Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Black Hat reviews

 November 28, 2017
by Paul Heron

Many bidders on large, complex projects conduct a Black Hat review, in addition to a Blue Team review, before kicking off the proposal process with writers, designers and subject matter experts.

As the name implies, black hat reviewers adopt a competitor’s perspective to probe your strategy for weaknesses. The goal is to analyze your proposal plan from the client’s viewpoint and to strengthen areas where one or more competitors are likely to score higher.

To do their job, Black Hat Team members need to satisfy two criteria:

  • Think independently of the Blue Team and the proposal team, and
  • Possess deep understanding of both the client and likely competitors

Achieving independence can be challenging in small and even mid-sized companies. It is even more critical and difficult to find team members with keen insight into your competition. To meet these requirements, some bidders in high-stakes competitions hire outside consultants to provide the needed distance and expertise.

A black hat review should focus on these areas:

  • Is your solution competitive? Most Blue Teams focus on the solution’s responsiveness to RFP requirements and the evaluators’ key issues. This review will comb through the proposal plan for how well your response compares to competitive offerings and areas where you may have underestimated a competitor’s strengths.
  • How strong are your differentiators? How do your experience, performance, team and understanding of the client and project stack up against known competitors? How competitive is your price? Have you missed opportunities to ghost a competitor on one or more issues?

Incumbency issues

If you are the incumbent, which issues in the current contract are competitors likely to exploit? Conversely, how popular is the incumbent you’re seeking to unseat and what are your points of attack? How is the incumbent likely to defend itself against losing the rebid?

Keep Black Hat feedback positive and action-oriented

Be sure to set the ground rules before a black hat review. Rather than simply picking apart your bid strategy, the team needs to offer concrete ideas for addressing each weakness it finds.

For example, having identified weak experience in some aspect of the project, the team could identify a partner to team with—and even name the best person to contact.

BOTTOM LINE: A Black Hat Team review can add great value—if you recruit the right team members and insist on constructive feedback.


Need help facilitating effective proposal strategies?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Blue Team reviews

 November 21, 2017
by Paul Heron

Following a process that includes a structured bid/no-bid decision and strategy making before kickoff ensures:

  • Your decision to bid is made only after careful evaluation of the prospect and project, and competitive and internal factors, and
  • You kick off the proposal only after building a win strategy that’s responsive to the prospect’s issues and includes value propositions for all buyer types

Despite all this effort, you may still not have a winning strategy.

The downside to momentum

Bid decisions are typically based on reasonable assumptions and on knowledge available at the time. Subsequent strategy making includes testing those assumptions and gathering more facts. In the process, you may discover (among other things) that:

  • Your ideal strategic partner has signed on with a competing bid team
  • An internal resource you counted on was assigned to another project
  • The cost structure for your ideal solution is higher than initial estimates

In each case strategy makers typically select the next best option and press on. Any one of these second choices might not be fatal—but cumulatively they could doom the proposal.

A challenge for any team is staying realistic about their probability of success. Even in these early days, a proposal effort can develop momentum that’s hard to deflect or stop.

Enter the Blue Team review

A Blue Team should include people familiar with the client, project and competition—but who are not part of the proposal team*. Their job is to review the built-out strategy for completeness and to test it against the prospect’s needs and issues and competitors’ relative strengths and weaknesses.

*NOTE: Staffing independent review teams is a significant challenge in smaller organizations where everyone who understands the prospect and project is part of the strategy process. We’ll look at workarounds to address this in a future post.

Any serious issues raised by the Blue Team should be addressed before proposal writing kicks off. If one or more critical shortcomings cannot be corrected, the organization may still decide to proceed for strategic reasons.

Revisiting the bid/no-bid decision

After receiving the Blue Team’s comments, senior management may reverse the decision to bid, abandoning the opportunity. This usually happens for one of two reasons:

  • The bid/no-bid process was flawed or poorly executed, or
  • Changing conditions or fact discovered during strategy making significantly reduced the prospect of a win

If the bid decision process was flawed, the bidder has learned a valuable lesson—It needs to correct the flaw for future opportunities.

If a once-credible chance of winning has disappeared, deciding not to bid conserves precious resources. At this point, the pursuit has consumed relatively little effort, compared to proceeding to the Red Team review and beyond.

Pulling the plug is frustrating—but if needed, sooner is better.

In any of the above situations, the Blue Team has fulfilled its purpose—and demonstrated its value.

