Skip to content
Jack SullivanMar 9, 2023 9:25:10 AM5 min read

Change the way you think of White Hat reviews (they're not just for bids)

For those of you unfamiliar with the extensive list of colour team reviews, the White Hat is particularly special. It is a formal time for reflection on the result of your bid. Some bad proposals win and, occasionally, great ones lose. This review offers the space to get to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind your bid outcome, regardless of the result. The goal for the session being to improve your organization’s business development operations.

For many defence contractors, the Avalon Airshow offered the opportunity to showcase their best solutions to their top buyers from around the globe. All of them investing thousands of dollars and dedicating key personnel to position themselves for future success. While some will have achieved all their goals, others were potentially left feeling underwhelmed - questioning if their investment of time, money, and resources was worth it.

Well now’s your chance to reflect. Was the Avalon Airshow worth it for your business? If not, how can you ensure that it will be next time.

Using similar themes as Part 1 (internal review) of an opportunity White Hat, you can reflect on your Airshow outcomes by asking questions such as:

  1. Did we correctly identify our customers’ needs or hot buttons?
  2. How well did we showcase the most relevant features of our business?
  3. Did we allow enough time to prepare materials?
  4. Did we have the right people involved in the preparation?
  5. Did we allocate an appropriate budget?

But how do we answer these questions? What are the KPIs that define success or failure?

Did we correctly identify our customers’ needs or hot buttons?

Successful exhibitors understand where they are in the BD Lifecycle and where their target customers are in their buying lifecycle. They use trade shows as an extension to their long-term positioning, opportunity assessment or capture activities for one or multiple opportunities.

The activities planned for the exhibition will be focused on identifying, validating or highlighting solutions for specific customer needs.

Unsuccessful exhibitors will come to trades shows with generic material that covers a wide range of their company’s services or products without a clear alignment to customer need.

So ask yourself:

  • Did we know who are customers were?
  • Did we know when they are likely to make a purchase, and how far through the buyer’s lifecycle they were?
  • Did we know what issues and needs they had?
  • Have we improved our understanding of these questions?

Untitled design (18)Jack Sullivan pictured with the infamous Ghost Bat

How well did we showcase the most relevant features of our business?

One key observation from walking through the exhibitors’ marquees and displays was the over-abundance of information.

“…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”

Herbert Simon PhD, Nobel laureate

It’s often difficult to tell what some organisations do from looking at their stands. The overuse of jargon and marketing speak made many displays meaningless. In an environment where everyone is competing for the scarce time of a small number of key decision-makers, it’s critical to ensure that the unique and valuable aspects of your business and solution are being highlighted.

So, ask yourself:

  • Did we have a specific narrative for our display and materials, or did we ‘feature dump’ everything we could in the space provided?
  • How many people stopped to ask us about specific aspects of our solution, or did we have to actively explain everything to them?

Did we allow enough time to prepare materials?

Exhibitions, like tenders, aren’t core business. So exhibitors often do ‘what they can’ not ‘what they should’. In reality, with a bit more foresight and planning, there is ample time to do what you need to do.

If you felt rushed at the end, don’t let that happen again!

Indo Pacific is over 240 days away. You have plenty of time to prepare, and you should probably start immediately after White Hatting the Airshow!

Did we have the right people involved in the preparation?

A client of ours picked their Avalon team based on some critical selection criteria:

  • Who could attract decision-makers to their booth?
  • Who has the technical expertise to explain the solution these customers are most likely to be interested in?
  • Which decision-makers from our organisations will our clients and partners want to see?

Think about what you want to achieve from an exhibition, then build roles and responsibilities around those outcomes. Pick your team based on the people who can best execute those roles.

Putting ‘nice’ people on the booth is like writing a terrible proposal and then spending tens of thousands of dollars on design and desktop publishing. It’s superficial, and your customers will notice.

Failing to have the right resources available is often a symptom of the problem noted above. Time is an enemy to all, so start planning now. Put the next conference in your diaries today and make sure it’s a non-negotiable for the critical people.

Did we allocate an appropriate budget?

Winning work is an expensive business. Surveys of Shipley clients have found that it costs approximately 3% of contract value to win. Consider which pursuits each exhibition is geared to support and budget accordingly.

Defence trade shows offer a unique opportunity to interact with stakeholders and decision-makers. It’s rare that you’ll have access to everyone in the same place and time, so don’t underinvest.

But also avoid gimmicks that don’t attract your customers. Coffee machines, raffles, games, and other novelties made Avalon interesting for the casual observer, but consider if they are helping you achieve your objectives.

Untitled design (19)

Part 2 of a White Hat Review is to look at the entire experience from the client’s point of view.

So try and get direct feedback from the customer. Any insights they can give you into their event experience will provide you the opportunity to improve in future.

In regards to the Avalon Airshow potential feedback might look like this…

“I really enjoyed speaking to you at your booth, but I had a hard time knowing what you do from your sign.”

“Thanks for your time, but we can’t see how you can add value to us at this time.”

“You didn’t have any business cards, how am I meant to connect with you?”

“We saw you, but we didn’t stop because it wasn’t clear how you would be able to help us”

Be sure to document the conclusions from both parts of your white hat review so they may be used to improve processes. “Remember, lessons recorded are not lessons learned unless they motivate change.”

The Figure below shows the inputs and outputs of a successful White Hat Review.

White hat review inputs outputs

If you’re about to White Hat your most recent bid, this “Lessons Learned Survey” will help in creating a repeatable structure.

Download Lessons Learned Survey

Otherwise use this as an opportunity to assess the value of the Avalon Airshow or any other exhibition you’ve participated in. Take the time to reflect on your investment and prepare for greater success in the future.

Happy White Hatting!


Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a Director and Senior Consultant at Shipley Asia Pacific with over 13 years of Business Development and proposals experience. He works with clients across a range of sectors to support major work-winning efforts and has trained hundreds of professionals in proposal writing, proposal management, strategy, and capture planning. Having commenced his professional career as a consultant project manager, Jack reviewed hundreds of proposals and was involved in many evaluation processes. This has provided him with a rare combination of perspectives that allows him to guide his clients through complex decision-making environments. Jack has three kids under 6 years of age and a German Pointer. He likes to sleep in his spare time.