Structured and timely reviews throughout the proposal process ensure compliance, completeness, and higher probability of winning bids.
Effective functional review management shows executive and organizational commitment to disciplined business acquisition. To effectively manage organizational cycles of reviews, teams must understand, regularly practice, and work to improve execution of reviews. Effective reviews are structured and organized in advance to ensure success and are more effective when the right people attend.
Good reviews result in actionable improvements that increase your probability of win on opportunity/capture pursuits. Good reviews require sufficient time to be conducted and sufficient time for follow-up actions that improve your organization’s chances of winning. Delayed reviews can mean that time available for completion is reduced, as writers may not have time to update their sections.
1. Use appropriate reviews to improve the quality of your bid.
Mature organizations establish repeatable, quantitatively managed processes for BD. A key element of the BD process is a series of appropriately timed reviews. These reviews focus on examining the applicable building blocks for persuasive proposals at the proper sequence in the process.
The table below provides an overview of reviews that should be included in a mature business development process design. Many, but not necessarily all, of these reviews should be completed for most proposals. Review teams should tailor processes to consider the customer’s buying cycle, the bid timeframe, the complexity of the engagement, and the value of the bid, in deciding which reviews to conduct.
|Market Assessment||An assessment of the plan to achieve specific business market objectives within an industry or market segment||–||–|
|Account Review||An assessment of the sales plans for potential opportunities with major customers||Quarterly by major business account and targeted new accounts||Provide guidance on account maintenance, growth, and penetration strategies; assess progress|
|Competitor Review||An assessment and analysis of competitors’ likely strategies and solutions for a specific opportunity/capture||Multiple reviews beginning as early as possible before RFP (6 to 12 months in national government markets; shorter in commercial markets)||Predict competitors’ potential strategies and solutions by using experts to do a detailed team analysis of each competitor, including yourself|
|Opportunity/Capture Plan Review||An assessment of the opportunity/capture plans to validate the win strategy and planned positioning actions for a specific opportunity/capture||Six to 18 months before RFP on large federal efforts; 3 to 12 months on large commercial efforts; 2 to 6 months on smaller national government and commercial efforts||Review win strategy and effectively assess probability of win and probability of go of effort. Agree on course of action to increase probability of win and examine probable solutions to ensure match with customer requirements and hot buttons.|
|Content Plan Review||An assessment to validate the execution of the bid strategy for writers and to verify compliance with customer requirements||Initial planning can take place before final RFP release and repeated after RFP release||Assess proposal strategy (story, messaging, solution depictions, proof) to ensure competitiveness, compliance, thoroughness, accuracy, and alignment with customer requirements, needs, and hot buttons. Provide concrete direction to team for improvement.|
|Final Document Review||A comprehensive review of the proposal by independent reviewers who emulate the customer’s evaluation team. It includes independent assessment of the entire proposal, its readiness and responsiveness to the solicitation, and its effectiveness in conveying strategy, themes, and discriminators, as well as ghosting the competition.||10 percent to 20 percent of time before submittal||Final document reviews are preceded by content plan reviews or other designated reviews based on organization master process. The final document review team determines compliance, discrimination, and alignment with the customer’s mission, needs, requirements, issues, and hot buttons and provides concrete direction to the team for improvement.|
|Business Case Review/Senior Management Review||An assessment of all the internal milestones and approvals (internal governance) required to sign off on the solution, pricing, and legal requirements||All signoffs should be complete at least in line with the final document review||Approve final pricing strategy and any other elements requiring senior management approval prior to submittal|
|Lessons Learned Review||An assessment of the proposal development/management process and results conducted after completion of a proposal. Its purpose is to identify areas for improvement on subsequent projects.||First review right after submittal. Second review after win/loss debrief.||Review process execution and recommend specific improvements where required. Ensure understanding of reasons for the win or loss. Correct deficiencies in processes or approach or repeat winning processes/methods on other opportunities.|
|Project Review||A series of reviews to ensure an organization is meeting milestones and achieving objectives as promised in a proposal||Periodic after award and performance begins||Critical to building successful past-performance history that can be referenced on future efforts|
2. Set up each review to answer a series of key questions.
Organize reviews around desired outcomes. For example, we conduct account reviews in an effort to achieve strategic actions that enhance the probability of gaining meaningful business with an account. Hold the review well in advance of the expected outcome and repeat it quarterly to keep focus on the objective.
