Our third Insight explores the marginal gains that can be achieved in bid writing, and how these compound to drive an efficient, effective, and successful bidding strategy.
The compounding concept
“Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe”, said Albert Einstein.
Well, actually, he didn’t say that at all – it’s a misquote, attributed to the legendary physicist after his death. But whoever said it, the sentiment holds true: when marginal gains are allowed to build upon one another, they will create a much bigger and better outcome.
The example of money is typically used to illustrate the concept. Take £500 and increase it by 50% for one year, and you’ll have gained £250. Do that for 30 years, and you’ll have around £1.2 million. The relatively small gains in the beginning quickly balloon until the initial growth seems irrelevant when compared to the total – a swimming pool full of bills.
The concept is recognised in other areas as diverse as science, technology, business, and education. We’d argue that it applies to bid writing, too.
This Insight Note explores what marginal gains look like in bid writing; how they can be achieved; and what the resulting compounding effect might look like. If you’re thinking it involves winning bids, you’d be right.
Short term benefits vs. long term gains
The question of marginal gains is closely tied up with the question of how best to resource bids overs the short and long term. We will first, therefore, consider this question.
When facing a single bid, it seems like common sense to appoint freelances. They will, after all, already be experienced in writing bids; you can hire exactly as many as you need; and they’ll likely offer a competitive price, especially when you consider you won’t need to pay for them once the bid has been submitted.
Intuitively, though, we can see the flaws in this conclusion when we think beyond the short-term. What about when your company has a second opportunity to submit a bid: where are you left if you opted for freelancers? You once again have no bid team; you’re back at square one, exactly where you were when deciding how to tackle the original bid.
If you instead established a dedicated internal bid team, you’re not starting from zero. You’ve already got a team, that team now has experience, and anyone else you add to the team will have the benefit of being taught by those who already know what they’re doing. But it doesn’t end there.
Every time you use a dedicated internal team, too, the writing will get better, the processes will get smoother, and the backlog of information and past experiences will built out to be better and broader: in short, there will be marginal gains. And as the team completes bids more quickly, efficiently, and with higher quality, they will in turn have more time to improve upon the processes and techniques, and training and skills required to put out bids even faster, even more efficiently, and of even higher quality. This is the compounding effect.
So, should ever company have an internal bid team? Well, no – we’ve already discussed in previous Insights how relying on an internal team can lead to issues, since bidding is rarely predictable and rarely steady. These include attrition and salary costs during troughs, and high-stress levels (and, again, attrition) during peaks.
What do you do, then, if you want a solution that’s longer-term than hiring freelancers, but avoids the issues associated with building an internal team?
External bid writers – such as Kittle Group – have the benefit of yours of compounding experience already. All the little advantages improved, refined, built-upon over the course of the bid after bid creates a well-oiled bid-writing machine with more experience than an internal team could ever realistically hope of catching up to.
It’s worth considering: how can we take this further? A quality bid writing team is one thing. A quality bid writing team with knowledge and experience specific to your company is something else entirely – the type of marginal gains that will create a compounding effect directly beneficial to your bidding strategy. This not only enhances delivery, but also offers far better value, as more and higher-quality work can be completed in the same time and for the same cost as half that previously.
Individual gains and the compounding effect
We give some examples below of activities in which marginal gains are achievable; what they look like; and how they contribute to the compounding effect:
Planning: The efficiency of a bid process – and the quality of its resulting submission – depend on the effective planning of resources vs. time. The huge potential variation in bid requirments; timescales; bid team and organisational resource; reviewer availability; and collateral mean that there is no single formula to create an optimal bid plan. Bid writers must instead create a dedicated plan for each bid, which reacts to its specific conditions.
This creates the opportunity for marginal gains, as a bid writing agency can develop their understanding of a client’s resources, and commonalities between their bids, over repeat assignments. The knowledge will, in turn, allow them to plan more efficiently and more accurately. For instance, they might learn that a client only has two senior reviewers, and that they have previously become a bottleneck; they will, therefore, schedule extra review time (as compared with a client fully resourced with reviewers).
Gains in planning make a significant contribution to the overall compounding effect, as they create better conditions for storyboarding, drafting, and reviewing (and therefore the potential for gains in these areas too).
