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Campaigns to respond to an RFP generally start well, with an excellent product to offer, good people on the team, a sound process and a known turnaround time. The capture lead convenes a kick-off meeting early in the first week, in which all the people, processes and key deadlines are introduced, and then the team disperses to do the work. All is well!
Fast-forward to the final weeks. The submission date is hurtling toward the bid team who is working later into the evenings — all-nighters seem inevitable. Content is coming in too late to be effectively reviewed or is missing altogether. The writing style is increasingly inconsistent, and the content lacks coherence between sections. Reviews seem to have increased the friction rather than improve the quality, and missing information is filled in with minimal effort and less-than-ideal evidence — all this, despite the rapid advances made in the first week or two. The overall quality takes a hit in the effort to get it submitted on time. With luck, it may be compliant, but will it be compelling to an evaluator? Probably not.
What went wrong? Why was it so chaotic? In the aftermath, it seems no one wants to think about it; they have moved on, have a full diary and don’t want to cast the bid team in a bad light. If they achieve a win despite all this, then all sins are forgiven and forgotten. Worse, the chaos of the last few weeks is baked into the group’s consciousness as the necessary price for success.
It would be easy to blame the bid team for their inadequate application of the corporate bid development process. My experience as a freelance bid team member who has worked for many different clients suggests it’s not that. I typically observe one or more of three fundamental problems that add friction to a bid team’s effectiveness.
- They are distracted by other tasks. Writers are frequently subject-matter experts seconded from a “day job” in operational delivery or have a role in several parallel projects or bids. Their contributions are often written after hours or on weekends, and are frequently rushed, late, incomplete or never materialize. There may also be additional friction because they were hired for their expertise, rarely because they’re a great writer, too.
- There’s a lack of focus on the evaluator. Content is insufficiently focused on delivering the information and evidence an evaluator needs to award full marks or in the format that best achieves that aim. It is generated with the aim of selling what people are most proud of or pitching what the customer really should have asked for, not what they actually asked for. This is made worse if reviews are not focused and reviewers default to editing text rather than assessing whether the draft is complete and compelling.
- The issues are left too late. There is often an inability to recognize that aspects of the proposal are facing difficulties until it is far too late to do much about it. Cue late nights and loyalty points from your local pizza delivery place.
Each of these problems is likely to be manageable on its own, but I frequently see multiple, simultaneous, cross-cutting instances of them that quickly become difficult to manage. Bid chaos ensues. Whether the source of the chaos is distracted people, incoherent and unfocused content, or time management problems, things will never get better if they are dealt with only as they arise. The solution, as with so much, is in the planning and preparation. Here are some considerations to help resolves these issues.
Minimizing People Chaos
This may be minimized by reducing the distraction imposed on engineers and other in-house expertise from their day jobs. If some of these people are working full-time developing the proposed solution, then keep them close, but don’t distract them by asking them to write the proposal. Instead, use dedicated writers to draw the necessary information from engineers and experts with focused questions based on the RFP’s requirements. Their writing will likely be better quality, more coherent with other sections and produced on time; after all, this is what they do for a living. Sure, this demands an additional resource, but a single writer can produce several technical sections, so you won’t need many. It also frees up engineers and in-house expertise for billable work that may cover the cost of hiring writers.
Reducing Content Chaos
This requires attention in several areas:
- Solutions should be developed and planned in accordance with confidence or compliance criteria and statements of requirement prior to the kick-off meeting. This is time consuming and may delay the kick off by as much as a week, but it is key to ensuring the proposal is complete and will save time later. Bake in consistency across the proposal with a thorough brief (or series of briefs) on the technical solution as part of the kick off. Make clear which aspects are sealed deals and what still needs to be pinned down. Also include the deadline for a design freeze, which is not the day before the proposal is submitted. It has to be actionable.
- Ensure a consistent style by setting expectations early using a house or project style guide, including pre-agreed conventions for acronyms, metrics and the like. Minimizing the number of writers providing content will also support consistency of style.
- Focus reviewers on the requirement by providing them with a summary of it, encouraging them to play the role of an evaluator and inviting responses as comments rather than track changes.
Addressing Time Chaos
Time chaos will be reduced by addressing people and content chaos. But there remains a need for discipline in sticking to the schedule, especially with regard to late solution changes and regular checks that writers are on track. Leaving people to get on with it between kick off and color reviews is a path to disappointment.
The key to success is in the effectiveness of the upfront planning and disciplined leadership. The good news is that much of my strategy for avoiding bid chaos costs nothing at all. The exception is the resourcing cost. Treating it as an investment in future business, rather than discretional operational expenditure, is the right approach. All other things being equal, those who do will maximize their chances of seeing a great return on that investment.
Following a 30-year career in the British Army, Richard Haldenby’s second career as a defense consultant led him into the bid and proposal industry. For the last three years, he has run Salentis International’s UK business and been COO of the company’s enterprise spanning the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific.