Continual learning through the Proposal Process

Image of Pete Nicholls
Pete Nicholls
Continual learning through the Proposal process - Nicole Robinson

Episode Summary

Nicole Robinson is a proposal management professional with over 14 years of business-winning experience.

 

Links to free tools, useful tips & offers for our listeners

Connecting on LinkedIn with other proposal professionals is one of the best resources for people within the industry to gain learning.  Also, APMP resources are extremely useful.


About Nicole Robinson

She has been integral in achieving hundreds of millions of dollars of business awarded to the organizations she has worked for.

Currently, Nicole is the Bid Manager at Herjavec Group.

Nicole holds an Honours degree in business and a college diploma in Marketing.

Additionally, Nicole writes screenplays, short stories, and hosts a podcast on TV and Movies called Obsessable.

You can connect with Nicole via LinkedIn.


To speak to Pete about your Proposal issues or Software needs: www.bookachatwithpete.com


 

FULL TRANSCRIPTION or LISTEN: 

 

Pete

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another edition of the proposal works podcast. We're talking with proposal experts who share real stories of how they win. So I'm your host, Pete Nicholls. I'm joined today by Nicole Robinson. So Nicole, a very good day to you. I'm here in Copenhagen. Where are you coming to us from?

Nicole Robinson

I am in a suburb of the city of Toronto. So I'm in a smaller city called Brampton Ontario. So just 30 minutes outside of Toronto, Ontario Canada.

Pete

Where I've never been, but hopefully I like it's on the wishlist.

Nicole

Oh my goodness. You have to come. It's beautiful. I'm biased. I think my city is the greatest.

Pete 

So for the, um, the folks who don't know Nicole, let me just give them a little bit of an intro because you are a proposal management professional. You have over 14 years of Business winning experience. You've been integral in achieving hundreds of millions of dollars of business awarded to the organizations that you've worked for.
And currently, you're the bid manager at Herjavec Group. Now Herjavec. I did a little research because here I am in Copenhagen. Yeah, it's not right in my face here, but, uh, Canada's largest IT security company founded by Robert Herjavec who is probably better known there for being on Dragon's den in Canada and on shark tank in the U S yeah.
Yeah. Now, this week there was some news, wasn't there, about Robert? Did you hear?

Nicole 
Uh, no,

Pete
This is amazing.
This week, Robert rescued the family of Tom Lawson.

Nicole
Oh yes, yes. I did actually see that. Yeah. Yeah. I actually saw it on his Instagram. Surprisingly,

Pete
Here he is. He's a former pro hockey goalie. He's out on Lake Joseph in Ontario, in an aluminum boat with his wife and his children, they have no lights on the boat, it's getting dark, which is quite dangerous, really.
And then up rocks Robert on his jet ski and toes them back to safety. It's like a Tony Stark moment!

Nicole

Okay, so you want to know something super funny? When I first started at the company, um, I remember going just kinda like walking around, you know, taking, getting a lay of the land and, uh, I was, there's all these op we have like, you know, he has tons and tons of accolades.
He is a very accomplished entrepreneur and has been doing, um, in, has been. Um, information technology cybersecurity for decades at this point and has had multiple successful companies in this area. And so we have met there are magazine covers, um, and, uh, you know, just different, uh, images of him and in all of his different interests in the exploits.
And one of the things that Robert used to do is race cars. And I didn't know that before I started with the company. So I'm walking around and I see this picture of him um, In a race car. And I immediately flashed back to iron man too. And I'm like, I'm working for Tony Stark. That's it's official. This is who I work for.
I literally said that to myself. So it's really funny to me, Pete, that you actually said that's such a Tony Stark move because low key..

Pete

Yeah. Like you've rescued this family. It's all like all I could picture.. And then the press picked up on it and said the other family would be rescued by a shark!. Of course shark tank.
So Tony Stark, Robert the shark. So, which is a great story. That's like, today's going to be about your stories. So a little bit more then. So yeah, Herjavec is Canada's largest IT security company. And you've been with Herjavec for…

Nicole

Almost six years in January.

Pete

And you are the leader. So you're in the documentation team.
You're supporting the sales team responsible for responding to RFPs. RFAs are of RFQ's drafting of sow. Like all the acronyms you respond to acronyms.

