Honing your bid process by leveraging creativity and data

Image of Pete Nicholls
Pete Nicholls
Nora Foux - Honing your bid process by leveraging creativity and data

Episode Summary

Nora shares how the combination of open-minded creativity, compliance data and strategic processes can lift your win rates.

 

 

EPISODE NOTES

  • How Nora lifted the shortlist ratio from 8% to 42%
  • Clients who buy Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) to dramatically improve planning, forecasting & reporting through integrated systems instead of data mining and excel spreadsheets.
  • Client mistakes made through deciding by lowest price, and internal teams being overly optimistic.
  • Strategy Meetings to discuss can we meet the needs of the RFP, brought order to where there was chaos
  • Summary Template developed by my predecessor, we enhanced 
  • We learn faster by making Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) Requests. FOIA requests allow you to compare winning bids and contrast that with what you are submitting.
  • The horror story as a new hire, getting an RFP out in the next 45mins, 20 full binders, hand-tabbed with 35 per binder, plus hand-tabbed cost proposal binder. Had to fit in a 20x20x20 inch box and no hand truck to get it to the car. So balancing it on a chair, getting it into the back seat of the car, we ended up with a pretty quick dismissal reply due to a known functionality gap. We should never have responded. I decided then, that we would use data going forward.
  • How Loopio allowed us to eliminate errors and the worry over these things being consistent throughout the response.
  • The importance of knowing why you lose.
  • My journey from graduating in 2008 when the economy was tanking, to learn on my journey through creativity, structure, and data to establish myself in my role today.

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

 
Top Tips are:

Get a Content Management System for boilerplate consistency

Really take the time to dig into your *FOIA Requests. We file an FOIA Request every time it's a loss. It is free business intelligence that you can learn from. (*Freedom of Information Act)

We have used https://loopio.com/ as an amazing Content Management System since 2019 which has been amazing.

Here is the weighted scoring calculator which is really helping us as a base to save time and decide when to bid 

https://www.mypmllc.com/project-management-resources/proposal-management-templates/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/norafoux/ 

Email: nora.foux@assetworks.com

 

About Nora Foux

Nora Foux is a graduate of the Philadelphia Institute of Art where she earned degrees in Industrial Design and Marketing. 

She has worked for several top companies such as the American Heart Association, Comcast, and Publicis Healthcare Solutions. 

Currently, Nora is with AssetWorks LLC where she has been a Technical Proposal Writer for their EAM software for over two years. Her updates to their bid process and content have increased their EAM shortlist ratio from 8% in 2018 to 42% in 2020. 


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


 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Pete

Greetings everyone. And a very warm welcome to another edition of the proposal works podcast, where we talk with proposal experts who share real stories of how they win. I'm your host, Pete Nichols, coming to you from another rainy day, unfortunately in Copenhagen in Denmark. And I'm joined today by Nora Foux, Nora, a very good day to you.

Where are you joining us from today?

Nora

I am joining you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it's quite nice here today.

Pete

Oh, you're lucky, but you're on holiday today, so I'm glad to hear that you've got the study weather for the start of your break. Thank you to our listeners. If you haven't yet heard of Nora Foux, Nora Foux is a graduate of the Philadelphia Institute of Art, where she earned degrees in Industrial Design and Marketing.

And she's worked for several top companies, such as the American Heart Association, Comcast and Publicists Healthcare Solutions. Now, Nora is with asset works, LLC, where she's been a technical proposal writer for the enterprise asset management or EAM Software for over two years. Now, her updates, your updates, Nora, I understand the bid process, what you've done there to the bid process and content have increased their EAM shortlist ratio from 8% in 2018 to 42% in 2020, which is huge. So we're going to explore some of that today. Our topic for today's show is called honing your bid process by leveraging creativity and data. So Nora, for my first question, I'd like to understand who is your ideal client, the people that you serve, what do they truly want?

Nora

Yeah. So our ideal client is any organization looking for software to help them manage and maintain their public works, roadways, and infrastructure assets. And really what they're looking for is a way to sort of combine maybe their various disparate systems. They might just be using Excel in one system. So that they can really manage their operational efficiencies, where they might be sort of spending time manually doing reporting or things like that right. So now they can push one click of a button and run that report versus spending those three days data mining.

