Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Critical Point: Red Team

 July 31, 2018
by Paul Heron

This month’s posts have been all about critical points in the bid lifecycle—process steps that can tip the balance between losing and winning. Earlier posts included:

This week’s topic is the Red Team review. Schedule this review to take place when the proposal will be 50 to 60 percent complete, but while there’s still time to make significant improvements. A good rule is about three quarters of the way through the response window.

Success ingredients for Red Team reviews

Successful Red Team reviews focus on compliance and how well the win strategies are expressed in the proposal. Pay attention to these critical components:

  • Fix the date; invite the right people: Announce the red team review date at kickoff and work towards it. Invite individuals who know the client and the competition and insist on in-person attendance. 
  • Make it document-based: Manage towards producing the very best document possible for review. Lock down and circulate the entire proposal to all reviewers at least three business days before the review. Reviewers should be expected to review the content and make notes before the session. Provide a form on which to evaluate each section against the RFP scoring system and to identify gaps, strengths and weaknesses.
  • Pre-plan and facilitate: Plan to spend an entire day reviewing a large proposal. Use a facilitator and follow an agenda. Align the conversation on each section with the evaluation criteria. Avoid getting sidetracked by issues of grammar and style. Identify and resolve conflicting comments during the review session whenever possible.
  • Follow up: If not done live during the session (preferred), assemble and consolidate the reviewers’ comments immediately after the session. Assign one or two of your best editors to address the comments. Keeping this re-write small helps maintain consistency of voice and style. 

Organizing a Red Team review

  • Get buy-in and commitment for a robust Red Team review
  • Implement the strategy making and kickoff processes described in the linked posts above so your proposal is reviewable
  • Set a date at kickoff and manage to have a reviewable document prepared three days ahead
  • Reach out to the reviewers ahead of the date to ensure they support the review and understand their responsibilities
  • Choose a comfortable room in a location that discourages interruptions
  • Circulate the proposal, evaluation form and an agenda three days ahead of the session
  • Run a high-energy, constructive session, and then use the input to improve your proposal.

The payoff

Feedback from a document-based, strategy-focused Red Team review can turn a run-of-the-mill bid into a strong contender.


Need help facilitating game-changing proposal reviews?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Critical Point: Kickoff

 July 24, 2018
by Paul Heron

The bid lifecycle includes critical points where the right actions can greatly improve your chances of success. We posted earlier this month on three of these:

This week we’ll consider another: the kickoff meeting.

Why kickoffs matter

The purpose of kickoff meetings is to arm your proposal team with the attitude, tools and alignment needed to win. Those goals cannot be achieved in the loosely organized meetings (or calls) many bidders hold right after the bid decision.

Instead, take time to organize and conduct a kickoff that delivers:

  • Motivation: Participants understand why this win is important for the organization and that a plan exists to win. Senior managers show they value the team’s contribution and support the proposal leadership.  Team members believe their company appreciates their efforts and the sacrifices they will make.
  • Information:  Proposal teams thrive on information, starting with strategy and positioning. Why is this purchase important for the buyer? What specific issues and features do evaluators care about? Where is your solution strong? Where do your competitors have the edge? What's the best way to express your central value proposition for each section?
    Participants also need information about the proposal structure, compliance requirements, workflow, deadlines, team organization and contacts, etc.
  • Direction: The team needs to know what to do next, including detailed task instructions, planning and content templates, and milestones and completion dates. They also need the project protocols—such as where and how to upload work files, document versioning rules, meeting schedules, calls and other check-ins—and the consequences for missing commitments.

What to do

Follow these steps for a successful kickoff:

  • Get any internal buy-ins needed.
  • Select and invite participants to the kickoff soon after the bid decision is made. Pick a date a week or two away so you have enough time for strategy making. Resist efforts to move up the kickoff.
  • Use the information in this post to build and document a robust strategy.
  • Modify this model agenda to suit your company and the project size.
  • Practice as you would for any important presentation.
  • Conduct a crisp and positive meeting.

