Striving for Bid Nirvana!

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Pete Nicholls
Striving for Bid Nirvana - Jack Wills

Episode Summary

UK-based proposal expert Jack Wills draws on 40 years of experience to describe how you too can Strive for Bid Nirvana.

EPISODE NOTES

Jack Wills has forty years of experience in proposal and bid development. His interest in bid writing started when was called in to evaluate a major contract in the UK Ministry of Defence as a staff officer in the British Army.

As a 'gamekeeper' he quickly became a 'poacher' in the bid world!

Leaving the Army in 1988, he started his own business in the video and multimedia world, developing some 5-6 proposals per month! He is now a consultant working with many bluechip clients

In this episode:

  • How Nirvana includes pre-engagement, Hot Buttons and effective working with subject matter experts (SMEs).
  • Most businesses are normally reactive, often not expecting a bidding opportunity to be released and then trying to cater to it with a bad timeline.
  • Common mistakes include knee-jerk graphics, underestimating the time to create effective graphics, which should be done well before writing.
  • Where possible, I pre-engage for capture, discover the hot buttons, and establish win themes. Also a trainer, and I help with authoring.
  • Great insight can derive from what I call "Car Park" conversations. Clues and even body language help you get the key 3-4 hot buttons.
  • How to influence to engage earlier? Persistence. Show the stakeholders the benefits in dollars saved, time saved and improved win rate. Stop bidding on everything and your effectiveness and win rate will naturally increase.
  • My motivation years ago, initially, was to win. Now my motivation is to have the team believe in what is possible and to win better.
  • When Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) first came out, there was a lot of concern from the industry.
My top tips? Pre-engage and pre-prepare. Have the content and stories and case studies ready. It makes a huge difference in how you win.

Contact me through the website
www.willsconsultants.co.uk

Also please join me and listen in on my podcast:

'Winning bids and proposals'
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/winning-bids-and-proposals/id1517455655
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Links to free tools, useful tips & offers for our listeners

  • Free fact sheets to download with podcast 'Winning bids and proposals'.

About Jack Wills

Jack Wills has forty years of experience in proposal and bid development. His interest in bid writing started when, as a staff officer in the British Army, he was called in to evaluate a major contract in the UK Ministry of Defence.

As a 'gamekeeper' he quickly became a 'poacher' in the bid world! Leaving the Army in 1988, he started his own business in the video and multimedia world, developing some 5-6 proposals per month! He is now a consultant working with many bluechip clients.


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


 

FULL TRANSCRIPTION or LISTEN: 

https://proposal.works/episodes/striving-for-bid-nirvana

Pete Nicholls

Greetings everyone, a very warm welcome to another edition of the proposal works podcast. We're talking with proposal experts who share real stories of how they win. I'm your host, Pete Nichols. I'm in Copenhagen, Denmark. And today I'm joined by Jack Wills, Jack, very good day to you. Where are you joining us from?

Jack Wills

Good day to you too, yeah, I'm in sunny Shaftsbury in the county of Dorset in the south of England. Probably best known around the world for Thomas Hardy country.

Pete Nicholls

Ah, yeah. I hadn't made the connection with that. Actually. I know it's a beautiful part of England, but I find it's an amazing country that there's a lot packed into a relatively small space.

Jack Wills

Yeah. One thing we can always say about the United Kingdom is there's a lot going on in a very small space. We seem to get more and more people, more and more cars, and more and more roads, but on a very small piece of real estate, but it seems to work.

Pete Nicholls

Well, it's amazing how you can take those pathways and still feel quite alone out on the open fields for a crowded place, there's still an area to find space.

Jack Wills

Yeah, exactly. Just literally outside of my door here I've got the town to my left, which is only about 500 meters up the hill. It's an ancient to Hilltop Saxon town and to my right, I've got open country, which, um, takes me out into footpaths where, because of the Bocage and the way that the tracks and the hedges work, you, you can walk for hours and not see anybody actually.

Pete Nicholls

Yeah. I love that about the UK. It's very different to living in a, in a council, flat in town.

Jack Wills

So it sure is. It sure is.

