Development Phase: Capture Management
One of our clients was pursuing a large agency RFP in the face of fierce competition and entrenched incumbents. The RFP itself wasn’t helping; its generic evaluation criteria made it difficult to identify our client’s most relevant and compelling differentiators. To win against heavy competition, our client needed a proposal that would score as high as their capabilities would allow – one that drew on experience beyond just one bid or one agency. That’s when they called in Deep Water Point.
Competing against well-performing, well-known incumbents is one of the toughest challenges a bidder can have. It means competing bidders have to create the clearest, most compelling and compliant proposal they can muster. In particular, they need to include an easy-to-evaluate solution that’s already been sold into the agency long before any RFP gets released – and to make sure that solution has provable value, low risk, and the right price.
In reviewing our client’s draft proposal, we quickly saw it wouldn’t comply with the RFP’s requirements. The language they used was too technical, it didn’t have any clear win themes, and it was priced out of the ballpark. The core problem? Like lots of engineering-driven companies, our client had written a proposal that satisfied what the engineers wanted to say (an engineering process) but not what the agency wanted to hear (an outcome-focused business solution). This disconnect also turned their pricing logic upside down: it would move too much effort and cost too late into the project to be practical. This proposal also didn’t point out their relevant SME talent or past performance on similar contracts – missing the opportunity to show them as credible alternatives to incumbents – and it didn’t spell out the tools, metrics or lessons they’d learned from those contracts.
The DWP solution
A key part of winning this bid would involve pre-selling the client’s proposed solution to the target agency; doing this would then allow the client’s proposal to focus more on the business outcomes the agency wanted to achieve. But pre-selling a solution means introducing it to an agency in such a way that it appears to be coming at an arm’s-length from any possible RFP respondent. That way, an agency can feel like it’s looking at an independent solution without undue influence.
To achieve this goal, we worked with our client to create two white papers that recommended a new set of criteria for measuring contractor quality. Part of our recommendation was the agency add a management sample problem and technical sample problem to their evaluation criteria, with each problem receiving 5% of the total score. The result is that any bidder would have to show how their management and technical solutions would solve each problem. Besides making the RFP work harder overall to define what respondents would actually do and how they’d be measured under this contract, we felt this approach created a more level playing field for our client to talk about their special strengths. We then presented and discussed these papers with the lead program executive at the agency. The net effect was that the agency chose to include our approach in their final RFP.
At the same time, we helped the client fine-tune this proposal by:
- Writing an early executive summary that captured key client team win themes and key discriminators that we’d already vetted with agency leads. The proposal team then used this document as a guide to ensure their key sales messages stood out in the final response.
- Leading color reviews of the draft proposal (Black Hat, Pink Team, and Red Team), with each review making specific improvements in every aspect of the proposal.
- Including relevant past performance contracts, key people, lessons learned, tools, processes and metrics - to show our client’s tangible commitment and investment in the agency’s program.
- Creating a top-down cost model that produced a significantly lower total price than the client’s original estimate. We were able to do this thanks to our deep understanding of this program, and use of innovative techniques we could apply with high agency acceptance and low risk.
By helping our client make their response more compliant, include key win themes, shape their score card, pre-sell their solution, and reconfigure that solution so it delivered higher value with lower risk and a lower price, we were able to help them win this 10 year, $800 million contract.