Bid process

The Great Exec Summary Debate

We ran a poll on LinkedIn this week asking at what point bid professionals write their Executive Summaries. The options were: before the RFP is released, after the RFP is released but prior to the bid kick off, when the bid draft is 90% or fully completed, or at another point (inviting comments). There were 127 votes, and the results made for interesting reading!

The majority (65%) said they write the Exec Summary when the bid draft is almost or fully complete. A combined 24% said it was either before or just after the RFP release – either way, before any “full on” bid work has commenced. For those respondents who said it was at another point (10%), some insightful comments were shared:

  • After bid launch, while the strategy is evolving.
  • Ideally during and after first draft is finished…[it] should be written by the person directly in contact with the customer.
  • Before, then again on receipt of tender and again at 90% / red review…you always discover something throughout the process.
  • Before the first technical review.
  • After the Pink Team review, when I have a full sense of all the challenges of the project.

Although almost two-thirds of respondents said they write the Exec Summary towards the end of the process, best practice is actually to write the Exec Summary before the RFP is released, or as early as possible in the bid planning stage. Does that surprise those of you who leave it until the end?

According to the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) “a draft executive summary should be developed early during the opportunity/capture planning phase. It provides a roadmap for the rest of the opportunity/capture plan.” The BOK suggests the Exec Summary should be drafted by (and owned throughout the process by) the Opportunity Manager*, since they are often closest to the customer – as suggested by one of the responses in our poll. It should be part of the ‘pack’ brought to bid decision gate reviews and the bid kick-off, and used to gain senior internal approval for the bid approach.

If you’re not prepared to write the executive summary early, you probably aren’t ready to bid and should consider a no-bid

APMP Body of Knowledge

The timing does make sense. Even at this early stage, you should already know the main benefits and USPs of your solution versus your competitors; and you should know the customer well enough to understand how your solution provides real benefit to them. Of course, there are always those ‘take a punt’ bids you may not have fully prepared for. There may be slight differences between customers in different sectors or those with truly specific requirements; but even then, you should understand your solution well enough to quickly document the benefits and value, and determine whether the opportunity is worth pursuing. The BOK goes further “If you’re not prepared to write the executive summary early, you probably aren’t ready to bid and should consider a no-bid.”

The Exec Summary should, as set out in the BOK and in some of our received comments, drive your bid response strategy, not simply summarise your offering. It should set out your understanding of the customer’s challenges (their “hot buttons”), and put forward your value proposition, key win themes and discriminators to convince the customer to choose you, showing how you’ll meet their challenges. It should demonstrate the benefits of choosing your solution, not the technical components of the solution itself.

[The Exec Summary] should be a concise, persuasive, compelling start to your bid submission

The Exec Summary should provide a baseline to help your bid team write the response, outlining the key messages and benefits to underpin your solution – ensuring even when different people write different sections, the same messaging is used. That means it should be a concise, persuasive, compelling start to your bid submission – clearly showing the customer evaluator why your solution is the best choice, providing benefits specific to their requirements.

That’s not to say you should write the Exec Summary at the start and forget about it. It should be reviewed when the RFP is issued to take account of any new client requirements, and throughout to ensure the right messages are being conveyed or to take account of any solution changes. As some of our poll respondents commented, you always discover something or learn more about the challenges through the bid process.

If you currently leave the Exec Summary until late in the process, try writing it early and see if the process, and submission, is improved. Or if you even continue to bid.

* In your organisation, the Opportunity Manager might be the Account Manager, Client Relationship Manager, Sales Lead or a BD/Bid Manager.

Bid process

The Dawn Bid: free climbing the bid process

On 27 December 2014, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson began the first ever free climb of El Capitan’s ‘Dawn Wall’ (Yosemite National Park). As I recently re-watched the documentary covering their amazing feat*, I was struck by the similarities between their challenge and the bid process. The latter with, hopefully, less physical pain and hanging off a wall for days on end.

