Is It Really a “Must Win”?

Often times, when I am being interviewed by a prospective client, the interviewer will say that the opportunity they are pursuing is a “must win,” and they ask “What criteria must we satisfy for a must win proposal?”

By Danny Long

An entire industry has been built around this question, and with “commoditized” proposal services and software, many companies ignore the question and advocate that their client can improve the probability of win by using their services and software versus what needs to be done to win. We cannot ignore the question. Unless specific criteria are met, the proposal is not a “must win.” These criteria include, but are not limited to:

  • Staffing
  • Resources, and
  • A Sufficient Budget

Staffing: Operating on the premise that the Capture team has developed and is ready to transition a cogent and executable baseline solution, the proposal effort must be staffed at all levels–not just a core team, but genuinely staffed based on a realistic resource plan and schedule. Staffing needs to include a proposal manager (PM), the right number of volume leads (VLs), the right number of dedicated (versus part-time) authors, graphics/production leads, pricers, and schedulers. On a winning proposal submitted to the world’s third largest financial institution, at the peak of our work, I had five volume leads, 65 authors, and three graphics/production leads working in three geographically separate locations.

The Proposal Manager is
responsible for the win!

The Proposal Manager must be demanding and hold the team accountable by maintaining control of the proposal effort. The PM is responsible for creating the winning proposal by defining the proposal plan and leading the proposal team. The PM must execute the Win Strategy developed by the Capture Team, oversee its refinement, and ensure its execution throughout the proposal. In addition, the PM reviews and approves all proposal products, enforces the process, and communicates status to client management to force out and resolve problems early. Recent developments include the PM writing proposal sections when and where required.

The Volume Lead ensures
responsiveness and claim

The Volume Lead is often an overlooked position and should not be since the VL is the key to success by helping manage generation of the proposal product. The VL identifies data needed for compliance and support to the Win Strategy, coaches authors and frequently reviews in-process products, maintains schedule and communicates problems early to the proposal manager, leads solution activities, and reviews proposal products including the solution baseline and Bases of Estimate (BOEs).

Authors collaborate with
the SMEs to generate
the RFP response!

Authors answer the RFP requirements by gathering/generating facts, identifying benefits, implementing the win strategy, and providing proof points for where the work has been done before. Maintaining schedule is critical to success and meeting regularly with the Volume Lead helps promote that success. Reviewing other authors’ work and providing feedback to those authors helps promote consistency throughout the response.

Resources: Due to COVID-19, and with the migration to working remote becoming the new normal, having the right resources such as computers with the appropriate software, printers, phones, video conferencing, and access to a safe and secure repository are paramount to promoting a “must win.” On a recent project, our team was geographically dispersed and working remote, and all but I were part of the client’s company. I could not gain access to the proposal repository because I did not have a client laptop and they would not provide one. Company policy did not allow the client to issue me a laptop to work remote and their security policies would not allow me to access with my corporate laptop, so the only option was to excuse myself from the project.

Sufficient Budget: Holding proposal schedule and the associated budget is one of the secrets of managing a “must win” proposal. On the large financial project I mentioned earlier, my part of the budget was $1 million, and my team came in under budget freeing up the unused bid and proposal (B&P) funds for another opportunity. Projects often compete for B&P funds, and busting a budget due to schedule mismanagement introduces unnecessary risk.

And remember, when planning the budget, it is more than the technical portion of the proposal. We achieve a “must win” with an excellent technical solution, but we cannot ignore budgeting for the past performance write-up—the section which is often used by evaluators to assess execution risk.

Past performance is important, but we cannot ignore budgeting and writing about our key personnel. Management risk is determined by key personnel skill-sets matched to our technical solution, and more importantly to the requirements in the RFP.

Management is important, but you cannot ignore budgeting for Pricing, especially if the evaluators are awarding based on “best value.” Best value is derived from accurate BOEs, and often comes down to price when all other is considered equal. For example, I had a client rated “excellent” on all factors, but lost the proposal because their estimate was 16% higher than the low-offeror. This client lost several other proposals for the same reason.

Finally, for a “must win,” you cannot overlook the importance of budgeting and preparing for the orals presentation or demonstration if required. The evaluators are often looking to see if the proposed management team has a rapport, and more importantly, if the customer can work with the members of that team. If demonstrating a capability, preparing and running scripts can identify shortfalls, and make or break an award. You can optimize everything else and win or lose based on the orals presentation/demonstrations.

If you’re building a team and you have positions you can’t fill, you need to use SMA Talent on Demand (TOD®)! With TOD®, you can find experienced talent, such as Danny, matched to your exact needs:

Published on September 3, 2020 by

Dick Eassom, CF APMP Fellow