Most companies know that to have the best chance of winning an opportunity, you have to start the pursuit before the Request for Proposals (RFP) is released. When you start prior to RFP release, you have better access to information about the customer, the opportunity, and the competition, as well as time to find out more. You also have a chance to influence the RFP. Finding out about the RFP prior to its release gives you a chance to tilt the playing field in your favor. Starting your pursuit early and ensuring that you are ready at RFP release is one of the most important things you can do to gain a competitive advantage and be positioned to win before you even start the proposal. While they put their best effort into it, most companies treat the pursuit as part of the sales process or some mysterious art that cannot be measured. The result is that most companies do not do a good job of taking advantage of the time before RFP release, even when they know about an opportunity in advance. They end up starting the proposal feeling unprepared and not being as well positioned or informed as they should be. Their win rates suffer as a result.
This is often because they never define what "ready to bid" means. They don't have a specific plan of action for how to best take advantage of the time before RFP release, or any way to measure their progress towards being “ready.” Defining an opportunity pursuit process that ensures RFP readiness is difficult for a number of reasons:
- You don't know what will trigger the start of the process.
- You don't know how much time you will have --- it can range from days to years.
- The customer controls most of the milestones and they vary greatly from opportunity to opportunity.
- You will never be able to collect all the intelligence you would like to have.
- Instead of truly defining the process, most companies just ask for some kind of “Capture Plan” and then focus on their financial projections.
- There is a better way…
The first step is to identify the information you need in order to be prepared for RFP release. Intelligence is generally broken down into categories such as:
- Scope of work
- Acquisition Strategy
- Evaluation Criteria
- Points of Contact
- Competitive Intelligence
- Competitive Advantage
Knowing what to ask is important, but you also need to have a process in place to ensure the questions get answered. The capture process is a disciplined process to ensure that you do what you should in order to win a pursuit.
The MustWin Process lays it all out for you
To track progress towards being ready, we divide the time before RFP release into four equal parts so that we can review the answers gathered at each point and measure the progress towards being ready for RFP release. Each part focuses on answering questions in the categories identified above and ends with a review. If you become aware of an opportunity a year in advance, you have three months between each review. If you become aware of it one month before the RFP is to be released, you only have a week between each review. The reviews ensure that progress is made in an orderly manner, without things being left to the last minute or forgotten entirely. Each review provides an opportunity to re-evaluate how you are going to get answers to the questions that you do not have answers for yet.
The process starts with the discovery of a lead. The first part of the process focuses on identifying that lead. It establishes a minimum baseline of information that consists mainly of general information about the customer, their goals, your contacts, and the scope of the opportunity.
After the lead identification review comes lead qualification. The objective is to continue gathering intelligence on the opportunity to determine how real it is, whether it is worth pursuing, or whether this is potentially a “no bid.” Begin looking at how good of a fit the opportunity is for your company and whether you have any gaps in your capability to do the work. You should also identify any competitors, and begin executing your contact plan.
Once the lead has been qualified, you should focus on gathering the intelligence you will need to win the bid. In addition to gathering intelligence, you should also make it your goal to influence the RFP in order to change the procurement in your favor. The intelligence you gather should provide a clear understanding of what it will take to win and help you develop a competitive advantage.
The final step is to take the intelligence you’ve gathered and prepare it for use in the proposal. This involves turning the data you've collected into win strategies, proposal themes and action items pertaining to the start of the proposal. The objective here is to do everything possible prior to the release of the RFP, so your team can truly hit the ground running. By this point, you should have a clear understanding of the project’s scope, have begun to develop your technical approach, and be able to articulate why the customer would choose your team versus a competitor’s. It’s also important to keep a finger on the pulse of the opportunity: Has anything changed that you need to make any final adjustments for?
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