In the Beginning: Keeping the Sanctity of the Kickoff Meeting

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In the beginning…

We know this story, right?

In the beginning, the solicitation drops, everyone goes wild, and the proposal manager holds a kickoff meeting almost immediately.

Are all (and only) the relevant people at the table? Has everyone read the solicitation carefully and digested the compliance matrix and its implications? Do they understand what it will take to not only be compliant, but also responsive to the client’s needs and pain points? Are all contributors aware of their assignments and deadlines? Do they understand the competitive landscape and the company’s key selling messages?

Of course not. There was no time.

Yet, the APMP Body of Knowledge recommends that kickoff meetings occur 15% of the way into the response timeframe. For a two-week turnaround, this means day two or three. For a 30-day turnaround, this means day four or five. For a 45-day turnaround, that’s day six or seven. In other words — not right away!

The first few days between the solicitation’s publication and the kickoff meeting are sacrosanct hours of concentrated productivity for the proposal manager. They give them the space to absorb the solicitation; develop a realistic and effective proposal calendar; create a reliable, clear compliance matrix; assemble a relevant, cost-effective team; and troubleshoot any immediate challenges. The proposal manager can review work done during capture and identify information or materials that should be built upon or considered, in addition to making sure that work doesn’t get lost or ignored. Ideally, the proposal manager would even have the time to identify pitfalls or hurdles this proposal might face, compile lessons learned from past bids and identify opportunities the proposal team could leverage.

Company or business development leadership should also take the time to thoroughly read the solicitation, most notably the evaluation criteria. Assuming the company has already deliberated and decided to pursue the bid, has it done what is necessary to identify and free up resources to put together a winning proposal?

Contributors should read and reread the solicitation. They should also read other materials that shed light on client needs and sensitivities (for instance, policy frameworks of government clients). Cost volume leads can research the company’s past bids’ price offerings to this particular client or on similar projects, and compare those to the winning offeror’s, if that information is available. The writer should craft a draft proposal outline, noting page limits and requirements in each section, to ensure a compliant submission.

In other words, the first few days provide quiet time for everyone to read, reflect and prepare for a productive kickoff meeting, for it will serve as the foundational building block for the rest of the proposal development process. At the meeting, the proposal manager should set the tone (of preparation, determination and professionalism) for the rest of the team. They will show the team, very concretely, what the client expects in a deliverable, and what the company should expect the team’s submission to look like, say and convey.

From there, the proposal manager will assign and clarify team roles, provide instructions on the technology to be used (i.e., shared folders), set expectations regarding timelines for every contributor and answer questions. They will relay relevant information from capture or other research so that all team members are on the same page as they begin diving into the bid in earnest.

Rushing into kickoff meetings wastes time and resources, and demoralizes team members right when they should be getting excited about a bid. When a kickoff is held too soon, the proposal manager and team members are unprepared for the hands-on, task-oriented huddle that a productive kickoff meeting should be. Team members leave unsure of their role, leading to duplication of effort or tasks left undone. Contributors start drafting sections of the proposal without a clear understanding of the client’s needs, requirements or relevant context. Opportunities for strategic partnerships are bungled, resources are squandered, and details can be missed. Bottom line: The company is at a risk for submitting a non-compliant or non-responsive bid.

So, proposal managers: Take control of and defend this time! While team members read and reread the solicitation, connect and collaborate with relevant colleagues to develop an accurate compliance matrix, a detailed calendar, a proposal outline, and a draft executive summary and/or a list of win themes for your technical and cost volumes. Set up the technological platform your team will need to effectively collaborate. Gather relevant examples of successful past bids or lessons learned from unsuccessful ones. Anticipate questions and concerns from your team and research answers to them. This all takes time, so claim it, guard it, and when you emerge equipped to lead your kickoff meeting, your team will recognize your professionalism, match your dedication and follow you through the fire.

Miriam Ganem-Rosen is the associate director of business development for the West Africa and Middle East Regional Office at FHI 360 in Washington, D.C. She was previously a senior proposal manager at FHI 360, overseeing capture and proposal development, helping teams deliver compliant and competitive proposals to government, non-profit and private funders. Other experience includes international program management and grant writing.

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