Tips for an Effective Proposal Kickoff Meeting

We’ve all been there: the RFP drops and suddenly everyone wants to hold the kickoff meeting—immediately. When this happens, we need to work hard to pump the breaks. Setting up a proposal infrastructure and creating realistic plans are critical to a smooth and low-stress proposal process. This planning process—including setting up a collaborative workspace or tool, establishing a contact list, defining roles and responsibilities, developing a schedule, and preparing the kickoff materials—usually requires 10 percent to 20 percent of the total RFP response time.

Rushing too quickly into the kickoff will leave you ill-prepared and starting off on the wrong foot. Before you schedule your kickoff meeting, take time to thoroughly read the RFP materials, prepare the necessary kickoff materials, and organize the right meeting attendees.

Thoroughly Read the RFP Materials

Not only is it important to read the RFP materials to come to your kickoff meeting prepared, it is also critical to read the RFP so that you don’t miss information that could lead to an eventual no-bid. Late no-bid decisions translate to wasted time and resources.

Beyond informing the bid decision, it’s critical to read the RFP to understand the requirements and scope of the proposal effort. As you read the RFP, you should document critical dates, such as the bidders conference/site visit, questions deadline, proposal due date, anticipated award date, and anticipated work start date. You should also take note of the delivery details, including format and delivery location.

Reading the RFP helps you and the team understand the size of the effort and the resources necessary to develop the response. It also helps you determine whether you can meet all of the requirements and, if not, decide whether you can adjust the teaming strategy. You should also assess whether there are any surprises in the RFP that necessitate a change in your overall win strategy, teaming approach, technical and management solutions, and/or pricing strategy.

Additionally, as you read through the RFP, you should start taking note of any inconsistencies, critical information gaps, or other questions you may need answered to submit a quality response.

Prepare the Necessary Kickoff Materials

Because the Proposal Manager is often under the most time pressure after the RFP release, it can be tempting to dedicate less time to planning and review before the kickoff. However, this can lead to poor-quality content and increased rework later in the process. Before the kickoff, the Proposal Manager should take the time to prepare the necessary kickoff materials, as outlined below.

Kickoff Slides: The kickoff slides should set the agenda for the kickoff meeting, including introductions and an overview of roles and responsibilities. The slides should cover the opportunity overview, solution elements, proposal requirements, evaluation criteria, and proposal logistics.

Project Summary: The project summary should include information about the opportunity, contract type, value, name, solicitation number, relevant dates, key contacts, scope, and major deliverables.

Customer Profile: The customer profile should outline the customer needs, issues, hot buttons, perception of your organization, and perception of the competition. The customer profile should also include the evaluation criteria.

Proposal Strategy: The proposal strategy should present the overall approach, themes, strength statements, and discriminators, including key win themes how they should be woven into the proposal.

Proposal Operations: The proposal operations plan should establish the proposal development approach, formats and templates, version control protocol, and resources. The proposal operations plan should also lay out the color team review expectations, processes, and procedures.

Proposal Schedule: The proposal schedule should set the dates for key milestones, including the Blue Team, Green Teams, Pink Team, Red Team, and Gold Team. To establish the schedule, work backwards from the delivery date. Make sure to schedule sufficient time for final editing, production, book check, and delivery. In addition, keep 10 percent of the available time in reserve to manage unforeseen events, such as a system crash, family emergency, or client crisis.

Proposal Outline and Compliance Matrix: The proposal outline and compliance matrix should define section numbers, headings, page allocations, assigned writers, and corresponding RFP sections.

Writers’ Packages: Writers’ packages should include the first page of proposal development worksheet or content plan, which documents the writer assigned, page limits or guidelines, section outline, and compliance checklist.

Solicitation Documents: The solicitation documents include the request for proposal (RFP) and all attachments.

Competitive Analysis: The competitive analysis should include competitor profiles, an integrated customer solution worksheet, and a bidder comparison matrix.

Draft Executive Summary: The draft executive summary should outline the overall perspective on customer’s needs, proposed solution, and win strategy. Writers should be able to glean the key win themes for each section from the executive summary.

Organize the Right Attendees

It’s critical to have the right attendees at the kickoff meeting. This includes the corporate sponsor(s), Capture Manager, Proposal Manager, proposal contributors, and teammate representatives. It can be helpful to include your color team reviewers at the kickoff meeting as well. Having the right attendees at the kickoff meeting gets the opportunity off on the right foot and sets the effort up for success.

Kickoff Meeting Delivery

The first part of the kickoff meeting should be an introduction of the meeting participants and their proposal development roles. This should be followed by an overview of the program, ideally delivered by a corporate-level sponsor. If possible, the corporate sponsor should discuss the importance of the opportunity to the company, the country, and/or the community. Establishing corporate-level support and contextualizing the effort is critical in establishing the importance of the effort and setting the proposal development off on the right foot.

During the next part of the kickoff meeting, the Capture Manager should review key solution elements, including the technical solution, management approach, cost-volume considerations, past performance, teaming, and partnerships.

The last part of the kickoff meeting should be delivered by the Proposal Manager. This part should cover the proposal requirements, evaluation criteria, and proposal logistics. The Proposal Manager should review the schedule, outline, compliance matrix, and author expectations. The Proposal Manager should also distribute the writers’ packages and other materials discussed above. In addition, the Proposal Manager should discusses document management, including the proper use of any collaboration tools, such as Privia, Virtual Proposal Center (VPC), or SharePoint.

APMP tells us that the kickoff meeting should focus on being informative rather than inspirational, but I prefer a healthy balance between the two. While it is important to provide the necessary information for the team to succeed, it is critical to motivate the team as well. It helps so much if the team excited about the opportunity and inspired to work hard for the win. 

Final Thoughts

Remember, rushing too quickly into the kickoff will leave you ill-prepared and starting off on the wrong foot. Next time an RFP drops, resist the urge to schedule a premature kickoff meeting. Set aside 10 to 20 percent of your response time to the planning process. Use this time to read the RFP, set up a collaborative workspace or tool, establish a contact list, identify resources, define the roles and responsibilities, prepare for the kickoff meeting, and develop the necessary kickoff materials. Taking the time to set up a proposal infrastructure and establish realistic plans will foster a much smoother proposal process, decrease rework, and reduce the total effort required in the end.

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)


  1. This article is right on point. I have over 20 years of proposal management and proposal leadership experience and I can attest to the fact that rushed planning on the front end is inefficient and usually leads to the group having to regroup to get back on track.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Angela! Glad to hear that your experience is consistent with mine, as well as what I have presented in this article. Planning is so critical!

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