Winning the Business

Dissecting a Procurement Monster

Dealing with a particularly ugly commercial request

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As a proposal professional, it is easy to get caught up in the emotion and drama of a poorly written request from a customer, whether an RFI, RFP, RFQ, etc.—the RFx vehicles. During a particularly ugly commercial request, when the team was asking, “Why, why, why?” the lightbulb came on, prompting us to do something different. After the submittal was done and we gave ourselves a few days to recover, we went back and did a post-mortem on the request itself. We looked through a procurement lens to address the main “why” of our pain: Why did they write it this way and expect to get what they asked for? In other words, why did it drive us so crazy?

Doing the Research

We started with APMP.org, which houses the APMP Body of Knowledge as well as artifacts of previous discussions, including topics such as applying supply chain methodologies to the business development life cycle, especially capture and proposal development. Building on those resources, we reached out to other organizations, such as the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM) and Vested®, which is affiliated with the University of Tennessee’s College of Business Administration and funded by the U.S. Air Force. With this collection of knowledge, we were ready to start our project.

There is no better time to engage customers in conversations about how they buy, why they do what they do, and what initiatives they are undertaking to improve their procurement and contracting functions.

The Aha! Moments

Wow, we learned a lot. One of the top takeaways from our research efforts was that procurement is undergoing a transformation in how it looks at, selects, and contracts with suppliers. There is no better time to engage customers in conversations about how they buy, why they do what they do, and what initiatives they are undertaking to improve their procurement and contracting functions. As proposal professionals, we can contribute to this transition through more robust conversation and activities in the capture phase—and we should hold our teams accountable for those outcomes.

We realized that we will have to gain knowledge and get comfortable with procurement’s position on why requests are issued from its particular point of view. While the business is our defined “customer,” procurement is the body through which the contract will be negotiated and the services will be delivered. Being proposal professionals, we recognize and go after any disconnects so they can be resolved as early as possible in the pursuit process, and they are most often directly tied to how the request is written.

Therefore, as part of our post-mortem activities, we used a guide that includes a spectrum of business models that should map to an RFx vehicle. We took the particularly ugly request at hand and put it against this spectrum, identifying discrepancies. If we had done this in the pursuit process, we would have had another set of questions to ask the customer and may not have bid this at all.

With our new understanding of the procurement environment, we were able to identify with the customer and comprehend why they wrote the request in the way that they did. We showed the customer the results of our activities and asked them to validate those results and provide feedback. This customer feedback—including that from the business and procurement—should lead to incorporating this as part of a collaborative lessons-learned process. For us, we are progressing toward incorporating these procurement validation checkpoints into our pursuit process to follow along with the gates, checks, and balances that are already part of our pursuit and proposal development activities.

In the end, we pinpointed what drove us so crazy about the request—and it was not all on the customer’s side.

Things to Come

Sparking great conversations within the organization, leading to improved capture activities and internal processes, is a great start, but it doesn’t have to end there. Ideally, organizations such as APMP, IACCM, and Vested should work together on how we can leverage our specialties to achieve the most productive and winning outcomes. White paper, anyone?


Karen Hansel, CP APMP, is a senior proposal manager in Marysville, Kansas, for TEKsystems Inc., a global IT staffing and solutions company. She can be reached at khansel@teksystems.com.

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