El Capitan (

Tommy has completed more routes on El Capitan than any other climber, including numerous first free climb ascents**. He is its incumbent. Over seven years, he spent months climbing and analysing the Dawn Wall, attempting to map a route through the hardest free climb route in the world. Looking up at the Wall, it seems impossible; and many said it was. A vast expanse of apparently blank rock. But Tommy looked between the “known lines”, the existing climbing routes, finding the path (a series of pitches – told you there are similarities!) through the maze. He knew he couldn’t achieve the climb on his own, hence partnering with Kevin.

Does this remind you of anything?! You know a bid is coming out. Maybe you’re the incumbent, the challenger or, like Tommy and Kevin on the Dawn Wall, it’s a brand new opportunity. You prepare; researching the target, and gathering evidence. You receive the bid papers. You comprehend the requirement. You read, read and read again; looking for every small nuance for how you can wind a path through the submission and win the bid. You have no idea where to start. Just a blank page. You know you can’t meet all the requirements yourself, so you reach out within the business, or team up with a third party. Some stakeholders or contributors might think we can’t do it. But we’re going for it.

Still taken from The Dawn Wall (2017, dir: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer)

Day 1 on the Wall. Tommy and Kevin take in the 3,000 feet of sheer granite ahead of them, adrenaline pumping, can’t wait to get started. Day 1 on the Bid, it’s the kick off workshop – the whole team is enthusiastic, raring to go. Win themes decided, production plan shared. Of their attempt, Kevin said “this was Tommy’s world – he had a clear vision of what it should be…I could never tell if we were wasting our time or in pursuit of something grand.” Of our attempt, it’s the Bid Manager leading the team on the vision, the journey to win.

By Day 3, reality has hit. You’ve been drafting content outlines, holding daily progress calls, issuing plans and answering queries non-stop. It’s all-consuming. Back on the Wall? Tommy says he’s “gonna wake Kevin up with some coffee”. Yep, I hear you. Already, spectators have started to gather, watching their progress. For us? Senior Management and Board members are starting to show interest.

On Day 4, Tommy and Kevin are hit by a 70mph snow and windstorm. The portaledge on which they rest and sleep is repeatedly bounced against the wall. It’s chaos. Yet Tommy, grinning, says “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I love this sh*t”. How many of us feel that way about bids?! They can be stressful, even terrifying at times. Ideas and content flying everywhere. But we keep going. Many of us in this career for the long-haul.

Day 8, and Tommy and Kevin have reached pitch 15, the sideways traverse. A sequence of tiny movements over seemingly smooth rock, each to be completed perfectly to make it across. A few false starts, then for Tommy, “it just came together in this amazing, magical way”.

On the Bid? It’s content deadline day, sections start coming in and you have a jigsaw to fit together. Somehow, the response appears.

Word begins to spread, and on the Wall, Day 9 marks the media phone calls, wanting to chat with Tommy about how it’s going. For us, it’s often our stakeholders, checking in. About a week later, Tommy “accidentally” drops his phone – those around him seem to think it was no accident. I’m guessing a lot of us would share that frustration when we just want to get on with the bid but our stakeholders, partners, Board want updates.

Pitch 16 on the Wall is Tommy’s next big problem. There is nothing to grab onto – the only way across is to leap. But then, staring at the Wall, he sees another way; he can down-climb and go around it. Problem solved. How many times do clarification questions seem like a showstopper? Or a resource/technology issue appears we hadn’t thought about? We work our way around, solving the problems and getting back on track. Or we might have a team member like Kevin, who, having previously been stuck on the traverse pitch for nearly a week, makes the leap. A spark of inspiration.

