Adhere to the RFP Process! Six Common Misconceptions that Lead to a Losing Proposal

Many a job has been lost due to a simple failure to provide agencies what they ask for from potential business/Government contractors. As proposal consultants, we often encounter attitudes toward the proposal process that are misguided or just plain wrong; particularly from those new to the proposal game. These misperceptions can lead to unaddressed requirements, noncompliant proposals, unrealistic win-probability assessments, and general failure to fulfill customer needs. In short, a losing proposal. Here are some real-life examples:

1. “We don’t need to meet with the customer – once they see our proposal they will be won over.”

It is always worthwhile to meet with the customer – I consider it essential. Face-to-face is much better than a phone call. Assuming the meeting goes well, you will go from an unknown to a familiar quantity, which is a big jump in credibility. Plus, you can pick up valuable information during the meeting. I actually had a customer say during a meeting, “Don’t pay attention to what we wrote in the RFP – this is what we really want.” How can you compete with that if you don’t have the conversation?

2. “We don’t need to follow the RFP religiously, we’re much more creative than that.”

Oftentimes the RFP doesn’t make sense or doesn’t flow well. It is very tempting to get creative and change the order of things so that the proposal “reads better.” What you need to know is that the evaluators already have scoring sheets set up based on the RFP layout. If they don’t find what they are looking for in the designated part of the proposal, then you will get no credit, even if it appears in a different section. Worst case, you may be disqualified for noncompliance and the merits of your solution are never assessed. Remember, there is not just one evaluator but rather a team. Each person is assigned a different section of the proposal to score. You want to make their job easier, not harder. Follow the RFP outline scrupulously.

3. “They don’t really know what they need – we are the experts, so we know better than them.”

You may be the expert and you may know better than them, but don’t say it in the proposal. First, you may come across as arrogant. Second, no matter how much you know, the customer is still going to use the RFP as a yardstick to evaluate you against the competition. Follow the RFP precisely to win the competition – once you have won, then you can talk to them about possibly changing direction. You must first get your foot in the door.

4. “We’ll dazzle them with our credentials and examples of our work.”

You may be proud of your credentials and work, but the customer has seen this from every company and, quite frankly, is tired of it. Almost every company has briefed them on their capabilities and experience. Unless they specifically ask for it in the RFP, it will not be graded and will not count toward your score. Focus on their needs, not your capabilities. They are much more interested in how you will address their needs.

5. “We’ll offer them more than they ask for, to really wow them.”

The evaluation team is going to examine and rate the technical solution against the baseline requirements discussed in the proposal. Sometimes they can give extra points for going beyond the baseline performance (threshold vs. goal) – in these cases the scoring will be spelled out in the RFP. More often than not, they won’t want to pay additional money for added performance. If your solution shows added performance, they are going to ask, “How much is this going to cost me?”

6. “Cost is low on the list of evaluation factors – we can charge more because of our superior technical solution.”

What usually happens during the evaluation process is that the higher-ranking evaluation factors (e.g., technical, management, past performance) are evaluated first. The proposals that pass these hurdles successfully are then evaluated on cost. So even though cost is lowest of the evaluation factors, it can still determine which proposal will win. Cost may be the last consideration, but it is equally important.

There are, of course, many more examples that could be added to this list. Our job as proposal consultants is to guide our clients away from these potential proposal-killing ideas and misconceptions and teach them effective, winning proposal practices.

How to Score When Page Constrained

by Luanne Smulsky

The RFP’s SOW/PWS is 30 pages, and the Government wants your technical solution to address all requirements within 15. You must be compliant, persuasive … and concise.

Easier said than done? Indeed! But with the right outline, time to prepare, and skilled writers, your proposal can comply and be convincing – even within tight page limits.

ClientView helps SMEs prepare concise drafts with annotated outlines. We often recommend addressing each SOW/PWS task as follows:

  1. 1-2 sentence Task Understanding – without using the words “we understand”
  2. 3-5 sentences about the Solution – HOW you’ll accomplish the tasks with process, tools, and people, NOT what you’ll do
  3. Proof – brief (maybe 3 sentences), but replete with quantitative results your solution provided other customers

Focused writing is challenging. If you’re struggling, give us a call. We have plenty of examples and are adept at drawing out scoreable information from SMEs. 

Crunch Time is No Time for Reflection – How Effective is Your Proposal Process?

