The Federal Government has spoken about using non-traditional sources for their products for some time. The idea behind this shift in thinking is that technology is progressing at a rapid rate and smaller, more nimble commercial companies (think Silicon Valley) are more adept at staying on the leading edge of technological advances. Rightly or wrongly, traditional military contractors are perceived as large, slow-moving behemoths that cannot react to changing technology trends as quickly as smaller, more agile venture-backed companies. Continue reading
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
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
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?
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:
- 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.”
- 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).
- 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.
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
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:
- Create a Login.gov account and use that for accessing your SAM record (see the yellow banner at the top of SAM.GOV)
- 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)
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.
As proposal consultants, we often encounter misperceptions about the proposal process – particularly from those new to the proposal game. These misperceptions can lead to 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’ll be won over.”
It’s essential to meet with the customer. Face-to-face is much better than a phone call. Assuming your meetings go well, over time you’ll become a familiar, credible vendor and ideally, you’ll pick up valuable information about what the customer really wants. I once had a customer say during a meeting, “Don’t pay attention to what we wrote in the RFP background – this is our real challenge.” 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 flow well. It’s very tempting to get creative and change the order of things so that the proposal “reads better.” But 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, you won’t get credit, even if it appears in a different section. Worst case, you may be disqualified for noncompliance and the merits of your solution will never be assessed. Remember, there’s a team of evaluators: 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.
3. “They don’t really know what they need – we’re the experts, so we know better.”
You may be the expert and you may know better, but don’t say it in the proposal. First, you will 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. Once you’ve won, you may then be able to discuss 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 so is every other company. Highlight your relevant experience and capabilities to underscore the value of your solution – not to glibly pat yourself on the back. Focus on how your capabilities align with and bring value to the customer’s needs. And never bid only because you can “do the work,” or because the “SOW is in our wheelhouse.” It’s likely in your competitors’ wheelhouse also.
5. “We’ll offer them more than they ask for, to really wow them.”
The Evaluation Team or Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB) rates the technical solution against baseline requirements. Sometimes they give extra points for going beyond the baseline performance (threshold vs. goal); in these cases, the scoring is spelled out in the RFP. If you go beyond what’s required, be sure to frame your offering as a either a risk mitigator or strength – i.e., a solution feature that 1) they care about, 2) saves them money or time, and either 3) lowers risk or 4) increases performance by X%. Quantifying the increase in performance provides the assurance the SSEB needs to back your value-add, especially if it ends up costing more money in a Best Value procurement.
6. “Cost is low on the list of evaluation factors – we can charge more because of our superior technical solution.”
In a Best Value evaluation, technical, management, and past performance rank higher than price and are evaluated before cost proposals are opened. Proposals that score high (Outstanding, Good) under these factors are then evaluated on cost or price. If you’re “charging more,” be sure to link solution features to strengths and low risk (see #5). The Government typically pays more to avoid risk. I once heard an SSEB member say up to 40% more; but more typically the rule of thumb is between 5 and 10%. It’s your job to convince the evaluators that your solution, even if not the lowest price, is the one that mitigates the most risk to them.
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:
- 1-2 sentence Task Understanding – without using the words “we understand”
- 3-5 sentences about the Solution – HOW you’ll accomplish the tasks with process, tools, and people, NOT what you’ll do
- 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.