Bid process

Kickoff or kick out?

When do you hold the bid kickoff? Is it one of the first things you do when the bid lands? Or do you only hold this meeting when the bid decision gate has been passed, and you know whether you should be submitting a response?

Jack Grealish lining up for some kickoff / free kick magic

I have worked in organisations where as soon as an opportunity comes in, a kick off call or meeting is convened. No evaluation has taken place, and the kickoff is treated partly as that discussion.

By the time you have the kickoff, the opportunity should have been fully qualified with three key questions addressed – is the opportunity real, can we win it, and do we want to?* But, like where I previously worked, how many times is the kickoff used to have those discussions – when it’s already too late? If you haven’t already held the bid decision call/meeting, once the team is engaged on a kickoff it can feel like a runaway train that you have no way of catching to bring the team back to properly debate whether we should be bidding in the first place.

The APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) outlines two major pitfalls around the kickoff – and in my experience, the first point is where the damage most often occurs:

  • Confusing the kickoff meeting with the initial planning meeting: The kickoff meeting should not be confused with the initial planning meeting. An initial planning meeting should be an internal meeting with core team members immediately after the RFP is released. The outcomes and directions of this initial planning meeting are the inputs to the kickoff meeting.
  • Not allowing sufficient time to plan a kickoff: Considerable time needs to be spent preparing for the kickoff. Having a kickoff meeting as quickly as possible after the release of the catalyst documents can set the team up for failure if key information and guidance is missing. Take the time to prepare and plan. Ensure that all fundamental documents are in place prior to the kickoff meeting.”

The kickoff should also happen later in the process than you may probably expect. According to the BOK: “Kickoff meetings are not executed immediately upon RFP receipt. Resist the urge to have a kickoff meeting as soon as you receive the bid request… Instead, schedule kickoff meetings about 15 percent into the response timeframe.” 15 percent. That means if you have a three-week turnaround, the kickoff meeting should not happen prior to day three. Obviously, shorter timeframes mean it can still feel as though the call is happening “as soon as” the bid lands – but you still should have evaluated and made a qualified decision to bid prior to this meeting.

So you now know you shouldn’t hold it immediately, but when you do, how long should the kickoff be? This will depend on the opportunity and submission requirements, but the BOK suggests you set aside up to four hours. How often do you do that? Or do you just have a quick half hour? This is another reason, in my experience, why the kickoff and bid/no bid meetings get confused.

The kickoff should be a key activity along the bid timeline – it takes time and preparation, both for the bid manager, and the bid team. At the point of holding a kickoff meeting, as the bid manager you should have reviewed the client papers so that you can provide an overview of the requirements and timetable, the longer-term programme, and answer any questions the team has. You should look to agree win themes, your value proposition, and relevant team and experience. At a more granular level, the kickoff should also be used to agree and assign tasks/actions, confirm the timetable and agree logistics, and confirm any early clarifications you may have for the client. The BOK has a useful checklist, but even a simple list of tasks can be used as your agenda to ensure you cover everything.

So if you are one of those organisations that holds kickoffs immediately, think of it as a kickoff from a free kick when the game is already in play.

*For more detail, see our blog on the importance of bid decision process from last year.

Bid process

To bid or not to bid?

We’ve found ourselves in an uncertain period during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Now that businesses and procurement are starting to ramp up once more, suppliers may be tempted to bid for more tenders than they should or would normally, to get their foot in the door again.

However, bid more does not mean win more. You should only submit a tender response when you have a strong chance of winning, at a competitive rate (yet still financially viable), at a balanced risk to your business – AND when you have continually assessed and proven the justification to continue. If you’re bidding for everything, are you wasting resources on marginal, or even unwanted opportunities? Would you still have enough resources to bid if that really strong opportunity comes along at the same time?

We have probably all encountered those stakeholders who want to bid for an opportunity because they know the Chairman’s brother from school, or because they met the procurement lead at an event and it would “look bad” if we didn’t bid, even if we don’t want to win it. However, wouldn’t it look worse if you bid with no clear, relevant, or cost-effective solution for the client? With no experience in their field? Without a suitably skilled and experienced team? The likelihood is this would damage your relationship with the client more than choosing not to bid for valid reasons.

The most successful organisations eventually pursue less than 30% of their pipeline and achieve win rates of more than 70%

The APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) sets out six decision gates on the path from qualification to submission. Note that the first gate, market entry, is not related to a specific opportunity but to your engagement with a particular market, so for this article, we’ll assume that gate has been passed!

The decision to bid or not bid should be core to your business development activity. According to APMP, the most successful organisations eventually pursue less than 30% of their pipeline and achieve win rates of more than 70%. Decision gates shouldn’t be thought of as something to just “get done”. They should be carefully planned and diarised; bringing together the key people in your organisation to decide whether to allocate or remove resource from an opportunity, and thus avoid over-investment in low-probability tenders. What this means is that appropriate time and resource should be allocated to the process. At a previous defence organisation, we spent more time and resource proving why we shouldn’t bid a particular opportunity, than that spent on a much stronger opportunity!

The bid decision gates described in the BOK, and the core questions you should be asking at each, are:

  • Opportunity qualification: is the opportunity worth using our resources to research and assess it further?
  • Bid pursuit: should we develop opportunity plans and allocate time and resource trying to influence the customer to prefer us and our solution?
  • Bid/no-bid decision: have we positioned ourselves favourably enough to justify planning to develop a proposal and having a good chance of winning?
  • Bid validation: is the opportunity still worth pursuing, and a proposal worth preparing, now we know more about it?
  • Final review: should we submit, considering the anticipated financial reward and level of risk?

Did you spot where the RFP was released? Would/did it surprise you to learn that it’s actually later than you might expect through the business development pathway, between the bid/no-bid and the bid validation decision gates?

If your business development cycle is working effectively, your account (and often your project managers if you are bidding as an incumbent) should know – and more importantly, truly understand – enough about the customer and the opportunity for a decision to be made before the tender documentation is even released and the bid team gets involved.

At all stages, the core questions you should be asking are: do we know and understand this customer? Do we understand what they want and need? Do we have proven, demonstrable, experience in this area? Do we have the right team to deliver? Can we offer something no competitor can? Would our solution provide real value (not just a cheaper option) to the client?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you should seriously consider not bidding. No matter how good a friend the Chairman’s brother is.