Most companies know that to have the best chance of winning an opportunity, you have to be aware of the opportunity before the Request for Proposals (RFP) is released. When you are aware of an opportunity prior to 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 at tilting the playing field in your favor. Finding out about opportunities prior to RFP release is one of the most important things you can do to gain a competitive edge.
Unfortunately, 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 without being as well positioned or informed as they should be.
The reason for this is that most companies never define what "bid readiness" means. They don't have a specific plan of action for how to best take advantage of the time before RFP release. While they put their best effort into it, they treat bid preparation as part of the sales process or some mysterious art that cannot be measured. How can you be ready to bid if you don't have specific criteria that tell you when you are ready? How do you measure your progress towards being ready? How do you know what you have accomplished and what you still need to work on? Making bid preparation measurable is the only way you can consistently be prepared.
Unfortunately, this 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.
Most companies just try to do "the best job they can" at collecting intelligence and preparing for RFP release.
There is a better way…
The first step is to identify the information you need in order to be prepared. We generally break these down into categories such as:
- Scope of work
- Acquisition Strategy
- Evaluation Criteria
- Points of Contact
- Competitive Intelligence
- Competitive Advantage
We have identified a list of typical questions for each of the areas identified above, and have published them in a separate article.
We recommend checking your progress at least four times between when you first become aware of an opportunity and when the RFP is released. If you become aware of an opportunity a year in advance, you have three months between each check. If you become aware of it one month before the RFP is to be released, you only have a week between each check.
The purpose of checking is to determine whether the progress made to date is sufficient to ensure readiness when the RFP is released. While you will have limited knowledge at first, by the time the RFP is released you need to be ready. The checks ensure that progress is made in an orderly manner, without things being left to the last minute or forgotten entirely. Each check provides an opportunity to re-evaluate how you are going to get answers to the questions that you do not have answers for yet.
At each review you should see progress towards being able to answer those questions. Also, at each check the answers should become more detailed and more specific. The first time you review your progress, it may be sufficient to have a high level description of the scope of work and a point of contact. By the fourth progress review, you should be able to answer most of the questions and be turning that information into specific plans and strategies for your proposal.
The combination of specific questions to answer and regular progress reviews ensures that the critical time before the RFP is not wasted. After all, it would be a shame to squander the advantage that being aware of the opportunity provides you with. This is what happens all too often when companies lack a definition of bid readiness and the means to measure progress towards it.