The first wheel was created 4500–3300 BC and served as a potter’s wheel. It took around (pun intended) 300 years before someone figured out to use them for chariots.
As bid manager, you are familiar with the phrase “reinvent the wheel” and its meaning, i.e. to waste time trying to create something that someone else has already created, e.g. reference letters, company overview written for a particular industry, project methodology for implementing an ERP system, product synopsis, morsels of persuasive wisdom, etc, etc.
With the sudden change to a remote workforce, we realized the importance of collaboration in the absence of office-based interactions. In addition to companies having to adopt different business models, invent new approaches to service delivery and supply chain, proposal management and efficient collaboration became even more critical to ensure business survival.
But how do you stay on top of the sheer volume of company, product, and service information plus gather the input from subject matter experts needed to deliver winning proposals on time?
The answer is a properly curated and maintained Proposal Knowledge Library.
In her article “Content Management vs Knowledge Management: What’s the Difference?” Rachel Alexander describes it as follows:
Content management (CM) tools function as the overarching repository where companies store information. According to KMWorld, the purpose of content management is to manage projects, websites, web pages, and documents. Content management is very one dimensional
Knowledge management (KM) is more multidimensional, with the ability to search for, capture, update, and maintain relevant information all in a single platform. Anyone can curate or update information in real-time, sparking conversation and collaboration among peers and departments.
Content management and knowledge management are often used interchangeably. They are different but interconnected.
This article is not about theoretical differences or similarities. It is about knowledge put to work; getting the best knowledge to the right person at the right time to win business – while not reinventing the wheel.
A Proposal Knowledge Library (PKL) in 2021 is about the people, processes, and tools required to create, classify, share, and improve reliable and reusable content; to respond better and faster to RFPs; to do more with less, and to do it faster and to make proposal development nearly painless.
When embarking on developing a PKL, there are over one million articles on Google that can teach you how. But who has time to read all that?
Garbage in equals garbage out. In other words, when you add the wrong content to your library, you will use the wrong content in your proposals. The aim is not to have as much content in your PKL as possible as fast as possible, rather have reliable and reusable content.
Just as with a bid, before you start, you must plan.
Who, what, when, where, why, and how? The answers to these questions are basic in planning your PKL.
- Who will have access to the library? Who will have the rights to add content? Who will edit and curate? Who will own it?
- What sort of proposal content, lessons learned, best practices, customer insight will be added? What formats (locked, editable, MS Word, etc.) will be allowed? What extra security layers are needed? What process will you follow to harvest content from opportunity identification through to final submission?
- When will content be added after the initial build? When will content be reviewed?
- Where will the PKL be hosted? On a shared drive, in Google Docs, or a content management system?
- Why? If you still don’t know why you need a PKL, then you must be new to bid management.
- How will you “sell” and then implement the concept of a PKL? How will you efficiently capture, standardise, tag, and catalogue content? How do you keep it updated?
- Crawl, then walk
Curating a PKL does not have to be a daunting task. Start with the content you use most often and work your way from there. This includes:
- Company statutory information. For example, company registration documents, BEE certificate, financials, etc.
- Company profile. Have a different version ready based on the industries you work in. For example, if your company offers services and solutions in the manufacturing, health, and educational sectors, have three standard profiles ready that place priorities on each of the sectors.
- References and case studies. Customers want to know you have – successfully – done “this” before. Have your case studies ready based on your priority industries, services, or solutions. Also, keep your reference letters up to date – and remember to get your customer’s permission to use them in your response.
- Add some meat (or soybeans if you are vegetarian)
Use the most recent proposals to start gathering content. Select the best content and eliminate anything too client specific. By limiting the initial scope, you will establish the best process for your organisation and have a sense of early success.
Remove duplicate and fluffy content. Organise what remains into questions and answers or categories with content descriptions. Fix any grammar or formatting issues.
The goal is to improve performance, create value, and win business through proposals. Do everything hereon with “reusable and reliable content” in mind. In other words, make your content proposal ready.
- Ready, steady, win!
Remember GIGO? Well, this is where you ensure your content is proofed, edited, formatted (with your corporate styles), and ready for a winning proposal.
Create standards that promote knowledge repurposing. Structure your PKL according to an organizing principle and hierarchy that will save time and broaden repurposing opportunities. There are multiple ways to structure this, according to industry, business unit, customer, file type, or alphabetical.
The best way is to “work like users work” in your company and build your structure accordingly.
- How do users repurpose content?
- For what purpose?
- In what formats?
- To what degree of complexity?
Decide on the span of control you require:
- Editable content (e.g. where it contains changeable content like a customer name)
- Non-editable content (e.g. a disclaimer or confidentiality statement)
- Generic content (e.g. company overview)
Next, break your proposal into individual objects that are easy to keep up to date, like:
- Sections (e.g. a project methodology that could extend over several pages and include headings and sub-headings)
- Components (e.g. a few paragraphs)
- Portions (e.g. a section introduction or benefit statement)
Having already decided your structure of your PKL you must now categorise, tag (adding meta-data), and store your content in the PKL.
Prepare your proposal-pack templates to make building your proposal easier. Always work from the original templates to avoid formatting contamination. Your proposal pack should include:
- A proposal index
- A blank proposal template (typically MS Word) with cover page, table of content, headers, footers, and standard headings
- A cover letter template
- For hardcopy submissions, prepare a file cover, dividers, and label template
- Excel or excel?
My friends know I like to say, “horses for courses”. And the same is true when it comes to selecting technology and tools for your PKL. It depends on the size of your organisation and bid team, budget, existing platforms, and investments, and what you want to gain from a PKL.
From an award-winning product like Loopio to Dropbox, to an on-premise shared file structure and everything in between. They all have their place. Some are more manual; others are intuitive and AI-driven. Some are more user-friendly and customizable than others. Some have better search engines, security, pricing models, and after-implementation support.
You must make your decision based on what is the best current and future fit for your organisation. Get as many demos as you can handle and compare before signing on the dotted line.
Perhaps you are one of those for whom copy/paste from old proposal work. Perhaps you know exactly where to find the best write-up to describe the rapid vaporization of a liquid, which typically occurs when a liquid is heated to a temperature such that its vapour pressure is above that of the surroundings, such as air pressure?
But if you are a mere mortal bid manager yearning for a better way of doing things, then you will know a PKL delivers the following benefits:
- It saves time. A PKL delivers speed by centralizing responses and organising them with tags.
- It increases customer focus. The time saved using the answer library in the PKL is used to develop a customer-focussed proposal strategy.
- It improves your win rate. The customer-focussed proposal strategy makes you stand out from the competition, leading to a better win rate.
- It boosts productivity. Business units (including IT, HR, Legal, and Finance) contributing content to a centralised library eliminates piecing content together in silos.
Having one, up-to-date, correct, consistent version of the truth is a proposal manager’s utopia.