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1. Receiving the opportunity

At the centre of all the internal activity is the Business Development Unit (BDU). It will act as the coordinator of the subsequent bid process.

The BDU receives all bid opportunities, records them, and passes them to the CEO to agree:

That the bid fits your strategy and mission statement. Earlier pieces of work will have established what you are passionate about, how you are best at it, and what makes your client offer so attractive and valuable in their eyes. You will have a list of priority targets. But of course this list is not immutable, and it will change from time to time. A bid may well have strategic value. It may provide a foot in the door with a major client; it may provide an entree to a new market. But no bid will be made without the CEO’s express endorsement and the BDU’s coordination. You are not going to waste your talent and time on the one hand, nor turn away a bid opportunity on the other except with the agreement of your CEO, and with the help of the BDU.

2. Confirming Your Intent

This provides often your first opportunity to contact the client. The leader should telephone in person, plus supporting letter and then arrange to see the client decision maker(s) to check the details of the bid and to confirm the intent to bid.

3. Logistics

The immediate next step is to bring together the bid team, brief them, include the identified trouble shooter, identify resources, agree time scales, key meeting dates, extra support required. (The BDU will be included here.)

4. The Draft Bid

We have a booklet on making proposals, ring the contact number at the bottom of the page. It stresses the vital importance of detailed, frequent and focused meetings with all the client team to understand in depth the client’s needs, aspirations, fears and key result areas. This intensive phase should include

  • Meeting all members of the client’s panel.
  • Meeting all decision makers, influencers, blockers and advisors.
  • Visiting the site, photographing it.
  • Checking your unique selling points.
  • Pre-selling your capacity.

My next article details the 21 questions to ask. The meetings will be vital in analyzing the client’s language, emotions and culture – you are looking for how to communicate, how to match their style, how to use a roadmap that they will understand and feel safe with.

Ideally, the draft bid should be tested with the core client before being published:

  • Is this what you were looking for?
  • Have we covered all your key points?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • Have we missed anything?
  • What are your worries?
  • What else will the panel be looking for?
  • How would you like us to present?
  • Precisely who will be there? Who are they? What time scale?
  • What are the criteria for choice?

This is all pretty simple kit – but you have all known presentations planned for the wrong client, or against a misunderstood list of criteria (price per se is usually a surprisingly low priority).

Never take anything for granted – always probe and question – this will impress the client anyway. Never presume to knowledge you don’t have.

5. Rehearsal

Rehearsals matter! Actors rehearse 80 times. The secret of great performance is what Gladwell calls the 10,000 hours of practice, practice and more practice (Outliers by Gladwell pub Penguin 2008). Here’s how to go about it.

  1. The bid leader invites the selected troubleshooter, his own team, a non architect supporter (most panels have non experts on them) and the head of the BDU .
  2. He or She sets the scene.

    • Summarizes the steps taken so far – confirms the questionnaire check list.
    • Describes the key client needs, the result of meetings so far, competition, the criteria for choice, any fears she may have, any mistakes made. This is a zero tolerance meeting in terms of “cover up”. You are all there to speak up and to help.
    • Gives her assessment of the probability of success, explains her rating, what could guarantee success.
    • Describes the panel members and the competition, the venue.
    • Explains who will give the presentation, their roles.

    It is the role of the troubleshooter and listeners to hear her out carefully at each step, to check for oversights, disagreements and to deal with them.

  3. The leader then walks through the presentation, in particulartalk1
    • The opening summary
    • The use of visual aids
    • The closing summary
    • The key points being highlighted
    • Precisely who does what and when
    • The agreed code for interrupting each other
    • The identity of the note taker.

    At that point you carry out the actual presentation, from the entry into the room, the first actions, words, to the closing sentence.

    The rehearsal should take place sufficiently well in advance of the presentation to allow time to

    • Amend and improve visual aids
    • Check any important issues raised
    • Check the supporting paper work

    There should be enough time for the rehearsal to allow for genuine debate and real time alterations. I favour starting around 1600 hours and leaving the evening free in case it is needed. A minimum of three hours.

    All attendees will need coaching to enable them to learn the complex skills of challenge and query at what are inevitably high-pressure moments. The most valuable way of doing this is to use your coach on the job in real time as a facilitator or for this to be one of the roles of the head of the BDU.