Pete Nicholls

So for our listeners, if you haven't yet heard of Jack Wills, Jack has 40 years of experience in proposal and Bid development and his interest in Bid writing started when, as a staff officer in the British army, he was called in to evaluate a major contract in the UK ministry of defense. As a gamekeeper, he quickly became a poacher in the Bid world, leaving the army in 1988, he started his own business in the video and multimedia world and developing some five to six proposals per month and is now a consultant working with many blue-chip clients. So welcome to the show, Jack. Our topic for today is Striving for Bid Nirvana. So we're going to explore that Jack. I'd like to ask you, first of all, what is Bid Nirvana?

Jack Wills

Haha, well, Bid Nirvana probably doesn't really exist, but obviously, if you look at the state of Nirvana and the perception that most people carry around in their minds, it's where everything goes to plan.

The RFP comes when you're expecting it. You've had lots of pre-engagement with the customer. You have a time plan where you know, everybody's going to produce everything on time. You put the proposal together, you actually have reviewers who know what they're talking about and we'll review it properly without any ego. And you are able to deliver it to the customer on time and the customer loves it and they give you the contract. That's kind of where we're going with Bid Nirvana, but there's an awful lot of problems along the way, as you well know.

Pete Nicholls

Plenty of obstacles. Let's explore that. And, uh, my question more pointed to what you do today, then Jack and trying to get people to Bid Nirvana. Can you describe for us who is your ideal client and what do they truly want?

Jack Wills

Yeah, it's a great question because over the years, I've, you can imagine I've come across all sorts of clients. I guess the ideal client is, first of all, someone who has had a lot of pre-engagement with the customer, it's the client that knows where they sit in the world of business development. They've had lots of contact with a potential customer. They know what the customer is feeling. We'll use that for these hot buttons. They know what sort of hot buttons there are associated with those customers. They're expecting an ITT or an RFP to come out.  They have previous is content available that they can pre-modify to that particular client and use it. They have things like case studies already written. They haven't experienced Bid managers and I've alluded to this already, just in the conversation we've had, they have experienced people such as writers and reviewers who are able to add value to an RFP. And I guess really the last point I would make is that that ideal customer needs to be, have a collaborative culture and a no ego in place.

Pete Nicholls

So it sounds like the ideal client that you've described. Have you ever met one?

Jack Wills

Great question again? I've had a couple that has come really close to it. Interestingly enough, they are normally SMEs small to medium-sized enterprises, people who have around about 200 or so members of staff and they're hungry and they're out there trying to develop business all the time.

Sometimes I find with the bigger blue chips, they play paid quite a lot of lip service to the term pre-engagement with the customer and often put obstacles in their own way to prevent themselves from fully pre-engaging with the customer to expect an RFP coming out. So yeah, I have, I've had met a couple of organizations that come pretty close to it, but I haven't met one yet that's fully there, but I don't think I ever will.

Pete Nicholls

Um, so you mentioned the obstacles and so blue-chip companies may put obstacles in their way, and I'm sure there's plenty of obstacles that you're going to run into. Even if you don't put obstacles in your way, could you cover some of the problems that your clients normally face?

What does that look like?

Jack Wills

One of the biggest problems is that a lot of my customers are what I would call reactive. They react to a situation they're not proactive in any way. They're not expecting often that an RFP ITT is going to come out. Well, we all know in the Bidding world that if you're not expecting an RFP or an ITT to come out, then it suddenly lands on your desk the chances of you actually winning that contract as a result of putting a proposal in to meet that RFP ITT is pretty slim. So I think most of them feel that they do have pre-you can say to them, do you have any pre-engagement with this customer? That's probably one of the first questions I asked them. Have you, have you had any contact with the customer before this ITT count com has come to you? And they'll turn around and say, well, yeah, well, we have had a few interactions with the customer. Alarm bells started to ring then. I think that's one of the major problems. The second thing is of course, is that as we all know, as we're getting busier and there are things, and time moves on, a lot of our organizations have duel purposing in the team. So their daytime job is probably designing something or making something. And then they're asked to participate in a proposed development. That can cause all sorts of problems. Now, the really big blue-chip companies, as we all know, have got Bid teams and they've got lots of people coming out of the woodwork that can actually contribute to the proposal. But smaller organizations can't do that. And getting back to that SME type of organization that I spoke about earlier, that is really a problem. So you can often find that the same person who is perhaps manning the desk at some point to answer sales inquiries is then suddenly catapulted into, uh, the Bid writing environment and indeed some can even be put in the position, a Bid manager with very little experience. And I think the thing that leads on from that is I found that a lot of organizations don't really plan their time properly. They get themselves in a situation where they know what the drop-dead date is. I E the date that the proposal needs to go back to the customer, but they haven't really worked out what they've got to do in between. And they tend to plan things in a linear fashion rather than a concurrent fashion. And that's the sort of thing that comes up.