Nicole

I do all of them, all the good ones and we win them. Right. Everyone thinks that whenever they say RFP in my presence, I start, like, I get a nervous tick. And I'm like, no, my ears perk up like a bloodhound. And I'm like, where, what, what, what, what?
Yes.

Pete

So you have an honors degree in business and a college diploma in marketing, and you write screenplays and short stories, and you host your own podcast, which I've been listening to, which is about TV and movies called Obsessable. Yes. And what I know about Game of Thrones puts me as shame. So, Obsessable listeners, you've got to check that out.

Nicole

Yes, please do. I'm always looking for new besties. I always call, I call my listeners my besties. So I'm always looking for my besties. So yeah, definitely take a listen.

Pete

That's a really, really great show.

Nicole

Thank you. I really appreciate that.

Pete

So today, well, this is a little bit of a different thing, cause we're not talking, uh, you know, uh, death and, uh, you know, Daenerys and so forth.
Our topic for today is one of my favorite ones, which is learning, you know, you love your continuous learning. So the title for today's episode is continual learning through the proposal process. Yeah. So let's jump into that because you're supporting the sales team. So I'd like to know for the people that you support, what do they truly want from you?

Nicole

A partner. Um, and in some cases, a mom and in others, a wife, it really depends. Um, some come in and they have complete command and understanding of what's going to happen with the RFP because they have been working with the customer behind the scenes. A significant period of time, whether that be a few months to a few years in order to get the RFP to the point where it's released to us.
And then we take over it and go through the process of responding. Um, others have just been introduced to the customer and have found out that the RFP, the customer is in an RFP sale cycle and are just quickly introduced to it. And so, therefore. Like, okay. I'm just getting, I don't really know them. I'm not really there in terms of the, um, the relationship piece with the customer.
Um, but so Nicole, I need you to come in and do your magic. Um, and then. And then yet others. Um, it's a bit of both. So they've been courting the customer, but they don't necessarily have a close relationship yet. And the customer's indicated, you know since we've been talking off and on doing this little dance for a little while, I'd like you and your organization to respond to this RFP.
So it. It comes through in a variety of ways. And so I kind of just have to gain an understanding of the sales rep's perspective and his relationship status with the customer. And then that lets me know where to, um, how to position myself, um, and how to manage the whole entire process.

Pete

So the ones that you are the mother for, they, the ones that come running in with a burning RFP and say, Nicole,

Nicole

Yes.

Pete

When do you use a mother versus the other roles?

Nicole

Well, often it's when I have a sales rep who is not familiar with that specific service or product offering. So if they're coming in and there may be used to doing primarily consulting deals, then they might not necessarily have the same acuity with the managed security service deals..
So, which is a different pricing structure. It's a different service offering. It's different. Everything is, it's like its eggs, it's eggs and oranges. Not most people would say apples and oranges! haha.

Pete

Yeah. I get that. They are completely different.

Nicole

It's completely different. Right? So in that respect, that's more when I'm like, they're like, okay, I literally, I don't know what my sales leader might expect from me in terms of my pricing. Um, I don't necessarily know who the, um, executives or team leaders or business leaders are, who manage this area of this service. They might not necessarily know. So that's when I come in and I really kind of guide them along the way and show them okay, like, this is exactly what MSS looks like. These are the different types of services we can offer. This is what the pricing structure looks like. If you have any questions, um, with regard to, you know, Um, previous experiences that we've had with customers, then you should speak to this person.
If you want to know about this, then you need to speak to that person. So it definitely becomes a reality, I really kind of guide them through when they're not familiar with the service, another aspect, or another time when I come in and I'm a little bit on the motherly side is one of the sales reps is really new and they've had an opportunity to be presented to them.
Um, and they're just kind of like, I've never done this before. The truth is sometimes a sales rep can go through their entire sales career and not ever have to do an RFP. Um, and because it is such an integral part of our, um, of how we attract and build business, um, they might come in and say, okay, now this is your, your book. These are your customers. That one customer who was an existing customer might say, okay, we're going into the RFP. We're going to RFP. Um, for whatever happens, whatever service it happens to be. Oh, no, I've never done this before. And so then yeah, it becomes a bit of a stressor. And so they'll, they'll come to me or they'll, they'll start asking questions, like who do I go to? And then immediately someone will say, oh no, don't worry. Don't worry. We've got a great team who takes care of this. I'm going to get you in touch with them. And they'll, they'll make sure that everything gets done. I I've had a lot of sales reps start with my organization and, um, once they get introduced to my team, they're just like wait, you guys do this for us.? And I'm like, yeah. And we really like it and we're really good at it. And they'll be like, oh my God, this is amazing. I've ever, I've either just avoided this altogether or I've never done it. So, or I've had to do it myself. So yeah, they tend to really appreciate the fact that we have such a well-oiled machine at my organization.