Not just your win/loss record, but how well does your process support proposal creation and production? Proposal best practices and lessons learned are important enterprise assets that you should be capturing – and leveraging. After all, proposals offer hard and sometimes expensive lessons – and you should benefit from them every time.

Reviewing your internal proposal performance is one step to increasing your win probability. Ask yourself: how well did you handle team mobilization, task assignment, color team output, completion, and submission, etc.?

These are among the key focus areas for what did, and did not, go well.

Continue reading “Crunch Time is No Time for Reflection – How Effective is Your Proposal Process?” »

Be a Student of Your Customer

by Steve Anderson

Last May I wrote about the importance of understanding your customer’s organization in a potential service relationship, i.e., how will your customer interface with your organization as you perform work? It’s not only important to get this right to be an effective contractor, it’s essential to winning the work initially. Continue reading “Be a Student of Your Customer” »

SDI-NG2 Draft RFP Coming Soon

Are You Preparing for SDI-NG2?

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has an ongoing requirement for software development and integration professional IT services.

Software Development and Integration – Next Generation 2 (SDI-NG2) is the USPTO’s $1.7B follow-on contract for software development and integration services for Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) products with customized software applications, database applications, and other solutions.  Continue reading “SDI-NG2 Draft RFP Coming Soon” »

We Just Won — Now What?

By Paul McTaggart

Hearing you won a major Government contract usually brings tremendous satisfaction! — all the sacrifice and long hours needed to put together a compelling proposal have paid off.  But once the well-deserved celebration winds down, the reality often sets in that now you MUST do ALL of the things you promised in the proposal! You wrote a winning proposal that proves you can do the job. Now you get to prove it all over again by actually doing it.

During the proposal effort, every statement of work requirement had to be addressed or the proposal would be judged non-compliant. Even if there were areas where you did not have the required in-house expertise, you still addressed those areas in the proposal – such as systems engineering, reliability, logistics, Government contracting, compliance, scheduling, planning and reporting. You may have included a plan to demonstrate compliance by using subcontractors or outside consultants, or building an internal capability so that you can eventually do the work in-house.

In the Government’s eyes, performing these disciplines are as important as delivering the product.

If you find yourself needing to build an internal capability, or provide short-term crossover support, we can help.

ClientView assists our clients by bringing a wide range of capabilities to your organization, allowing you to be compliant in areas that you don’t have internal capabilities. With staff members that have previously held high-level roles in the Government and industry, we can bring our in-house resources and our network of partner organizations to your team, adding whatever additional capabilities that you require to win. We can also help you build internal capability in new areas, transitioning our expertise to your staff once the new capabilities are in place and operational.

Take a Fresh Look – This is Not Your Grandfather’s OTA

Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there (Will Rogers)
By Ed Harrington

Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) have morphed over time since their inception to create opportunities that did not once exist for Government contractors. Originally intended to access “nontraditional” contractors, foster increased technology innovation, and expand the Defense industrial base, OTAs continue to evolve in their utility and application to US Government (USG) contracting. Continue reading “Take a Fresh Look – This is Not Your Grandfather’s OTA” »

Take a Critical Assessment of the Opportunity

Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity. Except, of course, pursuing the WRONG opportunity – that is a far costlier mistake.

Recognizing which opportunities to pass on is as important a skill as any in your business development (BD) approach. Unfortunately, it is common practice to sift through opportunity announcements looking for requirement descriptions that most closely align with organizational capabilities. I say “unfortunate” because this path usually leads to writing many proposals pursuing opportunities with a low probability of win (Pwin). Without a proper assessment, Pwin is unknown (at best) AND often falsely assumed to be high based solely on the alignment of organizational ability with the published requirements. Ability to meet the job requirements is where many assessments start, but it’s much more important to know IF you can win. Continue reading “Take a Critical Assessment of the Opportunity” »

“We’ll Worry About That Later If We Win”

We have all felt the intense pressure of a proposal deadline, when we will do just about anything to get a proposal submitted on time. Every requirement and statement of work item outlined in the RFP must be met for the proposal to be acceptable to the customer. During these times of high stress, it is tempting to say, “Just tell them we can do it – we’ll worry about that later if we win,” even if you have no capability or experience in a critical area. Trying to develop a new capability while under contract to deliver it is much like building an airplane in the air — risky business! Continue reading ““We’ll Worry About That Later If We Win”” »