Planning a winning bid
Over the past ten years of managing proposals for organizations both large and small, there is one thing that can signal whether the bid will be successful. It's not about how many bodies are on the team. It's not about how much funding is in place for the bid prep. It's not about any of those things.
It's about organizing effectively. Planning a bid to win ought to be step one.
This starts with a solid go/no-go determination (which means #sayingno), but that's not what I want to focus on today (honestly, I can't stop writing about that, since it's one of those things I can't control as a consultant). Instead, let me talk about something I have absolute control over: proposal management.
When I step in as a proposal manager to work with a new client, I bring the decade of experience and trial and error of managing proposal processes. This means (best case scenario), I can show my clients how to set up a winning proposal process. These are a few of the factors that I like to think about as we get started.
Kickoff with a purpose
After a strong go/no-go justification, a kick-off meeting is your key opportunity to get all the key players in a room and set the tone and direction of a proposal. The purpose of the kick-off meeting needs to be clear and concrete. I'll say this twice: kick-off meetings are not about technical design. They are not about technical design!
Instead, the kick-off meeting should:
Ensure that key stakeholders have a base understanding of the solicitation
Bring everyone up to speed on capture efforts to date
Explain key deadlines and the proposal calendar
Confirm proposal roles and responsibilities, including identifying additional resources needed
Identify questions for the donor
Identify threshold issues for senior management
Share communication and management approaches to set expectations
At the end of the kick-off meeting, everyone should have a clear understanding of the bid requirements, deadlines, and what their role in the process will be.
Every client's office I walk in to has different communication norms. That’s to be expected. It’s made me incredibly attuned to the differentiation between communication strategies though! Some teams prefer to check-in informally, some need a structured meeting to make decisions, some want daily phone conversations, some would like a stand-up meeting. The most important aspect is setting expectations!
During your kick-off meeting, model exactly the communication methods you plan to deploy during the proposal process. This could mean sending out materials in advance, including an agenda in the meeting invitation, sharing call-in details, etc. Managing that first meeting should demonstrate how you expect communication patterns to work. Take time in the first week to introduce yourself and your communication style to the team. I typically share something to this effect to help teams get to know me:
Thanks for attending our kick-off meeting today. The full meeting notes are available on the shared drive here (link). You can expect me to save notes in that folder for all future meetings.
I’ll be sending out an email to the full proposal team on a (daily/weekly) basis recapping what has happened since our last update and immediate next steps.
If you have any immediate questions, it’s easiest to catch me on Skype, although I anticipate being in the office regularly and will be monitoring email consistently.
The key here is not what communication methods you choose - those should adapt to your team and their expectations - but instead focus on clarity. Set expectations of where people can find information and how they can reach you, as well as what they should anticipate from you. These key pieces of information will keep everyone on the same page and give everyone the confidence to keep moving together toward the finish line.
Stick to your plan!
I don’t want to pretend like this is the easiest thing to do. Nothing screws up a bid more than reinventing your original plan, yet I see this all too often with proposal teams. That amazing kick-off meeting set out a calendar of deliverables and then you set communication expectations so clearly, but managing to those plans is a different beast altogether.
First of all - I don’t want you to beat yourself up when things inevitably get off track. That’s not doing anyone any good. Instead, focus on the bigger picture. Identify the key elements that the proposal team must land, and maintain focus on meeting those deadlines. Come back to the communication methods you outlined. Come back to the calendar. Come back to roles and responsibilities. Reassess if you have to. Then get back to the plan and look at what needs to change to make it happen.
It’s not impossible to get a proposal from start to finish without being organized. What is impossible is to take a proposal from start to finish with no organization, win, and then attempt to replicate that process. If you want to be successful in the long-run, planning successful proposals is your number one way to get there. Learning what works and what doesn’t won’t happen overnight, but every step toward it is worth taking.