Storyboarding: External bid writers storyboard with client subject matter experts (SMEs) at the outset of a bid to understand their contract delivery solution and gather the specific content and context needed to answer the Authority’s questions, rather than relying on boilerplate responses. Unsurprisingly, this process required a significant time commitment from SMEs, which increases with the complexity of the question and the size of the bid. The time commitment required is also typically larger the first time a client works with a bid writing partner, as they will need more clarification and ask more context-based questions.
This also means, however, that marginal gains can be achieved by working with the same partner: the number of general and context-based questions the bid writer asks will decrease, while specific questions around solution will be more nuanced and direct, as both will be informed by existing knowledge. This will not only save time – reducing pressure on SMEs – but also lead to higher quality outputs from storyboarding sessions, as better questions yield better answers. Another (often underrated) gain is that your bid writing partner will build relationships with your core SMEs.
Marginal gains in storyboarding described above will drive the compounding effect by improving the efficiency and quality of drafting. They will also lead to improved collaboration and understanding between SMEs and bid writers, streamlining the bid process and reducing stress (one of the most challenging aspects of tendering, particularly against tight timescales).
Collateral: Specialist bid writers use bid collateral (case studies, previous answers, topics content) in a careful and considered way. While it is no replacement for question- and bid-specific storyboarding, it can accelerate the process and improve response quality.
The more bids you complete with a bid writing partner, the better they will know and be able to use your collateral. They will also be able to gradually build a bid library holding collateral on the widest possible range of bid topics, including the latest case studies, answers, and templates.
Together, these marginal gains will increase efficiency at the response planning stage; aid drafting and contribute to continuous improvement, supporting the compounding effect.
Drafting: Writing is typically the longest stage in a bid process. It is also the stage in which robust processes, skills, and experience (or lack of) have the greatest influence on the output: in this case, a full set of reviewable responses. Working with specialist bid writers therefore offers huge value as they will not only write high-quality responses which reflect the evaluation criteria and specification – critical for securing top marks – but structure the drafting stage so it is streamlined, rather than a last minute rush. This includes the order in which they complete responses when they release them for review; and any internal pre-review activity.
The criticality of this stage increases the importance of the marginal gains achievable over repeat assignments even further. These gains include: being able to write more words in less time, as familiarity with subject matter and solution grows; asking fewer follow-up or clarification questions during drafting, reducing the time burden on your staff; perfecting your tone of voice; and getting drafts ‘right’ first time, rather than after multiple rounds of review.
Drafting is right at the centre of the compounding effect and shows its interconnectedness: gains in planning and storyboarding both enhances and simplifies reviewing, all of which contribute to higher quality and greater efficiency.
Reviewing: Depending on the length of the bid, its complexity, and the bidder’s organisation, reviewing can consist of anything from a single read-through up to a multi-stage review programme aligned with each stage of response development. Regardless, it is an essential step to provide assurance of quality and compliance; make suggestions for improvements and changes; and catch any issues. The more effective the approach to reviewing is, the greater confidence it will inspire, while also making the most efficient use of time and effort.
The marginal gains which can be achieved in reviewing are all essentially grounded in collaboration between the bid writing team and their client. They include: optimising the length and structure of the review process over repeat assignments; increasing the efficiency of the process, both for individual reviewers and the bid team as a whole, through more nuanced scheduling, better preparation, and optimising how feedback is provided; and greater honesty and directness in this feedback as the relationship improves.
As the final stage in a bid process (besides submission), it follows that all the marginal gains in previous steps contribute to a more efficient and effective review process. Gains from reviewing itself add to the compounding effect, improving: planning (as writers will have a better understanding of how much work can be produced in what time ahead of a review deadline); storyboarding (as writers will be able to assess how well information from storyboarding fed through to drafts); and drafting (as writers will remember review feedback and incorporate previously suggested improvements earlier).
These are benefits that simply don’t exist if you only consider bid writers on the basis of writing a single bid. When thinking purely in the short-term, it could be better to shop around each time you need support in writing a bid, switching between freelancers, external providers, and internal writers. But that would be neglecting the long-term, marginal gains from utilising a single dedicated team. Whether you’re looking to build an internal team, or are planning on using an external provider, make sure you’re considering the compounding long-term value that comes from sticking to a single bid writing team, and that you’re not basing a long-term decision on short-term benefits.