Bid/No-Bid: The Steps to Making an Informed Decision

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If you’re a proposal manager, you’ve probably heard all kinds of reasons why your firm should pursue a certain bid.

“We need to put our name in front of the client for future work!”

“My cousin’s brother-in-law knows the decision maker!”

“I went to college there. I know everything!”

At BPC Denver, Megan Large, a pursuit strategy manager at Burns & McDonnell, shared these three not-so-valid reasons for saying “yes” to a bid. She also shared something different: a roadmap for making logical bid/no-bid decisions. Using this process can boost your win rate, help you spend your bid dollars wisely and prevent the burnout that comes from having your team chase too many unrealistic bids too often. Here’s the process Large recommends.

Phase 1: Initial Bid/No-Bid

This phase takes place before an RFP has been released. It involves asking four key questions:

  • Are the client and project consistent with your business plan? If you’re not sure about the answer, Large suggests asking your leaders.
  • Can you make your desired profit? Large notes that cost is not necessarily a fixed criterion. For example, you may have decided not to chase anything under $2 million, but you may be willing to bid on a smaller project for an existing customer if you think it will strengthen your relationship with them.
  • Can you assign an appropriate project manager to the effort by the time it’s expected to start? Large suggests being brutally honest when you answer this question. Don’t just dump a name on an org chart and expect to swap that person out as needed if you get the win. This kind of “bait and switch,” Large suggests, is a straight path to losing trust with your customer.
  • Can you win? Large recommends drawing the line at bids with less than a 35% chance of winning.

If you answer “yes” to all four questions, you can pass go and collect $200. Well, actually, you can move on to the capture planning phase.

Phase 2: Capture Planning

Now that you’ve decided to move forward, you can identify your capture manager for this effort. Their job is to develop a capture plan that will drive your win strategy. They’ll also evaluate the competition using a SWOT analysis or other method. You’ll also bring in a proposal manager, and potentially some of the broader proposal team, to assist with capture discussions.

Large recommends that your capture crew meet with the potential customer at least three times to discuss the opportunity before the RFP comes out. Their goal is to develop a deep understanding of the customer’s goals, needs and hot buttons — what’s keeping them up at night. And note: Chatting with the customer in passing at an industry event doesn’t count. If you’re not meeting with the customer frequently, asking lots of questions, listening hard to their responses and crafting your solution in response, you’re not doing it right.

Phase 3: Follow-Up Bid/No-Bid

This phase kicks off when an RFP is released. If you knew the bid was coming, you’ll want to reevaluate the RFP to see if it matches what you expected. Is the project still in line with your business plan? Does it still look like you can make your target margin, or does the cost of pursuing now seem to outweigh the long-term goals or profit? Do you still think you can win?

If so, partial steam ahead — not full steam. Before you jump on the proposal train, contact your BD leader and ask two more questions:

  • Can we assign a proper project manager by the start of the assignment? (Again, implore them to be honest in their answer.)
  • Were we aware of the opportunity before the RFP was advertised? And have we put in the time required to get to know this customer?

If your answer to either of these questions is “no,” Large recommends making a hard stop. It’s a no-bid.

If the answers are “yes,” ask one final question. (We promise this is the last one.) Can your pursuit team take on another bid without falling apart?

If they’re already overextended, you may want to skip this bid, as alluring as it may seem. If you push ahead, you run the risk of submitting several subpar bids — and winning nothing — rather than submitting one or two that really shine.

In sum, a bid/no-bid decision doesn’t rest on one question alone, nor does it take place at one moment in time. Evaluate your chances of winning early and often. Be honest about whether the opportunity truly fits in with your business goals and whether you’ll have the right team to bid the opportunity and execute it when the time comes.


Samantha Enslen, CP APMP Fellow, runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides writing, editing, and design support for proposals and marketing communications. She and her team support clients in financial services, IT and consulting, healthcare and architecture/engineering/construction. Outside of work, she plays tennis competitively, reads voraciously and loves on her family daily.

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