Can We Win?

How to Read an RFP to Find Out

Finally. You did your research. You identified future procurements of interest. You prepared your Capture Plan. You met with the Government PM/COR. You decided to Prime and have drafted subcontracting agreements. You conducted the Black Hat. Now, finally, you hold the RFP in your hands.

So, what will you read first? Maybe the SOW to be sure your scope predictions are accurate and your company’s capabilities are still a good match. Or maybe Section L to find out what they want for a proposal. Or the price requirements.

While these sections are important, and you certainly need to read them, the first thing you absolutely need to know is the answer to this question: “Can we win?” And that answer is found by reading and analyzing Section M, Evaluation Factors.

The point of reading Section M first is for you – the person that’s about to spend a great deal of your firm’s money and effort – to determine whether your firm has a clear path to winning the contract. And you can’t do that until you review each Evaluation Factor to be sure you can provide a clear, compelling reason that your firm is the right choice.

It’s not sufficient to brag about your capabilities. You need to see the procurement the way the Government sees it. Begin by critically assessing each Evaluation Factor, asking 1) why is this factor in the RFP? 2) what does the Government want to accomplish? and 3) what value will this factor deliver? Then articulate how your firm is better than the competition in helping the Government achieve its objectives. You must demonstrate strengths and discriminators to win.

Resist the temptation to glibly document “experience” as an answer. Your experience is not a sufficient answer to an Evaluation Factor unless that Factor explicitly calls for your “experience”. Nor is it a discriminator or a strength unless you can translate it into results that apply to Section M, such as exceeding performance requirements or delivering merit above and beyond PWS/SOW requirements. And it is also not a discriminator or a strength unless the Government evaluator can clearly develop a meaningful answer to that irksome question – “So What?”

Be aware of, and have a plan to address, two complexities in the way Evaluation Factors are typically presented.

1. The first is that the Government often presents an overview for several related evaluation factors. Such introductory paragraphs may speak of things like “risk reduction” or “timely performance” or “quality control” or other broad phrases that link two or more evaluation factors. The Government may be signaling a problem they have experienced with a contractor and want to fix, or introducing an internal performance improvement objective. It is not unusual for extremely well qualified firms to address each evaluation factor in detail but ignore the introductory paragraph.

2. Second, sometimes two or three aspects of an evaluation factor are included in a single sentence. ClientView has seen many draft proposals where all aspects are addressed in combination. This makes it harder for the Evaluator to score the proposal, inviting a low score in one or more of the aspects.

So … be smart in preparing your annotated outlines. Parse every sentence – forcing your writers to address all of the Government’s concerns, no matter where they show up. It may seem like overkill, but it’s a step in the path toward making sure your answer to “Can we win?” is “Yes … and we did.”

Can We Talk?

It likely will be worded differently (and with less humor) but contractors submitting proposals to the Government, should expect to hear this signature line from the late Joan Rivers. And, naturally, you should be prepared to respond, “Yes.”

While Government Request for Proposals state their intention to award without discussion, they also reserve the right to enter into discussions if necessary. The Government’s decision to engage in discussions may be based on factors such as concerns over the:

  • impact of the scope of work or performance work statement’s complexity
  • length of the proposed period of performance
  • locations where work will be performed (multiple locations with varying tasks/pricing)
  • number of offers received
  • whether or not sample task orders are required
  • Government’s desire to establish a competitive range

Discussions, if successful, will result in a request for you to submit a Best and Final Offer (BAFO).

Submitting a proposal without planning for discussions would be like completing a job application without preparing to be interviewed. You should expect to back up the written document with open dialog. Recognize the potential for discussions when planning and writing a proposal — do not wait until the requirement arises.

Discussion requires preparation well in advance.

