A colleague of mine once described the arrival of an Invitation to Tender (ITT) as a “meatfest”, summoning up the image of a hoard of people desperate to get hold of a haunch of venison to satiate their hunger. The document would arrive, everyone would grab a copy, then a flurry of emails and conversations would start up between anyone and everyone about what should happen next.
I say: “Whoa, steady on. That’s not the way to do it.” Discipline and control should be what kick in when an ITT arrives so that sensible business decisions are encouraged and resources are used effectively and efficiently. In your proposal management process there should be a step called “kick-off”. Contrary to popular belief, this should not happen on the day the ITT arrives, but between 10% and 20% through the response timeline. Let’s explore why it is so important to get this right.
Those who have been following my proposal management series of articles will know that I consistently advocate early preparation and planning as the way to ensure reduced stress later in the process. The kick-off meeting is a key step in this approach. You will also know that I champion the cause that every ITT should be expected. Receipt of an ITT should be the natural “next” step in an integrated business development process that is preceded by a period often called capture. Capture involves building a relationship with the prospective customer and an understanding of the opportunity. The arrival of the ITT simply heralds a new phase of pursuing and winning that opportunity.
So, when the ITT arrives, you are ready and waiting. The ITT should be received and assessed by the proposal manager and only the proposal manager. The first action is to make an inventory of the documents that have arrived. Store them in a central folder in whatever electronic system your company operates. In parallel, resources should be allocated to work on the proposal under the leadership of the proposal manager. These resources should comprise a core team plus writers, graphic designers, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), reviewers and approvers. Each member of the core team will lead a different “strand” of the work – for example, the technical solution, the delivery approach, the commercial deal. Some people may well double up in different roles, but they must all be identified and allocated their responsibilities.
Only at this stage should the proposal manager begin to share the ITT, but even then only with the core team and management. The proposal manager will distribute the relevant documents to the relevant people with a request for them to review and qualify that they contain what was expected. For smaller ITTs, this may just involve one or two people. The main purpose of the step is to inform a bid/no-bid checkpoint before expensive time and effort is spent. Once the core team and management have agreed to proceed, the proposal manager can begin to prepare for the kick-off meeting.
Prior to a Kick-Off Meeting the following important tasks must be completed either by, or under the direction of, the proposal manager:
1. Checkpoint the Win Strategy: Assuming that the ITT was expected and that your customer-facing staff have done their capture work properly, there should already be a win strategy in place. This will include a good understanding of the customer’s key business drivers – what really matters to them in doing this project – as well as a detailed competitor analysis, a clear vision of the solution and commercial deal. A win strategy review meeting should check all these elements and enable the proposal manager to understand your own and your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. All this information can be used by the proposal team to build a compelling story that confirms why the customer can be confident to buy from you and why they should not buy from your competitors.
2. Identify compliance requirements: Every document within the ITT must be “stripped” or “shredded” to identify all the requirements to ensure compliance with the customer’s instructions and requirements. These may be captured in a “compliance matrix”. Some customers include a compliance matrix in the ITT with an instruction for you to complete it. Even if you are provided with one, you should still check through the whole ITT and create new compliance matrices to cover any additional requirements you may find – there are bound to be some! Consider not only technical requirements, but also commercial and administrative requirements. Even a simple instruction like “the supplier will submit their response in Times New Roman font size 12” is a compliance instruction you should confirm you have followed.
Compliance matrices are working documents. Where possible, you should include a “proposal reference” column to signpost the customer to the proposal section that explains the response in detail, but this column will not be completed until after the proposal is finished. The finished matrices will be included in the ITT response as navigation or signposting aids for the customer, but they can also be useful to track progress of building the ITT response. The diagram below provides an example of a compliance matrix.
3. Create the document structure and format: Determine whether the customer has instructed you to present the document in a certain format or structure, either wholly or partially. If so, set this up as a template ready for people to use. If not, the first action is to decide on the format for the document. It is advisable to have a prepared, branded corporate template so that you are sending consistently presented documents out into the marketplace. Having got the format, you then need to decide how you will structure the document. Remember that you are aiming to make it easy for the customer to evaluate your response so:
4. Build the schedule: The proposal manager will prepare a timeline showing all the tasks, milestones and individuals responsible for each. This can be produced in a spreadsheet or using a project management software tool. It is worth having a standard template with all the potential tasks included to act as a checklist to ensure nothing is forgotten.
5. Prepare the kick-off meeting pack: A kick-off meeting is a briefing meeting, not an opportunity to discuss or change strategy or approach. Everyone who will be involved in the proposal process must be invited including management sponsor(s), proposal contributors, reviewers and approvers. If you are involving third parties, you may wish to invite them too, or consider running a separate briefing for them; whatever you choose, you need them to be fully on board with tasks and timelines. The proposal manager must build an agenda, like the example below, but can delegate tasks to colleagues in terms of presenting certain elements of the meeting.
The kick-off meeting should last no longer than 2 hours. Senior staff who will be involved in the reviewing and approving may attend the main briefing sessions on the opportunity background, strategy and timeline, while contributors will attend the whole meeting to understand more detail about the storyboarding and writing tasks ahead.
So, finally you can run your kick-off meeting. The proposal manager will run the session and establish him/herself as a competent and authoritative leader who will drive the process from now to proposal submission. Everyone will understand the process, the timescales, their roles and responsibilities and the key messages. Significantly, everyone will see from the preparation and management presence at the meeting the importance of the proposal task.
Preparing and running a well-structured kick-off meeting helps to set the tone for managing a proposal. Professionalism, discipline and control at the early stages will motivate and inform everyone and can give this whole stage of the business development lifecycle the respect it deserves.
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