Daily management

Now that your team expects a disciplined proposal effort, don’t disappoint. Use the ideas in this post to track progress closely and to offer guidance and support to content developers.

The payoff

Strong kickoffs and follow through will create and sustain positive momentum and morale that results in strong content with little wasted effort.

Next week: Critical Point: Red Team Review


Need help planning and running powerful kickoff meetings?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Critical Point: Strategy

 July 17, 2018
by Paul Heron

This month we’re posting on critical points in the bid lifecycle—those where opportunities can be won or lost. Previous posts focused on pre-RFP pursuit and on the bid/no-bid decision.

This post covers strategy—in our experience the single biggest improvement opportunity for most bidders.

Develop strategy first

Take time right after the bid decision to define and document your strategy.

Delay kicking off with content developers until you’re ready to implement a clear win strategy. Premature kick-offs doom your proposal efforts to focus on compliance (which avoids disqualification, but has no selling value), or to present an incoherent mix of whatever each section writer decides is the strategy.

Follow these high-level steps:

  • Gather a select group, including the capture manager, proposal manager, solution manager(s) and others key individuals. Limit the group to 10 or fewer.
  • Start with your pre-RFP pursuit discovery and use facilitation and process tools to develop responses to each of the issuer’s key strategic drivers and hot button issues. Draft value propositions for each major section and for the economic buyer, technical buyer(s) and user buyer(s). Decide how to position your company, team and solution against likely competitors by major issue.
  • Circulate the group’s output to participants for review and input, and then create a one or two-page summary of your strategy. Organize the summary by key themes, main response sections and buyer types
  • Circulate the summary to a wider group (which may include trusted outside partners) and then convene a meeting to review and gather additional ideas.
  • Update your strategy summary with the additional input.

Plan to invest 10-15 percent of the available time to submission in pre-kick off strategy making and preparation.

Test strategy with a Blue Team review

Test your strategy using the ideas in this post on Blue Team reviews. In large or very competitive situations, consider also conducting a Black Hat review.

Well-managed reviews will either confirm your strategy or make it stronger. In rare cases they expose fatal flaws that avoid further investment in unwinnable opportunities.

What to do

Here’s how to start building and implementing better proposal strategies:

  • Build internal support for defining and documenting strategy early.
  • Follow the steps above and the linked posts to plan and run your strategy sessions.
  • Draft the executive summary as part of your strategy process.
  • Create a strategy document as part of the proposal plan.


A strategy-first approach to proposals creates alignment from the outset, resulting in dramatically better first drafts. Understanding the strategy and how it applies to their sections will enable your team will work more efficiently, feel more confident—and produce more wins.

Next week: Critical Point: Kick-off planning and execution


Need help building strategies that can win more business?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Critical Point: Bid/no-bid

 July 10, 2018
by Paul Heron

This month we’re posting on critical points in the bid proposal lifecycle—opportunities to exert outsize influence on your chance of success.

The bid/no-bid decision is one of those. This point is a bit of an outlier, since it’s about whether to bid, rather than how to manage the bid effort. Still, by focusing on two decision variables, you can make a huge difference in wins.

Those variables are speed and quality.

Faster is better

We see companies routinely take two weeks or more to decide whether to bid on opportunities with six- or eight-week submission deadlines. Deciding faster has positive consequences, whichever way the decision goes. Here’s why:

  • If you decide to bid, you’ve gained a big chunk of the (typical four to six week) window for preparing a winning proposal
  • If you decide not to bid, you’ve saved time that can be invested in more promising opportunities or on other business priorities

High quality decisions maximize return on resources

Bid/no-bid decisions are intended to predict the likelihood of winning. Bidders who make better decisions deploy their proposal development resources on more promising opportunities.

A process for making high quality decisions also avoids internal divisions and lack of commitment. In the absence of such a process, there’s often no shared definition of success potential. Under these conditions, company leaders frequently push to bid on most or all opportunities despite resource constraints.

