Complying with Proposal Requirements – So Easy a Kindergartener Can Do it, Right?
The famous “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” is a list of simple, common-sense “rules” for leading a successful life … one of which is “Follow Directions.” Seems easy enough, something we all can do and have done (just ask anyone who uses Google Maps).
In the proposal world, “Follow Directions” takes the form of “Be Compliant” – and the majority of companies for whom I’ve consulted always agree, in theory, that organizing the proposal according to RFP Sections L&M is non-negotiable. So I go along my merry way and prepare an annotated outline that does just that. Nine times out of 10, during the course of proposal development, that outline morphs mysteriously – a slight change here, another there – and we’re fixing non-compliance issues discovered by Red Team or Gold Team reviewers at the 11th hour.
So why is it so hard to follow the Government’s proposal requirements? Here are three theories:
- 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 so it’s right.”
- 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).
- Former proposals include “facts” the company feels 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, merely demonstrating an inability to follow directions – and who wants to work with a company that can’t do something as simple as that?
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 involved in irritating evaluators.
- Finally, don’t add extraneous technical details, marketing language (“your story”), or non-relevant experience blurbs. Focus on your strengths relative to the current procurement – and only those strengths. Save what’s in those other proposals for another time, a time when it matters to the Government.
When you’re tempted to stray from what the Government wants, think like a Kindergartener: follow the directions.