Pete

So possibly it could be driving in a fully automated Tesla down a road that is currently managed as an asset on Excel.

Nora

That is correct.

Pete

So, so you fix that. Okay. So let's explore, what are the problems that they normally face?

What does that look like?

Nora

Yeah. So when you're using those various disparate systems or Excel to manage your assets, when you're looking at things like capital planning, Forecasting reporting, understanding the conditions of your assets and even looking up the history of an asset that really is challenging when you don't have everything captured in one place.

So they're typically looking to consolidate that to one integrated system and that can be used cross-departmentally. That's a game-changer for a lot of those organizations. Right? So, as I mentioned, instead of spending maybe two or three days to data-mine and run a report on maybe the cost of an asset or things like that. They're clicking a button and running that report in a couple of minutes, or if they want to look at the risk assessment of their asset, right. That's coming up in a chart, they're getting a really nice visual indicator based on data of what the risk to that asset is and what its current condition is, when does it need to be replaced by those types of things?

Pete

So your client, as the organization that needs what asset works as a software platform is your external client. And as we explore the stories here today as well, there must be some internal clients that you help as well, Nora you must have the sales teams and others who rely on you, that they're stakeholders that you're servicing. So when we go into mistakes that they make, cause my next question is you could take this as what mistakes do your clients make, who are managing these assets? And also maybe with the bid response team, the other people that you work with to try and win these opportunities, what mistakes do you see? What do you see as things that people have done that don't work out so well?

Nora

Regarding organizations, I think the biggest mistake any organization can make is choosing a system solely based on price, where they don't evaluate the capabilities. And can those capabilities actually meet their needs? We have seen so many situations where the price was the deciding factor, and it might only be a few thousand dollars saved and then two or three years down the line, we may be even shorter, maybe a year down the line, right, we see that re-issue of that RFP and actually end up winning because they realize that the less expensive software just couldn't meet the actual capability needs that they had. So that's that big, big mistake. Internally, I would say too much optimism, you know, not evaluating, can we actually win this right? If you have a 20% chance to win in an RFP, is that really worth what the, I think it's an average of $25,000 of company time when you calculate it all out, prepare an RFP. Is that worth your time? Is that worth my time? Is that worth the vendor's time? Who has to read through our RFP? So I would say not using known gaps in what you can do and can't do, and not using data to sort of drive those decisions.

Pete

And it sounds like those two things tie together. You've got a customer that is about to make a mistake and buy on price. So hopefully if there's a chance to influence the value proposition, that they won't make that mistake only to have to come back two years later and buy all over again. And then the tie-in of what your, uh, maybe overly optimistic sales teams are thinking if they can see, Hey, this customer is just going to go absolute cheapest and we haven't influenced this bid. There are a few ways that play out. So you've made a massive improvement to the organization that you're with that 8% shortlist ratio to 42% within two years. I'd like to unpack that a little more than if we can get into some real-life examples. How have you done this Nora, how have you helped?

Nora

I would say the biggest help, to begin with when I first got here because this was not the industry that I started out in and I came from doing proposals in the pharmaceutical industry. So strategy meetings, the woman who is the proposal manager of the department, she was a mighty department of one for a very long time. She's been doing this for over 20 years and she is the queen of our core product. EAM is a newer product. Right? And so it was one of those things where she needed help.

So they brought in somebody else, you know, they, they developed a role to help her and she can keep everything in her head. She's worked with some of these people for years, they have their system down. I didn't have that. I had no relationships built with anyone. So one of the things that I instituted was strategy meetings, where everyone gets together, everyone reads the requirements of the RFP and we have a discussion about the capabilities of the RFP.

Can we meet the needs? Can we not? Those types of things, right. And not only did that help me build a relationship with my team, but it brought a little bit of order to where there was a little bit of chaos. And so I think that naturally, everyone prefers order to chaos. Another thing that I did was we had a summary template that was developed by, uh, the person who was previously in the role and also was new to the industry and we realized that it just wasn't quite what we needed in order to be able to properly evaluate whether we should bid an RFP or not.