A clear process helps align stakeholders behind bid/no bid decisions, results in better decisions, and guards against weak proposals symptomatic of bid writer burnout.

What to do

Here’s how to start making faster, higher quality decisions:

  • Use the arguments above to get buy-in for a repeatable process that considers specific questions about the prospect, the project, likely competition and internal factors as part of your decision.
  • Involve key stakeholders and structure the process to be as transparent as possible.
  • Prepare one-page summary of each bid opportunity, so participants don’t have to wade through the entire RFP. We’ll devote a future post to bid decision summaries.
  • Download the Complex2Clear Bid/No-Bid Decision Tool and adapt it for your company’s use.

Learn over time

Document your bid/no-bid decisions and track bid outcomes against those scores. This will improve your ability to predict success and provide information to help fine-tune your decision criteria and process.

Next week: Critical Point: Strategy and Blue Team review


Need help making better bid/no-bid decisions?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Critical point: Pre-RFP Pursuit

 July 3, 2018
by Paul Heron

Regular followers of our blog may get the impression there are countless tasks—all equally important—in responding to a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP).

Large bid responses do have lots of moving pieces, and high performing teams will want to fine-tune their processes and execution in every area. But what about teams just getting started, or seeking to improve from weak results?

This month, we’ll look at five critical points where large deals can be won or lost. You can use Complex2Clear’s bid lifecycle diagram to understand where each fits.

The first point is the period before the RFP is issued.

Why Pre-RFP pursuit is critical

Bidders often lock up contracts pre-RFP by getting closest to the issuer’s key decision maker(s). This is common despite ostensibly transparent bid processes, especially when the front-runners are seen as equally qualified.

Effective pursuit happens before the RFP is issued. It aims to do two things:

  • Build relationships: Buyers like to deal with people they know and trust—especially if the contract is for complex services delivered over many years. That’s why trusted advisors (as distinct from service providers) regularly win large bids on relationship alone, even when their offer isn’t objectively superior, based on features or price.
  • Discover what really matters: RFPs often contain an “Our objectives” section—but it’s rarely insightful. Pre-RFP discovery builds deeper understanding of both the strategic purpose for the purchase and the evaluator hot button issues bidders need to address. 

What to do

Ask yourself: Are we getting out in front of large pieces of business?

If you’re just learning about large opportunities when the RFP comes out—or, worse, weeks later—you need a pursuit strategy with these components:

  • Research: Make a habit of scanning for future opportunities, both with current clients and new prospects. How you do this will depend on your business model and industry. Networking and Google alerts work well at Complex2Clear. Note: You can still jump on off-radar opportunities—the aim is to become more proactive over time.
  • Alignment with the client team: If your prospects and clients are large organizations, work at building relationships at all levels in the chain of authority. If your company is large enough, create a client map and assign your team members to target individuals at similar levels. See this post on large prospect pursuit.
  • Project discovery: In addition to building relationships, focus on gathering useable intelligence about the project, including its strategic purpose and what features and benefits will be most important to the evaluators. Ask team members to make notes at or right after meetings to capture the prospect’s own words whenever possible.
  • Capture planning: Document pursuit results in a capture plan that can transition into a proposal strategy. Choose a framework and format for the capture plan (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) that makes it easy to share and update.

Start with an improvement plan

Transitioning from no pursuit planning to a robust and repeatable process takes time. The first step is to get buy-in from your sales structure and senior leadership. Then adapt the components above to your situation and identify first steps in an improvement plan.

Next week: Critical point: Bid/no-bid decision



Need help moving your company to disciplined pursuit planning?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





Get our blog summary delivered to your inbox every month

How Added?:

Get future updates?:*
Privacy Policy: Complex2Clear will not use your name and contact information for any purpose other than to respond to your request and to advise you of important updates. We will not sell or give your information to any third party.

Top of page