2,000 feet up the Dawn Wall is a landmark known as “Wino Tower” – a lump of rock, marking the first point you can sit (or lie) on the whole route. For the Bid team, we’re 2.5 weeks through, and most of the hard work is done. The content is in and a full draft written. You might be waiting for the red team review or design work to be complete, but you can sit (or stand, or lie) and breathe. And, maybe take the “Wino” part fairly literally by this point…

Tommy reaches Wino Tower: Still taken from The Dawn Wall (2017, dir: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer)

Day 19, and Tommy and Kevin are enjoying their last day on the Wall. They pull themselves over the edge to the top of El Cap, crowds watching live and cheering them on. They’ve done it. The team has made it, despite how unlikely that seemed at times. For us, it’s submission day. Your MD is over your shoulder, watching as you upload, then maybe popping the champagne. The Bid team has that feeling of euphoria when you submit. You’ve all worked so hard for it.

But, as Tommy says, it’s almost bittersweet, because the experience is over. Till the next bid, and the next climb. For Tommy and Kevin, they go home, see their loved ones, and get some rest and motivation for the next climb. I think we’d agree.

*The Dawn Wall, 2017, dir: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?! I also highly recommend the Oscar-winning, equally amazing and somehow more terrifying Free Solo (2018, dir: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) documenting Alex Honnold (Tommy’s friend and fellow climber) attempting the first free solo, i.e. without ropes, harnesses or safety equipment, of El Capitan.

** Free climbing is driven by your own body, often just fingertips and toes (and in Tommy’s case, nine fingertips as he’s missing his left index finger!) You secure ropes as anchors along each pitch to hopefully prevent you falling, but they don’t help you climb the pitch.

Bid content

The Redundant That

Word counts (and/or page counts) can be a nightmare when finalising a submission.

How often is SME content double the length you asked for? Is your red pen out, hyphenating/slashing everything you can, crossing out to achieve the magic number? Then the £64,000 question: does it still make sense? Is it still persuasive? Is your key messaging included? If compliant, you can use diagrams to replace words. Although appealing to visual evaluators, this may not help where you are page, not word-limited…

Not only does The Great Word Cut ensure you meet word count, it is best practice. The APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) publishes a plain language checklist – including “omit excess words”.

Did you know many commonly used words/phrases are superfluous? The most famous day-to-day example is, as Johnny Rose points out above, PIN number.

The BOK fixing redundant pairs tool shows the common culprits and best practice counterparts. My ‘favourite’ (i.e. biggest bugbear) are:

  • In order to / To
  • Due to the fact that / Because
  • For the purpose of / For
  • In a timely manner / On time
  • In many cases / Often
  • End result / Result
  • On a daily/weekly basis / Daily/Weekly

In addition, there are singular big winners – the redundant “that” and “had”. Consider the sentences below:

The team worked on a project that saved £50m / The team worked on a project saving £50m.

The team had worked on a project saving £50m / The team worked on a project saving £50m.

All options mean the same, right? “That” and “had” are the most redundant words used. 

You can support your SMEs to write more concisely. But the golden rule for final review is be ruthless. Delete what doesn’t add value. And delete the redundant that!

Footnote: this blog was drafted using the concise approach – undoubtedly, you’ll spot remaining redundant words!

Bid content

Setting up and managing an effective content library

An effective content library is one of the most important tools at your disposal as a Bid professional. It should be your go-to databank of information for not only completing a bid, but also for the storage of evidence and proof points.

A populated content library supports an organisation’s knowledge management processes of “creating, classifying, sharing, and improving what we know about what we do”. As with any software or tool, the content library is only as good as the information within it; and whether you use a defined tool to manage your library, or simply a network folder structure, you should have a defined process in place to regularly review, update/improve and remove content.

The proper structure, filing and coding of your content is the first, and most important, task so that it is easy to find by anyone needing to use the library, or by intelligent bid population software if you use that.