Clearly identify and include reviews at appropriate points in the business development process. They must be held on schedule to allow time for actions to be taken to increase probability of success. Figure 1 depicts a notional end-to-end business development process and the sequence of team reviews.
Competitor reviews help predict competitors’ approach, solutions, and strategies.
The purpose of the competitor review is to anticipate the approach, solutions, and strategies that competitors are likely to use. This is often done through role-playing. Use a competitor’s former employees, consultants, and suppliers to formulate probable solutions, win strategies, and counterstrategies to test the credibility of your own approach. Outputs from the competitor review provide the basis for ghosting the competition by highlighting weaknesses in their solutions and neutralizing their strengths.
Competitor reviews can be conducted multiple times during the business development cycle. The first should be in the opportunity/capture phase, before a pursuit decision is made. Then, based on the complexity and significance of the pursuit, a second competitor review can be conducted during the opportunity/capture planning phase.
The Opportunity/Capture Manager or Account Manager plans and schedules the competitor review and selects team members from both the company and external sources based on their ability to assess opportunity/capture plans and their knowledge of the customer, competition, solution, and industry trends. The Opportunity/Capture Manager should select team members from business development and relevant business areas such as solution design, as well as consultants, employees, retirees, and suppliers who have recent experience with likely competitors.
The competitor review should answer the following questions:
- How should we try to influence the procurement?
- What are competitors’ strengths and weaknesses?
- What are competitors’ likely strategies?
- How do we compare to competitors on the customer’s key issues?
- How do our technical approach, price to win, risk profile, and past experiences compare?
- What weaknesses do they have that we can ghost?
- Does the customer have a vendor preference?
- How do we unseat the incumbent? How do we win as the incumbent?
- What weaknesses do we have to overcome?
- What actions should we take to strengthen our position?
- How can we counteract competitors’ likely moves to improve our position with the customer?
Evaluate the opportunity or capture plan during the opportunity/capture plan review.
The purpose of the opportunity/capture plan review is to analyze the opportunity/capture plan and win strategy before the bid/no-bid decision milestone.
Review team members are independent of the proposal and opportunity/capture team but are knowledgeable about the prospect, your offerings and capabilities, and your competitors’ offerings and capabilities. They review your opportunity/capture plan to validate your win strategy, value proposition, and solution.
Reviewers should also focus on validating your planned actions for moving your organization to the customer’s favored position.
The Opportunity/Capture Manager plans and schedules the opportunity/capture plan review and selects team members from both the company and external sources. Members should be selected based on their ability to assess opportunity/capture plans, as well as their knowledge of the customer, competition, solution, and industry trends.
The opportunity/capture plan review should answer the following questions:
- Does our strategy satisfy the customer’s needs and requirements?
- Does our strategy provide clear discrimination versus our competitor’s likely approaches?
- Is our strategy executable and complete?
- Does our solution solve the customer’s issues and demonstrate a superior value proposition?
- Will our action plans move us to the customer’s favored position?
- Is our strategy straightforward and easy to understand from the customer’s perspective?
- Is a draft executive summary included that clearly differentiates us from likely competitors, demonstrates that our solution completely satisfies all the customer’s needs, and provides a compelling value proposition?
- Are the key messages articulated in the opportunity plan present in the content plans?
Effectively articulate your win strategy during the content plan review.
The purpose of content plan review is to ensure effective articulation of your win strategy within your content plan and to verify compliance with the bid request before the start of proposal writing.