And so as I began to learn the industry and those types of things and listen to our subject matter experts, it started adding to that summary template where we go, okay, what product is this? What's the name of the bid? You know, it does. X Y or Z that we know we can't meet, or what percentage of capabilities can we meet, right? So that was another thing that really started helping us sort of hone those things down.

We always looked at FOIA's, but doing a real deep dive in an FOIA with the entire team, because you can't really do those things in a bubble. It's hard to analyze data in a bubble. So getting buy-in from everybody and just sort of really helping us mesh as a team. And the reason why I started doing this is I think every proposal manager has one or two horror stories that kind of stick out and mine begin with, I was there only a few months. The proposal manager was on a lovely vacation in Ireland. So I was left to my own devices. The team decided to bid on something I didn't have enough knowledge of at this point to say, no, we should not bid on this and give an opinion. And I said, okay. You guys want to do it, we'll do it. And what that culminated in was, I was brand new to the company. I was by myself there, it was six 30. I had to get the RFP out by seven 15 to the FedEx box for pickup. And the requirements of the RFP were 20 full binders. Right. So it was 10, three-ring binders, hand tabbed because we didn't have anybody else to do it.

And there were 35 tabs in each binder. Also had to have a separate cost proposal binder, also hand tabbed. So I was doing all of that by myself. And it had to fit in a 20 inch by 20 inches by 20-inch box, which is massive if you've never measured that out before. So it gets down. I said, okay, I'll take it over there.

I realize I don't know where the hand truck is to lift this huge box. I'd take it down to the mailbox. And I went oh, oh, and then I realized there was no ramp to take it down to the box, it was only stairs. These are things that I did not think about before I got myself into this situation. So I did what anybody would do. Right. I grabbed a chair, I balanced the box as best as I could. I dragged it through two doors by myself, through a vestibule downstairs, and I had backed my car up. And then I realized it's not going to fit in my trunk because it's too big. And I went, what am I going to do? So luckily it fit into my backseat, and I ultimately decided to just drive it to a FedEx myself and get it shipped off so that I could ensure we met the deadline, but it wasn't even worth it because we pretty quickly heard back that we were a 'NO'. So I had to go through all of that, and we got dismissed almost immediately because of a known functionality gap.

But what we were doing is saying, well, we don't have that, but we can integrate with anybody. That's your choice. Right. But that's not what our customer wanted. Our customer wanted a fully fleshed-out solution from whoever was going to propose. So that was my biggest lesson right there. And that was the moment I decided we're going to use data to drive all of our decisions moving forward, and I'm going to start gathering as much data as I possibly can toward, you know, using that. And guys, we've seen this before we're not going to win it, right. Because I never wanted to go through that again.

Pete

You must've been tempted to send some photos or look, here's me carting this thing down the stairs and trying to get into my car. You can't just say no to me, like, let me down gently kind of story, because I've been through everything to get this to you. So I deserve to win it just on that alone.

Nora

That's how I felt inside, but that was not the reality of my situation.

Pete

No 20 binders when the whole thing is just visually tough, right? I suppose you always potentially face that situation because you get the deadline you're up against the deadline and you've got to make it, but you want to do that with a bid that, you know, we've got a fair chance of winning this.

Uh, we have influenced it before the bid was released and we've done a really good response. It's, uh, it's compliant with what the customer wants and also responsive to their needs. Let's look at the summary template and the strategy meetings, and so on that, you've put in place. You mentioned the woman earlier who had all of this in her head, like the content library, where's the content library? That's in her head as well. Was she a part of this change when you implemented the strategy meeting? Was she there still or she left and you were taking over what, what was the situation?

Nora

She's actually still here, but she handles our core products. Yeah. And so I'm, I'm kind of handling this. So, you know, again, because she has this massive content library in her head, she didn't need to do all of those things. She probably could have looked at this flat out and she shouldn't fit this, but I didn't, you know, I didn't have that experience. And as for the content management system, we didn't have one when I first started, because again, it was all in her head, she didn't need it. And so that was something that I sort of begged my boss for. And my boss is amazing and she realized that there was a need there. So we did evaluate some content management systems and we settled on a pretty amazing one called Loopio and we've been using that since July of 2019. And it's just, it's made such a massive impact on our bids, and it's really streamlined the process for our sales engineers who have to answer those really long, like 500 question matrices and things that we might get in. It's really just, it provides an audit trail. It helps us keep our content up to date and maintained, and that was another sort of game-changer for me in terms of our RFP process.

