I read an interesting article recently that explored the relationship between technical competence, effectiveness and success. The article was specifically about the skills needed by Chief Risk Officers but the conclusions apply to all of us.
Technical competence and qualifications get you through the door. They give you instant credibility and a voice. After that, it’s a question of what personal and softer skills you can deploy. Then it comes down to your ability to communicate and influence; your curiosity and strategic thinking abilities.
A CRO can have all the technical understanding of corporate risk in the world. But if they can’t apply that knowledge to their own business, imagine how risks might evolve or, most importantly, communicate that information to colleagues and influence how they react, then they are not being effective.
There are immediate parallels to be drawn with our own careers. Our qualifications allowed us to be considered for the job. Once you’re hired it’s all down to what else you can bring to the organisation.
This is all highly relevant to the work we do with bid teams. Technical competence allows your business to be considered for a particular contract - and probably allowed you to be considered for your current role. Potential suppliers are pre-selected and deemed competent to deliver the project. So the tender process is about something else.
Business and career success are driven by more than technical knowledge.
Every discipline has become more competitive. Senior staff are expected to be effective communicators, good influencers and have the strategic vision to see how their specialist knowledge can best be deployed to support the business and its clients.
The practical difficulty comes when executives must develop these broader skills when they face unrelenting pressure to stay ahead in their profession and keep on top of other managerial and commercial responsibilities.
High Pressure Business Opportunities
The ‘must win’ business opportunity invariably has to be attacked alongside existing day job responsibilities. Finding space to recognise and develop broader communication and influencing skills is hard.
At the Bid Coach we add value by coaching individuals and their teams on how to recognise and understand their communication strengths. We help match these strengths to what their client is seeking from a potential business partner. Typically, there are too many assumptions made about the client’s perception of a potential contractor’s strengths and how those relate to their own needs. It often helps to spell everything out clearly from an independent viewpoint.
Clarity comes from a series of realistic, thought-provoking and increasingly challenging workshops. People have the opportunity to practice and refine their communication skills and behaviours in a safe, structured environment.
Individuals gain a better understanding of themselves; how they communicate, and how their communication and behaviours may be perceived by others. They can more easily recognise particular communication and behavioural styles and can adapt and respond to these in ways that are both natural, genuine and sustainable.
The environment is usually related to a specific business opportunity. But the skills delegates acquire are useful in every aspect of their professional and private lives. Feedback tells us that delegates find they become more confident in themselves, which makes them more influential, impactful and respected within their business and wider industry circles.
One of the biggest challenges we deal with at the Bid Coach is when a new JV is formed to pitch for a major contract. Individuals from different companies, often with different cultures and behavioural expectations, are expected to quickly form a coherent team in a pressurised and time-critical environment.
The fact that the procurement process for significant tenders is increasingly likely to feature behavioural assessment turns up the intensity and pressure a few more notches. The clock is always ticking. Meanwhile, this initially disparate team has to build mutual trust, develop self-awareness and prepare to perform as well as possible during a pressured assessment process.
Even where companies have worked together before (as is often the case) the individuals involved might well be new to each other. Behavioural assessment can be unforgiving when it comes to highlighting any potential inconsistencies and weaknesses.
And, since last year, we also have to do all of this remotely. To pull all of this together - without actually getting together - the process has to be highly structured, rigorous and supported with real commitment by the participants.
We recently worked through this process with a client that had formed a JV to pitch for a major facilities management contract.
How was Bid Coach involved?
Throughout the process we were careful to engender a one-team approach. Our only concern about managing the behavioural assessment coaching remotely was how lack of physical presence together during the workshops would affect team cohesion.
As it turned out, the team worked incredibly well together. I guess we’re all getting more comfortable interacting with each other remotely. The delegates’ feedback was very positive – they particularly commented on the fact that they enjoyed being challenged and stretched throughout the process to come up with ever more persuasive responses that were backed by appropriate evidence.
This summarises our approach, namely to use constructive challenge in a safe and supportive environment to build their knowledge and confidence so that they are prepared for any curve balls the procurement team might throw their way.
“Just generally the positivity and confidence you instilled in us as individuals and as a team – not sure exactly what you did to achieve this but it worked.”
“We all came a long way together - creating a proper team and not leaving anyone lagging.”
Did you read the title of this article and tune in hoping for a magic bullet that would transform every presentation and client meeting into a sure-fire winner? Sadly, life is never quite that simple. The only advice I can offer to make sure you never fail is to never set objectives for the outcome in the first place.
Fortunately (or not), this is the approach that many businesses seem to adopt - even if not by design. They don’t set objectives for what they want to get out of a client meeting so, by definition, they cannot fail. But, even if risk of failure can’t be eliminated, there are steps you can take to make it much less likely.
Most businesses find it easier to accept the need to set objectives for what they want their clients to get from meetings and presentations. Most tell me this is blindingly obvious – ‘we are just presenting a business update,’ or ‘we want to secure the contract.’ Too often they are content to leave their measurement of success at these bland and non-measurable levels.
Accurately measuring whether a session was successful from the presenter’s perspective needs far more detailed consideration. The presenter will (or should) have put a lot of effort and preparation into the session. Probably there are considerable rewards on offer to them personally or their business. Defining what success would look like calls for a detailed plan of objectives that match the importance of the event.
What Might Your Priorities Be?
When it comes to priorities and objectives, it’s impossible to generalise. They will be specific to the client, contract and the depth of your existing relationship. The sorts of things you could target are these:
Itemise what you need to achieve from the session and you can then add appropriate trigger statements or questions to the presentation or discussion.
Structure Your Desired Outcomes
Instead of coming out of a client meeting and convincing yourself that it ‘went OK,’ try to add a bit more structure to your evaluation. The way I do this is to explicitly write down what I need to achieve – probably no more than 5-8 things – sometimes fewer!
I then rank these. I set myself a base of what I absolutely ‘need’ to achieve and I expect to be successful in realizing these at least 80-90% of the time. This sets the lowest level of success I would be satisfied with. It could be whether I communicated my key messages to the audience and confirmed this based on feedback (both verbal and non-verbal) during the session.
Assuming I achieve the base level of “Must” the next level up is my “Intend” level. These objectives should be achievable anywhere between 50-30% of the time; they are becoming much more of a stretch.
Finally, I have my “Like” level. These are the things that I only succeed in getting 5-10% of the time. When absolutely everything goes to plan and the audience or client I’m with is 100% attuned to what I’m saying. You could look at this as being the ‘magic wand, all the stars aligned level.’ But it still helps to shoot for the stars.
Hopefully, this type of structure will help you plan to get more value from meetings and presentations, and have a clearer idea of whether you’ve actually made progress.
And don’t forget, the same applies to internal meetings where your goal might simply be to elevate your profile and standing with colleagues and stakeholders. Understand the outcome you want and plan how you will make it happen.
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.