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Bid process

Talking to clients part 1: Scoping calls

When you receive an RFP, and are deciding whether to pursue it (or indeed, deciding whether to continue your pursuit, as you should already have a fairly good idea by this point unless it’s a cold bid), how often do you undertake a scoping call with the client?

Many firms assume once an opportunity is issued, the client is off-limits – however this is not always the case. Some clients offer scoping calls as part of the procurement (group and individual), and even if they don’t expressly mention in the RFP documents, you can ask. Worse case, the client says no. Best case, you learn key intelligence and insight that may not have been included in the papers.

So you have the scoping call agreed and diarised – but who should attend, and what should you ask?

The scoping call should involve those who will be heavily involved in the bid production and sign off

Unless the client restricts attendees to one person, you should aim for your bid manager and bid lead (e.g. sponsor, whoever will sign off the submission) to attend as a minimum. You may also find it useful to invite key subject matter expert(s) if the opportunity is technical in nature. At the basic level – the scoping call should involve those who will be heavily involved in the bid production and sign off, so that they fully understand what the client wants, and so can ensure your submission is persuasive and is written to win.

Once your attendees are decided, you should gather scoping questions from the bid team – not just the attendees. It should go without saying that you should not ask anything that is already set out in the documentation, unless it is unclear. Scoping calls are the chance to discuss the client’s unwritten needs or issues, and can give you those golden nuggets of intelligence that other bidders may not have. They can help frame your bid themes and value propositions, and your questions could cross the client’s business/sector, culture and requirements, their position on fees, and the performance of their current providers (if applicable). Of course, there is no guarantee that a client will answer everything you ask, but examples of key questions include:

  • Are any changes planned for your business? What impact will they have?
  • What plans do you have to increase your competitive position?
  • What do you feel are the current issues facing your business?
  • How does this project/service fit into your overall business plans?
  • What, in your opinion, does added value look like? 
  • Who are your current service providers? Why did you choose them? What do they do well, or what would you like to see them do differently?
  • How important are the project/service costs/fees for you? Is there anything that has caused you a problem with fees or billing in the past?
  • What would we need to do to convince you that we are right for you?

Scoping calls can provide an opportunity for you to ‘get into the weeds’ of a tender and the client’s unspoken needs, potentially giving you competitive advantage – all within the procurement rules. As long as you plan properly ahead of time to make the most of the opportunity, what have you got to lose?

The second part of our ‘Talking to clients’ series next week will address presentations within the procurement process. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just about PowerPoint!

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Bid process

Bidonomy’s top blogs of 2020

We’re quite pleased that the word cloud we’ve created above, from all our published blogs, has team, client, process and content front and centre – quite rightly the factors that underpin every bid!

In terms of readership numbers, these were our top ten blogs of 2020…clearly, everyone’s as into (or frustrated by?!) linguistics as we are! Although also very proud to see the ode to Tommy Caldwell’s free climb up The Dawn Wall of Yosemite so high up the list – a personal favourite blog.

  1. Apostrophe Rage: or, how I learned to love the Oxford comma  
  2. The Redundant That
  3. To bid, or not to bid
  4. The Dawn Bid: Free climbing the bid process
  5. Setting up and managing an effective content library
  6. A brief history of bidding: Past, present and future
  7. Once Upon A Bid
  8. When is Best Practice not best practice?
  9. The Right Team, or the ‘Their Turn’ Team?   
  10. The Great Exec Summary Debate

When Bidonomy was set up in June 2020, we had no idea how well received the blogs would be. We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to read and engage with us, and who took part in several polls we ran on LinkedIn.

Happy New Year!

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Bid process

The 12 Days of Bidmas

On the first day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… a double G&T.

On the second day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the third day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the fourth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the fifth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the sixth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the seventh day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the eighth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the ninth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the tenth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… ten detailed bios, nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the eleventh day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… eleven colour graphics, ten detailed bios, nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a double G&T.

On the twelfth day of Bidmas, my bid lead gave to me… twelve days till deadline, eleven colour graphics, ten detailed bios, nine compliance questions, eight fee proposals, seven client examples, six clarifications, five val-ue adds. Four hundred pages, three hard copies, two hours sleep, and a doub-le G-&-T!

Happy holidays everyone!

With additional thanks to Victoria Lee for her help in composition.

