A proposal kickoff meeting is arguably the single most important event of the entire proposal schedule. It can set a Proposal Manager and his team up for success or failure on a bid. If you botch the kickoff, your team will leave the meeting without a clear plan, and they’ll likely wait to start work on the proposal. Those few days are a tremendous loss of momentum at the exact time when your team needs to be fully engaged and working together to develop the proposal. If the deadline is tight and the proposal is complex, you may not recover from this first stumble, and you’ll end up rushing to finish a subpar bid.
Team members need to leave a kickoff meeting knowing exactly what to do and ready to work on assigned tasks right away. The kickoff is your opportunity as the Proposal Manager to communicate to the team that you have the ability, skills, and the leadership to carry them to a winning proposal. Once the Request for Proposal (RFP) drops, the Proposal Manager normally takes the next 2 to 4 days (on a 30-day submission) to thoroughly develop the plan for submitting the proposal, which includes preparing the kick-off meeting slide deck and agenda. The Proposal Manager creates an annotated outline, builds a schedule, assigns the sections, assembles all of the background materials from capture and incorporates them into the kickoff slide deck, and creates a compliance matrix that also serves as the assignment matrix for the daily status calls.
At OST, we recommend that Proposal Managers accomplish the following nine goals to set themselves up for a successful kickoff and a winning bid.
Note: if your team has done capture or the RFP is intricate, then the kickoff meeting might take four to eight hours. There’s a lot to cover, including strategy, schedule, and writing assignments. Provide refreshments if you’re doing the kickoff in person because it shows your team that you’re considerate of their time and efforts.
- Build a Team
If possible, it’s best to bring your proposal team together in person at the start of a proposal effort. Seeing each other face to face helps build relationships and camaraderie, which can go a long way to smoothing bumps along the way to submitting the proposal. If a virtual event is necessary, have everyone attend virtually to keep everyone on equal footing.
Participation should be mandatory for everyone who will participate in the proposal, which includes management. We want managers for all subcontractors — the people who have the responsibility and the authority to assign company resources — at the meeting to make the introductions. You need the support of management to help solve issues later, if and when they arise.
We need to explicitly state that winning is a team effort and that everybody is in the room for a reason. When we rely on you for your portion, your contribution needs to be good. Make sure that everyone has the contact list and keep a hard copy for yourself.
- Set a Tone from the Start
Your team takes its cues from you, from the material you present to the clothes you wear. Set a professional tone at the kickoff meeting and present yourself as a capable leader. You, the Proposal Manager, will be relied on and looked to when decisions need to be made. Your first impressions will go a long way later when there are disagreements on the team.
With all proposals, you also need to convey a tone of urgency. If you make it sound like your team is guaranteed to win the bid, people are going to slack off. Use a little fear to prevent this. Talk about the competitors and the challenges your team will face. Discuss how your team has to find innovative solutions moving forward and not simply rely on what has worked in the past.
- Manage Expectations
This is your opportunity to explain your leadership style to your team and explicitly tell them what you expect from them. Missing a deadline is the cardinal sin in the proposal process, and your team needs to understand that. The incremental deadlines exist for a reason, they are critical to content development and submitting a high-quality, winning proposal. Urge your proposal team members to come to you for help before they’ve missed a deadline. Let your team know that you’ll support them with additional resources, and you can help find a solution. But that problem solving needs to happen before the deadline, not afterward.
Procrastination kills deadlines, and it makes the proposal worse. Let your team know that you will be holding daily status calls to measure progress. On the status call, show everyone the compliance matrix and use colors to mark progress on each person’s sections. For example, use red to indicate late, in danger of being late, or not yet started. No one wants to see a lot of red next to their name while their colleagues progress to yellow and green.
You need to conduct in-process reviews where you read the progress and give real-time feedback. This is where the number 1 rule of proposal management comes in: “If I haven’t seen it, it does not exist.” Assume your team hasn’t started working until you actually see the progress. Conducting in-process reviews will ensure there are no surprises during the color teams. It’s critical that you state this policy in your kick-off meeting to correctly set expectations.
