By Ruba Qaqish
Knowledge management is often mistakenly thought of as information and data management, but it is different. Generally speaking, knowledge management means getting the best knowledge to the right person at the right time. In business development it is the culture of creating, classifying, sharing, and improving the knowledge a company needs to win business.
This knowledge becomes crucial when you are preparing proposals or negotiation arguments, whether the proposal is unsolicited after a conversation with a client or a response to a request for proposal (RFP). You need to get the information you require before the deadline (i.e., quickly) and you want that information to be accurate and current.
Knowledge management processes eliminate work duplication, reduce search time and, if information is kept current and ready for repurposing, improve quality.
The goal of knowledge management is to help individuals and organizations improve performance and create value. In the world of proposals it can be summarized as capturing, standardizing, cataloging, and reapplying proposal content, best practices, customer-related knowledge, deal-crafting expertise, and lessons learned – efficiently, easily, and appropriately – so that the information can be applied to the next opportunity.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
Business culture is competitive by nature, both internally and externally, and does not welcome knowledge sharing, let alone knowledge management. So how can a company create a business culture that embraces knowledge management? We first need to look at the main roadblocks that may prevent that from happening:
- It can be difficult to determine which pieces of information are knowledge assets that are worth retaining and sharing from the massive volume of information your company has available.
- Subject matter experts (SMEs) recognize that their knowledge and skills determine their value to their company. When they share their knowledge, they fear they dilute their value.
- Knowledge may be stored in previous proposals, brochures, project reports, and company processes. Finding information is not easy. So everyone ends up protecting the information they have. They store it in individual libraries that are easy for them to navigate and, of course, are accessible only to them.
- SMEs are not aware that other team members need the knowledge they have, and those who need it don’t know that the SMEs have it.
- Team members don’t know how to share the information they have because there is no process in place designed for that function that clearly and meaningfully defines the standards for, and flow of, knowledge.
- Business development teams prefer to receive and learn information in snippets, getting results as they do from a search engine. The closer the presentation of information is to a search engine model, the better it will be received.
ACHIEVING A KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT CULTURE
Now that we have identified the challenges, here’s what your company can do to achieve successful knowledge management:
- Encourage knowledge sharing, and reward employees who adopt the idea. SMEs will be willing to share their knowledge if you communicate to them the huge value that doing so has for the success of the company. Guarantee them that sharing will not jeopardize their position or value. Start with the influencers and early adopters and the others will follow.
- Create a simple process for knowledge sharing, and start simply, perhaps with two or three RFPs that you know have great content. Divide that information into separate knowledge pieces and put them in categories that are easy to find. Update these pieces of information so they are general and not specific to a certain client.
- Make sure your knowledge pieces are valuable assets that will improve efficiency and effectiveness.
- Store everything in one place and one place only. You do not want to send people to multiple places to look for information – that will frustrate them and they will stop both sharing and using the stored information.
- Regardless of the tool you use to share information (content/document management systems, workflow systems, planning software, customer relationship management software, etc.), make the structure simple to use, with as few clicks as possible, and communicate the structure clearly.
- Agree on a tagging/naming system for information pieces so people can find what they need easily. Indexing and powerful searching are key. You can have a glossary of terms to help with file tagging.
- Communicate the process, the tools, and the rewards and keep doing that until it becomes part of your company’s culture.
THE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL PROCESS: CONTINUOUS UPDATES
A knowledge management process will not provide its expected value if it does not provide the most current knowledge. Product and service life cycles are becoming shorter; what you were promoting last year is not what you are providing today. Don’t approach your customers with last year’s information while your competition is providing their latest innovations. In RFP responses, the content of your proposal is what your company is being judged on and it’s what determines whether you make the short list. Your proposal content can have a significant influence on whether you win.
Quarterly (or at least annual) review cycles are a great way of keeping knowledge current. Scheduled reviews ensure content is continuously revisited and updated and stale information is moved out of the way. This keeps the knowledge clear, concise, and easy to find and ensures that only the most current is shared internally and with customers. Be clear about who is responsible for updating what. A divide-and-conquer approach can be very helpful and will make the update process easier and more pleasant for everyone.
WINNING WHILE REDUCING COSTS
By enabling the capture and reuse of knowledge, knowledge management processes eliminate work duplication, reduce search time and, if information is kept current and ready for repurposing, improve quality.
Every RFP you respond to has an upfront cost. Ultimately, the goal is to minimize this cost. Asking SMEs to respond to the same questions over and over again or making the proposal team spend time digging through previous RFPs for an answer they’ve used before means you’re losing valuable time and as a result, increasing your costs. Having a knowledge management process will help minimize the cost of responding.
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IS FOR EVERYONE
Proposal teams do not operate in isolation. They are part of the bigger business development cycle and their proposal success depends on the knowledge they receive from the other business development teams (sales and marketing) and project teams (the best referral source of repeat business).
While a knowledge management process can start with the proposal team, it can easily extend to other teams. Each team can have access to its own knowledge system and be responsible for keeping it current. This will ensure a company-wide system with a managed overlap of knowledge so everyone can get to the information they need when they need it.
Top management commitment and sponsorship is key for the success of knowledge management adoption. Success will stem from the process and incentives that management communicates to foster a knowledge sharing environment. Emphasize that information sharing makes a better team and a better company and gives you an edge over the competition, leading to winning more business. Reducing cost and improving quality and efficiency are significant by-products.
Start small with a low-cost initiative and promote knowledge repurposing. IT can help deliver and simplify knowledge management, but technology alone will not get people to share what they know. Changing the company culture will.
First published in the December 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.