Pete Nicholls

Sounds like there are mistakes that they make in the planning. And if people are skilled in it, to begin with, then I guess it's just a spray and pray kind of hope that you put these Bids in and maybe some will land, but it doesn't sound very proactive,

Jack Wills

Spray and pray is, is a very good description. Some people in the UK would recognize the phrase, checking everything at the wall and hoping some of the mud will stick!. You know, that's what happens. I got one, I had one customer about four years ago that I was working with and it's a huge organization with something like five divisions and each division had five Bid managers and they were writing 80 proposals a year, each.

In other words, they were answering everything that came to the door. You were finding people in the organization responding to £10,000 contracts and £500 million contracts. They just went for everything. The win rate, well, it was, it was probably around 1.1 0.1% on a good day and probably about 0.8, but think about the resources that were being used in that, that organization quite extreme.

Pete Nicholls

The cost and also just the de-motivation by knowing that there's almost no chance that what you're putting your heart and soul into week by week is ever going to land a bit like English football. Isn't a Jack that you get out on the pitch and then end up with nil-all!.

Jack Wills

You see, you, you being from the antibodies, I'm a rugby man actually more than I am a football player, clearly I want to my football team to do well when we do play.

But I'm a rugby person. So, uh, you know, Australia, New Zealand, and indeed I've got a Kiwi as a son-in-law as that can be quite interesting sometimes, but yeah, you're right. Of course.

Pete Nicholls

Well, that's the only reason we can record the show at the moment because we don't happen to be competing against each other at the moment, Jack. Otherwise, we'd just have to reschedule.

Jack Wills

You got it. Yeah.

Pete Nicholls

So the mistakes that customers make, what are the things that they try to fix that if there are things they do to try and become proactive or try and sort out the time schedule, what do they try? That doesn't work?

 

Jack Wills

Yeah, a lot of it's based around a knee-jerking. And when I, I mean by knee-jerking is that sometimes you'll find customers will get to the point in the proposal development and then someone will say, oh, I think we need some graphics in here. And yeah, we all know that graphics are a great thing to put into a proposal. If indeed you can put graphics into a proposal and it's one of the more traditional RFP response documents. But suddenly someone will say, oh, we need some graphics or we need a case study in this and they haven't written it, they haven't thought about it. And then they try and put sticking plasters over it by creating something which doesn't really do the job. And the more experienced listeners out there will recognize this when I say that, you know, when you're evaluating it and I have been on the other side on a number of occasions, you can tell that someone's just sort of shoved this in. I mean, it's almost as if someone has said, or I think we need something in here to break up the text or something like that. There's no real thought to it. Now those were super doing this for a long time. Know that graphic. And other visuals, you really should be thinking about that well, upfront before you start putting pen to paper.

So that's one area that I think people get wrong. I think at other times, too. And it's related to bits and pieces that go into the proposal. It's things like organizations always underestimate the time it takes to put proper photographs together to support particular things that are happening in the, uh, RFP document.

And also you find that you find that people have pictures of the most precarious operations being put in place with no opportunity to put right those health and safety issues that you see. For example, I had one organization that was Bidding in the, uh, the radar world for a large radar system in an international airport. And they wanted to put a case study in to support what they'd done previously. And they had people in one particular part of the world hanging off the side of 60-foot pylons with no safety equipment on things like that. That's, that's the sort of thing that can cause real issues, I think. But getting back to the time planning, it's suddenly realizing too that you are running out of time. And that that can truncate a lot of the activity that goes and people then start to scramble around and that's when huge mistakes are made. For example, using a boilerplate and leaving the, uh, the previous customer's name in it, and something like that, you know, that's the sort of thing that can go wrong.

Pete Nicholls

Yep. Let's just Chuck it in and Chuck it in deadlines, coming

Jack Wills

deadlines coming.

Yeah. Yeah.

Pete Nicholls

So let's get into some real stories. Then if we may Jack on, um, some situations you've mentioned one, there were some frightful photographs that they decided to throw in. What are some examples of where you've really helped over the years?