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Bid process

Bidding as the incumbent

How do you bid in a re-tender if you’re the incumbent? Do you take it is a given that you’ll retain the contract, as your firm’s been successful with the client? Do you assume the client knows a defined amount about your firm, and focus on anything that is new or you haven’t previously offered them? Or do you treat it as a new bid for a new client, not missing a beat in terms of research, preparation and what you can offer?

According to the APMP’s Body of Knowledge (BOK) “Complacency is the number-one reason incumbent contractors lose”; so your answer should be the third option – but there is still more to it than this. The BOK sets out three phases to winning as the incumbent:

  • Performing to win. Making sure performance is on track, soliciting customer feedback, capturing metrics, and identifying trends
  • Preparing to win. Capturing rebid with the vigour of new business, shaping acquisition and solicitation, and preparing price-to-win and the solution from the ground up
  • Proposing to win. Writing a compelling proposal aligned to evaluation criteria, bidding to the solicitation (not what you know), and not assuming that the evaluator knows your performance history”

The first phase is vital. You should plan for your recompete in plenty of time; after all, you know how long the contract is for, whether any extension discussions have happened, and therefore should be able to anticipate when the client will issue the retender. While you should be gathering client feedback throughout the contract anyway – via client review meetings, informal feedback, reporting/MI, your own performance metrics etc – you should be collating and reviewing this information as a bid team at least three to six months before the retender is due.

Create a feedback loop with those on the front line with the client

You shouldn’t rely on just client feedback however. The second phase, preparing to win, needs the bid team to create a feedback loop with those on the front line with the client – your Account Managers, Project Managers, and Service Delivery Managers to name a few. They are the people who are best-placed to gather intelligence (capture management) on:

  • Were any issues raised by the client that you overcame?
  • Did you demonstrate an improvement in performance during the contract?
  • Did you bring any added value innovations and improvements as a result of the contract?
  • Is anything new or coming down the tracks that is of importance to your client?
  • Are any competitors are talking to them, and how your client views this competition?
  • Are there are likely to be any cost constraints – or indeed larger budgets (we can but dream!) – for the new RFP?

This is all key information you can use to your advantage when recompeting – assisting with the development of your win themes and value propositions, and your price-to-win model.

The third phase is where complacency could really come into play. As the BOK states “The old adage ‘proposals are scored, not read’ might very well apply here.” The danger with being the incumbent is that you assume you’ve carried out the contract well, the client is happy and there’s no reason for them to change supplier – so you don’t need to change things up too much. On the flip side, you could also know too much – and risk bidding for the current contract, not the retendered RFP. 

Do not assume that the procurement evaluators know your business at all, as they may be completely independent to the client service side. As with any bid, you should answer the questions as written – not how you think they should be answered based on your current relationship – and ensuring you can achieve the highest scores against the evaluation criteria. You must be compliant, regardless of how well the client knows you, and how well you’ve performed (or think you’ve performed!) You should also challenge your business. Don’t simply continue how you have been working– what can you do differently this time around? Always ensure you are offering the best solution to the client and their future needs.

Throughout these three phases, one factor is key – leverage what you know, but don’t rely on it or take it for granted. The client won’t.

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Bid process

The question of clarifications

According to the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK), a clarification is: “Communication to eliminate minor irregularities or apparent clerical mistakes in a request for proposal (RFP) or in a proposal.”

In our experience, there are two extremes of clarifications on bids; at one end of the scale, those bids that are pretty self-explanatory but there may be a little more information you’d like, or the ones you read and think, “what are you talking about?!”

But when should you raise clarification questions? And what are the best types of questions to raise?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When (and how) should raise your clarifications?
If the client has provided a clarification deadline after which they will respond, always try to submit your questions at least one or two days before this if you can. Just like submitting your response on a portal at the last minute, there’s a risk that systems may not work, or every other bidder has the same idea – meaning your messages could get lost in the chaos.

Some clients don’t provide a deadline, and clarifications can be raised (and answered) throughout the procurement period. Here, you should try and raise your questions as soon as possible. Firstly, why not get the information you need as soon as you can? Secondly, it provides a further opportunity to go back to the client if things are still unclear and before it’s too late down into submission.

In either scenario, unless it is impossible for logistical reasons (or the client’s response prompts more clarifications!), you should always try to raise your clarifications in one batch. Think about how frustrating it could be for your potential client (or existing client, if a retender of course) to receive multiple questions in separate emails / messages from you. Having said that, we’ve not long worked on a bid where the client send out over 300 clarifications in individual message threads…

Clarification: Communication to eliminate minor irregularities or apparent clerical mistakes in a request for proposal (RFP) or in a proposal

APMP Body of Knowledge

What types of clarifications should you be raising?
Looking back at the BOK definition, it’s perfectly valid to clarify the date of submission, or the deadline for clarification questions, if different dates are provided across documentation. If you are submitting via an online portal, it’s rare (in our experience at least!) that the date there is incorrect – so this could be used as a deciding vote.