Pete

Oh, yeah. I guess you've gotten used to them, the bunny in the headlights looks like someone who's just realized that they're facing this deep unknown. Yes,

Nicole

absolutely.

Pete

And you're there to carry them across.

Nicole

Absolutely. Yeah. Usually, when it's a giant and I'm, I'm a giant Slayer, I'm like, bring me the big complex multi-service multiproduct types of requests from customers. And those are the ones I want to tackle. I absolutely love those. If it gives me a rush.

Pete

That is awesome. I love the giant slayer. So tell me the mistakes that you see may cause you, you said sometimes they're, they are involved early on positioning with the customer influencing Prebid. What are some of the mistakes that you see, or the sorts of problems that come up that get in the way?

Nicole

Hmm. Okay. Um, one thing I will say is not necessarily from, uh, uh, um, when a sales rep is guiding the RFP process, but when procurement is doing it on their own, and they're not familiar with RFP process, um, or they have a stale RFP request process, like them, when they're developing it at the customer level, I find that if that, that some of the mistakes include like not having setting clear expectations for the proponents, not providing the proponents with enough details so that they can actually answer the questions that you're asking, not asking questions. That's another one, like being very um, vague in terms of how they want us to deliver the information. So if I can't clearly identify when I'm going through a request exactly what the scope of work is. So what is it that you want us to do for you? If I cannot clearly identify when the RFP is due key dates in your timeline, that needs to be clear. Um, I need to also be able to clearly identify. What you have that's existing within this framework. So, because we deal with, um, information technology, I need to understand so I'll speak from that perspective. I need to understand what technologies do you currently have in place within your environment. If I can't clearly identify that within your request, then that's something that you might have missed. Um, I should also know, I should have some sense of the things. Uh, of where you want to go.

So don't leave out your aspirations or your ambitions, what we would, what we would call your future state. So don't leave out your future state because that's important for anybody who's going to, I take you on, um, as a customer to understand where you want to go to where you want to grow too. That's really important.
Um, what else? Hmm. I think those are the most important ones. Like it is, it needs to always be concise. It needs to be always clear. We need to understand what you have. We need to understand where you're going. We need to understand what is expected of us, um, in terms of the document itself, but also in terms of this service that we're going to deliver..

So that there's no confusion when we move further down the line and we say we've pushed past the, um, short list process and we're now into negotiations. I should have an idea of what I'm going to need to negotiate with you before I even get there. That's what I would say,

Pete

the internal team, Nicole, because I can hear that you often don't get the proposal information clear enough. What about the account teams? What about the account reps and so forth? Do you see mistakes that they make that cause problems or friction that make it harder?

Nicole

Yeah. Don't throw any RFPs over the fence. Don't just be like, Hey, we got this. And then I don't hear from you for six weeks until it's due. And then two days before you start like, oh my God, did we do this? Did we do that? No, that's not how you manage a request. Um, and that's not how you build rapport with your customer either because I'm going to need you. I'm going to need you to liaise with the customer with, and for me, um, as I'm trying to understand what the customer needs so that I can build the appropriate internal team to help support the response..
So I'm just saying here, this is what we have to go forth and conquer is not going to help me. No, you need to stay here, stay with me and we'll do this together. Um, if you expressed that, you know, you're on your own. You have a relationship and you'll jump in as needed. That's one thing I'm totally okay with because you've set the expectation with me beforehand, especially under circumstances, like end of the quarter or where you may be in the middle of closing a really, really large deal, or even personal family stuff. Like I'm, I always say to myself, I always say to everyone, both of my subject matter experts and my sales teams that I stand in the middle for them. So I advocate for both teams. So if there are things going on with a sales rep, personally, professionally, whatever it happens to be. Feel free and feel comfortable and trust me enough to let me know that that's, what's things what's happening so that I can advocate for you if someone has anything or any questions that they need to ask or are concerned about anything that might come up, then I can actually say no, no, no, no. Don't worry about that. I've got it covered. They've already discussed it with me and this is what we're going to do. I don't have to explain to anybody what else is actually happening, but I can stay, I can state like then I know. And, um, It's taken care of and that, that there need not be any worry

Pete

Now this sounds, in terms of continuous learning for our topic today then this sounds like something that you've learned, maybe the hard way a little bit, Nicole, have you, it sounds like there's a bit of pain and experience in the voice there.

