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.