The content plan takes many forms. In essence, content plans help proposal teams think and plan before drafting text. Vehicles used for content plans include annotated outlines with comments about each topic, mock-ups, or even simple topical outlines for short proposals. The key in developing good content plans is to think before you write.
The Bid Manager, Proposal Manager, Opportunity Manager, or Account Manager picks independent team members from content and customer specialists. They should understand the customer’s requirements, the bid request, your opportunity strategy, and the essential elements of preparing compliance checklists, outlines, and response matrices.
Reviewers should read the opportunity/capture plan and study key sections of the RFP before the chairperson convenes the review team and should brief the review team on the customer’s perspective and requirements at the review kickoff meeting.
The content plan review should answer the following questions:
- Is a draft executive summary available to drive the key message into the bid response?
- Based on the content plan, is our response compliant with the customer’s RFP or request?
- Is the win strategy clear and reinforced throughout the content plan?
- Is space allocated so that key messages predominate?
- Will sections be easy to evaluate?
- Does the content plan include preliminary graphics that communicate our key messages?
- Are all customer requirements accounted for?
- Are benefits linked to features throughout?
- Do section summaries provide benefit statements?
- Do the overarching themes and section themes clearly answer “why us”?
- Are headings and other structure provided to improve readability?
Independent reviewers assess the proposal during final document review.
The final document review is a comprehensive examination of the proposal by independent reviewers who emulate the customer’s evaluation team. It includes independent assessment of the entire proposal, its readiness and responsiveness to the solicitation, and its effectiveness in conveying strategy, themes, and discriminators, as well as ghosting the competition. Schedule the final document review when the response is 80 percent to 90 percent complete.
The Bid Manager, Proposal Manager, Opportunity/Capture Manager, or Account Manager picks the final document review team. Members are independent of the proposal team and are expected to represent the customer’s perspective. The team should include experts on the customer, the customer’s industry, competitors, and your solution approach. In addition, members should be familiar with best practices on preparing and presenting winning proposals.
Include members from previous review teams for this review to help prevent contradictory guidance from dramatically different and uninformed team members. It is acceptable to add new reviewers to represent additional perspectives or subject matter, but the core group should remain the same throughout review cycles.
Reviewers can either make notes on a copy of the bid or, in more formal reviews, complete a comment form. In either case, compile all findings into one set of recommendations. Assign the recommendations to a select core group for implementation. Ask key players with the closest knowledge of the customer to implement the changes and a good editor to make final text edits.
For bid of significant value, organizations often create a scoring summary that mirrors the customer’s evaluation criteria. Reviewers are asked to evaluate and score sections in the response against those criteria.
The final document review should answer the following questions:
- Does the executive summary connect your solution to the customer’s business vision?
- Does the executive summary link the customer’s needs to the proposal solution?
- Does the executive summary counter potential major objections?
- Does the executive summary name the customer more often than the bidder?
Themes and Strategies
- Does the proposal effectively present our offer? Is it persuasive? Does it sell?
- Does every section have a theme statement? Does that theme statement tie features to benefits? Is it specific? Is it quantifiable? Does the theme statement answer the question “so what”?
- Does each section explain what is being offered and how it benefits the customer? Will the customer be convinced?
- Does the proposal emphasize our strengths? Minimize our weaknesses? Ghost the competition?
- Do all volumes and sections have summaries that link the customer’s needs to the proposed solution?
- Do all sections, subsections, and major topics have headings?
- Are informative headings used effectively?
- Are the most important ideas stated first in sections, subsections, and paragraphs?
- Are details, facts, and data placed in the middle of sections, subsections, and paragraphs?
- Does the proposal contain enough visuals?
- Do the key visuals reflect the strategy? Do they illustrate the major features and benefits of the offer?
- Are all visuals clear and uncluttered? Do they convey a single, strong principle message?