Nicole

Yes.

Pete

Let's get into some stories I'd like you to think about. What, could you share examples of maybe that, how you came to learn what you needed to do there or anything else that you'd like to share..

Nicole

I think through one, so when I started my career, I started. Like from pillar to post. So my training was a pillar to post-training. So I had one sales rep as opposed to me now where I'm having a global team that I support. But in the beginning, I only had one sales rep that I had to support. And he, I was based in Canada, he was based in, um, in. New Jersey. And he covered the Northeastern quadrant of the United States of America. And I was dealing with, um, at the time I entered the industry with commercial painting. So although the organization had a residential painting arm, that was my, my piece of the business, which was commercial.

So all of our customers were businesses. And my subject matter experts were the contractors who worked on the residential painting side, but they often all had, they had enough experience and talent and skill that they would be able to deliver the same level of service to our business customers.

So it was, it was very good because we had an integrated, um, contractor base that we didn't have to go outside of our own team internally in order to deliver our service to our customers. And so, because of that, because I had only one sales rep, we had an internal contractor base, I was able to actually work with the sales rep from the inception of the relationship with the customer.

So that would be, we would work together to build the proposal process. Then it would come to us, we would write it, fulfill it, um, respond to it, bring it back to the customer. The customer would award it, we would take it back. And then from that point on, I would be the single point of contact between the customer and the contractor and the sales rep would, my sales rep would just step aside and let me handle it and he would go source more business. And, um, so I would, I would have to build the statement of work. I'd have to make sure that I had a complete understanding of what was in the scope so that I could communicate that to my contractors. Um, I would work with the contractors through the project. They had my cell phone number.

They may have, they had my email. They would contact me directly. Sometimes these jobs would be going on overnight, especially if it was retail. And so I was, I always told them, don't wait until the morning to let me know that something has gone wrong. Um, call me and we'll solve the problem and then I can communicate how we solve the problem to the customer.

So that was actually one of the things that I learned from the very beginning when you're bringing, when you deliver a service to a customer, solve the problem, tell them what the problem was, but come to the customer with the solution. I learned that early.

Pete

On that particular point there. Yes. Can you, can you think of a Nali one? One where maybe the learning really happened, because I'm sure it happened over a period of time. Can you think of an instance where maybe it wasn't going to go well and you managed to work this other way to make it go smoothly? Do any standout to you?

Nicole

In the middle of the project?

Pete

Well, I guess in the, in the learnings that you had there, how to work well together that you came up with this best practice. Can you think of any individual instances that stick with you?

Nicole

So there was this one night where, um, so retail was kind of our, the bane of our existence when you're doing commercial paint.
And then the other thing that you had to consider with commercial painting is regulations because the regulations in New York and New Jersey are not necessarily the same as regulations in California. The other thing you have to consider with commercial paint is, um, weather. So the humidity that you would experience painting in September in New Jersey is not going to be the same type of humidity you're experiencing in Florida at the same time of year.
And so depending on the product type, you might have to, um, adjust a product. You might have to adjust the formula for the and those are all things that I had to take into consideration, but. This particular example I'm thinking of is from my actual, very first project ever. And I, when my manager came to me, he was like, so your I've got your first project and I was like, okay. Okay. It's 300 locations. And I was like, what? He's like yeah. 300 locations. And, uh, I was like, okay, that's not a project, that's a program. So that's when I learned about programs versus projects, uh, was on my very first one. And so, because there were so many locations and it was a program, it was going to take a lot longer.