- Obtain Management Buy-In
It’s impossible to manage a proposal without management buy-in, which is why it’s critical to have management at the table for the kick-off meeting. When managers show up, it sends a message to their proposal team that this bid is important for the company. When, inevitably, you aren’t getting the information you need for a specific section, you have a higher authority to call on who can make things happen. This is even more crucial with subcontractors, a common hot button in the proposal process. If management attended the kickoff and they know who you are, they’ve made commitments, and you have a direct line to them. In business development, there’s a saying, “Workshare is not welfare.” There’s no free ride here. If you’re on the team, you need to help with the proposal. And if a company is getting guaranteed workshare for a specific portion of the work, then they need to help write that section of the proposal. Having management in your corner is one of the most critical goals for a great kickoff and proposal process.
- Communicate Proposal Roadmap and Plan
The Proposal Manager needs to show how we are going to come together to develop a great proposal, which includes a schedule. A proposal schedule should be as detailed as you can make it. Show your team the key dates and milestones, such as color review due dates, production timelines, questions to the government due to date, if there’s an industry day if there are any upcoming holidays that could affect the schedule, etc. It’s important to break down how many working days your team actually has. For example, the first proposal draft, the pink team document, is likely due between 10 and 14 days after your kickoff meeting. There’s also usually only a few full working days between the pink team (when a document is about 60 percent complete) to the red team (when it should be 90 percent complete). Be sure to emphasize how short these writing windows are to reinforce the sense of urgency.
- Integrate and Issue Proposal Assignments
Ensure everyone who will participate in the proposal can attend the kickoff so you can review the outline and assignments at a high level. This includes your costs and contracts volume leads, because they need to integrate with the technical team. A lot of companies will leave their cost team alone until the end of the proposal. At that point, you risk submitting a technical volume and a cost volume that don’t match. Your cost volume can’t be written in a vacuum, cut off from the customer hot buttons, your win themes, and your strategy. You want your volumes to work together. Integrate your cost and financial people with the technical team at the kickoff, and make sure that everybody is collaborating so you produce one proposal and not two proposals that are bidding on different things. At the end of the kickoff, everyone should know exactly what their responsibilities are.
- Educate Your Team About the Opportunity
Hopefully, your company has done capture and prepared for the proposal that everyone is about to work on. This means that there’s probably a lot of information to review in terms of who the customer is, hot buttons, win themes, evaluation board, competitive landscape, our team (if we have subcontractors), and the solution that we’ve developed so far. Your capture manager will often be the one presenting this information. This capture review helps your team understand who the audience is — the people reading and scoring the proposal. This prevents the writer’s drift and saves a lot of rework on the back end. Lay it all out for your team at the kickoff so everyone is on the same page.
- Train Your Team to Develop Great Text and Graphics
This is where “just-in-time” training comes in. There’s a variety of skill gaps that may exist on the team, and we need to assess them before we get to the kickoff so we can deliver training that can get people started. You might want to show your team tips on how to write persuasively or quickly. Do they know how to conceptualize graphics? Do they know how to deal with writer’s block? Do they know how to use collaboration tools, like Sharepoint? Walk them through the file structure, show them how to make sure the Autosave function is on. We have wonderful technology, but there are still version control problems and other collaboration problems that you want to address at the start so you can avoid them.
- Get the Ball Rolling
Do not end your kickoff meeting with “Questions?” That means the meeting is over and people will leave. Instead, recap everything you just went over. Go through all the key information again, review the draft contact list, show everybody where the annotated outline lives, and go over the writing assignments again. Show them the proposal checklist and then review a detailed schedule for the next few days, outlining how various sections will be developed. Schedule brainstorming meetings or other meetings crucial to rapidly developing the content. We want to keep the momentum going, and we want people to leave our meeting and go work on our proposal.
Achieving these nine kick-off goals will ensure that you establish yourself as the leader of the proposal, instill confidence in your team, and build goodwill that you may need later. A great kickoff meeting also makes the most out of limited time to develop a great proposal because people will leave your meeting knowing exactly what to do.
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Here are some upcoming OST courses you may be interested in:
Advanced Proposal Management
August 30 – 31, 2021 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Proposal Win Strategy and Win Themes Development
September 7, 2021 9:00 am – 5:00 pm>
September 16 – 17 2021 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Contact us to learn more.