from Marketing, new or revised services from each key service team, CVs updated by each relevant service or account team member).
While your overall ‘librarian’ can then tidy up that input and ensure it lives where it needs to in the bid content library it is important that others in the business ‘own’ content and are kept accountable for keeping it up to date.
Pro tip: Ongoing bid content library maintenance should also occur after each bid, tender or proposal is submitted. As part of your bid wrap up you can identify ‘new’ content to add to your library, or ‘better’ content to replace existing content.
Pro tip: Some bid content in your library will be ‘evergreen’ and rather than being altered or updated will simply be added to (e.g. client testimonial quotes, awards won).
What system should you use to manage your bid content library?
Selecting the right bit of ‘tech’ to facilitate storage and access to your bid content library is an important decision. There are numerous third party providers on the market and some have products tailored to specific service industries (e.g. directed to engineering and construction bids or marketing and design agency proposals).
In our experience these mostly require special training and a high level of investment upfront and ongoing subscription fees. Some also offer way more functionality than just content storage including automated templates and process maps and other planning tools. Those extra functions may be just the thing for your business if you have a large ‘virtual’ bid team working globally on lots of bids each week.
Frequently though these systems are over-engineered and not quite ‘right’ for many businesses who either aren’t doing enough bids to justify the investment or just don’t need the hassle of yet another bit of technology to integrate and ‘learn’ how to use.
To start small and avoid buying fancy software (that generally needs to be customised out of the box) perhaps your business already has an intranet or some sort of document management system or software that lets you create indexed and searchable documents – this may be easy to adapt for your bid content library.
If not consider creating a simple and searchable bid content library in one of these no or low cost and universally used and understood programs:
- SharePoint: If set up properly can be easy to use and has a very robust keyword search function. Access to certain files or areas can also be restricted by user which can be helpful for sensitive commercial, HR or pricing data. SharePoint also allows you to add metadata or tags to documents that can help speed searching or flag links to other documents (e.g. policies) so you don’t end up with multiple versions of the same document. A further bonus is that it integrates into Office 365 which can be customised to give you an online workspace accessible to all remote team members using apps such as Teams and Planner.
- Word: For smaller teams who don’t bid too frequently a series of Word documents that are kept up to date with content formatted and ready to extract can be enough.
- Excel: Might work for your team or parts of your library if lots of your content is numerical / data driven; it also offers neat sorting and filtering functions for lists of information.
- Shared Google Drive: If you don’t have access to Office 365 then a Shared Google drive can be a good alternative(see Part 4 of How to manage a bid remotely for some key tips on setting up ‘folder’ hierarchies).
While whatever system you select for your centralised bid content library needs to ‘fit’ your business, team, data security requirements, resources and budget it also must above all be easy to access (remotely), maintain and to search on keywords or terms.
A fast and robust search facility is critical, as sometimes occasional users will just need to quickly assess content and then move on if it’s not quite right. If the search is slow or frustrating users tend to revert back to taking up the bid team’s time searching for basic information and the library is bypassed. Microsoft SharePoint for instance has a very user friendly and fast keyword search function (much faster than say trying to trawl files on a network server which can have tantrums if files aren’t ‘indexed’).
The COVID-19 pandemic may present your business with the perfect amount of ‘down time’ to embark on a centralised bid content library – if you start small and with simple existing tools you can build from there! Over time the benefits are many and those ‘lucky’ bid teams with a comprehensive bid content library don’t look back; for them the old ways of working don’t bear thinking about.
For more tips on organising bid content please see the previous instalment in this series: How to manage a bid remotely – Part 4 – effective bid document and file management
and also JMA’s blogs Exhibits A through Z : what makes good evidence for your tenders and proposals and Same-same but different for best practice tips on how to recycle material from previous tenders, bids and proposals.
If your bid management team is contemplating establishing a bid content library, or if your existing bid content library needs a refresh please get in touch, we can help.
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Remember, nothing is so complex that it cannot be explained simply Albert Einstein was spot-on when he said “nothing is so complex that it cannot be explained simply”. Tenders, bids, proposals, and informal pitches for business are not times to show how clever and capable you are by using legalese (I’m looking at you lawyers), […]