Pop-up Bids, When Is It Worth the Pursuit?

  |  June 9, 2021

All of us – large and small business – get caught having to bid an opportunity where the pre-proposal work was deficient.  We were unable to become fast friends with the stakeholders; learn what the preferred solution is; etc.

Is it Wired?

An RFP drops and you didn’t see it coming. There may be a good reason you missed it. The Government Customer, already having a particular awardee in mind (the incumbent, the incumbent’s star subcontractor, a contractor working “across the hall”) did not want the whole world to know about it…preferred just a few bidders to get involved—just enough to keep the intended awardee insecure enough to sharpen his pencil on pricing. So here you are. No customer intel. No competitor intel. Is it “wired,” or, more importantly, if it is wired, is it flip-able?

Signs of a Wired Bid

Despite a Customer’s best efforts to disguise a wired bid, there are a few tells obvious to anyone who has been in the business for a while.

  • Poorly composed, hastily done (copy and pastes), and ambiguous RFP instructions/SOW requirements…followed by a disinclination to answer bidder questions clearly and completely.
  • Tough SOW requirements and many of them, enjoined with a tight submission deadline.
  • Severe tech/management volume page limitation and an unwillingness to extend the deadline or expand the page count.
  • Mandatory qualifications for the Program Manager that only one person per continent might have—the incumbent PM, perhaps.
  • No past performance requirement or past performance questionnaire requirement.
  • No transition plan or approach requirement but good-sized incumbent team doing the work.

If it is Wired, is it Flip-able?

It doesn’t hurt to submit questions to this Customer, so you do, as do a few other wanna-believe-ers. Surprise! The Customer actually answers questions well, tosses out the crazier PM requirements, grants a bit of an extension, perhaps grudgingly ups the page count, and mandates a transition plan or at least an approach. So now, is it worth a go, is it flip-able; or is it still P-Win=0?

First, it is important to understand that Customers primarily want the people who are doing the work—the faces they see—and not the company providing those faces that is run by other faces they never see. Bidders know this, and accordingly, all bidders not born yesterday, assure the Customer they “will seek to rebadge your valued, high performing incumbent personnel.” As everyone is making this claim, you have to do more: really sell a good strategy for actually capturing incumbent staff and furnish the stats from past efforts to back this up.

No transition plan/approach required? Slip a concise, smart one in anyway. All part of sound project management. Breeze past all the shopping list do this, do that requirements and find particular ones the Customer has lavished attention on. Inviting hard thinking and an optimal solution. Lavish your own attention on these with a solution that is ingenious, forward-thinking and furnishes obvious Customer benefits.

Yes, you can flip a wired bid if you are good. Good solutions; good resourcing ability; low-risk, expert, and swift transitioning capability; with ample prior customer kudos sprinkled through out.

So how can we quickly get a grip on the situation and still produce a winning proposal?

Some senior consultants have learned to win a high percentage of these low-preparation bids by making a thorough analysis of the RFP.  They read and reread the solicitation.  Numerous times.  Again and again.

With each reading, the information comes out from between the lines.  How tasks are arranged in an SOW. How requirements are arranged in the tasks. The nuances and even the omissions indicate what Acquisition Managers really want.   For the discriminating reader, invariably, the information is there.

Twenty years of experience doing these pop-up bids 40 or 50 times helps to refine the judgment needed to extract what is important.  And determine what the winning story needs to be.

No one would choose to approach an RFP from this angle.  But, when it is necessary to win, you do what you have to do.

Please reach out to OCI here to tap into our wide-range of federal proposal consultants for organizations of all sizes – from Top 10 Federal Contractors to rapidly growing small businesses.

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