Good Firms and Bad Proposals

After more than 40 years of leading, and consulting to, Government contractors, I continue to be puzzled by the common practice of a good firm submitting bad proposals. In this context a Bad Proposal is a proposal that will very obviously lose. This seems to be a bad disease and somewhat contagious.

I once was invited to be the only non-government person on a proposal evaluation and selection team. We received over 40 proposals and more than 30 of them were obviously unacceptable within the first three pages. Why so many bad proposals?

Some symptoms include:

  • Members of a firm’s leadership team who view proposals as a form of a lottery rather than a business procedure
  • Assigning proposal work to available staff who are not currently billable and have no significant experience writing proposals
  • Absence of any defined process and procedure for business development and proposal creation/production
  • Teaming agreements that place no clear proposal responsibilities or accountabilities on subcontractors

Some good firms who made puzzling choices (not ClientView clients).

A CEO of a small firm recently told us that his firm submitted twelve proposals last year and did not win any of them. He wanted us to help him lower the cost of producing proposals and submit even more this year.

Many of the firms (large, medium and small) we encounter decide to prepare and submit a proposal when it is very clear that they cannot satisfy the requirements of the RFP.

A firm that decides to propose because they can do this kind of work even though the performance site is 2,000 miles distant and the client is extremely pleased with the incumbent contractor.

A large and sophisticated firm that creates and implements a terrific capture/positioning plan that produces abundant critically important information and then totally ignores it in the proposal.

A large and well known firm that submits a proposal for a Best Value procurement and does not address the most important Evaluation Factor, or any other Evaluation Factor, until 67% of the way through the proposal. And then uses only one quarter of the page and does not address any of the other Evaluation Factors.

Firms that decide to prepare a proposal after the RFP has been released.

Consider that for all firms, creation and production of a proposal is the most expensive step in the business development process – compared to developing strategy to win, or compiling and vetting the opportunity pipeline, or creating a capture plan and positioning to win.

The list can go on but the point is made – good firms often prepare and submit bad proposals. This is a mystery because it is not that difficult to win new contracts with fifty percent or more of the proposals a firm submits. And a win rate of 50% or better also produces ample funds for business development and proposals.

I think the heart of this problem is in how the money is handled within a firm, but I would like to see your thoughts before I explain my opinion.

Please submit your comments.

3 thoughts on “Good Firms and Bad Proposals

  1. Rusty on said:


    Excellent points. A related issue is the fact that many companies do not track what they spend in proposals; so it is impossible for them to calculate ROI.

  2. Judy on said:

    You make some excellent point. Points that can really make a difference in the bottom line.

  3. George on said:

    It really is amazing! So many qualified contractors in terms of the RFP are completely at sea responding to the RFP! And the simple, highly cost-effective answer is, put an RFP expert on the team.