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A Conversation with Proposal Professional: Jeremy Steward

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Cheryl Smith



6 min

At this year’s APMP BPC in Dallas, May 22 – 25, Xait’s client panel talked about how innovative technology is increasing their productivity, reducing their stress, and helping deliver more with the same staff.

Recently, we caught up with one of our client panelists, Mr. Jeremy Steward, Commercial Manager at Sulmara Subsea, for a look at how technology is helping him overcome proposal team challenges.

What proposal team challenges are you looking to address?

I was a previous user at Oceaneering and coming to Sulmara I saw a lot of the same fundamental software issues organizations encounter; SharePoint, Dropbox, conflicting copies, trying to track who did what, resulting in excessive time spent adjusting formatting, table of contents and various references throughout the document. These issues increase exponentially when working with multiple users globally, especially post pandemic when many users are working remotely. As a commercial manager, my focus needs to be on the project, timeline, pricing, executive reviews/approvals and terms and conditions.

With XaitPorter, I saw the opportunity to streamline the multi-contributor, collaborative and iterative aspect of our bids, eliminate the bottlenecks and deliver higher quality proposals. Our work is typically seasonal and as such, many proposals come in around the same time. Working with a smaller commercial team, we must be as efficient as possible to allow us to respond to multiple tenders at the same time. With XaitPorter, we can keep pace, expand, and help Sulmara grow.

How does roll-out and user adoption go?

We’re in the early stages and trying to take full advantage of functionality. We are currently working on internal standard operating procedures (SOPs) to aid the rest of the team into an easier transition. As with anything new, many people are reluctant to just jump in, however with something like XaitPorter you can just jump in, but you do need to understand a few of the fundamentals.

We have quite a few Word experts/wizards in the group so establishing the understanding that Xait is not Word, and its database driven benefits require a bit of an internal paradigm shift. Everyone already appreciates the advantages that Xait offers, fundamentally, we just have to get everyone past the fear of the unknown/something new. Ultimately, Xait will allow us to save time and focus on content, which is imperative to project awards.

What efficiencies are you seeing?

The commercial process is based on approval levels which are based on a combination of risk, innovation, and overall monetary values of each project. For example, offshore weather is a factor and researching empirical weather information for any given region while attempting to remain competitive takes time. Since I’m not busy with Word and formatting, I can focus on the risks, budget, and pricing, and hammering these points home in the executive summary.

For the experts, we’ve bought them more time to write and their changes are tracked so we can give the client a summary of changes between versions, when required. For the executives, we’ve bought them more time to consider the strategy, weigh the risk and the return. That’s a big win. That’s buy-in.

What advice do you have for someone looking at innovative technology for the proposal team?

XaitPorter is easy to adopt and embrace. If you remember Covey’s second habit, begin with the end in mind, that’s a good place to start. Do we want to keep fixing the formatting with every iteration, or do we want to focus on the content that will possibly result in a project award? Do we want to be formatting and binding volumes of bids at 2 am? Or do we want to create a work/life balance to keep our teams engaged?

Understand how you’ll increase efficiency and propagate that to your team. For example, we’ll save time because the system sets up the documents for us and we’re writing and reviewing in parallel. We’ll save money because we aren’t constantly adjusting staffing and utilizing contractors to accommodate a capricious industry while still allowing our company to keep pace and grow.

You have to get your team out of the mindset of, “We’ve always done it this way!” by first getting them to understand that this isn’t Word. When you show your team what the future looks like, working collaboratively when it’s convenient for them, seeing the document in the exact submission format, it’s easy for them to understand how they’ll be successful.

I understand one of Sulmara’s goals is to go green?

In 2020, Sulmara became the first carbon negative survey company by reducing and offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions. Sulmara joined The Climate Pledge on June 28th, 2021. Sulmara continues to bring sustainable and innovative solutions to the offshore energy sector through service offerings like remote processing and the use of uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) for data acquisition.

While the environmental focus was a big part of my decision to move to Sulmara, the team skills and leadership vision were what made the move a no-brainer. Everyone kept telling me that Sulmara did not want to be just another survey company but an industry innovator. I suggested that if we were going to approach the industry differently through innovation, then we should do everything differently, including our internal processes like commercials.

If we are going to put our focus and efforts on reducing our carbon footprint to sustain life on this planet, then let’s make sure it’s a life worth living. We can help ensure that type of life by providing our people with efficient technologies that allow for better work/life balance.

How was your visit to APMP BPC in Dallas?

I’ve gone in the past, to the San Diego conference where I got certified. This year it was eye opening. Being in the offshore survey world, the idea of having a separate commercial team was new to me. You mean I’m not managing the project I just bid? I had to learn to stay in my own lane, but what is my value?

I used to perceive trades like plumbers, electricians and carpenters as a viable skill set that could be used anywhere. But commercial? That's not a vocation. If my neighbour needed a plumber and I had that skill set I could put it to use, but what does a commercial person offer, a cool spreadsheet? Going to the Bids and Proposals conference was inspiring and re-engaged me in my commercial role.

The APMP conference helped me to understand that there are a ton of people out there who have successful careers in the commercial space. I also began to understand that my commercial skills apply to other industries. I am somebody. I am not part of an ancillary service, but a critical role in any given organization. The commercial team is not a documentation assembly line, but the tip of the spear that helps to bring work to the organization.

I love to strategize and write, to put myself in the client’s shoes. Am I communicating a clear and concise message? Will the client believe we can do what we say we do? That’s the experienced human factor.

What advice would you give to people considering this career field?

It’s a deadline-driven world so expect some stress. You have to love organization and attention to detail. There is always anxiety, like wondering what you missed, and being proactive is the key. I love the connection, the synergy, the energy, the creativity. There’s nothing like jumping on a big bid and working back and forth with the team, playing to each other’s strengths to ensure we are putting our best foot forward. Let’s think tank this and blow them away. And there is nothing like when that big job is awarded.

No matter how much technology we have or what service or product we offer, each company is only as good as our people. Without them you have no brand, no product, and no service. When I’m training and coaching, I’m grooming my replacement.

I’ve let people know once they have acquired all the skill sets needed to be successful in their position, the only thing they lack is time in title as I cannot train on every possible scenario, that only comes with experience. XaitPorter allows me to run efficiently, which helps provide me the time to nurture talent while continuing to grow the business.

Thank you for joining us today Jeremy – we enjoyed learning more about your commercial process and how XaitPorter is helping you save time for more bids and a healthier work/life balance.

Related articles: Co-Authoring for Proposal Managers

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Cheryl Smith

Cheryl Smith is our Senior Content Writer. She has additionally been writing and managing proposals since 1998. Shipley trained, she has helped establish proposal centers and advised on capture strategy, coached orals teams and lead marketing, communications and knowledge management programs. Cheryl is a graduate of The George Washington University with degrees in Theatre, Communications and Literature. When she’s not sharing her passion for work, she loves drawing, writing, cooking and exploring the Virginia woodlands with her husband, their dog Chase and the fuzzy guests they host for Rover.

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