Jack Wills

One of the key areas that I have been able to help with over the years is let's, let's talk about this pre-engagement activity.

When I've been called into organizations that have really got their act together in terms of pre-engagement. Sometimes they'll call me in a year before for if it's a major contract a year before something is going to happen and you can then start to shape the capture sort of environment with them. And you can end up having the development of capture, uh, planning statements and so on and so forth being put in place well in front of the time that an RFP. Is coming out. Some of those good customers will automatically start to look at what the hot buttons are for that particular customer. And where I have been very successful, I think is actually helping people shape what those hot buttons are and shape some of the capture planning activities so that they can really hone in on, what's likely to appear in an RFP document or an ITT document when it does appear. You know you'll find that some organizations will, will not do any of this at all, and suddenly, of course, it will just appear as we've talked about just now, and then there'll be knee-jerk reactions. So that's, that's the first thing I've been able to sort of help in pre-engagement.

Secondly, of course, is training. I'm a big trainer. I've done a lot of training. I, I must have done 3 or 4 hundred training events in the last 10 years or so I would think. Small, sometimes engagements like this on the internet. Sometimes one day, two-day courses where I've, uh, I've actually helped people. Getting, getting big teams used to what they're likely to have to do to, um, get things in order. So, yeah, that's where I've been able to help. I think also once the developments are underway and the proposed development is being put in place, things like authoring and helping authors get key messages across. Now, we haven't got time to go into all of the areas, in a short podcast like this, but some of the areas that I find some organizations fail to do, first of all, a lot of them never answer the question. I've got a great story to support that in a minute.. And secondly, they don't bring the themes across from the earlier engagement that they've had with the customer previous to the ITT coming out. Some of those winning themes that they've identified just don't flow across into the final document. Somehow it gets lost in translation. And I think that's where I've been able to help as well. Yeah. I mean, there's just a couple of things there, but like, you know, I, I could go on, but that's, that's some of the key areas I think, where I've been able to.

Pete Nicholls

Well, you certainly you've touched on some areas where if I talk specifically to proposal writers, they're just receiving the request this is a Bid that we're going to submit. So let's get started on it. And, uh, the folks who were involved early on in establishing that win themes may not even be that involved in what the proposal writers are doing. Can you think of an example of the situation where you did go in and the, uh, the hot buttons, you, you were able to establish the hot buttons and, and develop a winning theme from there? Who were you working with? What did that look like Jack and had that? How, how did it flow for you in terms of challenges and, uh, what you came across to make it work?

Jack Wills

Yeah, I can, I can think of a couple of the examples, but one, one main one I think is, funnily enough, it happened about four years, four and a half years ago now I think something like. In the nuclear industry, funnily enough, which is not renowned for, um, high-speed responses. Uh, I mean, you know, you're talking about something in the nuclear industry being procured over a period of probably four or five years or even longer. But I was called in about a year before an RFP was coming out.

First of all, I was called in as part of a government initiative to train some organizations who were pitching in that environment. And this one particular organization, you could tell that they were hanging on to every word that I had been saying during the, uh, obviously all trainers hope that people will do that when you're actually speaking to them but in this instance, it did happen. And then I was called back in by that organization and I was able to talk to the business development team in some detail, they'd had, an inkling that something was going to come out from a major procurement or authority in the nuclear industry in the UK. And we were able to shape some questions.

We were able to shape some themes that they could explore with the customer. And I'm always a great believer in intelligence gathering when you're in the pre-engagement situation. And one of the areas which I always, I always encouraged business development people to do is don't rely on the formal presentation or the formal question-and-answer situation that you go into often, you will get a lot of information from what I call carpark conversation. Which is, and by that, I mean, when you finish the organization that Pete you've been listening to me, you know, and you've been presenting to me your problem, and what have you. And I walk you back out to the car park because you're being very polite to say goodbye to me. And I say, well, that was, that was really quite interesting. So how, how has it all generally going then Pete? And you'll say, oh, well, you know, It's going all right. But if I don't get the meantime between failure statistics or these cooling pumps down by about 10% over the next three years, my job's on the line. Bingo. You then started to generate some hot buttons sort of intelligence.

And that's the sort of thing I was able to do with this organization. I was able to get them to do that. And they ended up with about four main and key hot buttons that they thought. I'm a great believer in keeping those down to about three or four, but certainly three really good ones while I'm developing a situation like that.