- Do the visuals stand alone?
- Does each visual have an action caption? Do the action captions state the principle message of the visual and link key features to their benefits?
Appearance and Packaging
- Do the pages have a clean, professional appearance?
- Does the proposal use lists and headings? Is there plenty of white space, especially around key ideas and facts?
- Is the proposal packaged professionally? Does it reflect the image of your organization?
Accuracy and Clarity
- Are the facts correct? Are the data accurate?
- Is every claim supported? Is there an appropriate amount of supporting data? Is the technical presentation credible? Are the claims believable? Proven?
- Is the writing clear and to the point? Do all of the sentences make sense the first time you read them? Are any statements vague or confusing? Misleading?
- Is the writing concise? Crisp? Not wordy? Can any words, jargon, or sentences be removed?
- Have extraneous words, sentences, paragraphs, visuals, facts, or data been eliminated? Can anything else be eliminated?
- Is our price supported by a value proposition?
- Is our price clearly stated? Justified? Credible?
- If the proposal was written by a team, are the parts of the proposal consistent with one another?
- Does the proposal seem as though one person wrote it?
3. Adhere to the following guidelines for more effective review management.
Standardize company review templates.
Standardizing review templates increases efficiency and enables review teams to be more productive in defining actionable items that can help organizations position for and win business. Review templates should be standardized for each primary type of review described.
Establish review teams early.
Establish review teams early so they have time to become familiar with what they will be reviewing and the strategies and objectives of the effort. For opportunity/capture pursuits, review teams should have access to opportunity/capture plans. For account reviews, review teams should have access to critical source information used to develop the account plan. Proposal review teams need time to become familiar with the proposal strategies and solutions to be effective. Early formation significantly increases teams’ effectiveness.
Select the right review team leader.
The review team leader can make the difference between a great review and a mediocre review. Review team leaders must be skilled in the type of review they will lead; have good organizational, communication, and leadership skills; and have a highly competitive nature that helps them drive the review team to actionable solutions.
|TEAM REVIEW||REVIEW TEAM LEADER ATTRIBUTES|
|Account Review||Business development expert and leader successful in growing business on major accounts and developing business on new accounts|
|Competitive Review||Business intelligence expert familiar with analytical processes for assessing competitors, familiar with sources of competitive information, and skilled at facilitating competitive analysis sessions and reviews and providing guidance to teams on how to improve their competitive position|
|Opportunity/Capture Plan Review||Senior-level Opportunity/Capture Manager who has successfully developed and executed strategies to win large or strategic opportunities|
|Content Plan Review||Bid Manager or Proposal Manager who has a proven history of delivering winning proposals|
|Final Document Review||Opportunity/Capture Manager, Bid Manager, or Proposal Manager who has a proven history of delivering winning proposals|
|Business Case Review/Senior Management Review||Senior executive who has a history of successfully growing the business|
|Lessons Learned Review||Senior-level business development manager assigned to manage the lessons-learned process or a Bid or Proposal Manager skilled at facilitating and developing analysis to improve future processes and performance|
Keep the same core team throughout the review cycle.
Keeping the same people on the review team across reviews enables team members to learn with the performance team and keeps conflicting guidance to a minimum. It doesn’t hurt to add some reviewers for specific reasons along the way, but your core team should remain consistent.
Incorporate teammates into reviews.
Where appropriate, supplement your internal review team with members from your organization’s teaming partners. They often have valuable insights into customers, competitors, and solutions that can help increase your probability of win and success over the short and long terms.
Use consultants in reviews as needed.
Consultants can be excellent sources of customer knowledge and preferred solutions. In addition, external experts often can identify problems or issues with your pursuits and proposals and can provide simple remedies that increase probability of success with little additional cost.
Conduct effective review kickoffs and debriefings.
Effective kickoffs increase review value. Plan the kickoffs carefully; ensure enough time is allowed and that clear instructions are provided to review teams to yield rapid, useful results.
