What is a multi-stage bid? 

If you spend your time working with mature procurement organisations, whether that’s in the public or private sector, you’ll come face-to-face with multi-stage bids. These are the ones that take you through a series of stages, designed to filter out weak bidders and down select until eventually, the client gets a preferred bidder. From an experienced bid director perspective, multi-stage bidding nurtures a competitive and practical bid management environment. Typically we face a backwards-looking (evidence-based) PQQ, a forward-looking (methodology-based) ITT and then an interview or assessment designed to test the team and make sure what you’ve promised about the key people in your bid is actually true.

In an ideal world, if you will have done your due diligence and included procurement in your capture / BD activities. You’ll have a decent understanding of how your target will structure their procurement process and you’ll have planned your resources and approach to match. But, even if you’ve not managed to get in to speak to the procurement team, it’s becoming more and more common for clients to give you a sight of the whole procurement process at the start. In this process, you’ll see the draft ITT/RFQ and details of the process along with the first stage (typically PQQ) documents.

So, armed with this information, should you start working on later stages early, or take each step as it comes? There is a potential risk of not making it through to the next stage. Will running stages in parallel take focus away from the bits that are in front of you at that moment in time? 

I’ve been considering this at length recently, and in my view, we need to put some critical aspects into consideration. 

Factors to consider as an experienced bid director

1. Resource and capacity 

An underestimated skill in bidding, and one I still need to work on honing is planning of resources effectively. No matter how hard I try, things seem to take a little longer, unforeseen hiccups arrive and we need to change up our resourcing plans to compensate. This uncertainty means planning to run multiple stages in parallel can be challenging.

Conversely, if you have got capacity, developing your overall bid as one document will help to cement win themes and improve consistency between stages. This enables you to create a more rounded set of messages across all documentation, helping the bidder to really understand your offer and differentiators. 

2. Maturity of your solution

 Your ability to deliver a consistent set of documents is heavily influenced by the maturity of your solution and win themes. If you’ve spent time planning these pre-bid, have tested them with the client, and understand how your proposition benefits and adds value to the client’s business, then you could argue that running the bid in series is beneficial - you don’t need to run latter stages early because you’ve already done the hard work pre-bid. However, if you don’t really know why you’re different or better, considering the overall bid and developing outline content and solutions for latter stages early will aid the choices you make earlier in the process.

 3. Propensity for change 

Draft means draft!

In recent years I’ve seen clients completely tear up their draft documentation and surprise bidders with a completely different approach and set of requirements at the ITT stage. But I’ve also seen many clients stick with their draft ITT documentation, and of course, I’ve sat thinking “if only we’d started the working earlier using these drafts!”

Your experience with the client and your understanding of their procurement approach should determine how much you trust the drafts. 

My solution - the hybrid approach 

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should run multiple stages of a bid at once. Arguably at the beginning of the process, focusing on the PQQ documentation should be your top priority. With PQQ submitted, I would recommend working up draft ITT storyboard responses to give you a head start when you shortlist.

When it comes to the ITT, my recent experience of the complex interview and behavioural assessment processes tells me we need to begin preparing earlier for these activities, and it’s likely you’ll have to start working on them during the ITT stage to ensure your team is fully prepared.

I don’t think there’s one size fits all strategy here. The wide variety of procurement processes used across the public and private sector means every bid is different and needs its own approach. But, with guidance from an experienced bid director and an equally skilled team, and through learning from each bid you do, you can greatly improve the efficiency and success of your next proposal.