Pete

Is that where the data has gone then Nora? You've said using data as part of building the case and helping your shortlist ratio rate improve. So how does Loopio relate to the data side of what we're talking about today?

Nora

So what we're able to do with Loopio is make sure that we're sort of eliminating any errors that were very easy when you can lose version control if you're not using one system to maintain everything. You know, there's, there's none of this danger of we're copying from a word document and pasting over and accidentally not changing the customer name. Because how embarrassing is that?

I mean, that's really my worst nightmare and I was afraid that was going to happen. And so, you know, it really helps us keep all of those things straight and it eliminates my worry over a lot of those things. Maybe the number of our ports has increased. So now instead of 300 reports out of the box, we can offer 350 and I can change that in one spot and it's changed everywhere instead of, okay, well now I have to change it in every place that I've saved that content in a word, in a word document, in a folder somewhere.

So it's, it's been huge.

Pete

And the data then we're talking about. So there's the accuracy of data and as you're moving that around and bringing it in.

Nora

Correct.

Pete

Have there been any specific key types of data that you felt have been more valuable? Like is all data created equal or are there certain types of data that are most useful for you in achieving your goals?

Nora

I think the most important factor is knowing why you lose. Right. Where are the situations where you're just absolutely not going to win, right? So if you have a permitting solution and they're asking for permitting requirements, you obviously should continue. If you don't have a permitting solution, for example, and they're asking for permitting and you don't have a partner, right.

You're probably going to be dismissed outright out of hand because you're not meeting the needs of what they're asking. We can, a lot of times, search the system if you're looking for data. Right. Have we, have we seen this before in any other RFPs? Do we have this question in our system? How did we answer it? And so we can track that history and say, yeah, we've said no to this before, and we still can't do it. We probably shouldn't bid on this.

Pete

Compliance primarily is what we're talking about here is that checkbox, which the summary template that you mentioned is that really essentially your go, no go or bid, no bid system right there?

Nora

That's how we were using it. Absolutely. We were kind of leveraging it as a very manual tool to take a look, you know, are, are they hosted or not hosted?  Are they looking for SAS? Because a lot of our customers are SAS-based customers. So that's a really good indicator if that's what they're looking for.

Okay. Maybe we can meet some of the other requirements and we just moved down the line, and so you know, I think I mentioned before our software has this sort of weighted scoring risk calculator. And I began to think later down the line, how helpful would that be for RFPs?  If I had had that tool fleshed out with that one where I had to spend all that time with the 20 binders, would that have maybe told us not to bid? And so I actually went back and I looked at the requirements and I thought, yeah, if I had had that tool, we never would have bid this. And so I started poking around and I found out that, yeah, there are some great templates out there for weighted scoring because I'm no Excel wizard. Right. I can, I can build a pretty one, but when it comes to formulas and things like that, that's just not an area I've ever had to do anything in. So I actually found this really great weighted scoring calculator as a base. And so what we're in the process of doing now is taking that generic one, using our summary template, which is the criteria that we typically base our bid, no bid decisions on anyway, and we're putting that into that Excel spreadsheet.

And it's going to give us a scoring metric and say, okay, You should absolutely not bid this. You should have a discussion about this, or this is a green light, no discussion needs to be had. So it's going to save us so much time in just meetings alone, right? If it's a green light, we just don't need those strategy meetings anymore.

If it's under a certain thing, now we're using data to go, okay, these are all the reasons we've seen over the past several years. We only have a score of one to 1.9. There is no real reason that we should bid on this. They have it. Maybe we didn't know about it. Maybe we don't have a relationship there, those types of things.

So now we're really gonna hone that bid process down even further than it was before and I can't tell you how exciting that is to know that we're going to have this tool and be able to use it to hopefully improve our shortlist rate. You know, because who wants to sell software to a customer and have them be disappointed in it. Right. That's not the goal. The goal is to sell to people who are software that is a great match for their capability requirements. And that's what this tool is going to give us.