And then they will call back in. And you know, when you're onto a winning wicket, when you actually get called back in by the procuring authority, and they produce a specification for something that's coming out in the future. Oh, well, Jack, you know, your organization has a lot of experience in this. What do you think about this specification that we're bringing out? Well, you know, this is, this is definitely getting on the road to Nirvana and, you know, further that you're doing very well when the RFP comes out. And indeed the words that you suggested to the customer suddenly appear in the RFP, in the ITT.

So, you know, I was able in that environment because I was with them over a period of a year. I wasn't there full time, obviously, but just going in two days here, three days there, I was able to influence that intelligence gathering and it seemed to work. So when the RFP and the ITT came out, we knew what was going to be in the ITT, in the RFP concurrently of course. We had been able to do some softening up messaging with the, uh, the customer by producing things like hot papers on areas that we knew were important to them. Meantime, between failure statistics, that we were able to show that our particular bits and pieces that we were developing for this contract were more reliable than anybody else's, you know, putting out white papers, a little bit of social media work. Four and a half, five years ago, that was not so common in the Bidding environment, but you know, that sort of thing. Some 3d modeling of a piece of the equipment that we were hoping to develop for this specific opportunity that we knew might be coming down the pipeline.

The organization produces a 3d model of the piece of, of equipment that, you know, that sort of thing. Suddenly you were in a situation where, um, that the customer was feeling at ease with us. I think that's the point. So that whole pre-engagement environment never, ever, ever underestimates that. And we were able to influence that a lot.

Pete Nicholls

The carpark conversation, which I, I guess that falls outside of the formal presentation does it? Because you've got the rules around each Bidder is, has to be present at certain Q and A sessions. How does that work and how does the carpark session fit into what you're allowed to do?

Jack Wills

Well, we're all human beings. Aren't we? Pete, this is the thing. I mean, you know, I feel comfortable talking to you, you feel comfortable talking to me, but when we're in a more formal environment under procurement rules and regulations, clearly, yes, you've got to, uh, you've got to follow the rules while you're in there, but you know, we're all human beings and you know, I can tell you stories about things like evaluation. People think that evaluators don't talk to anybody while they're, uh, evaluating proposals in a room. They, they don't drink coffee. They don't take any tea breaks. They're only evaluating your proposal. Of course, they don't, they, they, they have to stop for a cup of coffee. And, you know, they'll say, Pete how are you finding all this? And you'll say, well, actually that Jack Wills proposal that's come in, I think, you know, I really think that's quite good. Whereas, you know, it's Snodgrass and company here, hmm, not sure about that. They're human beings. And so it is with the car park conversations. I mean, I'm not suggesting that anyone is ever going to break the rules. Of course, they're not, but that throwaway snippet never underestimates that, that that's, that's, that's how that works really. And, you know, don't, I always say to BD people, look, you know, you, you earn a lot of money doing what you do. Don't blow it by, uh, you know, questioning people on the way to the car park.

You know, that just normal interaction that we have missed over the last few months is really important. You know? And if you can get something going between you just to throw away line, you can, it's remarkable what people will, uh, will give you. You can, you can even pick up stuff from body language, you know, as soon as you mentioned, meantime, between failures and the person folds their arms and says, Hmm, interesting you ask that. You know, you can pick up from emotional intelligence things, which really irked customers and so on. Yeah. They're just a couple of things.

Pete Nicholls

They're hot buttons on display with a knock you a throwaway question, uh, who knows what might come out and you haven't asked anything. Yeah. So those are great examples. Can you think of a situation where you've been able to influence a customer to become more proactive when in your previous experience, they had not been?

Jack Wills

Yes, I, again, getting, well, actually going back into, into the defense environment, defense environment is quite an interesting environment to work in because the listeners out there who actually have had experience in a defense environment situations will know it's highly regulated. And it's almost impossible to break in to get details of people who are actually going to be able to influence what you're trying to do. And I was, I was able to encourage, I think is probably the right word for more oblique activity in terms of some social media campaigns, some white papers, which were appearing on websites. For example, I won't go into details of the particular contract for obvious reasons, but it involved coatings on particular pieces of equipment which were subjected to seawater. Let's just leave it like that. And, uh, you know, we, we felt in the organization that we had a really good story to tell and the way we were trying to, uh, soften up the customer or get involved with the customer early on in the process, clearly, it wasn't working.

