Bid Libraries: A Blessing or a Curse?

Article published in Institute of Sales and Marketing Management "Winning Edge"

 

Imagine the scenario. You are responding to a Request for Proposal (RfP). You wearily put pen to paper knowing that you’re about to repeat yourself - you had a similar request not long ago. At best, you remember where it is and use it as a ‘starter for 10’. At worst, you begin from scratch. We’ve all been there.

Now imagine being able to go straight to a central resource – a library of some sort – where you can pick and choose, slice and dice, mix and match well-written, approved text and diagrams to your heart’s content.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever quite that black and white. Everything has a price. So, is a bid library worth the investment?

 

A great idea in principle 

 

Given that the same information is required for bids time and time again, a bid library should act as the ‘single source of the truth’ for draft content. If implemented and managed well, a bid library will provide significant benefits that will contribute to higher win rates. The table below summarises the most common benefits:

 

Bid libraries are particularly helpful for common, factual responses, often of the ‘due diligence’ nature found in Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) or similar. Typical information includes corporate and financial data, policies, certificates and references.

For RfPs and Invitations to Tender (ITTs) that require detailed descriptions of products or services, bid libraries can hold specifications and ‘boilerplate text’ – text that can be reused with little amendment. Boilerplate text also acts as a solid baseline for tailoring when a bespoke response is required. In such cases, boilerplate text sets the example for writing style, giving a guide to the author and reducing inconsistency. 

 

Fatal flaws

 

Before we get carried away, good ideas can have downsides in practice. Here are the key issues that can arise with a bid library:

  • Lack of customer focus: bid library content is, by default, generic whereas compelling proposal content is specific to each customer’s requirements and desired outcomes. Bid library content can be that perfect starter for 10, but that’s often where it stops.   
  • Over-reliance: related to the previous point, authors under time pressure or with insufficient guidance can get lazy. It’s tempting to cut and paste bid library content without even considering if it answers the question (a guiding principle of bid best practice). Bid library content can often be simply unsuitable – specific questions need specific answers.
  • Duplication: the exact thing you have tried to avoid can pop up. Information that is useful for bids may be held elsewhere in the company. For example, policies and procedures may be held in a quality management system and accounts held in the finance department. It’s important not to duplicate because maintaining multiple versions of the same information is always problematic.
  • Currency: to be effective, a bid library has to be bang up-to-date. All too often, bid library content starts well but quickly goes past its ‘sell-by’ date.

With the pros and cons in full view, you are better informed to consider the business case for a bid library. So, let’s now consider the investments and activities to get a bid library up and running.

 

Plan to succeed

 

A good bid library doesn’t just create itself. Here are the key considerations when getting going:

  • Commitment: it is essential that a bid library has the support and commitment of senior management - it is going to involve investment to set-up and maintain.
  • Strategy: setting up a bid library is tough to do in one big bang unless you have plenty of spare resources or are prepared to outsource content creation. An incremental approach may suit better. Decide which way suits you best and set expectations accordingly.
  • Content and structure: You’ll need to decide what you are going to store in the library and how to organise it. Thinking of a hierarchical structure can be helpful. The diagram below gives an idea of where to start.

Store each component in its most appropriate format – PDFs for fixed information like company accounts, and word or spreadsheet documents for editable content.

For boilerplate text, remember that generic descriptions are fine as a start point. Consider developing short responses – say 300 words ( a common word limit in the proposal world) with optional extra wording followed by potential benefits and links to evidence points.

 

Identify what information is valuable for bids but is owned and managed elsewhere in the business. We’ve established that it’s important to avoid duplication, but it’s equally important to have easy access to all relevant information in appropriate formats. For components owned outside this bid library, connect to colleagues to agree the best ways to link up.    

  • People: every bid library project needs a manager and resources. The manager will set up a plan with tasks and timeframes and regularly measure progress. Each library component will need an owner to create and nurture it.  
  • Place: you will need to decide where your bid library is going to live and how it is going to be organised. Smaller businesses may simply choose a simple folder structure on a shared drive. Bigger companies will probably have established collaboration tools or be prepared to invest in software designed to support document or content management. There are too many options to explore in this article; suffice to say you need to find a system that allows easy storage, search and retrieval. Systems with inherent version control and workflow to prompt updating can be helpful if used properly.
  • Communication: identify all bid library stakeholders. They may be contributors, reviewers, approvers and users. Develop a communication plan that will let people know why you are creating a bid library – explain ‘what’s in it for them’ and what you need from them.  

   

Stay in control 

 

Bid library content needs to be controlled and regularly updated.

 

To prevent unauthorised creation, amendment and deletion of content, set up every component with access permissions. Approved authors can edit library content; others can simply take a copy. To keep content up to date, every component should have a regular, scheduled review and update slot, which is the responsibility of the component owner. Post-bid and post-project review feedback should also be implemented to improve the content. Components updated through this process may be re-scheduled from their planned review slot   

 

Track amendments to components using manual or automated version control system. For manual systems, the naming conventions need to be clearly documented and shared.

 

Measuring return on investment

 

The key measure of success for a bid library is whether or not you win more business. Ideally, you will already be tracking your win rates through conversion ratios (number of bids submitted/number of bids won) and capture ratios (value of bids submitted/value of bids won). The bid library will help you improve your win rates by freeing your time to focus on the quality aspects of your proposal – the compelling reasons to choose you.

 

Don’t forget to track the time spent building the bid library (perhaps spread this over a number of years like any other business asset) and the operational costs of maintaining it. Over time this will give you a picture of your return in investment.

Remember that the reduction in frustration is an intangible benefit to the actual proposal team. Hard to measure, but worth its weight in gold. 

 

Taking the plunge

 

The decision to build a bid library shouldn’t be taken lightly. Done well, it will be a business asset that saves you time and cost. It can also improve quality not just by ironing out errors, but by freeing precious time to work harder on improving your compelling story.

 

Remember though; it’s not a silver bullet. A bid library needs constant nurturing to stay healthy and valuable. Without due care and attention, it can become a curse – a sprawling mass of old and inaccurate content.

 

So, with eyes wide open, create your business case, commit your resources and build a bid library that is a blessing for you, your team and your company.      

 

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The Government Commitment to SMEs

The UK government aspires to procure 33% of its goods and services from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

Sounds good, but it can be daunting for those new to public sector bidding, who do not understand procurement rules and fear the red tape. 

If you need help, contact sarah@i4salesperformance.co.uk

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