The day you start a new contract should be the day you start preparing for the recompete. You build your past performance day by day. And you have the opportunity to learn about the customer's preferences. But if you wait until the end of the contract to start doing the things that will help you win the proposal, they’ll take far more effort. And some will no longer be possible.
- Metrics. When you get to the proposal, you’ll want to be able to cite cost reductions, performance improvements, capacities, durations, and other figures. However, if you weren’t tracking them, you probably won’t be able to. If you can even remember the details. Think about the statistics that you might cite in the proposal, and then start tracking the metrics you’ll need early enough to accumulate the data.
- Intellectual property. Intellectual property can translate into strengths in a proposal that differentiate your offering. Consult a lawyer for the legalistic minutiae of creating intellectual property. Our focus here is on winning. If you have a library of documentation, software, procedures, checklists, or other tools that you developed on your own and that are your intellectual property, then the only way the customer can get them is through you. Nearly all companies will have to develop processes and procedures. Hardly any of those companies will document them and turn them into assets. It’s a time investment, and most service companies control costs by minimizing time instead of investing it. But if the labor is a sunk cost and you can create an asset, it will be worth it many times over if it helps you win the recompete. Just simply having your procedures documented can also make writing about how you do things a whole lot easier.
- Preferences and trade-offs. If you go into the recompete without knowing the customer’s preferences and the best way to make the inevitable trade-offs, you have wasted an advantage you might have had as the incumbent. During the contract, figure out what choices you’ll have to make in the proposal, both in your offering and in points of emphasis, and target them for research. Also consider the trade-offs an outsider will have to consider. When you write the proposal you’ll want to explain why you do things and what matters about them. You want to make sure what you say matches the customer’s preferences, as does every trade-off you have to make. As an incumbent, you have a tremendous opportunity to gain insight into the customer. Don’t waste the opportunity. Training your project staff how to gain and report this insight is so worth it.
- Clarifications. Is everything clear, or are there things about the customer and what they want that you’re not sure about? Seek clarity. But clarity is also a two-way street. Is the customer clear about what you do and why you do it that way? Do they even realize how much value you are adding?
- Articulate from the customer’s perspective. A great proposal is written from the customer’s perspective instead of merely describing yourself and what you do. When the proposal starts, you need to be able to put everything you do in the context of the results the customer is looking for. It takes a combination of information about the customer and the ability to write from someone else’s perspective instead of being self-descriptive. You should spend the life of the contract developing this skill and improving your understanding of the customer.
- Visualization. Visual communication is superior to text in a proposal. You should spend the life of the contract developing graphics about the project, so that you’ll be able to show insight with an illustration your competitors can’t match. While you’re at it, take lots of photographs that show effort, scale, and results.
- Improvements. Make improvements. Document the improvements that you made. You’ll want to be able to cite them in the proposal. You’ll want the customer evaluating past performance to be aware of them. You’ll want the customer to award you the recompete so they can get more. Even if the customer doesn’t want to deviate from the status quo, there’s still an advantage in making them aware that you have more capabilities that will be there for the customer when they need them.
- Awards and recognition. Give it, seek it, and document it. Keep a file. Email makes it easy. Instead of asking for praise from the customer, tell the customer that you’re recognizing your staff for their hard work and most of the time they’ll join in.
It shouldn’t take a lot of extra effort. It just requires some mindfulness and note taking. And if you think it's not worth the cost to invest in a project to ensure great performance, just imaging the cost of not ensuring great performance. I've seen companies ruined by failing to adequately perform on a contract and losing their future work because of it.
When you do the thing above, you'll create the kind of proposal input that writer love to have to work with. They are good sources of competitive advantage and differentiators. They are things competitors can’t match.
Without them, even though you are the incumbent, a competitor can write a proposal just as good as yours. Without them, a claim to being best just because you are the incumbent is merely an unsubstantiated claim.