Next week: Black Hat reviews.


Need help building more effective proposal strategies?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

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




Antidotes for complacency

 November 14, 2017
by Paul Heron

In last week’s post, we identified incumbent complacency as a common client complaint in long-term contracts. If complacency extends to your rebid, you’re at high risk of losing the business.

Few companies set out to be complacent. Instead, it’s the cumulative result of various blind spots, including perceptions of client loyalty and habits of working and communicating. 

Instead of simply vowing not to be complacent, take the following actions to better inform your rebid strategy.

Five ways to shake off complacency

  1. Get input from non-friendlies: Have your business developers connect with a wider group at your client organization. Seek out the economic buyer, technical buyers and user buyers. If possible meet with likely bid evaluators. And don’t ask, “Is everything OK?” Instead ask, “What improvements would you like to see in the next contract period?” and “How is your business changing in ways that will affect our relationship?” Open-ended questions such as these will produce more useful intelligence.
  2. Send some ringers on the site visit: Take advantage of the site visit invitation to get input from another business team managing a similar contract. Ask your colleagues to be tough markers. What shortcomings would they pounce on if a competitor held the current contract?
  3. Turn speed bumps into lessons learned: Don’t ignore issues that arose during the current contract, hoping your client will have forgotten. Instead, explain the steps you took to address root causes. If the process involved significant investment (of your own money), state the amount. Use non-recurrence of the issue to show your remedy was successful. 
  4. Find specific cost savings: Identify new ways reduce costs or add value. Choose examples that involve an investment and business case—otherwise the client will wonder why you didn’t introduce these improvements in the current contract.
  5. Ghost your competition: Try to anticipate your strongest competitor’s moves and decide how to offset them. For example, if a hungry competitor offers to waive its transition costs, what other valid arguments can you make for not switching?

Be sure to do a Blue Team and Black Hat reviews

Successful teams use Blue Team and Black Hat reviews to test strategy. Both provide good value in rebid situations.

The Blue Team tests strategy, using internal resources who understand the project and the competition—but who haven’t been closely involved in building the strategy. The Black Hat team is tasked with attacking the strategy from the perspective of your toughest competitor. In high stakes situations, companies often engage outsiders to perform Black Hat reviews.

We’ll explore these two types of review in the coming weeks.

Next week: Blue Team Reviews


Need help formulating rebid strategy?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Risks of rebid complacency

 November 7, 2017
by Paul Heron

Incumbents who submit a “more of the same” proposal at rebid are often disappointed.

Most clients rate incumbent complacency as their number one complaint in satisfaction surveys. Hungry competitors know this and will counter your called-in rebid with fresh ideas and promises of more attentive service. Business developers close to your client will have a up-to-date list of wants and needs, plus details of any contract issues you’ve experienced. They may even have access to your pricing.

In fact, at the U.S. federal level, incumbents are successful in about 60 percent of rebids—which means they lose 40 percent of the time. There’s no room for complacency when the odds of winning are 60/40.

A complacent incumbent usually believes one or more of the following:

“Nothing much has changed”

Really? A “more of the same” proposal essentially says:

  • The client’s strategic drivers haven’t changed during the current contract
  • The same individuals are calling the shots
  • Technology hasn’t changed
  • There’s no downward pressure on budgets
  • Your competitors will use the same approaches and pricing as last time

If this describes your world, you’d be unique among the bidders we see.

“The client loves us”

You may have a warm relationship with your client—at least with the individuals you talk to most. But, given the natural desire to avoid conflict, the warmth may not be as deep as you think. And there may be others in the organization with more power who judge you less kindly.

Maybe your client really does love you. However, if you’re bidding into a government agency or other entity with a strict bid process, love will only take you so far.

You’ll still need to win the technical portion and be close on pricing.

“The client doesn’t want a transition”

Transition risk and cost are significant issues in many situations.

But, against hungry competitors willing to waive transition costs and/or slash margins to win business, incumbents cannot rely on change aversion to win. This is especially true in competitions run by government agencies and monitored by fairness commissioners.

Avoiding complacency

Complacency is like weight-gain. It creeps up on most of us unnoticed.

It’s also hard to combat. Rather than vowing not to be complacent, take concrete actions to ensure your team takes a fresh look at rebid situations.

Next week: Five things you can do to guard against rebid complacency.


Need help developing winning bid strategies?

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