Engaging and Managing Bid Support

It’s essential to engage proposal support while continuing with opportunity/capture activities and actions to ensure that opportunity/capture and proposal strategies are aligned and implemented in the proposal.

Introduction

Opportunity/capture activity continues in parallel with proposal planning, preparation, and review. Customers might limit contact with sellers, but the rules vary by country, market, selling environment, customer, and opportunity.

Remember that the Bid Manager owns the proposal document; the goal is a quality written proposal.

The Bid Manager is first engaged after the pursuit decision gate review, as the Opportunity/Capture Manager begins to prepare a more detailed opportunity/capture plan. However, the largest involvement is after the preliminary bid decision gate review through to the proposal submittal. Each best practice comprises activities that engage some aspect of proposal support, whether managed or completed by the Opportunity Manager or the Bid Manager.

Best Practices

1. Seek the Bid Manager’s input when preparing the detailed proposal budget.

The first task of the Opportunity/Capture Manager is to prepare the opportunity/capture plan. A key element is to estimate and secure a budget for proposal support activities. Seek input from proposal support to estimate the cost to prepare the proposal. Proposal professionals are the only people likely to have relevant cost metrics. When Bid Managers prepare the budgets, they are more committed to completing the proposal within those budgets.

There are two primary preparation cost elements:

  • Cost to design the solution
  • Cost to prepare the documents

The cost to design the solution depends on whether the solution is new, a variant of a prior design, or essentially the same as a prior design.

The cost to prepare the proposal document is directly related to the page count and the effort to produce the page count. The value of the contract is relevant, but often less important. Contracts of $500 million have been awarded based on a 35-page proposal.

Formally solicited and evaluated proposals (as are typical with government systems purchases) are often more costly to prepare because everything must be written for the proposal.

More generic bid requests (such as those prepared by industry consultants, local governments, or for smaller B2B buyers) tend to contain more boilerplate or general requirements. Boilerplate response materials are more easily adapted, which reduces the per-page proposal preparation cost.

Increasingly, bid requests specify the performance or output desired by the customer, leaving the specified approach to the ingenuity of the bidder. Responding to a short statement of objectives or a performance work statement can be quite difficult, lengthy, and expensive despite the relatively short bid request.

When asking a Bid Manager to estimate proposal preparation cost, anticipate the following questions:

  • How many volumes and copies of each volume, and what is the page count limit by volume?
  • How similar is this request to similar requests from this customer?
  • Is the probable solution defined?
  • How similar is the solution to prior solutions?
  • How long is the preparation period?
  • What and how many reviews are planned?
  • Do you anticipate draft and final responses? Extensions?
  • Do you anticipate orals or a final presentation briefing after submission?
  • Is a demonstration required?
  • What access and availability can we count on from content experts?
  • Can I review your opportunity/capture plan?
  • Have you identified and can you supply relevant experience and past performance data?

Estimating proposal preparation cost is as much art as science, and the science is based on realistic scoping and reliable metrics for the person-effort required for each activity (see Opportunity/Capture and Proposal Management Scheduling).

2. Extend the opportunity/capture strategy into the proposal strategy.

The opportunity/capture strategy is your plan to win a specific, definable opportunity. Strategy statements include strategic and tactical aspects. The strategic aspect defines your position, and the tactical aspects define the actions that you’ll take to implement the strategy. Your opportunity/capture strategy should be reviewed as part of the win strategy review.

Extending your opportunity/capture strategy into the proposal strategy might be the single most important interaction that an Opportunity/Capture Manager has with a Bid Manager. Align opportunity/capture and proposal messages; you’ll lose credibility if the messages conflict.

Extending opportunity/capture strategy into proposal strategy is not as simple as transferring opportunity/capture statements from the opportunity/capture plan to the proposal management plan. The strategy or positioning portion is the same, but the tactical implementation changes to describe the evidence that will be placed in the proposal.

Opportunity/capture strategy

We will emphasize our ability to complete the design-build of a distribution center on time

By (action)

Taking the customer on a plant tour of the XYZ distribution center in Orlando, FL.

Extend into proposal strategy

We will emphasize our ability to complete the design-build of a distribution center on time

By (evidence)

Including photos of the customer site reference visit to our XYZ distribution center in Orlando, FL.