So what I encourage them to do was to write some white papers, to do some blogs about coatings. Now, coatings don't exactly stand the most exciting things, but do you know what? If you're someone on the other side of the fence that has been told to look for coatings out there in the big wide world and suddenly a white paper turns up from an organization in the Midlands of England. And it seems to answer all the questions that you've been looking for. Well, then you're going to start to take an interest in that organization. Hey Presto, after about two or three posts and then joining some social media groups and putting some stuff up. Hey, Presto phone call comes. Oh, I hear that you've got some interesting work that you've been doing on coatings. I wonder if you could send somebody along to talk to us? You're in the lifeboat. Suddenly someone wants to talk to you. And I think that was where I was able to help in the early stages.

Pete Nicholls

That's a great example, I think where you've, you've hit a button, you hit a hot button with content.

Jack Wills

Exactly. Is he, you know, it's we, the organization knew that coating was going to be an issue. But they didn't realize it was going to be quite such a contentious issue, such a hot button, and always remember of course that the hot buttons are things that historically keep potential customers awake at night.

So if you're a procuring agency and a user say in the ministry of defense, it can be any, any organization, but say you're wanting to actually satisfy something, and you're having great difficulty in finding it, and you know, that people are putting pressure on you as an individual Pete, you know, why haven't you got anything about these, this coating organized, you know, they're putting pressure on you as an influencer.

That's probably going to cause you a bit of angst on the train, going home in the car, over a cup of coffee, or whatever. And then suddenly you find something, Hey, Presto, you know, that is a potential hot button.

Pete Nicholls

Yeah. When you know what you're looking for, the universe tends to bring it to you. So you're, you're, you're on Google and just the number of times I was looking at OKR is yesterday. I was having a conversation with a business about the difference between setting smart goals versus these objectives and key results. And Hey Presto, in my social media this morning, I'm offered a piece of content with a whole download on how to use OKR.

Now. I don't recall searching anything on Google. I just know I, the conversation, so it does make you wonder what's being listened to, but yeah, it just seems to find its way to the right people when they need the information.

Jack Wills

Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know, you can imagine for someone of my generation that this is all I find all this quite fascinating and exciting if I'm really honest, I really do. You're absolutely right. Then, you know, the whole business of just having a search agenda or something being posted out there and Hey, Presto, an algorithm picks it up and puts it in front of you the next morning. That is quite interesting. Yeah, no, I, I, I, I don't necessarily see that as threatening it depends on the social media you're using, I suppose, but say in the normal things like LinkedIn and so on, you know, these business-type things. I don't see anything sinister in that particularly, but yeah. It can be quite helpful.

Pete Nicholls

Yeah. The challenge then of taking a customer towards Bid Nirvana, the challenge you've faced in trying to instill that with clients, what's some big lessons that you've learned in trying to take customers there? I imagine it's not always that easy. What have you learned in trying?

Jack Wills

first of all, I've learned to be persistent. I think one of the great things about an older being an older consultant and being a consultant of my vintage is I actually, don't have to prove anything anymore. I, you know, and what's the worst that can happen to me. You know, if I'm on the other side of the world, what's the worst that can add to me. They tell me to go away and I go to the airport, get back on the plane, and fly home. That's the worst thing that can happen to me, but persistence, I mean, and, and encouraging people in the hierarchy of the organization to actually listen to what you are saying and showing them what the benefits are of perhaps getting some of these things organized along the way to make everybody's life a lot easier.

So that's the first thing, persistence. The second thing is, I think is encouraging people, particularly those who are not experienced in Bid and proposal development to come along on the journey with you and to motivate them. I think one of the great things that I'm able to do now, as I've got older and, and a lot more experienced is I can actually motivate people along the way to actually enjoy what they're doing rather than seeing it as a burden.

Once you get that sort of thing organized and you can get that sort of culture developing the other things like the time planning, the development of case studies, the development of financial information, the development of images that you can store as soon as you can get people to grasp and get them to see, you know, or the pennies dropping here that by doing some of this stuff up front, we can save hours on the proposal development in the future.

You know, that's, that's the sort of thing that, that is ideal. That's how you want to get people on the road to Bid Nirvana I think.

