The role of the Sales Account Manager in bidding

In Sally’s excellent article on bid management she makes it clear what the bid manager has to achieve to ensure the proposal containing the bid that goes to the prospect maximises the chances of winning the work.

It is not uncommon to find sales people who see a bid management function as the “sales prevention” department. The feeling is that “these people” just delay things, increase the quotation and the timescale of the project and generally make it harder to win the work. However, rather than being the enemy of the sales person they are a crucial component of a winning team.

So are feelings that the bid management function is the “sales prevention” department justified?

Regrettably such feelings almost always stem from poor selling rather than poor bid management. If, to improve their chances of winning the work, the sales person has given assurances and made commitments to the prospect which cannot be delivered, then the bid team will indeed present problems for that sales person. The bid team is responsible for producing bids with the optimum chance of winning the work but they also have the responsibility for producing bids that are an honest representation of the solution the prospect needs including how long it will take to complete and how much it will really cost.

So what can the sales person do to make bid management a valuable selling aid?

The first thing to do is to recognise that with or without a bid management function, misleading a prospect (and hobbling your delivery teams) is never going to be a successful selling technique. It might win a particular piece of work, although less likely these days as decision makers are better informed, but it certainly won’t create a customer for life if they find the solution is not what they need and/or that it takes longer and costs more than the proposal suggested. This is bad; both for future business potential and the supplier’s reputation.

So let’s think positively about bid management and use it as the selling asset that it is.  The main things for the sales person to do are:

  1. Ideally when joining the company the sales person will have gone through a thorough induction which will have included some sessions with bid management and delivery. I would also recommend that each new recruit spends some time in the bid management department observing what actually happens. If this has not happened then sales people should seek out the bid manager and organise a session for themselves.
  2. As a result of the above, the sales person will understand what the bid manager needs to complete their part of the selling process and will be able to conduct their selling activities to create a seamless handover with bid management. In her article Sally said “At the discovery stage the bid manager acts as a “Capture Manager” ensuring all relevant information is stored …” If the sales person understands what constitutes “relevant information” they can structure their prospecting activities to collect or make easily available that relevant information.
  3. Sally also said “Frequently the bid manager acts as the sounding board for the sales account manager and interfaces with marketing, commercial, legal and other supporting functions.” The sensible sales person will understand how useful the bid manager can be as that sounding board. By discussing the opportunity with the bid manager, involving a delivery representative too, before the formal bidding stage has been reached, the sales people can equip themselves to shape and steer the prospect towards a winning frame of mind. For example; if the discussions reveal some things that may be difficult to deliver and others that would be beneficial but that have not been specified by the prospect the sales person is better equipped to set the expectations of the prospect in terms of what the eventual solution might look like.
  4. Two very powerful selling tools that are very close to our hearts at Performative are Qualification and Quantification. The former is used to drive the process of developing an initial contact through the stages of; suspect, prospect and eventually to customer. The latter is the process of assessing an individual opportunity in terms of its probability as a successful bid. Taken together these two tools help the sales person ask structured questions which gather the crucial information required to develop a winning bid. It is clear that the bid manager can make a major contribution to the sales persons’ decisions on what questions to ask and when so as to elicit the required information.
  5. The final point is to recognise that the bid manager will have access to different people in the prospects’ organisation e.g. technical staff and purchasing/procurement staff. These people will be a part of the prospect’s decision making unit and will have varying degrees of influence over the decision. As a result, the bid manager must be seen as an extension of the sales persons’ front line selling activity not just a back-room administration function. This is a case for team selling where the sales account manager and the bid manager should become an inseparable double act.
Image provided to Microsoft Clip Art by A Bit Better Corporation

A winning combination!
Image courtesy of Microsoft Corp

In summary, treat the bid management function as your ally; it will enhance the strength of your selling efforts if you work together. If a bid review does expose that the prospect’s budget is too low or the timescales impossible, the sales person will gain the opportunity to go back before the bid is submitted and discuss the true position with the prospect. This may result in losing some deals but you would most likely have lost them anyway once the bid was submitted. It is probable that some will appreciate the honesty and diligence and give the work to the supplier who provides the right solution even though they are not necessarily the cheapest or fastest.