Let’s face it… Bid Writers and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can sometimes experience a love-hate relationship. When two experts in their fields join forces, coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, sometimes the sparks can fly for all the wrong reasons.
When SMEs join forces with Bid Writers, it should be a collaborative relationship that creates a better outcome than either can achieve on their own. What the client is looking for is a robust and comprehensive technical answer that is easy to read, easy to understand, easy to score and convinces them that we solve their problems. And what both the SMEs and the Bid Writer want is to come out on top in the client’s evaluation. With this in mind, the partnership between SME and Bid Writer should be reasonably straight-forward.
But unfortunately, the relationship is frequently complicated by ego, misunderstanding and fear. In this blog, we outline 5 tips for easing the tension and smoothing the relationship, at least to the point where the SME and the Bid Writer can work together and achieve their common goal.
Just recently, I had the opportunity to work with a fantastic team on a must-win major. The whole team embraced my colleague and I and jumped in boots and all to work with us to put together their best ever proposal. Except for one SME who was openly hostile and dismissive. Not to worry; I’d been there before.
Obviously, I acted professionally, pleasantly and calmly because I knew that butting heads with him or trying to boss him around wasn’t going to work. I needed to show him how I would assist him, add value to his work and complement what he was doing, and I also needed to convince him that he was in control of his documents and would still be the arbitrator of the content.
While on day 1, he’d been rude and condescending, by day 3, we were sharing podcast recommendations and eating lunch together and he was praising me for ‘working my magic’ on his technical content.
How did this happen? How did an SME who was so against the thought of collaborating end up… collaborating?
One word – TRUST.
And here’s how it was built.
Rule Number 1: Establish the Basics
From the get-go, you must establish with your SME how you will both contribute to this process. What are your collective and separate responsibilities? How and when will you work together? How often and where will you meet? How will your SME provide technical input? Will they provide you with a soft or hard copy of written notes or would they prefer it if you were to type while they dictate? As early as you can, make sure that deadlines are set for each action item, ensuring that the overall submission stays on track and all parties remain committed to the bid.
Rule Number 2: Manage Expectations
Ironically, while many SMEs are adamant that a Bid Writer cannot provide technical input, they often expect you to pull content out of somewhere… It must be made clear to the SME that their technical input is crucial for you to be able to ‘wave your magic wand’ and turn it into something even more compelling.
SMEs also frequently expect to brain dump their first draft which you will then somehow turn in to a perfect finished product overnight. (And look out if you dare make a mistake or misinterpret something they’ve said! Some SMEs are just itching to show that you’ve undermined the technical integrity of their document or somehow ruined their technical work.) Here’s where managing expectations are crucial.
Firstly, make sure they understand that the process is an ongoing, iterative process. In a large-scale tender, you’ll probably collectively work on dozens of versions of the document, and probably go through at least 3 formal reviews, with several other peers providing feedback. We often describe the process similar to baking a cake with multiple stages from getting the ingredients out on the bench, right through to decorating the cake. The SME’s job isn’t over just because they’ve put half of the ingredients on the bench.
Secondly, emphasise that it’s a team effort and that you’ll be working together to develop the best proposal. Try to set a culture of learning and supporting, rather than blaming or criticising. There will inevitably be times when mistakes are made, on both sides, and it is far more productive and pleasant to work in an environment that works through errors with a growth mindset rather than try to point the finger and find blame. At Aurora Marketing, we like our analogies so we have an analogy about sanding a coffee table that explains why perfection takes time and multiple passes.
Rule Number 3: Focus on the End Goal
It helps to keep reminding your SME that you’re in this together and only a joint effort will boost your chances of creating a winning submission. Keep both parties accountable by scheduling regular check-ins with one another, working together to overcome any hurdles which might be delaying progress.
Rule Number 4: Establish a Common Ground
Especially when working together over a long period of time, getting to know each other is an essential part of bonding and building rapport. Sharing a little about you and encouraging others to do the same is a great ice breaker and may reveal hobbies or interests in common. The stronger your relationship, the more productive you will be.
Rule Number 5: Make their Lives Easier
Importantly, be as helpful and easy to work with as possible, and bring enthusiasm and energy to the process. In the case of my SME above, our turning point was when I helped him brainstorm a tricky returnable and complemented his domain expertise with my broader industry experience. It was a great example of collaboration and together we developed an innovative approach for the client. He was then open to the idea of content analysis and cooperated more enthusiastically as I started asking questions to understand the technical solutions and where we might be able to invest more time in differentiating ourselves. Before the end of the session, he had called in the rest of the SME team to share what we had developed and encouraged them to get started with their content analysis too.
So, to cut a long story short, my SME and I lived happily ever after and we have enjoyed a long-term productive relationship. I enjoy learning from him and respect his technical mind and strategic focus; and he appreciates the way I can add a different angle to his thinking and ultimately transform his content in to compelling and persuasive responses that receive great feedback from his clients.