If time allows, you might consider scheduling a further win strategy review to improve the quality of your proposal strategy. If you do this, the focus should shift:

  • win strategy 1 focuses on capture strategy
  • win strategy 2 focuses on proposal strategy

3. Integrate the extended opportunity/capture team in key pre-proposal activities.

Integrate proposal support, program management, engineering, and key teaming partners in proposal planning, solution development, workshare, WBS development, and price-to-win activities.

Your primary focus as the Opportunity/Capture Manager is to win the contract. Although proposal support, program management, engineering, and key teaming partners also want to win, they report to other managers with potentially conflicting objectives.

Successful teams are based on trust, so successful team leaders focus on building and maintaining trust among team members.

Improve your opportunity/capture success by integrating and aligning the activities of your extended opportunity/capture team members. Review and clarify the roles, focus, relationships, responsibilities, and authorities of team members. If you don’t, two outcomes are likely, and both are risky:

  • The quality of the solution and proposal suffers
  • Technical and programmatic risk increases

Although the Program Manager owns the solution, anticipate conflicts between the design team, those who will manage and deliver the program, and the teaming partners who are angling for maximum work.

The Bid Manager is responsible for preparing a compliant, responsive proposal that appears to be the product of an integrated team. Help the Bid Manager define contributors’ roles and gain the support of contributors’ managers. The Opportunity/Capture Manager usually has greater influence than the Bid Manager, so back your Bid Manager.

Just as Project Managers prepare project plans, Bid Managers prepare proposal management plans (PMPs). Multiple elements of the PMP can be extracted, adapted, and amended from prior plans. Collaborate with the Bid Manager on opportunity/capture and proposal plan updates and encourage adapted reuse.

Figure 1. Adapt Opportunity/Capture Plan Content to the Proposal Plan.
Figure 1. Adapt Opportunity/Capture Plan Content to the Proposal Plan. Adapt and reuse material from prior plans wherever possible. While estimates vary, approximately 40 percent of the data from the account plan applies to the opportunity/capture plan; up to 80 percent of the opportunity/capture plan data is needed in the proposal and closure plans.

Remember, reusing material saves time and improves consistency, as long as each item is reviewed and adapted before insertion.

4. Write and use the draft executive summary.

The Opportunity/Capture Manager is the primary owner of the executive summary, but seldom the only writer. The Opportunity/Capture Manager is responsible for the initial draft.

Use the executive summary draft to brief internal management, obtain buy-in, and refine proposal strategies. Use it to brief your extended opportunity/capture team, including the proposal team, program management, engineering, and key teaming partners and their management.

Distribute and review the draft executive summary at the proposal kickoff meeting. When proposal developers understand your key messages, they can align their writing more easily. Equally important, having and sharing the draft executive summary at proposal kickoff will convince contributors that they will be competently managed and that their contribution will lead to a win.

5. Influence the selection of the best core proposal team members.

Help the Bid and Program Managers identify and secure the best talent for key roles. Your goals should be twofold:

  • Make the right people available
  • Don’t try to make the available people right

The right people are invariably overbooked and assigned to ongoing tasks and projects. Opportunity/Capture Managers often prefer to avoid getting too deeply involved in proposal preparation. Although you might be confident that customers prefers your solution and organization, they’re usually bound by what’s in your proposal.

Discuss the selection of key proposal team members with your Bid Manager.

6. Support the proposal kickoff meeting.

While the Bid Manager plans and conducts proposal kickoff meetings, the Opportunity/Capture Manager briefs the proposal team on the customer, opportunity, and competition. Proposal contributors commit their best efforts when they believe this particular management team is prepared and committed to win.

Overview the opportunity/capture strategy, including actions planned, actions completed, customer feedback, teaming partners, potential subcontractors and vendors, and probable competitors. Stress the alignment between opportunity/capture and proposal strategy, and endorse the proposal strategy, which is briefed by the Bid Manager.

Whether alone or with the Program Manager, the Opportunity/Capture Manager should review teaming considerations, qualifications, and teaming partners’ roles and should introduce key participants from the teaming partners.