A good general approach is to split content by people, process and technology/tools/systems, with a separate repository for supporting or supplementary information such as case studies, CVs, certificates and policies

How you structure your content library really is dependent on your organisation, and your products, services and workstreams. But a good general approach is to split content by people, process and technology/tools/systems, with a separate repository for supporting or supplementary information such as case studies, CVs, certificates and policies. Each folder can then be split by topic areas. Examples of this approach in Windows Explorer are shown in the figures below:

Figure 1: Layout of Supporting Information folder in content library
Figure 2: Layout of People – Training folder in content library

As shown in both Figures, each lowest level file should be date stamped so you can quickly see how up to date it is, and whether it may need review and improvement.

Remove out of date files where appropriate to do so – for example, you might only ever need to keep the current year’s insurance certificate in the content library, although your commercial teams may keep an archive elsewhere.

You can add key word tags to the document properties which are then searchable if someone is unsure where a document is saved. An example of this in Windows Explorer is shown in the figure below (to add the tags, in your document go to File > Info > Add tags and type in your tag words separated by semicolons or commas). Alternatively, you might want to produce a ‘living’ index document which your colleagues can search in and locate the correct folders.

Figure 3: Applying key word tags to a document and searching by key word in Windows Explorer

Collect feedback from anyone who uses the library to understand how user friendly it is, and do not be afraid to make changes to improve the usability if you discover issues.

Above all, ensure you review and improve the content regularly; that way, you – and anyone else using the library – can be assured that they’ll be using the last, best content.

Bid content

Using creative case studies and CVs for bids

What proportion of the bids you work on ask for the provision of case studies and/or team CVs? At the ITT/RFP stage, a conservative estimate might be at least 75%. And even if they’re not formally requested, are you missing a trick by not including case studies of your previous work and brief bios of your team in relevant answers?

Both are what the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) Body of Knowledge terms proof points: “Proof points are facts that provide verifiable evidence for your solution’s features and benefits. They support your company’s win themes and discriminators. Without proof points, proposal evaluators may question whether features are proven and benefits are achievable. Proof points make your proposal compelling to a customer.”

Put simply – the bid response showcases what you could do for the client – case studies and CVs prove it.

Keeping a log of the case studies, along with details of the last time you used them is a useful tool

Of course, for case studies, you should always ensure you request and receive your clients’ sign off to use their name and details of the contract in future bids. File them in your content library by sector, and/or using key word ‘tags’ that can be added to the document properties. The general rule of thumb – prompted by public sector bids which similar give this timeline – is that case studies used should be no older than three years, so their regular review is an important task. Keeping a log of the case studies (including whether you need to request permission each time, or you have a blanket ‘ok’ to use), along with details of the last time you used them is also a useful tool; especially if you are using the case study as a formal reference – after all, there could be a risk of annoyance to your client if they are asked for every bid you submit.

CVs for all team members should be filed in your content library with the bid/client and date in the file name. This will help you see at a glance which are the most recent and, more importantly, relevant for each team member as the CV should be tailored for the specific opportunity; particularly important if your organisation works across multiple sectors, common in professional services for example. Again, regularly review to ensure leavers are removed from the library.

But how do you make your case studies and CVs really stand out from the competition, even before the evaluator has read one word?

Do you now use a simple template to include in an Appendix, or a call out box in the main body of text? While the structure may of course be client-prescribed, a more recent – and more creative – approach we’ve seen is to use an infographic style presentation, either as a full case study, or as a lead in for more detailed text / client examples summarised in bullet points underneath.

Many people prefer, or more quickly process, images to words

Take a look at the basic examples for a client case study and team CV for a contact centre bid below. As an evaluator, would these capture your attention more than a full page of text? Do they bring the subject to life, and would they make for a more compelling or appealing response compared to bidders using text only?

Figure 1: Example of a client case study infographic
Figure 2: Example of a team member CV infographic

It’s often said that many people prefer, or more quickly process, images to words, so why not give your proof points the best possible start during the evaluation process? While these examples were produced quickly in Microsoft PowerPoint for the purpose of this blog, there are many free infographic templates available, or you may be lucky enough to have an in-house design team who can produce an all-singing all-dancing page spread.

