On the right tracks – three things companies bidding (not just in rail) can learn from the USA - Propozition
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On the right tracks – three things companies bidding (not just in rail) can learn from the USA

What bid writers can learn from the USA rail customer experience

On the right tracks – three things companies bidding (not just in rail) can learn from the USA

Three tips for companies bidding for projects – I never imagined these would result from a rail journey in Florida. But they did. And here they are in this article – along with my take on a fresh approach to the passenger experience.
#rail #railindustry #bids railbids #bidwriting #proposalwriting #customerexperience

The best 30 minutes you can have on a train right now…happens in Florida. 

In the UK, we’re a bit sneery about the rail travel experience in the USA.  Having worked on successful rail bids for London Overground, Intercity Express Programme, Network Rail facilities management and even the Kuala Lumpur metro tunnelling contract, I therefore know how difficult it is for a rail bid team to envision and hold on to a strong proposition. In other words a proposal that is meaningful for customers, in old parlance: passengers, and if we’re being American: riders.

But American riders have something we don’t – as I discovered on a recent trip to the Sunshine State:  Brightline, a new and entirely privately-funded railway linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach (with plans for Orlando and Tampa). 

It’s like nothing we have seen in UK rail – as if people with a different mindset have shaped the experience. 

So here are three take-outs, not just for rail bidders, rail operators and the UK Department for Transport – but with parallels for any bid team in any sector:

1. Be in the ‘wrong’ industry

“Is everyone doing ok?” asks a staff member with a huge smile walking through the Fort Lauderdale pre-boarding lounge – a beautiful (Bright) WeWork-inspired space free for ALL fare classes. My ticket was just $15 and I’d be pleasantly surprised by such staff care in a British Airways business lounge on a £2.5k ticket.

Brightline have clearly decided they’re not in transportation.  They’re in hospitality – a fact subsequently confirmed by the Brightline executive I met.

Take-out 1: think like someone in a different industry to build a more distinctive proposition (preferably hiring some of those people into executive roles).

2. Give creatives a central voice

If imaginative and determined people were to design a railway, Brightline is what it would look like.  For instance, the station architecture is brilliant.  Soaring diagonal concrete frames, painted yellow – forming bright lines (yes there’s a theme)! Yellow escalators, elegant signage and branding.  Each grey leather standard class train seat features a carefully embossed diagonal bright yellow line. 

The clinking of full-size wine bottles on ice in a massive chrome tureen signals the arrival of the on-board trolley service.  The generous pour approach contrasts with the expedient miniature bottles (and plastic waste) we’re used to.  And I forgot to ask for a scented candle of the fragrance used throughout the stations which you can apparently buy.

This generosity, imagination and attention to detail was the norm, not the exception.  It’s clear that the creative-types who shaped the passenger experience had their voice clearly heard alongside the engineers, operations and finance people. 

Take-out 2: Make sure a significant percentage of the product or bid team has a creative mindset and values – or be prepared to settle for mediocrity, no clear narrative and missed differentiators.  

3. Procure for innovation

Department for Transport and procurers everywhere – a plea.  Don’t call for new ideas and then railroad bidders into what-we-have-now solutions where they are unrewarded or even penalised through non-compliance. 

Brightline still runs ‘normal’ trains on ‘normal’ tracks – but everything else about the service feels new and fresh:  the free baggage check-in, the co-branded Lyft last-mile ride-sharing and the airline-style boarding.  The experience far exceeds anything we’re used to in the UK or I’ve seen in Europe or Asia.  If the service had been bid as a franchise or concession, I expect it would have been a dull line. 

Take-out 3: Procurers should test their tender structure and scoring against some left-field ideas to make sure innovation can be positively rewarded – before the tender request is issued.

To conclude: I don’t know if Brightline’s model is financially sustainable.  They have work to do around marcomms (my unscientific pole of Miamians showed low awareness of the line) and line trespass seems a serious issue.  And it is also unclear how Virgin Trains’ announced involvement will enhance Brightline’s fresh and tightly integrated brand.

But there are a lot of things that Brightline has done differently and ‘done right’.  Their decision to go down a different track could inform not just how rail (including high speed) could be reimagined here but also signal an approach that could win bids in unrelated sectors. 

The Department for Transport, the UK rail industry and perhaps bidders everywhere should get on board.

And as the platform announcer said: “Have a Bright day!”

Go back to the LinkedIn article to comment.

Jonny Sherwin is managing director of Propozition which helps companies develop successful rail bids and those in construction, facilities management and more. 
We help bid teams write clear, persuasive proposal documents and deliver compelling presentations that achieve high evaluation scores.  Over 17 years our client engagements supported £3.5 billion of work-winning with a win rate exceeding 80%.