If the documents refer to forms or other documents to be completed, but which haven’t been provided, these should definitely be raised as a clarification. For other clerical errors, you may be able to logically work out yourself without embarrassing or annoying the client by raising them formally – such issues include incorrect page numbers or headings, spelling mistakes etc.

You should also raise clarifications if information is missing or unclear, that you consider vital to submitting your response, such as (but not limited to!):
Information required for pricing purposes, e.g., in a tender to supply contact centre services, you would need to know average call lengths and volumes to determine how many staff you need to price up for. Or in a professional/consultancy services tender, you might need to know how many hours / days’ work they require over a set period.
Information required for logistical purposes e.g., where the client needs services to be delivered from, or whether any existing work or staff would need to be transferred.
Information on current operations, such as current contract spend, areas with the highest volumes of work or areas of greatest concern to the client.
Evaluation or scoring criteria hasn’t been included, or no weightings have been provided by the client – in most cases, this information can help you shape your response accordingly.
Contractual points, e.g., are there clauses that your company cannot agree to that you would seek to negotiate at this time, or does the client reference performance indicators which aren’t defined?

You shouldn’t, however, make your (or your competitors’) lives more difficult through your clarification questions. Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to! The ones that always make us roll our eyes are those bidders who ask for word or page limits to be increased. Unless they’ve made a mistake, the client has assigned those limits on purpose – they may have a small team, who can’t read 10 submissions of five volumes each. Or, they are simply judging how you follow instructions, and present information concisely. While you might have the client who is open to extending, or removing, word limits – what does that really achieve, especially if you’ve already drafted a response, other than additional work and potential impact on your colleagues?

Think carefully about what is vital information, de-risk your questions, and always be polite – and don’t be that bidder that all the others roll their eyes at!

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Bid process

Bids: The Horror Story Collection

Watching some scary films for Halloween got us thinking about our bid horror stories over the years. These are just a few examples, sure there are many more if we thought about it (although we try very hard to forget them!)

Buffy and the Scooby Gang didn’t know terror like bids… https://miro.medium.com/max/3200/1*YVFBjWOirnvpXeUk5bj7Og.jpeg
  • Being sat in a hotel room at 2am the day before submission, trying to translate our bid speak into formal contract terminology.
  • Uploading a huge multi-partner £50million bid to an online portal, all the bid team stood around watching, with the documents so large they were taking forever to upload. Finally submitted and accepted with 43 seconds to go.
  • Proof reading a global opportunity with a colleague from 4pm to midnight, then back up at 5am to finish off. The week before Christmas. Independence Day was on in the background; have not been able to watch it since. 
  • First bid for a new employer. Hard copy required – courier was late picking it up, then got lost. Sent out with a junior employee in a taxi while ringing the client to beg them to accept it… 
  • Sat in a deserted office the night before a Bank Holiday, awaiting a courier delivery of a new contract for signing the next week. 
  • Hitting roadblocks at every stage of the process when the bid sponsor wouldn’t take on board any suggestions from the rest of the team – only for them to change their minds at the last minute. Cue mass re-write…
  • The client who sent out hundreds of clarification responses one message at a time. 
  • Working with a teaming partner whose pricing put us £50k above budget, and who refused to take anything out of their model. 
  • Having a member of the team going into labour the morning of the client presentation, and prepping someone to jump in!
  • The multi-work area global bid that landed on Christmas Eve and was due on January 2nd. Why do clients do that?!
  • An e-auction that was originally booked for 30 minutes, and would extend by 10 minutes if someone placed a new bid in the last two minutes. Three hours we sat in that room…
  • The huge re-tender that was in progress for 18 months and we were incumbents – only to lose it on price, undercut by several £million. Devastated doesn’t cover it!
  • Being asked to pick up a bid started by a colleague whom our manager had been asked to remove by the lead contributor. Awkward… and a week left to turn it around. Don’t think daylight was seen that week. 

And yet, despite all the horror stories, this is still a job we love to do! Most of the time…!

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Bid process

Bid Team, Assemble!