It can be time-consuming to produce a case study or CV, but once you have built up your library, they can be quickly tailored to resonate with specific bid requirements or to show how you’ve previously, and successfully, handled any client pain points. And, for the right clients/opportunities, used creatively to illustrate your proof points.

The key with these, as with all things bids, is to file with relevance, review and update regularly and use with intent!


The search for water on the moon

Astrobotic (which calls itself the Fedex carrier for space) has been awarded a £200m contract by NASA to deliver its Viper rover to the moon on the search for water in the shadowed areas. This new NASA project is one of many for the Pittsburgh, US firm, who will need to take on more staff to deliver it – great news!


A brief history of bidding: the past, present and future

As a bit of a history geek, the joint celebrations this past weekend of America’s independence and 72 years of the UK’s NHS got me thinking about the history and future of bidding (lockdown is obviously taking its toll…) But in all serious, how did bidding for goods and services start? When were the first contracts awarded? And how has the industry grown since?

Given what we know about their civilisation, it probably won’t come as a shock that the first indications of procurement were seen with the Egyptians around 3,000 BC. While there was, of course, no formal tender and award process, the Egyptians used scribes to record and manage the materials used to build pyramids; recording the requirements and monitoring their fulfilment on papyrus rolls. Ancient coins – now often on display in their hundreds in museums – provide a history of the trades that took place all over the ancient world. Where the coins were manufactured, versus where they are discovered, shows us where the supply and demand came from.

Much of the early formal acquisition of goods and services has its origins in military logistics, where the historical custom of “foraging and looting” was taken on by military quartermasters (the term dating from the 1600s) to ensure troops had the equipment they needed. Procurement as we know it was not really recognised until the 19th century, when Charles Babage’s 1832 book, ‘On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures’ documented the need for a “materials man in the mining sector who selects, purchases and tracks goods and services required”; a central procurement function.

Fast forward to the 21st century. According to BidStats, in the last eight months nearly 41,000 UK public sector contract notices have been issued, with 1,000 contract award notices in the last week alone*. Coming to more prominent public awareness in recent months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it awarded over 2,000 contracts in 2019, at a combined value of nearly $90 million – a 200% increase in volume from 2017. And these numbers are from just two awarding bodies/sectors. A total volume and value of bids published and awarded is, unsurprisingly, difficult to tie down – but will no doubt have too many zeroes to be displayed on a normal calculator!

Cities continually reinvent themselves as urban life changes…by offering ever more inventive goods and services

The percentage increase experienced by the WHO is not alone; the volume, and value, of contracts published and awarded will only continue to rise – albeit we will expect to see changes in focus and subject as technology and industry sectors move ever forward, adapting to global needs and aiming to improve quality of life. In his book ‘Triumph of the City’, Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, argues that cities continually reinvent themselves as urban life changes; industries (and individual companies) prosper by early identification of these changes, responding by offering ever more inventive goods and services.

No wonder we all love bidding so much – just look at the vibrant, ever-adapting and ever-growing industry we are part of.

*As a side note, other data and graph enthusiasts should check out the Analysis Charts section of BidStats for UK public sector contract notices and awards split by week, region, type, value, sector and CPV code keywords. #LoveAChart


PR contract awarded to ‘relaunch Hong Kong’

A politically sensitive $6m contract to “Relaunch Hong Kong” has been awarded to the Middle East firm, Consulum. Many global PR firms had selected not to bid for the assignment following a difficult year of political unrest. Hong Kong has some beautiful architecture and was a world-leading place to do business. Here’s hoping its troubles are behind it, and this assignment can repair some of the damage done to its economy:$6m-‘relaunch-hong-kong’-pr-tender-awarded-to-middle-east-firm-consulum


Restoration of closed railway lines bidding opens

50 bids have been submitted to the Government to apply for funding to reopen railway lines and stations closed in the Beeching cuts. Successful schemes will be announced later in the summer, and this can only be positive news for their local areas:

Bid process

Is remote working the new normal or the always normal for bids?