A bid decision needs to include a plan for discussions, even if the buying activity has rarely exercised the option. Research the buying activity’s history and circumstances of requiring discussions, as well as its use of BAFOs. While many buying activities avoid discussions, every solicitation is a new effort and often circumstances drive different outcomes. Assessing the proposal’s Evaluation Guidance and Criteria will provide an early indication of the Government’s approach to discussions and may bring insight into the factors that may cause the Government to ultimately enter discussions.

Even though the intensity of writing, applying graphics, ensuring volume consistency, establishing pricing, and conducting reviews take priority in your proposal preparation, remember that each element of your proposal could prompt the Government to ask for further examination via discussions. This audience with Government representatives is an opportunity to be welcomed and utilized to your firm’s advantage — a chance to pitch your superior proposal in person.

Love ‘em or Hate ‘em, Color Reviews are Essential to Proposal Development

OK, I admit it.  I hate color reviews.  First, they force proposal preparation to pause while the review occurs costing valuable hours in what is usually a time-constrained process.  Secondly, comments, inputs, and direction from the reviewers often conflict with each other or, worse, would make the proposal non-compliant if implemented.  Then there is the part about having our work picked apart by non-proposal people that do not understand the fundamentals and, yes, the art that goes into a fine offering.  Oh, yes, I do hate color reviews. Continue reading “Love ‘em or Hate ‘em, Color Reviews are Essential to Proposal Development” »

Seismic Shift in Defense Spending

Rumors have been floating for months – and now everyone knows they are true.

The Army is shifting $25B within its Science & Technology (Research) and Acquisition (Development and Procurement) accounts to fund its highest priority areas. This shift will coincide with the 2020 Budget and affect FY 2020 and the subsequent four years.

Given the Army’s 2019 budget for these two accounts was roughly $30B, it’s a significant realignment in resources. Continue reading “Seismic Shift in Defense Spending” »

The Government is Shutdown – But What About Your Contract?

Imagine you receive a brief communication from your Government Contracts Team informing your firm to stop work due to the shutdown. Some of you may not need to imagine this … given that we are now deep into the longest shutdown in history.

Even though you have a valid contract, and even if you have been receiving positive feedback from the contracts team about your performance, you may be instructed to stand down due to a Government shutdown.  Now you must take a pause in performance. This may mean telling your employees they cannot report to work if their duty station is within a Government facility.

It is unlikely that your contract’s Terms and Conditions provide any guidance on what to do during a stop in performance during a Government shutdown.

So, then, what do you do? Continue reading “The Government is Shutdown – But What About Your Contract?” »

Delayed Solicitations: Playing the Hurry Up and Wait game requires more than patience – it takes planning

We’ve all been here before … your firm has been tracking a planned Request for Proposal (RFP) that meets your business development objectives and growth plans. The Government recently hosted an Industry Day and then released a Draft RFP (DRFP) for industry review and comment.

As Capture / Proposal Manager, after your final analysis, you made a pitch to your leadership to make a pre-release “GO” decision and they agreed for you to convene your proposal team early and start your proposal now to get ahead. Believing that the final RFP is imminent, your team begins its prep work and is actively working against the DRFP. Then, anywhere from weeks, to immediately prior to the anticipated release date, the Government issues a delay pushing back the final RFP more than 90 days.

What do you do?

Continue reading “Delayed Solicitations: Playing the Hurry Up and Wait game requires more than patience – it takes planning” »

Complying with Proposal Requirements – So Easy a Kindergartener Can Do it, Right?

At a very young age we’re taught simple life rules like Share, Play Fair, Put Things Back, Flush, Follow Directions.

Easy enough, right?

In the proposal world, “Follow Directions” is synonymous with “Be Compliant.” Good writers start with an outline (preferably an annotated one) that follows RFP Section L and incorporates Section M, and good managers enforce adherence to that outline throughout draft development. But … along the way, teams may be tempted to stray, and if not committed to holding each other accountable to that outline, a slight change here, another there, can put all your good work in jeopardy.

