How to select the right bid management consultant

by Sep 24, 2015Bid Management

It can be difficult finding a consultant to step into your business at busy times or for high profile bids. Time is always of the essence, and the stakes can be high. In my early days of consulting I worked with a client who initially engaged me to undertake all the bid and project management involved in a high profile bid, where they would be principal bidder; working with a partner they had not worked with before, and with two key team members away on leave during the crucial bid development phase. They expressed a need for me to ‘manage the whole process’ – they needed someone to get everyone on the same page, establish joint win themes, develop the creative documentation, and assist with the written document. Over the following week, the scope changed completely, and twice more. By the end of the week I wasn’t sure if I was project managing, being the creative concept designer, or simply, formatting their documents!

 

And the problem was that they didn’t know.

I could do all of these, and had initially been asked to combine the lot in a full bid management package, but as time crept slowly away, it become evident that the company who engaged me had not agreed internally on what they wanted – so the messaging to me was completely mixed.

I felt really let down. And I felt that I had let them down.

Bidding creates a high-pressure, deadline-driven environment, often over a limited timeframe, and often bringing together a team of people who have not worked in a cohesive group-work situation together before. This presents a unique environment that needs to be managed carefully.

I’ve compiled a list of key considerations I believe will help you make an informed decision about selecting the right Bid Manager for your next ‘must win’ bid.

Expectations

Establishing expectations is critical. How can the consultant know what you want from them if you haven’t worked it out yourself yet? Have you thought about what you really want to achieve, and what your budget and time frames allow? Have you prepared a brief? The best bids are prepared when the whole team, including your bid manager, are established, engaged and working on bid strategy and win themes before the RFT is even released. Of course this is an expensive option when engaging external consultants, and not every company has an open budget. So what can you achieve within your budget? Think about the length of time remaining until the bid is due. What is your critical path? There will be key meetings, decisions, and documents that form the critical path, and require the highest priority from your team. If your budget is limited, why not ask your shortlist of bid management consultants to put together a package based on your high priority items. You can always revert to a day or hourly rate for work over and above that, but it will help ensure both parties understand the base expectations and can frame their schedule and expectations around that.

Relevant Experience

Do you want someone with experience in your sector or the ability to draw on experience from a range of different sectors and bring best practice to your company/bid? There are pros and cons to both. A bid manager who specialises in your industry will bring industry knowledge, have worked with similar companies; they will know all the lingo, industry price points and margins, and a lot about your competitors. But a bid manager with a more broad depth of experience may be better at asking questions to challenge the status quo. They will be able to draw on experience and best practice from outside your industry, which may lead to new solutions for old problems. Your decision should depend on how much industry expertise you have within your existing team.

Credibility

Does the consultant have the ability to stand up to your senior management team and challenge decisions? Can you see them running a workshop with your CEO/MD and direct reports? Would they be able to draw the best out of those individuals? Can they communicate with stakeholders of all levels?

And – most importantly – does this level of credibility match the budget?

There is no point hiring a C-suite level executive to format your CV’s and documents, but there is a need for such an individual if you need a hard-hitting bid director to lead the team through some very tough decisions. Make sure you balance the level of credibility with the scope of work you’d like the individual to undertake.

Budget

Do you have a budget you need to work within? Have you thought about establishing a fixed fee with the consultant to avoid instances of scope creep and going over budget? Many consultants, if given the opportunity to quote to a specific budget, will be able to work around your requirements to ensure you can get what you need from them, without any hidden surprises. The easiest way to get this wrong is to agree on an hourly rate, without any scope cap.

What is the value of this service to you? If the work being conducted is likely to save you $10m dollars, is that service more valuable to you than if you are securing a $10,000 contract? Paying an hourly fee for both scenarios is not considerate of your required outcomes, anymore than it is to the value of the consultant input.

Have an open and honest conversation with your consultant about what you can spend, how important different elements of the work are, and allow them to provide a fixed quote for the work in scope.

Flexible & Multi-skilled

Do you need a consultant that can operate at many levels; one day sitting down to write an executive summary, and offer editing advice to content owners, the next running a strategy workshop with your key senior stakeholders? Then you need to choose the consultant accordingly. Too senior or strategically focussed, and they wont want to help with document outputs; too detail driven and they wont be the best facilitator for your workshop. Most good Bid Management consultants will rest squarely in the middle, with great range of skills and the ability to be flexible to suit your needs.

Problem Solver

Are they able to think outside the square and help you solve problems? Do they understand the need for a solution-based bid, rather than just focusing on ‘answering the questions’. Ask them questions about how they have solved client problems in the past. What alternative solutions have they come up with for clients in different industries?

Tools

Do they have the tools you need? How do you require them to work? Will you need them onsite full time for the duration of the bid? Are you happy with their IT capabilities? How will you share documents between your company and them? Who will be responsible for formatting, graphic design and document layout? Again, make sure the individual or company you select has the right mix to suit.

Some consultants will have administrative, support and design staff that they work with regularly. And this may be built into their rates, or provided separately. Make sure you understand what they can do, and what is in scope.

Timing

Have you considered starting the engagement with potential bid managers before the bid comes out? By eliminating the pressure of the deadline having over your head, you can enter into negotiations and start to get to know potential bid management consultants without the urgency.

Why not meet with a few consultants outside of peak periods, and start the relationship during quieter times, when you can both take time out to have a coffee and discuss the above elements. This way you can make sure you’ve found the right fit, so that when that next big ‘must win’ RFT lands on your desk a month early – you’re all ready to hit the ground running.

 

Robin Hastings is the Founding Director of PitchThis, a bid and business development consultancy in Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter and read the rest of her articles here.

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