Following on from our blog linking Disney films to the bid team and bid process, the journey through the Disney+ back catalogue has continued, and this week it is the turn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who am I kidding? Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a complete Marvel-obsessive and probably can’t believe it’s taken this long for this one to appear!

The Bid Team Avengers survey the scene post-review https://i.insider.com/5aec9ad319ee8622008b48c8?width=750&format=jpeg&auto=webp

Taking it back to basics, we’re looking at the core Avengers team – the original MCU 6 – and where we can find them in our bid teams. In no particular order (although clearly Cap is the best…):

  • Captain America – brave, loyal, disciplined, committed to the cause, and the defacto leader of the team, Cap has to reflect the Bid Manager (although with probably more bad language on the bid side). Your Captain America brings the team together, ensures everyone knows their role and responsibilities, and gives encouragement where it’s needed. Captain Bid sees the long game, and how the team’s actions during the bid can impact the submission. Not afraid to make a stand where needed, and even if it means going against a colleague.
  • And so to the “Science Bros” of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner – these are our SMEs, the technical, operational and financial experts in our bid team. Sometimes throwing ideas into the mix that you think will never work, yet somehow a few days later they have a full technical spec or working prototype. They’re the members of the bid team who look at the submission from every angle, ensuring the solution’s success. And yes, often the ones whose content you can’t understand and you just have to hope someone on the evaluation team does!
  • Black Widow – trained for years, a distinct and specialist skillset, and often operating under the radar of the main bid team, is our commercial lead. They stealthily assess the bid solution, the pricing model and client contract, taking in all known and unknown quantities before executing their attack, pinning the team down until we cut those five roles, 20 laptops and weekly team-building spa day we don’t need.
  • Hawkeye – taking a bird’s eye view of the bid, our red team reviewers. Often not as involved throughout the process as the other team members, and sometimes off doing their own thing until the end. The red team has an ability to see the full picture from afar of what is happening, then focusing in on the core win themes, any issues and risks, and what might be missing from the bid.
  • Thor – the God of the bid team is the bid sponsor, often your CEO/MD/Ops Director. Strong and up-front, they wield the power of the purse strings. They will encourage – in their own way – but may also be uneasy of being challenged in their position. Of course, they may not always think things through and take someone’s head off in a moment of madness (not literally, hopefully), but that’s the risk we take!

And finally, breaking the rules of the MCU 6 a little, but an honourable mention for the Hulk, Bruce Banner’s alter ego. The unknown quantity who suddenly enters the team, causes chaos, smashes up the solution and disappears again.  

So, Bid Team – Assemble!

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Bid process

Once Upon a Bid…

Storytelling in bids has been a topic of much conversation over the past few years, with interesting sessions from Sarah Hinchliffe and Ashley Kayes recently on the APMP calendar.

In Ashley’s session in the recent Winning Business Virtual Experience, she highlighted the link to Disney – ‘storyboarding’ as a concept started in the Disney studios. This got me thinking about the similarities between many Disney animated films and the bid process. There is a chance continued lockdowns are starting to take their toll… or just that I watch too many Disney films. But there are some shared themes!

https://wallpapercave.com/w/tfUMfjr

The Little Mermaid

  • The Disney version: The film tells the story of a mermaid Princess named Ariel, who dreams of becoming human and falls in love with a human prince named Eric, which leads her to make a magic deal with an evil sea witch to become human and be with him.
  • The bid version: The challenger firm dreams of being “the one” and usurping the incumbent. They look for the insider knowledge, doing a deal to repay the favour with a job if it works out well…

Peter Pan

  • The Disney version: Wendy Darling and her brothers John and Michael go on an adventure to Never Land with Peter Pan (the boy who never grew up) and his pixie friend Tinkerbell. Peter leads a band of Lost Boys who spend their time hiding from and fighting with Captain Hook. After helping Peter win a battle with Hook, the children fly back home. Peter and the Lost Boys return to Never Land.
  • The bid version: Peter and the Lost Boys are the MD and the operational and technical experts the bid manager (Wendy) tries to round up and control to input into the bid; usually seen all the time, now the bid has come out, they’ve gone into hiding.

The Black Cauldron

  • The Disney version: Set in a mythical land during the Early Middle Ages, the evil Horned King hopes to secure an ancient magical cauldron that will aid him in his desire to conquer the world. He is opposed by a young swineherd named Taran, the young princess Eilonwy, the bard Fflewddur Fflam, and a wild creature named Gurgi who seek to destroy the cauldron, to prevent the Horned King from ruling the world.
  • The bid version: Two bidding firms – one of which is the incumbent – battle over a third party expert who will give them the edge in the bid.