Record comments and decide which to incorporate.
Review team comments must be recorded, analyzed, and prioritized for action. Comments should address risks, strengths, and weaknesses associated with each reviewed item.
For any review, comments usually follow a normal distribution:
- Thirty percent of comments should be incorporated without question because they significantly increase probability of success
- Forty percent should be reviewed carefully for incorporation because they have high value
- Thirty percent usually get discarded because they have marginal or little value
For proposals, address all comments related to compliance. After that, address comments that significantly increase the probability of win through better messaging, graphics, proof, or clarity.
Use subreviews effectively.
Subreviews are used to enhance proposals. Generally, subreviewers are assigned to look only at a single element, such as the storyline (themes, action captions), compliance, graphics, or proof.
Types of subreviews include:
- Vertical review. Normally associated with the content plan review, these examine sections in depth for compliance, responsiveness, and persuasiveness. Most detailed, constructive comments result from this type of review.
- Horizontal reviews. Also normally associated with the content plan review, a horizontal review assesses a specific aspect of the proposal across all sections. For example, a horizontal review may look at theme statements. Another horizontal review may look at headings and the outlining approach by layer. A third could examine callouts and other forms of highlighting to ensure they are used consistently throughout.
- Visual reviews. This horizontal review focuses on visual and graphic elements, including action captions, for consistency and effectiveness.
- Compliance review. This evaluates the entire proposal against the compliance checklist to be sure it meets all the requirements stipulated in the RFP.
For account reviews, focused examinations of your organization, your competitors, and the customer all have merit. For proposal-related reviews, a horizontal review of the story, a visual review for graphics, and a compliance review yield good results for rapid quality improvement.
Debrief management on review results.
Management should always be debriefed on review results to ensure continued engagement and awareness into progress for business win activities.
Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions
Avoid these common misconceptions to improve your team’s functional reviews:
- Reviews are just a check-the-box exercise. Reviews are critical to winning business. Like other members of proposal teams, review teams have direct responsibility for winning.
- Little value comes from reviews. Good reviews often make the difference between winning and losing.
- Reviewing late in the proposal cycle is all right. Late reviews are not helpful because teams don’t have sufficient time to react and implement changes. Review early.
- You can cut reviews to gain time for authors. A good review may be what authors need to get back on track. Stop and do the review. Spending more time on a troubled product only makes a worse product.
- Reviews can be planned quickly and easily. Review management is a skill. Take time to plan reviews to make them more effective.
- Anybody can be a good reviewer. Some reviewers are much better than others. Find the great reviewers in your organization and use them. Good reviewers can be trained as well. Provide instruction and give them experience.
- The Bid, Proposal, or Opportunity/Capture Manager should lead the review. One of the reviewers should have the role of a review team leader to make sure that comments and recommendations are constructive and consolidated and provide independent feedback.
- Executives should not be part of the review team. Executives are a critical part of the review team. They didn’t get where they are without reason. Also, if they aren’t invested, why should the team be?
- Subject matter experts have more important things to do than review. If the technical or management solution is weak, your organization is likely to lose. Subject matter experts are critical to great reviews.
- You don’t need to review price proposals as carefully as other volumes. Price proposals need reviews to ensure quality submittals. You don’t want to submit something that doesn’t make sense to your organization’s bottom line.
- Reviews should be scheduled appropriately to allow sufficient time for proposal team members to incorporate reviewers’ comments.
- All reviews should have an experienced leader who understands the customer and can keep team members on track.
- Organizations should keep the same core team throughout all functional reviews, adding team members with subject matter expertise as needed.
- Most reviews are associated with confirming the bid decisions. Reviews should be organized around desired outcomes and should improve the quality of your bid.
- Reviews can be adapted for any bid circumstance. Remember: It is more important to consider and deliver on the principles of the appropriate bid reviews than to be constrained by the review delivery mechanism.