The Preproposal Phase

As indicated before, many proposals are won or lost as a function of the preproposal activity or lack thereof. For large contracts, this activity is literally a well-developed campaign with its own rather sophisticated plan. Because there is so much at stake, the preproposal work is dealt with as if it were a separate project that culminated in the customer's formal release of an RFP.

A summary of key points relative to the preproposal phase is provided in Exhibit 6.5. This is a minimal set of activities that should be undertaken in order to be successful with a proposal.

Exhibit 6.5: Recommended Preproposal Activities

1. Visit with the prospective customer to understand his or her needs and requirements.

2. Write think pieces and ''white papers.''

3. Present your company's capabilities.

4. Investigate alliances and teaming possibilities.

5. Identify and activate the proposal writing team.

6. Obtain internal corporate support.

There is no substitute for truly understanding what it is that the customer really wants. The best way to do this is to visit with the customer and talk through his or her various needs and desires. Find out what the customer is looking for—what the key issues are from the perspective of the customer. This notion applies as well when there are several customers, which is usually the case. In other words, the customer often consists of several people, all of whom are looking for one or more pieces of the puzzle known as customer requirements. If you have not spent the time necessary to visit across the table with your potential customer, you may have a ''no-bid'' staring you in the face.

In response to what you find out in your face-to-face meetings with your customer, seriously consider writing one or more think pieces or white papers. These are short (five- to ten-page) descriptions of your approach to the problem, as expressed by the customer. They are very specific as to what the key issues are, how you would develop a solution, and what the final product or service might look like. You are also requesting feedback from the customer as to whether or not you are on the right track. Therefore, after the customer has read these inputs, follow-up meetings are suggested in order to fine-tune your approach. You are also demonstrating your interest and responsiveness and, to the extent possible, preselling your approach to the customer. This spade work will not be lost on the customer when it comes time to evaluate your formal proposal. You will also be in a better position than your competitors because you will have had the benefit of this interaction with the customer.

As part of your meetings with the customer, you should also present the broad as well as specific capabilities of your company. This can take the form of a stand-up slide presentation in front of several people in your customer's organization. Such presentations involve corporate strengths such as personnel, facilities (e.g., special laboratories or test chambers), history of work with other clients on similar requirements, software already written, and so forth. In addition to ''telling'' your customer what you have to offer, try to ''demonstrate'' special capabilities. These can be expressed by software packages that you have developed that apply directly to the problem at hand. Instead of talking about the software, bring in a computer and illustrate the use of the software, in real time, on the screen. ''Showing'' is always better than simply ''telling.''

As you gain an understanding of the customer needs and requirements, you may find that your company does not possess all the required skills, capabilities, and experience with the knowledge domain of the customer. Both strategic and tactical alliances and teaming should be considered to make your team a winner. Many large-scale contracts cannot be won without teaming, thus requiring filling in all the gaps in capability and understanding by members of the team. You may be the prime contractor in such an arrangement or you may ultimately decide that a subcontractor position is the better part of valor. In the latter case, you must then try to determine who has the best chance of winning, and then do all of the preceding in attempting to sell your company to the prime.

Early identification and activation of at least part of the proposal team is mandatory. A proposal manager should be designated, along with at least a few key players of the proposal team. They need to be part of the preproposal campaign and play a role in preparing all written materials. In this manner, the learning curve is minimized when it comes time to actually respond to an RFP. All players are up-to-speed and understand what has transpired prior to the formal proposal preparation. Failure to make this investment will often lead to a disconnect between the preproposal and proposal phases, resulting in a poor written proposal.

Last, but by no means least, support has to be obtained from various people and departments in your organization. This includes marketing, contracts, human resources, matrixed managers, and your own line management. Although you may not have made a firm ''bid decision,'' you have to give an early alert to all these other players so that they understand the program you are seeking and its unique requirements. For example, you may have to find certain key personnel to handle special technical areas. The human resources department and various matrixed managers may be able to help you in this regard. The contracts department needs an early alert so that it can review the terms and conditions of work done previously with this customer as well as get ready for the preparation of extensive cost estimates. Finally, you need support from your boss and other levels of line management in terms of concurrence with the bid as well as putting forth the resources necessary to prepare a winning proposal. This includes funding, but it also means making the right people available at the right time to contribute to a winning proposal.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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