Pete Nicholls

When you get the attention of the senior teams, the benefits of becoming more proactive, have you found anything in particular that gets their interest most when you want to show them a benefit?

What kind of thing are you showing them?

Jack Wills

Yeah, like most nice people in the hierarchical structure of an organization, they respond to resource management in terms of saving money and saving time. They do respond to that. They also respond to the fact that there is a direct correlation almost between getting people on the road to Bid Nirvana and upping your win rate.

If you start to actually put some of these things in place, historical data can show can't it that, you know, the more effort you put in upfront in a, um, a Bid and proposal development situation, I, or that capture stuff that we were just talking about before, the more effort you put in there, the more likely you are to succeed.

The other thing too is to encourage them not to Bid for everything. I think that's one of them, one of the big issues I do have with some of the hierarchy in organizations, they do tend to rely on almost gin and tonic agreements. They go, they go out to I don't know, let's say they're an engineering organization. They go out to an engineering Federation dinner and dance, and they meet some of their competitors and they pick up a sniff that someone's Bidding for something. They come back into the organization and say, Pete, I've heard that Jack Wills is Bidding for this so, so, we've got to do this. This is a must-win thing for us. No analysis whatsoever. It's just a gin and tonic sort of situation where they've picked up a sniff of something that's going on and then they want to go and Bid for it.

Well, again, the listeners out they've got a lot of experience will know that the more you qualified Bids in and out and particularly out and get rid of the ones which are not strategically important to you the more chances you are, you're going to win, basically.

Pete Nicholls

It's overcoming that FOMO though, isn't it? That fear of missing out. How can we not be on it?

Jack Wills

Yeah, exactly. You do find this date sometimes within the old days, I say the old days before we actually, you know, we actually didn't go to exhibitions, but in the, in the days when we used to go to exhibitions and conferences and things, which will return, I'm sure, you know, it's, it was FOMO.

You know, we, we must have a stand at this exhibition because you know, Pete Nicholls and his gang, they're there. Why isn't Jack Wills limited there, you know? Oh, we must go. And there's no thought about it when in actual fact, you know, uh, when I was running my own business, I, I took a strategic decision early on not to go to too many exhibitions. I only went to exhibitions where I knew I could influence a customer that might be coming down the road later. And guess what? My business success was better because I didn't try and spread myself too thinly, financially and resource-wise. Yeah.

Pete Nicholls

That there's a lot too, you know, Can I ask then Jack, because you've been at this for 40 years experience in what you do in the proposal and Bid development, what is it about what you do that you find most fulfilling?

Jack Wills

Interesting. In the timeline of the 40 years when I started, of course, it was all about winning. Uh, you know, that, that was the key thing. Uh, you know, you're going to win this. You've got to win this. You must win. And as the timeline has gone along, I still haven't lost that by the way, I'm still hugely competitive. I'm still in a situation when someone says, you know, we've done all the right things and we really do want to win this. I do get really excited about it. It's the thrill of the chase for me, trying to break down the opposition and trying to weasel my way into a situation with the team where the evaluators they're going to pick my solution that's I still get a thrill out of that, but I think the thing I've I get out of it and find most fulfilling now is the sheer joy, from my perspective of explaining to people, why things should go in a particular way and how we can improve it and how we can get on this road to Bid Nirvana, and suddenly seeing the pennies drop.

Suddenly that epiphany that on the road to Damascus where they think, do you know what actually that's right. We could do this. And I really find that fulfilling. I have to say, being able to stand in front of people or talk to people like we're doing now and getting them to, to see that yeah. You know what? We can do this. And if we do this, we're going to win. I find that very fulfilling. Very fulfilling. Yeah.

Pete Nicholls

I love the change there in the timeline because it's gone from just basically win and get the motivation from that to just winning better.

Jack Wills

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Pete that's exactly right. Winning better. It's a, you know, someone said to me early on in, in my, uh, my Bid writing career and my Bid development career, do you know what? You've only got to be the best on the day. The day they open the packages or the day they download it from the portal and the day they sit in and evaluate it, your organization's just got to be slightly better than anyone else to win it. You haven't got to have everything right. But you've got to be the best on the day. And the other thing I've found over the years too is that the major organizations that I've worked for that do fail often it's because they don't actually answer the question and give the customer what they were asking for in the RFP or the ITT.