Pete

The tools that you've put in place and the systems that you put in place, the numbers speak for themselves over your shortlist ratio alone. So it sounds like from when you came into the company to where those numbers are now, You've built a lot of credibility in, you can point to the results that you've been able to achieve. Now, I'm going to assume that that gives you a certain level of clout, credibility to say, here's what we're going to do, and people will do that because Nora said, this is what we're going to do. Is it easier now to get buy-in on the things that you want to make happen and implement than it was where you started?

Nora

Absolutely.

Pete

Tell me about that though. What challenges did you have early on that you wanted to make happen and it didn't just instantly happen?

Nora

I think some of the challenges that I experienced early on are the same challenges that anybody experienced when you're sort of moving industries, but doing the same thing, right? You don't know where the gaps are. You don't really know what the customers are looking for initially, anybody can write a great executive summary, but it's really that understanding the customer and understanding what they're wanting. That's going to win you an RFP bid.  And so the challenge that I faced was just the learning curve really, and what I was able to do, and by implementing some of those strategies is I could hear our experienced subject matter experts saying, well, we shouldn't bid because of this. We shouldn't bid because of this. Maybe we should bid because of this. And I was taking notes and as I was sort of updating all of those tools that they kind of already had, I was just able to sort of flesh them out a little bit in the way that we needed versus what we had, because also the person before me was just completely new to proposals in general.

And so she was never going to be able to be in complete learning the bid process, learning all of those things. You know, she created some great foundationary tools but really taking them to where we needed them to be. She just didn't have the experience, unfortunately, to be able to do that, and so I think that sort of that right-brain thing, I have that, you know, creative degree, I have that marketing and that kind of a background. That sort of niche skillset really allowed me to come in and listen to what people were saying, where our gaps were and leverage that. And I think if you can do that, anybody is going to be successful there. 

Pete

Your creativity, uh, I guess it comes from your education initially, and then you've applied it in that situation, as you've just described. Can you think back throughout your history, then back through the days at Comcast, the American heart association, right across the gamut there, what challenges have you faced through that journey that you think you learned the most from, what have you learned from the personal challenges that you've faced on that journey?

Nora

Wow. What a great question. I have learned a lot, you know, I graduated in 2008 and so the economy had completely collapsed here. There were no jobs in my field and so I really sort of had to leverage the skills I did have, and I've always sort of been really good at organization and writing. And I said, okay, well, I'll go find a job. And so, you know, I started temping around and found out that there was this whole administrative side to my brain that I didn't know was there. And so I was lucky enough to get hired at the American heart association as an executive assistant and office manager. And I learned a lot there, even more about organizing and writing in sort of a professional corporate style background because even though they're a nonprofit, the way the American heart association operates is very corporate in how they handle things, which is what makes them very successful. And so I learned a lot from the people around me.

I was still able to leverage a lot of that creativity when we had sort of events that would come around, I might make the signage for that. Right. So I was still able to use my degree a little bit, but I would say being around very smart people, people who had done things that I had never done, and just being willing to learn from it.

And then, you know, when I went to Comcast again, it was just, I was around people who did different things who had different experiences for me. And so I was able to draw on what made those people very successful and sort of incorporate them into my style. And then I could look at what wasn't working and avoid those types of things as well.

And so that journey is really what led me here, because other than using my degree, I really didn't know what my passion was. I was sort of one of those people I went to, well, I don't really know what I want to do now because I'm not doing the thing that I initially wanted to do. And so where I really learned that was, you know, experiencing grant writers, right. People, I was like, I didn't know that was a job. And you know, when I was at Comcast, I ran into people who were working on, you know, PowerPoints and presentations. In the end, I didn't realize that that could be a full-time job. And so that actually led me to pool assess where I was doing proposals, which I got to do writing, and then I got to, I was the main person working on graphics for PowerPoints and things. So again, leveraging my degree in unexpected ways. And then that sort of led me to asset works where I've just been able to sort of thrive because I'm in an environment where, you know, people listen, they accept input.

Um, so all of those skills that I sort of built across my journey have just culminated here. And then I think, you know, going from, I think they were winning one RFP a year to now we're at 42% in last year. It's just the right bus, right seat. Right?

