A bids career is a less trodden path than a career in marketing. But that might be starting to change.
After all, bid writers and managers use a very similar skillset to marketers – albeit with a clearer view of their target audience – usually a few key people in an organisation. And bids teams are often keen to hire people with marketing backgrounds.
To get deeper insights, we caught up with Jill Want, Head of Bids for Europe and Middle East, Savills, who made the switch from marketing to bids earlier in her career.
“It’s a more tailored type of marketing”
Bids roles broadly involve creating proposals to win specific projects or areas of highly specialised work.
That process involves a great degree of strategic thinking, developing clear messaging, using creative flair, attention to detail and multi-tasking – all skills any company would look for from a marketer too.
But our discussion with Jill highlighted some fascinating ways in which bids are different to marketing – and in her opinion, more exciting and fulfilling.
Above anything else, she highlighted how marketing had always felt less precise; she was communicating from ‘one to many’.
Bids, meanwhile, has always felt satisfyingly focused; you’re communicating on a much more individual level - one to a few key decision makers.
Essentially, every bid is carefully and lovingly tailored for a very small audience – and that requires not just marketing savvy but a deep understanding of not just the firm you are bidding to but the individuals that are reading the bid. “You’re a detective as much as you’re a marketer”, as Jill puts it.
And let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of detective work sometimes?
Jill referenced scenarios in which finding out about the specific interests and characteristics of the people reading the proposals made a huge difference. You are always aiming to delight them by really understanding not just the opportunity but their specific needs. Like a great personal shopper that finds just the right item for you, compared to a general marketing leaflet that just doesn’t!
For analytical marketers who enjoy segmenting audiences and tailoring messaging, creating bids could be an extremely satisfying process.
“You work with everyone. You learn so much, so quickly”
What is abundantly clear is that in bids, every day is different.
You work on a number of different bids at the same time. And as you create those bids, you have to work with a number of different internal teams.
“You get the support of everyone, and you learn from them”, Jill says. “Researchers, designers, PR, business developers and the marketing team! – you draw on all of their skills, and that means you’re constantly learning”.
It all comes back to the fact that a winning bid is a personalised one – it must show that your organisation truly understands the brief and the client. To make that possible, you need everyone’s input.
“That’s why, more than anything else, you have to be personable and a great communicator for this job.”
She also notes that a bids team is vital for business improvement; you can learn a great deal from the bids you win and don’t win. You need to collect feedback and channel it back across to the other areas of business development, so that next time you are or remain the best.
If you thrive in environments that are both challenging and truly collaborative, a career in bids might be the ideal fit.
“I get to be analytical as well as work with teams. I love that”
Ultimately, what puts a skip in Jill’s step is the fact her job allows her to pair two of her core attributes: being analytical but being personable too.
Jill enjoys digging into the detail and crunching the numbers. But she also loves the strategic and relationship management that the job demands – and how much contact she has always had with people at every level of the business.
For better or worse, there’s no hiding in a bids role.
You have to be tenacious and enthusiastic, but organised and analytical. You have to be a great talker, and an even better listener. If you aren’t a multi-tasker when you arrive in a bids team, you will be once you’ve settled in.
And because of the range of core skills you need to flourish, Jill noted some other professionals who could excel in bids.
“Accountants, legal professionals, business developers and salespeople too. They all have skills you need in bids, so it’s just a question of developing the other attributes once you’re here.”
Jill’s career, encompassing roles at companies like KPMG, BDO and now Savills, has gone from strength to strength – but began with marketing positions at CFM, a marketing agency and GE Capital.
So, ultimately, what has she preferred: marketing or bids?
“For me, bids wins hands down It’s strategic, creative, fast-paced and fun!”.
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