So I learned through this whole thing. And, um, so the very first thing was this. Watching out the very first thing, but one of the things that happened was this. So during we had, I had, we had figured out what the formula needed to be. We'd figured out, uh, what our locations were, where I had deployed, dispersed my contractors and had a team working in Florida. And I remember getting a phone call just randomly. And he's like, Nicole, then I'm like, yeah. And I'm like, how are you? What's going on? He's like, we have a problem. I'm like, oh, And he says to me, uh, the paint isn't sticking to the surface. It's not paint. I don't quite understand how paint doesn't adhere to a surface. And it was because of this humidity. And in Florida at the time, there was just this high, high humidity. And the product we were using was a two-part epoxy. And so we had to figure out how to get the paint to adhere to the surface. Because again, this is a retail location we're painting after hours.

This team of people who run this business are going to be in, in the morning. And they're going to expect that their counters are done so that they can do their business. And, and I literally was like, okay, we're going to, we have to get this figured out. So essentially we figured out what to do. We have to rough up the surface and we also have to create a dryer humidity, like a drier air mass within the actual location. So we have to do that by actually closing the doors, making sure everything was kind of sealed, turning on fans so that the air was moving but dryer. So it was really more focused on what the AC was doing in the actual, um, venue because in every other venue you would do everything with the doors and windows open so that air would move through. But in Florida, we couldn't do that. So, um, yeah, so we had to figure out, okay. Rough up the surface, close up the doors, reduce the moisture in the air, and then use fans to circulate it so that we can get it all dry. And so in my progress report for the customer, I had to let them know, okay, I've been at this location in Florida, this is kind of what happened, but this is how we solved it. That was basically my first introduction to understanding that when a customer, when you're doing something for a customer and you're providing them with a service, yes, you're going to have issues. Things are going to come up. Hopefully, projects can run smoothly and flawlessly and you have no issues, but when you do have an issue, you have to own it, so there has to be someone account accountability there, um, and you have to be able to get your problems solving, put your, put your cap on, think it through and collaborate with your teams so that you can. So that you guys can work together to solve the issue and then come back to the customer and say, um, okay, I know you weren't aware, but this is kind of what happened and this is what happened to address it. And we were able to get everybody in and available. You can speak directly to the manager of this is who signed off on the project. Peter, here are the pictures. Like I would provide proof. So, um, yeah, that's how I would, that was definitely one situation I couldn't think of where I was like, okay, well, this is an interesting one. This has not happened before. And then we'd have situations like one time in California, we had an approved product. Everything was ready to go. We use this product all over the country. We got to California. We can't use it. . We have to find a completely different product because of the regulations that they have there.

So I was like, okay. And then that could back in impact your budget. That can impact a lot of different things. If you impact your budget, it impacts your contractor. So yeah, we had to, we had to figure out a way to provide minimal impact to the overall cost of the project. Whilst at the same time sourcing a new product that would deliver the same type of performance and longevity as the product that we had chosen..

Pete

Wow. So you'd actually won the program, but then the rollout of the program had these complexities. In terms of the learning for that then as a bid manager, what do you think the key takeaway from that experience was for you that you would do differently today as a bid manager?

Nicole

I think if I come across a situation like that, um, and if I was in the proposal phase, the very first thing I would need to understand is like locations. So I would look at that. Now, if that came across my desk and I had that as an RFP and I said, okay, this is going to be a program. How many locations are there? And how many states are affected within the country? Where are they, where are they located? And I'd also need to understand what the product was, um, saying we're still in the same industry cause I'm trying to take it from a, not from an it perspective, but, um, you know, what is the product that you would prefer to have used in to deliver this service? That's definitely something I would need to understand because I would want to know how things like regulations, how things like temperature would affect us using that product and product availability, because if the product is highly specific, what if it's not in all the areas where my contractors now work in order for them to then source it?

So these are all the things, those are some of the major things that I would look for. Um, and I start talking to the team early because I always go into situations very positively. Like even, I'm always, it's really funny, but, um, I tend to be surprised when I lose. So I'll be like, what? So I always approach it, like guys, we're gonna win. So let's just prepare to win. I always had that mindset that we're going to prepare to win. So, um, I need you guys to just kind of take a look at what's available in your area. Don't buy anything. Just go see if the product is available. How much of it is available because in your state, there are these many stores in your state, there are these many stores. Um, your state has regulations that would prohibit us from using the product that the customer is suggesting. So can you come to me with some suggestions? Um, I want to understand from the customer, can we use a substitution and do you have any pre-approved ones, things like that that would have greatly helped me with my first project if I had, um, been able to do those things from the variable.