6. The Bid

The bid really should be a mutual exploration and fun. You know the clients, you know what they want, and you have prepared a simple presentation in their language to explain how they are going to get what they want plus something extra.

There are several other background points:

  • The overwhelming question is will they like working with you, do you understand them, do you like them, are you as keen as they are. Do they like you?

  • They already know you can do the job or you would not have made the short list. Touch on your vast experience but use it to show why their scheme is so important.

  • By now, you should know them by name. Shake their hands, look them in the eye, smile, thank them for their help, tell them how much you are looking forward to working with them.

  • Introduce your team with relevant purpose. This can also be a moment for surprising charm. So

  • “Harry is our chief executive; he has recently finished the design of Rome’s Airport. He will be responsible for providing a link over our heads with you as the ultimate client, that is except for the first two weeks in September when he is skippering his boat in the Fastnet race!”

Then it is to work.

  1. Tell them what you are going to say.

    • Say it.
    • Tell them you’ve said it.
    • Ask for questions.
  2. Close on a rehearsed up beat.
    • Choose your structure and style to suit your audience.
    • There can only be 3 or 4 main features to cover, you are focusing on the key elements, and the rest of the detail will be in accompanying text.
  3. The process now really is one of shared enjoyment –
    • focus on each feature (remember only 3 or 4)
    • use streetwise English/common Anglo Saxon
    • be yourself, approachable and identify with what you are saying as in “And now I’m coming to the bit that I find really special.”. “This bit presented us with our biggest headache until Erica had a brainwave”
  4. Throughout make it clear this is only a presentation, this is work in progress so “I am trying to show you just how exciting, flexible, large the space could be – but as we work together, we are going to want your comments and feedback. Nothing is yet set in stone. You can criticize and change things as we go along.”

    “Are you all with me so far – OK? – any problems?”

    Remember you will be creating an overt space for Dialogue later.

  5. Throughout you and especially your team, must be watching the panel’s reaction. If they see someone frowning, shaking their heads, nodding, smiling – pick it up at once.”Are you happy with this?”
    “You are looking doubtful, can you comment?”
    “You all look very pleased so far, is that right?”
    “Everyone with me so far?”
  6. I am a firm believer in manual visual aids – storyboards, photographs, graphics rather than power point because of the dangers of technological fall out. I also think you need full light – you are there to sell yourselves, so be wary of anything that takes the eye off you and your team, and avoid darkness – you need to be able to see each other!”Manual” means practice with the person who is operating the storyboard. Agree how you will call for the next card as in “The next card please James.””Technology” means arrive early, test and set up using your own kit, always have back up, always have a technician.

    Give Handouts at the end with a Summary Pack, never during the presentation. A Handout during a presentation is a red herring time bomb wrapped in a false cul de sac!

  7. Plan your closing summary carefully, keep it in mind through out, adjust it to reflect the meeting so
    • Summarize the 3 key points
    • Make reference to important interventions
    • End on an upbeat with the champagne moment and
    • The final statement, we want to do this with you/it’s what our firm is all about – we can’t wait to get started.
    • Leave a pack of summary information for each panel member. It’s nice to personalize them but dangerous – misspellings, new members, etc. – so just number them – it still looks bespoke.

7. Client Feedback

Always ring the next day to check whether anything else is needed.
Always send a third party to check feedback post decision.

8. Group Internal Feedback.

Win or lose, hold a feedback session with CEO, the BDU and the rehearsal team to reflect and learn. And always,

  • Thank each member of your team individually
  • Reward all of those who have put in extra effort
  • Confront those who have under performed
  • Celebrate a win

This is an important and immediate learning moment.


This paper should be read, debated and then agreed as the framework for the future.
Once agreed, you prepare a simple checklist to be used by Leaders on every occasion and submitted in the post mortem.

BDU Guardian of Standards

Throughout the process, the Leader should focus his attention on the client, on the specific project and on adding value.

It is for the BDU to have prepared as much as possible of common parts (history, CV’s, etc.) well in advance. Reinventing these is a waste of time.

Similarly, style, typeface, graphic skills should all be agreed and tested long before. It will be for the BDU to ensure the agreed standards are met.