Categories
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 (https://unsplash.com/@shootdajay)

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.

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Caldwell 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.

Categories
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!