Why is it so hard to follow the Government’s proposal requirements? Here are three theories:

  1. Sometimes the RFP looks like a Kindergartener’s collage – either written by several different people or by one person who cut and pasted from several other RFPs. “Their organization just doesn’t make sense,” laments the CEO/BD Director/other senior company leader. “We’ll ‘fix’ it for them.”
  2. The page limitations are too strict. I once had a client who tried to skirt a 15-page page limit by including a 45-page Executive Summary (the Executive Summary was excluded from the page count, and the Government didn’t assign a page limit to it).
  3. Companies often want to include “facts” they believe are “must haves” for a win, but RFP Sections L&M don’t allow for those facts. “We need to include them anyway,” asserts the CEO/BD Director/other senior company leader.

All three theories, based on real proposal experiences, have one theme: A company’s tendency to think they know what the Government wants better than the Government. If acted upon, this tendency can be a fatal proposal mistake. After all, who wants to work with a company that can’t do something as simple as follow directions?

Always resist the temptation to deviate from Sections L&M

  • If the RFP is a jumbled mess, ask the Government a clarifying question, but don’t re-organize your proposal so it “makes sense.”
  • If you’re page constrained, write concisely (or get an editor who can!). Never attempt to sneak in text in areas not included in a page count. That information won’t be scored, so it’s not worth your effort – or the risk in irritating evaluators. Remember that evaluators have a score sheet that mirrors the RFP. Make it easy – not hard – for them to score you.
  • Don’t add extraneous technical details, marketing language, or non-relevant experience blurbs just to tout greatness. Focus on your strengths relative to the current procurement. Put the customer’s needs first and respond only to those needs in a way that matters to the customer.

When you’re tempted to stray from what the Government wants, think like a Kindergartener – always Follow Directions.

Sources Sought Notices: Don’t Just Answer the Mail…treat them like a proposal, or you just might close the door on a business opportunity.

The Government routinely conducts Market Research (MR) on their industrial base; it’s good business for the Government to understand its suppliers and their capabilities for current and future needs.  However, did you know that MR is required by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) prior to conducting a procurement?  Government MR approaches range from passive (no industry involvement) to active (high industry involvement). Passive methods include government personnel conducting keyword searches on the internet or seeking potential vendors using the System for Award Management. Active methods involve sending surveys to their known vendor base, making pre-solicitation announcements via FedBizOps, holding Industry Days, or directly contacting and visiting potential vendors. Continue reading “Sources Sought Notices: Don’t Just Answer the Mail…treat them like a proposal, or you just might close the door on a business opportunity.” »

Follow the Money … is your customer on the Source Selection team?

When preparing for an RFP, why should you be concerned about the makeup of the Source Selection (SS) Team? Simply because two key SS team members, the Source Selection Authority (SSA) and the Technical Lead (TL) will, in most cases, represent your customers or the primary user of your solution. Especially in large scale procurements.

Continue reading “Follow the Money … is your customer on the Source Selection team?” »

SAM.GOV Changes Registration Procedures to Fight Fraud

Avoid Renewal Delays … take these two steps now.

Starting 01 July 2018 there are two important changes to your SAM.GOV registration – you need to:

  1. Create a Login.gov account and use that for accessing your SAM record (see the yellow banner at the top of SAM.GOV)
  2. Submit a notarized letter to SAM.GOV designating an “authorized Entity Administrator” who can make changes to your account (see the red ‘Alert’ text just below the blue menu banner on SAM.GOV)

According to SAM.GOV, until you set up your Login.gov account, your current SAM.GOV credentials will not work.

Upon your next registration anniversary, your renewal may be held up until you submit your notarized letter; any new registrants must submit the letter to open a SAM.GOV account.

You can read all about these changes on SAM.GOV; however, note that these two issues are dealt with separately on the website. It’s wise to get ahead of this and prevent an avoidable renewal delay – which could impact future contract awards.

Please note there are many companies offering to handle this on your behalf … for a FEE. There is no need to pay anyone to do this – the process is relatively simple and FREE.