This article focuses on how a contractor can plan to have a winning story to tell on the next contract recompete. Being able to use examples from delivery on the existing contract is a real strength for incumbents. Other bidders can talk about other customers and contacts. Only you can give specifics relating to what you are already delivering for your customer on this contract.
Far too often, incumbent bid teams don’t have the information they need to make the most of this potential advantage. The smart incumbent will establish systematic means to collect, collate, analyse, and use the data from their existing contract. But data alone isn’t everything. What the recompete team also needs is a ‘contract story’ covering the whole period of the existing contract.
The contract story for your recompete will show:
• How the contract developed from implementation to present
• What was actually done to improve delivery
• What initiatives were undertaken to improve different aspects of the contract for different stakeholders
• How the team reacted positively to customer needs – whether one-off crises, or ongoing changes in requirements
• What new innovations or improvements were put in place
Ideally you would align the above variables to data and measures showing their impact on delivery. But even if that ideal isn’t achievable, you need to have a set of stories, vignettes, case studies and examples to demonstrate how you have improved the contract. Such information helps you provide richer evidence in your recompete. However, finding these stories and putting them together into a complete ‘contract story’ doesn’t just happen. The recompete team proactively seeks out and puts together the information using a plan to get the most valuable data in the available time.
Here are some methods we’ve used to successfully build a contract story full of examples that provide strong evidence to support the recompete submission.
Start at the beginning of the contract when possible
We recommend you systematically prepare news stories, annual summaries covering improvements and innovations as a constant part of ongoing communications with customers throughout the contract period. Getting the customer ‘on your side’ early and keeping them there will always help when the recompete is approaching. It is incumbent on you to establish the types of customer communications you can use during the contract to support your recompete when the time comes. And having these communications available to the team preparing for the recompete means they don’t search for information that could have changed, been forgotten, or lost before the recompete arrives.
Focus early on your recompete preparation
In many cases the recompete team will not have the luxury of information systematically collected throughout the life of the contract. Therefore the team must start work early enough to uncover, collect, and pull together the stories, trends, and information needed to produce convincing evidence.
You should hold your initial recompete preparation meeting about six months prior to when the Request for Information (RFI) is expected. This will give your recompete team the time you need to properly prepare to win. By bringing together the operational team with the bid team and others who will be involved, you create a focus on the recompete early. At this meeting, you jointly discover the things you know, and those you don’t about the contract, customer and forthcoming recompete. You create a plan of activities for the coming months.
As part of this evolution, ask the team about the history of the contract. Go through it year by year asking about the main improvements, changes etc., starting from the very beginning of the contract and analyzing how the implementation went. From this initial question you will, hopefully get a few initiatives. But inevitably there will be more to find. To focus the thinking, ask about some specific areas — what events happened and how problems were fixed. General items for discussion include the following:
• What requests for change did the customer make?
• Did the customer have a particular issue at any time, and how did we help them deal with it?
• Have we changed how we deal with customer staff in any way?
• What about end users – have we reacted to any feedback from them?
• Have we put any of our own staff ideas in place at any time during the contract?
• Have our staff members completed any training initiatives?
• Have we put any new systems or processes in place during the contract?
• Have there been any awards, commendations, or accreditations gained by the contract?
• What new technology have we put in place under the contract?
• Have we provided support to the community in which we work – sponsorship for instance?
You will likely not get positive outcomes from every question, but even the less than positive outcomes may remind team members of other initiatives or ideas that will contribute positively to your story.
For each initiative, ask the usual questions of why, what, how, who, when and where to get the detail (or find out who knows the detail) so you can build a richer picture of the change or improvement. And make sure you ask about the impact the change had – and whether you can find any evidence of the impact (in the data, KPIs, reports to the customer, letters or comments from customers or others).
Even problems can be useful
Don’t just focus on the positive. If there have been problems on the contract, you need to know. Even if the team thinks the customer has forgotten, they probably haven’t. You need to understand what problems have occurred, why, and what the impact was in order to have a clear context in which to prepare your proposal.
Problems experienced in the contract can actually be used in a positive way. Knowing what issues the contract has experienced (and may face in the future) might impact on your solution. By examining the past problems, you can put in place processes or systems to prevent or mitigate such problems in the future. Being open about issues, showing you understand them, and providing a solution can work in your favour. This is especially true if your competitors don’t know why these problems might occur and what is an effective solution.
And if you reacted well and resolved the issue quickly, you can turn this into a story about flexibility, and your willingness to react and address any contract problems – a positive if the customer thinks potential issues could occur in the new contract (which they inevitably will).
Get Information from Multiple Perspectives
Once you have the initial version of your contract story, check with other sources to obtain different perspectives, to add detail, and verify your findings. Talk to managers and staff within the contract, past managers as available, and end users if possible. The end user perspective obviously is of very high value. All of these sources might add new detail and perspectives as well as providing a richer and more realistic perspective.
Talk to the customer. They might have a different perspective on what you have done, and you need to understand this. They might not recognize as important some of the things others have identified as important. On the other hand they might have been impressed by something the contractor group considered to be minor. Talk to different people within the customer if possible. Different customer stakeholders are frequently impacted differently by changes and have different perspectives. Knowing the perspectives of the customer stakeholders is obviously critical in helping you position your different initiatives in your recompete.
There is another advantage to talking to the customer about changes and improvements on the contract, particularly if you use the approach of showing them what information has been gathered to date and checking as to their perspective. This may be the first time customer personnel have seen analysis of the various contract initiatives brought together in one place. It may remind them of what you have achieved throughout the contract. And while your primary aim at this point is not selling to the customer, this reminder won’t hurt your case. When they see these items again in the proposal, they will already have acknowledged them. While some people disagree, our view is that you shouldn’t put too many surprises in your recompete proposal. The conservative wisdom is that you need to pass everything you will propose by the customer in advance. For example, if the customer sees a claim about your previous performance on the contract for the first time in the proposal, they may not fully believe it. And you might not get all the credit you deserve for the valid claims you make.
Decide where to use elements of your contract story in your Recompete Proposal
Once you have pulled together your contract story, you have as good a set as possible of the initiatives and improvements you have put in place throughout the contract. Then you can start to think where best to use the story items in the recompete. Which points will best evidence different parts of your revompete submission? Once you receive the RFP, look at which pieces of your evidence will best answer the customer questions. Make sure you know which the strongest points are, which support your key win themes, and which may illustrate particular key sales points you want to make.
Ideally you can provide persuasive evidence to support each key point with information drawn from the record of your performance to date. This type of contract evidence greatly enhances the power of your arguments and solution. But remember – these contract proof points are only part of the equation. You want the focus of your recompete to be about the future, not the past. How you will deliver an exciting new solution that will meet the customer’s needs for the next contract period is the key. Your examples should be primarily used to demonstrate your customer focus and knowledge of their needs in your solution and your ability to deliver a highly attractive solution for the future. Do this well and you will have a winning recompete.
Note: Nigel Thacker is a business partner of OCI. Working in the United Kingdom, he focuses on recompetes and is probably the world’s greatest authority on this subject.