Much has been said about a rise in remote and virtual working during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. And while this may be true for many organisations who permanently co-locate, for a lot of bid professionals – particularly those in central bid teams working across multiple UK and/or global offices, or bid consultancies and contractors who ‘parachute’ in to support clients – working remotely is nothing new.

Often, large corporates and professional services organisations have a central business development function; sometimes spread across multiple offices, but always supporting the entire company – wherever the need arises. A bid manager based in Manchester for example, working on bids with the Tokyo or Berlin office, or even closer to home in Leeds (but still regularly only speaking to the team on the telephone, email or video conference). While it may be helpful to be on site with the responding team, this isn’t always an option, or really required.

Increased remote bidding has been talked about a new challenge during the last few months. But, in over 12 years, I’ve been based in the Midlands whilst working on bids with teams in Sheffield, Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester, London, Norwich, Doha, Dubai, Paris, the USA and Victoria Australia, and liaising with third party firms across the world.

There’s time differences, language barriers, cultural differences. Sometimes, those challenges can provide a benefit.

Can remote bidding cause issues? Of course! At a basic level – not being able to walk round the corner and sit with someone to storyboard a question, or to speak to them in person if they’ve missed a deadline. For global teams, there’s time differences, language barriers, cultural differences. However, these challenges can provide a benefit. Not having to travel 2.5 hours each way to the team, or working across time zones? The hours per day available to work on a bid can hugely increase.

The same core process should apply whether you’re working onsite with the responding team, or virtually – you might just need more forward planning and control, both to ensure the submission deadline is met, and to build a strong team even if you never actually meet them face-to-face.

Create a ‘virtual proposal centre’ (as defined in the APMP Body of Knowledge). This could be as simple as a shared folder, or a formal extranet depending on the bid and team scale. Save the client documentation, content plans, bid production plan, team calendars etc. in here – anything that will add real value to the team. You should confirm with all team members they can access it and, more importantly, that they know how to use it.

Hold a kick-off meeting by telephone or video conference as though you were on-site. Schedule a telephone/video conference at a time suitable for all key stakeholders and contributors (taking into account any time differences of course), have a clear agenda, provide an outline of the opportunity and the proposed content plans, and bring client and competitor intelligence. Discuss the virtual proposal centre, the production plan and review meeting schedule.

Define and share file naming, version control and font/design conventions, hopefully saving you time re-formatting at the eleventh hour. On larger bids, and/or with numerous contributors, you might want to share a design sheet or template with header and body text format, colour palettes and image styles.

Share the bid production plan, so everyone can clearly see their responsibilities/accountabilities and the key milestones. Ensure any team holidays or non-bid priorities are included, and most importantly, ensure any required updates/changes are reflected and communicated.

Schedule regular progress catch ups at the outset by telephone or video conference (again, at a time convenient for all) and/or daily/weekly update emails to a bid distribution list. Follow the same structure each time, focusing on progress against key tasks, any risks/issues and the next due tasks. Follow up calls by email with the notes and actions, and save into the virtual proposal centre.  

Pick up the telephone! Not only does this help build rapport between you and the team, it helps underline the importance of the task, especially if you are working with busy operational team members for whom the bid isn’t their day job, and for whom it may be easy to miss an email.

The end goal is still to submit a compliant, on-time, bid. All that’s really different is how you communicate with the team.

If you are used to working on-site with your bid teams, this extended period of working from home / away from your usual office may feel like a completely new way of working. For those of us who regularly work remotely with bid teams, even if that’s just a train ride away, perhaps even we’re feeling a little more isolated than usual. But the end goal is still to submit a compliant, on-time, bid. All that’s really different is how you communicate with the team. You still have all the tools and processes you need whether you are working on the next desk to them, in a different city or even a different country.