Pete

It really sounds like an example of fast forward to today where you said one of the key things that you see, mistakes or problems that get in the way is the lack of clarity upfront. And this sounds like all those years ago, it was that same issue, lack of clarity of how many locations, where are they? And, but now you would push back and say, I need this. I need that clarity. Yeah. Let's look at one more story then Nicole, for today of another challenge that you faced that gave you some, harsh continual learning, something that happened, that you took some more lessons from, that helped you today.

Nicole

Oh, for sure. Um, I always tell this particular story and it's interesting because, um, my superiors are like put the one you did after that was so seamless that I'm like, Yes, that's why I don't talk about it, but the one before. So I was saying to you, Pete, that there is no, I have, I thought that after nine years of doing this, that there wasn't really anything that I had never seen before, regardless of the fact that I was entering in the industry.

So in my first year of HG, I had never been in information technology. I didn't have an information technology background in terms of industry experience. I'd never had that experience before. And so coming in. Taking this number one lesson from my very first job was in this industry, which was to understand the language of the industry that you're entering.

Every industry has a language, and you need to understand the language of the industry in order to do this job, um, for that industry. We as proposal professionals are, our skillset is very, it's highly transferable and highly malleable, but every industry you enter is very specific. And so. And because you understand that as a proposal professional, you don't ever do your job by yourself. You don't do your job in a silo. You need the support of the people in, within your organization in order to, to provide the best, um, story for the customer, um, that you can. And the only way I'm one of the ways to do that is by creating trust with your subject matter experts, how do you create trust by indicating, by showing that you understand what it is that they do, that you understand the industry that you're in and you can speak their language.

So that was the very first thing for me coming into HG when I did. I need to understand the industry. I need to understand the language of the industry so I can communicate things back to my team and they'll feel like, okay, Nicole is not going to put me in a situation to work on something which is completely left of what the customer is actually asking for, because she understands what the customer's asking.

So that was my first clue. So that was my first thing. And that was learning that I took from my very first role, my manager at the time, he was like, he was really training me and he was like, this is something that's very important. You need to understand the language. So I thought nine years in, I've done commercial paint. I've done commercial cleaning. I'm like there's, I've done, uh, commercial products, promotional products like there's I've done hardwoods. Yeah. It's, I'm like, there's nothing that I haven't seen until this day when this massive, um, this was my, probably my first real giant at the company. Um, I landed on my desk and I looked at this thing, and I read it and I was like, I was like, I don't understand a word that's in this document. I don't know what they're saying. I don't know what they're asking for. And this was at the end of my first year. So I was in my last quarter and I was like, I had made it, but I will tell you I was on the verge of burning out.

Like I was probably about six weeks away from a full burnout. And, um, cause I had been working so hard. Um, I was just kind of like, oh my gosh, like, what do I do? But there was one part of it. There were two full parts of it. The one part that I could fully grasp was the delivery, service delivery. So transition implementation, project management.
And so, and I had a director of, um, in our project management office at the time who I trusted implicitly. And so I knew that once I brought her in, I could guide this process, but I could trust that she would definitely deliver exactly what the customer needed. And I would then take the other half and work with my VP in MSS to determine how to deal with this service, um, the steady-state service part of it. And, um, so. I did that. So I kind of broke the two pieces. It broke the RFP into two pieces, uh, worked really closely with the project management office and the director at that time to deliver that part. And then it was kind of like hobbling along to deliver the other half. And I had multiple service leads working with me on that part, um, because there was something like, four to six technologies that we're going to have to deliver and services wrapped around those technologies as well. And, um, so I had a bunch of different team members that I was working with. And so I was, I was having to create buy-in. Um, I didn't really understand the magnitude of the service, like the size of the deal. I didn't really get that until pretty late in the process. I was, I'm not big. Like I don't like to micromanage and I don't like being micromanaged. Autonomy is really important to me. So I was, I, I trust people to do the job that they're hired to do. So if I've asked you to do something, I've brought you in, I've explained, I've given you all the tools to succeed, then I expect you to just go out and be great.
So, um, So there were people that liked it, and I would have checkpoints along the way. So there's people who weren't getting back to me. So I was having a lot of, uh, just as I struggled with this steady state, delivering the documents for the study state part of the service. And I remember just coming down to like the last couple of days, but in the, maybe like two weeks before the submission was due, I started to notice something.