Aladdin

  • The Disney version: The film follows Aladdin, an Arabian street urchin, who finds a magic lamp containing a genie. He disguises himself as a wealthy prince, and tries to impress the Sultan and his daughter.
  • The bid version: The bid team that exaggerates or even makes up its experience to get in the door with the client and their advisors. Beware – the lack of experience will be found out!

Tangled

  • The Disney version: A lost, young princess with magical long blonde hair yearns to leave her secluded tower. Against her mother’s wishes, she accepts the aid of an intruder to take her out into the world that she has never seen.
  • The bid version: A client has been with the same service provider for some time. The service delivery team has pushed back on their MD as they feel things can be improved. The client is now coming out to bid for the first time to find something different.

Big Hero 6

  • The Disney version: Hiro Hamada, a young robotics prodigy, forms a superhero team to combat a masked villain.
  • The bid version: In probably the most obvious bid link of the Disney back-catalogue, the bid manager and sponsor pull together a crack bid team with differing skillsets to outbid the competition.

And finally, an honourable mention to Inside Out – set in the mind of a young girl, where five personified emotions (Fear, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Joy) try to lead her through life. Definitely all the emotions the Bid Manager goes through during the bid process…

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Bid process

The Right Team, or the ‘Their Turn’ Team?

How often do you team with a partner organisation (or multiple partners) to deliver a bid submission? Your organisation might only team on a complex, strategic bid, or you may partner on any bid where you feel you need a little extra oomph or sparkle.

One of the key questions at the early bid pursuit decisions is whether you can deliver all the client’s requirements on your own. You should answer the need to partner question honestly for every opportunity, and in comparison to your known (and unknown) competitors. Can you deliver all the requirements as a sole bidder, or are there gaps in expertise or experience for which you need a partner firm(s)? And if the latter, should you lead or contribute in that relationship? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses in both approaches? Which gives you the best win probability against the client’s requirements? The APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) provides a template to help you carry out this exercise.

Fast forward a few days and you’ve conducted your appraisal, know who you need to partner with, and have agreed to team up. How do you actually decide who leads the bid? Who will be responsible for leading the bid production, submission and relationship for this opportunity?

According to the BOK: “There is a complicated, delicate balance of strategy and tactics required to assemble a winning team. While an effective teaming strategy can significantly improve a bidder’s win probability, a poorly executed strategy can create serious performance, reputation, legal, and financial problems.”

Figure 1: Team Boys or Team Supes? https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/ustv/

With this in mind, your bid lead should be the partner with strongest relationship with the client, the most relevant demonstrable experience, or the organisation who will be responsible for the majority of deliverables/requirements. For each teaming decision, you should assess the opportunity in detail and choose a bid lead for the right reasons. You should not pick a lead party simply because it’s one or the other’s ‘turn’, or the opportunity came into them (either directly, or through their registration on a client portal).

Put yourself in the position of evaluator. Would you not wonder why the firm who would deliver the majority of the work is not leading on the bid?

Imagine your client is procuring for a new software solution, with a requirement for underlying MI analysis. You can deliver all the requirements in the ITT, but partnering with a specialist MI firm will give you an edge. Who would lead? If you’ve worked with the MI firm before, and last time you led the bid, it might be tempting to let them lead to ‘even it out’. However, to the client, this is likely to be the wrong decision. Put yourself in the position of evaluator. Would you not wonder why the firm who would deliver the majority of the work is not leading on the bid?

While you may not need to do this on all bids, there are numerous formal structures you could set up, such as the traditional prime/sub, joint ventures (where a new legal entity is established), or a partnership/alliance where each party contracts with the client. Whether you go formal or more informal, you should negotiate a teaming agreement as early as possible (if you don’t already have one in place with the partner firm(s)), setting out the legal, operational and financial aspects of the relationship.

There should always be a clear rationale on who leads the bid. Which lead organisation offers the maximum competitive advantage and highest win probability? Which makes the most sense to the client’s specific opportunity? Don’t just hand off the lead because you led last time. You could more damage putting forward the wrong team than not partnering at all.

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Bid process

Making Software Work For You

For this week’s blog, we have something a bit different – Bidonomy is famous! Our article about how important the human factor is in effectively managing bid software has been published by APMP on its Winning The Business website.

Check out the article here!