7. Manage contact with the customer throughout.

A primary characteristic of a high-value, complex sale is teams of people selling to multiple people in the customer’s organization. As the seller’s face to the customer, the Opportunity/Capture Manager should define, schedule, and manage all customer contacts, including bidders’ conferences, site visits, and questions regarding the document request.

Engaging proposal support might prompt an increase in people on the selling team, leading to multiple, uncontrolled direct contacts with the customer. Every contact should be managed so that the outcome advances rather than impedes the sale.

Early opportunity/capture activities are easier to manage because the Opportunity/Capture Manager often plans, attends, facilitates, or arranges these activities. However, bidder conferences and site visits introduce new individuals who might know relatively little about the customer and the opportunity. The usual meeting guidelines apply:

  • Name the event leader
  • Plan the event
  • Define each participant’s role
  • Establish common expectations, objectives, and ground rules with your team prior to the event and with the customer prior to or at the event
  • Prepare and rehearse if appropriate
  • Follow the facilitator’s lead during the event
  • Conclude events by reviewing and confirming next steps
  • Debrief the team immediately after the event, summarize results, inform others as needed, and assign follow-up actions

Every proposal team will have questions about requirements, conflicts, and omissions in the documents requested by the customer. While the Bid Manager or Legal or Contracts Manager might collect, review, and refine these questions, the Opportunity/Capture Manager should be aware of each question and strategize with the proposal team regarding if, how, and who will ask the question. Apply the same approach to additional customer questions.

8. Participate in but do not facilitate reviews.

The Opportunity/Capture Manager participates in reviews but is too involved in the effort to impartially facilitate them. Identify an experienced and respected individual from inside or outside the organization to be the facilitator.

Typical Opportunity/Capture Manager contributions include the following:

  • Briefing reviewers on key aspects of the opportunity
  • Remaining available to respond to review questions during the review
  • Attending the review debrief and asking clarification questions that help define constructive follow-up actions
  • Thanking the reviewers for their contribution

9. Help analyze the final bid request and lead the bid validation gate review.

When bid requests change, the Opportunity/Capture Manager is best positioned to interpret the customer’s motivations, issues, and justification for the change. Wise strategists understand and address the underlying issue. Naive strategists simply accept the change.

As part of the opportunity/capture program and bid management, review the final bid request and identify showstoppers or contingencies. Were any of these contingencies pre-identified in your opportunity/capture plan?

Is the opportunity still in line with your organization’s strategic direction and objectives?

If not, revisit your bid decision. Walking away from a bid at this late stage is difficult, but it’s better than winning a contract that you can’t afford to complete.

10. Lead, guide, or contribute to post-bid submittal interactions with the customer.

The Opportunity/Capture Manager’s charge is to win the contract, and you haven’t won until you’ve signed the contract. In most instances, the Opportunity/Capture Manager supports but does not lead the following post-submittal activities:

Questions and clarifications follow most proposal submissions and are typically coordinated by the Bid Manager. Regard questions as a positive event; customers usually ask questions because you remain in contention. Strategize each response and respond with the same discipline and courtesy as in the proposal.

Graybeard visits are an opportunity to impress senior members of the customer’s evaluation team. While the Proposal or Program Manager might plan these visits, the Opportunity/Capture Manager should usually facilitate graybeard and site visits. Graybeard and site visits are positive signs that you remain in contention.

Contract negotiations are often led by the seller’s contract specialists, supported by the Program Manager. As the Opportunity/Capture Manager, brief the lead negotiator regarding key customer participants and customer hot button issues.

Proposal debriefs are typically requested, scheduled, and facilitated by the Opportunity/Capture Manager or Bid Manager. Request a debrief, win or lose, and keep it constructive. Assign a notetaker. The Opportunity/Capture Manager should focus on listening, recognizing nonverbal signals, and asking constructive follow-up questions. Leave proposal document questions to the Bid Manager, if he/she attends the debrief.

Protests are best handled by contracts or legal representatives. Opportunity/Capture Managers expecting to pursue additional opportunities with the same customer need to create some distance to maintain a positive or at least neutral relationship with the customer.

Program start-up is often seen by customers as the official handover from the Opportunity/Capture Manager to the Program Manager. Introduce or reintroduce key program management personnel, clarify their roles, and reinforce their qualifications. As the longtime face of your organization with the customer, explicitly state your role, if any, in this program and future programs.

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