I would go to open the document to work on it. I would, my throat would close up. I would start having, like, my heart would start to pound and I would get really emotional. And then I would just end up closing the document and then focus on another part of the project. And then I would try again maybe a little bit later in the day and I kept having this visceral reaction. And I was like, but it didn't, it took me until the end, like all the way totally was done and had been submitted for me to stop and say to myself, what was that? Like, why were you reacting having an actual physical reaction to this thing? And then I understood the panic attack. I was having a slight panic attack.
It's because I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. And then also, because I felt like, well, bottom line, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. And I felt like that was probably one of the best RFPs I had ever seen in my life. It was so well written. And even though it was written in a way that I didn't really quite understand the language that they were using,

I didn't quite understand when I did come to understand what they were asking for, it was things I had seen before. They were just saying it in a way that I had never seen before. And so, um, from that point, I said, I remember saying to, um, my boss, the vice president of sales, um, I remember walking into his office and I said to him, okay, This RFP, cause he's into cars, so I needed to use I'm really big on using references that people understand.
So I said to him, ``This RFP is like an Aston Martin. '' It's a Maybach. This is, this is top of the line. They know what they're doing. The people who wrote this. And I said they deserve for me to give them back, you know, at the very least, the highest. And like, I think I said something like, uh, I needed to give them back like a Ferrari or something like that. You know, they came to me with a Maybach. I need to at least deliver something that was like Ferrari status. I said, right now it's a Honda accord. And he looked at me and just, he was horrified. He's like, what's going on? I said, honestly, I'm not getting these things. And it has taken me a while to understand exactly what the customer needs, even though I've had multiple conversations, I've had multiple conversations with the consultant. I had multiple conversations with the team, but I just, I just felt like I'm like, I just don't know what they want. And I don't know how to explain what we're doing. And, um, And I'm like, and on top of it, I'm having these, I'm running into these walls with our internal team. And he was like, well, he wanted me to name names and I don't do that. So I was just like, I'm not going to name names, but what I will do is I will, um, start to reach out, um, and use my executive leadership to kind of bring people in and say, okay, but I didn't even end up having to do that. What I ended up having to do was figure out the numbers. And once I've determined exactly what the value of the contract was worth and I told everybody that actually changed everyone's perspective.

Everybody was in that was it, it was like a, it was a call to arms. It was a siren. And that everybody was just like, whoa, okay, let's go. Let's go. Because this is a huge opportunity for us.

Um, so once I said to him, it's, it's a Honda accord and I explained what it challenges where he said. What do you think you can get it to? I said I'm going to try to get it to the highest end Lexus that we can get. Like, if I can get it to the top, top-tier Lexus, I'll be okay with that. Um, and I think if I can get it to Lexus that will get us to a shortlist.
And he said, okay. And that's what I did. So then the day that it was delivered to the customer, I came back and I said, he goes, how did it go? And I said it's a Lexus.. And he said, okay, how do you feel about that? I said, they just, they didn't deserve a Lexus, but I'm okay with the fact that that's where we got it too.
He said, okay. And we got to the shortlist process. And then my vice president came to me, he said, I feel like. It would be better if you just manage this directly with the consultant, I'm going to step out of it. And I said, okay. And he goes, do you know what you're going to do? I said, yeah, I'm going to start from scratch.
And he said, what? I go, yeah, we're going to start over. And he goes, but you have these two documents. I said, yeah, we have those two documents, but it's not what they really want. And I know that now, so now that I know that I'm going to, I'm going to give them exactly what they want and I know exactly how I'm going to go about doing that.
And he was like, I trust you. Okay. And I was like, okay, thank you. And I went ahead and we delivered, we delivered documents. Our delivery was so good that we ended up getting more business because the customer and the consultant talked about what we did to others like their colleagues. And then their colleagues contacted us and said, we heard great things.

So in the end it worked out, but there is no point where you've seen it all.. That's the point of this story. There is no point where you've seen it all. There is no point where you will, um, stop learning. You're always going to be learning. You're going to come across projects. You're gonna come across requests from customers that are just new. Um, especially when you're in cyber. I don't know if anybody who's listening is also in information technology and cybersecurity. Um, but you're always going to come across new things and it's a great opportunity to stretch, to grow your skillset, and to see where you can, um, modify your, what you're already doing in order to produce something greater..

Pete

It sounds like that's when the giant Slayer was born.

Nicole

That was when I was born. Yeah. Yeah. Cause I ended up, it was like back to back after that, I ended up having, like, I had that one, then I had another one come through from that same consultant. And then I had another one come through from a customer in the United Kingdom and they were all huge deals and yeah, they closed those back to back so I created quite the reputation for myself after that.

Pete

Let me ask you one last question Nicole because it's a fantastic story. So thank you for sharing that. And also the story of the 300 sites as well with that situation. I could pitch you when you were talking about feeling it in your throat and you know, that's that dark cortisol gets in your system and you feel it, it's like a fight or flight kind of reaction.

Nicole

Literally,

Pete

If you could package little soundbites and send it back through the ether, back to Nicole, sitting there feeling that way at the time. What would you say to Nicole that was facing that wall of a challenge at the time?

Nicole

Push through, push through, you've got this. You're going to figure it out. Um, yeah, push through. You're going to figure it out and it's going to be better than you expected.

Pete

That's great advice.

Nicole

That's what I would say to her. Yeah.

Pete

Yup. Yup. So the hardest lessons, we get the greatest learning from our hardest lessons and yeah, there's a couple of great stories. That's been fantastic. Uh, Nicole, I've enjoyed going through your stories with you. So I've got some notes from you of how you'd like to be able to connect with you, which is on LinkedIn.

Nicole

Yes. LinkedIn is definitely the best way.

Pete

Great. You also were telling me that the AP MP resources are connecting with other LinkedIn proposal professionals and looking at those resources, connecting with people and using the AP MP.
Anything you want to say?

Nicole

Yeah. So I'm actually not a member of an APMP, but I've met a lot of amazing people who are. Um, and we have, uh, we have a content management tool that actually, um, Uh, from a company that's based in Canada, it's called Loopio . And I would highly recommend that you get a content manager. You, you need content management, it will, it will drastically increase your efficiency and I'm not trying, I don't, I'm not really trying to do a commercial for Loopio right now, but, um, Having used that tool and then, um, being asked to speak at their conference, um, as part of a panel last year opened up my world in terms of networking and with other proposal professionals because I often would be me and my team.

So it's like, it's only the people that I work within my organization prior to going to this conference to their first conference, I'd never met anybody else who does what I do. And so it would be very difficult. And even to explain what I do would be confusing for most people, but this was the first time I sat in a room full of hundreds of people who a hundred percent understood my journey, they understood my industry and it was, it made all the difference. And we've been able to build a really great community, um, on LinkedIn and through LinkedIn. Um, but yeah, it's, it's just been wonderful and it just continues to grow. Um, I did a, uh, Loopio insider event with them as well speaking about the debrief process just recently and that was a wonderful talk as well. Because there's so many nuances and, um, different things that you experienced as a proposal professional, and there's so many different elements to it that, um, being able to talk with other like-minded individuals, um, whether it's even from the customer side to getting to speak to procurement professionals as well, just opens up the conversation and it really just helps all of us to become better at what we do.

And so, um, yeah, so definitely, um, Using LinkedIn, um, and looking at any APMP resources that are available, if you have a chapter that's local to you, that's a great way to network as well. Cause I, I have definitely done that myself. So, um, and there, if I'm not mistaken, there is a proposal professional con.
So it's a con for our industry. That's been put on by the APMP in Denver later this year.

Pete

So yeah, the BPC event, I think they call it, Bid and Proposal con, so yeah, that's, uh, that's coming up. Brilliant. That's been fantastic. I love the way that you've shared your stories and showed us the continual learning and the fact that your skills are transferable. Let's just say, if you were selling eggs and then you go to sell oranges, you've got to learn about oranges, but the rest of it. Exactly. Fantastic. Nicole, thank you so much for your time.

Nicole

Thank you, Pete, for having me. This was such a pleasure. I really appreciate it.

Pete

My pleasure. I'll see you soon. Thank you.
Cheers Nicole, bye bye

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