A Primer on Proposal Strategy

If you’ve been reading my (Jordan’s) other posts on this blog, you’ll see the continually repeated theme of the importance of research, planning and proper preparation in the production of any proposal or submission.

In my corporate work, I refer to the guiding document, the blueprint that informs your approach, your themes, and your offer, as “the bid strategy”.

My corporate work generally entails working on very high-value deals – with my particular specialty being major and mega projects in the civil engineering space. Thus, with the exception of a form of proposal known as “Market-Led Proposals (MLPs)”, almost all of the submissions I work on for the big end of town, are responses to Expressions of Interest (EOIs) and Requests for Proposal (RFPs). I refer to them all with the more wieldy term, “bids”.

Actually, I use “bid strategy” both to refer to the guiding blueprint, and also to the plan that has been formulated and which is laid out in writing in that document.

In these very large bids, the strategy formulation process involves weeks of research, multiple days in workshops with relevant management figures and subject matter experts (both internal and external), and the appropriate amount of time in the writing-up of the strategy document (which is often accompanied by separate, specific writers’ guides for the various key sections of the EOI or RFP).

So why do I tell you all this, when you’re a far smaller organisation and it all seems so overwhelmingly irrelevant to an enterprise of your far more modest size, means and mission?

I tell you it, because there are certain components of this process that are relevant to a pursuit of any size, if it’s important enough to you.

Here are those non-negotiable components (distilled, compressed, and “key-pointed”, to the best of my ability):

  • The first step in the bid strategy process is ensuring that you should actually be going for this piece of business or targeting this prospect in the first place. You must be certain you have enough prior knowledge of the targeted client or customer organisation and their requirements to know whether you can be advisedly confident that you can perform to / fulfil these.
  • You must have a logical, compelling “why” for going for this piece of business – whether a new key account, an extension to or upscaling of a contract or relationship, a services or supply contract, or the delivery of a project. That “why” must then be supported by a favorable Return on Investment (ROI) viability assessment and overarching risk/reward analysis.
  • Once you’ve decided you are going to pursue the business, you must then set about mapping out everything you currently know about the prospect, the targeted contract or project, and all the associated dynamics and relevant history. This includes that organisation’s external operating environment, and its internal structure, workings and culture.
  • Identifying and learning all you can (appropriately) about key decision makers is one of your next main points of research, along with the experiences, challenges and expectations of end-users and other “stakeholders” (a word the corporate sector loves).
  • Determining who your likely competition will be comes next, along with turning up all relevant information on them. Mapping out your own comparative strengths and weaknesses follows that, in readiness for using those insights to hone the components of your offering.
  • With all that detail on the table, it’s time to identify the shape, size and working parts of your offer, and to assemble that, along with your surrounding knowledge and insights, and your competitive intelligence, into your “bid strategy”. That is, exactly what it is that you intend to propose, and how you will craft and present it in your proposal.
  • The above processes will have produced a substantial amount of raw documentation – which, if you are serious about the piece of business targeted and you are diligent – you will then want to write up into a clearly articulated strategy blueprint.

The purpose of having a documented strategy is to provide one last reality check, to galvanise your team, to ensure all members are on the same page, and to provide a followable guide to whomever will be writing your proposal.

As you work through your planning process, and if you are forcing yourself to formulate your self-questioning and answers from the perspective of the client rather than your own enterprise, you’ll see readily how the further you go with it, the more competitively superior that which you table is likely to be.

You will see how some insightful, dedicated, and disciplined strategy planning gives you a far greater chance of success in your pursuit. The least possible benefit is that you will have created a rapport with a suitably impressed target, that takes you closer to becoming a supplier at some point. But more than likely, your competitors won’t have done anything approaching this thorough, and you’ll show yourself up as head and shoulders above any of your cohorts.