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Responding to bids is not a one-person job, and it never can be. While a bid manager must effectively collaborate with several technical and functional subject-matter experts (SMEs), it is evident that the solution lead, too, plays a critical role in developing technical solution strategies aligned with customer needs.
Broadly speaking, technical SMEs are often named according to their area of expertise, for instance, Python SME or Java SME. These experts display in-depth technical knowledge and have a hands-on approach; they are not expected to provide strategic direction. Solution leads, on the other hand, have a broader understanding of technology and focus on the strategy. Sometimes during bid development, bid managers can be unsure of how to effectively leverage the solution lead to bring about the best tactical positioning. At the same time, the solution lead can feel puzzled about what is expected from them throughout the process.
Here are some ways a solution lead’s experience can be tapped into during the bid process. These considerations are based on my years of experience as a bid and proposal manager in various multinational organizations.
1. Solution leads can define the overarching solution.
While in many pursuits you may have multiple SMEs catering to different areas such as development, maintenance, application porting, etc., the lead solution architect should perform a detailed brainstorming for an integrated “to-be” solution, covering all the technology areas for the entire scope. The “as-is” state of a process describes how the process currently operates. The “to-be” state, on the other hand, is the future state of a process after you have implemented the proposed solution.
This brainstorming can help draft an overarching winning technical solution strategy that includes “as-is” and “to-be” architecture, delivery model, delivery locations and solution building blocks, etc.
Additionally, the lead solution architect can outline how the overall solution roadmap will look over the years and how the client will evolve with the proposed solution. A solution strategy must be customer-specific, based on the client scenario and system complexity, and it must keep competitors in mind as well.
2. They ensure client pain points are addressed in the solution.
The client will usually convey the challenges they’re facing or the drivers behind floating the RFP. A solution lead must thoroughly investigate these pain points by analyzing the situation and comparing it to previous client projects that faced similar challenges, and then highlighting how they overcame those. A comparable case study from the past will not just help provide a better solution; by including it in the proposal response, it will give the client a boost of confidence that you understand their situation and know how to tackle it.
At times, there will be situations or issues that are unique to the customer. In those cases, the solution lead must analyze the best solution available internally or on the market, ensuring it is best suited to the customer’s needs as well as accredited by external advisory research companies (such as Gartner, Inc.).
3. They can integrate response content from different technical teams.
Another important role the solution lead should play is reviewing technical proposal response content and “stitching” the pieces together.
RFPs can be complex and involve multiple organizational units. These units help respond to the sections that cater to their technology/scope area. For example, an organization may have different business units for SAP, JAVA or Oracle services, so these three teams will get involved in writing the response for their respective units.
While all these units work in close collaboration, it can be expected that writing style, level of technical details and use of tools, examples and accelerators (tools that reduce or automate routine tasks) may drastically differ. The situation worsens when, as a reader or client, you feel the proposal has been written by completely different teams, which gives the notion that it was produced in silos.
To avoid this kind of situation with the customer, the solution lead must review the end-to-end solution story to ensure consistency among the different sections of the technical responses provided by each team. Winning themes, level of technical details, use of graphics and case examples, etc., should be cohesive and in line with the overall technical solution. While a bid manager also plays a crucial role in this part, technical review of the response document can’t be ignored by the solution lead.
4. Solution leads differentiate technical solutioning.
Merely addressing client pain points in your solution is not enough; it is imperative to bring your solution differentiators into the picture because it’s a highly competitive game and, nowadays, competitors can bring in their own products, IPs and assets to win the bid.
One of the key steps in this activity is doing a technical SWOT analysis of the competition (keeping in mind the scope of the work you are responding to), which gives a clear picture of where your organization stands. Some of the key measures that can be considered in this step are:
- Downplaying competitor perceived strengths in solutioning and emphasizing your solutioning strengths. It would be an advantage to substantiate facts by including research reports or external article links, etc., to support the claim.
- Including tools, IPs, assets and accelerators that are unique and explaining how they can benefit the customer. Tools and accelerators are certainly areas where customers are keen to look into; back it up by examples or snippets of past experiences about how you delivered benefits to similar customers.
A solution lead on the pursuit team is usually the most senior person with extensive experience and insights on the latest developments in technology solutions. They are key in truly understanding client pain areas and helping to develop a winning tactical solution.
Vaibhav Gupta is an APMP member and a seasoned bid manager. He works in a French IT services organization, with a focus on pursuit management and strategy building. Gupta is also an avid writer and pens articles in his free time. He can be reached on LinkedIn.