Very early on in my, uh, my career, a new thing came out in the European legislation at the time called a prequalification questionnaire. Some people may have heard of that. The PQQ. I was there when, of course, that first came in. And I remember going into a room as a consultant and sitting down and he was, to me, he was then old, he was probably younger than I am now actually. But the older Bid manager came in the room and said, well, you know, we've got to answer this thing called a PQQ. I don't know what the world's come into all that sort of thing, but yeah, we'll answer this PQQ. He said them before we start getting a small exercise for you to do. And you said on this bit of paper, I'm going to put it in front of you now don't turn it over yet. On this piece of paper that I'm giving to you. Now I've got a load of calculations, very simple calculations. The first person that gets all those 10 calculations, right. Puts their hand up. Here's a bottle of champagne for the winner.

I thought this is quite interesting. I've never seen this before. Ever been the competitor. 5 4, 3, 2, 1 go. We all turned over our paper, it was very simple. Three times, two, one plus two, and things like that. And I did the 10 calculations stuck my hand up in the air and he said, oh, I see your first good. right. Everybody finished? Right. So the first question was, um, one plus two and, uh, sorry, two plus one, it was two plus one. And I said, well, the answer is three. You said you haven't read the question, have you? So I  said, what do you mean? At the top of the paper, there was a sort of a, a sentence, one sentence only, which of course, none of us had read, which essentially said in the following calculations, the plus sign is replaced by a minus sign and the division sign is to be replaced by a times multiplication. So all of us got it wrong and his champagne was right, but you know what? That lesson stuck with me for always read the question, analyze the question, work out what it is people are looking for. 40 and 50% of organizations don't fully answer the question, in my experience.

Pete Nicholls

Absolutely. Really. Um, uh, it takes me back to some advice. Uh, I had an account think which manager told me early in my career in corporate days as a more speed, less haste.

Jack Wills

Yeah, exactly that, you know, it's sometimes, you know, I think getting back to that timeline over the 40 years that I'd done, I think when I was, well, I know when I was younger, I just used to go at it like a, like a bull in a China shop.

I'd go straight into it and so on. But you know, over the years I've realized that if you slow down a bit and take your time thinking about what you're going to do by heck, it makes,  it makes life a lot of, yeah.

Pete Nicholls

Certainly does well, Jack, it's been an absolute pleasure exploring that and unpacking Bid Nirvana. We're never going to get there, but we can try. And you've given some great tips as a wrap-up for today's show is any final valuable tip or resource that you want to point the listener to, that they could look out or take away and use today?.

Jack Wills

I think I would point them towards this whole business of pre-engagement. I think, first of all, pre-engagement, get to know your customer, if an RFP or an ITT turns up out of the blue. Now I'm not saying you, you don't go for it, of course, I'm not, this is very much a decision for individual organizations, but we know those of us. Who's been doing this a long time, that if you haven't had any pre-engagement with the customer, it's unlikely that you are going to win.

The second tip, get as much pre-preparation done on the stuff that you know is going to come up in a proposal document or answers to an RFP or an ITT over and over again, things like the financial situation, stuff that we always have to put in. Case studies, decent imagery, some flow charts and graphics that, you know, come up time and time again.

Be careful though, when you use that stuff. I mean, I, you know, I'm teaching people out there to, to suck eggs here, but be careful that, of course, you tailor that boilerplate specifically to the customer, but you'd be surprised how much time that saves you. And that really will get you on the road to Bid Nirvana without a doubt..

Pete Nicholls

Thank you for sharing that, Jack. And I'm also going to point listeners to your podcast, which is called Winning Bids and Proposals because I think what you've touched on there, I know you unpack that quite a bit in a series of shows that I've listened to. And it's also a chance to hear more, of Jack's wonderful radio voice, which I'm in awe of..

Jack Wills

Oh, are you? Because I used to be a, you know, when I was younger, I used to be a mobile disc jockey, younger listeners will not know what the hell I'm talking about, but I know they, they, they talk about DJs, but I used to go around in a van with two turntables and a load of 45's and just play them. That's just where that comes from. Really.

Pete Nicholls

That's fantastic. That's a whole other episode right there. Yeah. Jack once again, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.

Jack Wills

You're very welcome. And thank you very much for inviting me along.

Pete Nicholls

My pleasure. See you soon.

Jack Wills

See you soon.

 

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