Pete

Yeah, the combination. I can hear Nora, as you started almost in a more administrative-oriented role, which is perhaps not what you'd expect someone who has more of a creative-oriented degree might start, but it sounds like you've followed that creative path. That's led you from step to step of taking that creative lead, learning from the folks around you along the way. And so what you told us earlier about the systems and the structure that you put in place to have the strategy meetings and so forth, so the combination of the creativity and the data, it sounds like it's a left brain and right brain that combines to give you the improvement for the business that you've delivered for where you are now in the shortness ratio. It strikes me that you are a very creative person and also a very passionate person. So what is it about what you do today that you find most fulfilling?

Nora

I have a wonderful, amazing manager and she pretty much never tells me no. If I have an idea. She goes, okay, let's do it, you know, and I'm able with my background to say, okay, here's a gap. How can I fill this? Right? And so I'll come up with plans A, B, and C, what would work best? And I'm looking at things that have worked and haven't worked. So for example, our templates are a little bit outdated and I was filing these FOIA requests, and I was seeing what our competitors were doing, and I went, man, we've got great content, but the look is a little bit lacking. And so I said, I would really like the opportunity to sort of revamping our template more in line with what I'm seeing in the industry, and she goes, have that, you know, do whatever you think is best because I trust you, this is why I hired you, you know, those types of things and that type of support from not only my manager, but then also my department, because we had buy-in from the sales folks and things, you cannot put a price on that.

Anything that I come across, for example, the weighted scoring calculator. Let's do it. If it's going to help us win more and you think that, you know, I just get the green light, and so that really is what keeps me happy. That's what keeps me thriving as someone who can do the administrative part but also needs some of that creative freedom.

Pete

Yeah. I hear that applying creativity. So you need the freedom to create, and it sounds like you have the freedom with your manager that you can create and see the things that you imagined come to life and they deliver real value. So to wrap up today, thank you, Nora, for sharing your story and your experience with us. What valuable tips or resources would you point people to that the listener could go away and use today?

Nora

I would say that if you don't have a content management system where you are today, You need to do whatever you need to do, whether it's looking at your win-loss ratio and things like that, whatever you have to do to convince whoever is the key decision-maker that you need a content management system.

That's what you need to do. That's priority number one, right? Because you don't want your boilerplate to look different. It's boilerplate for a reason. You don't want it to look different across RFPs. So that's thing number one and thing. Number two really takes the time to dig into your FOIA requests. Take a look at who's winning RFPs. If you're not already, I was very surprised to find out there are a lot of proposal professionals that don't have any metrics around filing FOIA requests. We do. So I have to file an FOIA request every time there's a loss. So if you're not doing that now, because it's not required of you, you should do it because it's free information and that's, that's free business intelligence.

You can't put a price on that. So, you know, always look at what people who are winning are doing, you don't steal what they're doing, right. But try to incorporate elements of their winning into what you're doing, and I guarantee you those two things combined are going to be a great foundation for you to see you're shortlist rating just go up.

Pete

Thank you for sharing that in the description that you've given us. We'll put some links in the show notes as well. I know you've given the link to Loopio as one place where people go and take a look, it sounds like it's delivered a lot of value for where you are and how you've used it.

So, uh, we'll pass that on to the folks who are listening to this podcast to catch that from the show notes, we'll pick up on the links. It's been an absolute pleasure talking with you today, Nora, I'm wondering for folks who want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for people to connect with you?

Nora

You can reach me on LinkedIn. It's Nora and my last name is Foux FOUX. So always feel free to shoot me a message that way or feel free to just email me directly at nora.foux@assetworks.com so I can provide you with the spelling of all of that, because it's a little bit lengthy, so you can provide that in the link as well. You know, if you think it would be interesting, I'm happy to provide the link to that. Generic weighted scoring calculator for folks as well.

Pete

Fantastic. Yeah, I will, uh, I will get that from you as I publish the show notes for the show. So once again, thank you so much for your time.

Nora

Thank you and have a wonderful day.

Pete

Enjoy your holiday. 


To listen to the full Podcast: https://proposal.works/

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

 

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