Complying with Proposal Requirements – So Easy a Kindergartener Can Do it, Right?

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

Win It, Then Do It

Win it, Then do it

I was in a proposal meeting the other day listening to team members discussing their first draft. When the discussion turned to how we were going to win the work – the focus turned to writing about our great technology. It soon became evident that most of the writers had not studied the evaluation criteria which government reviewers would use to decide who would win the contract. Continue reading “Win It, Then Do It” »

The Value of Government Debriefs

The Value of Government Debriefs

I was in a meeting with a client the other day.  A heated discussion developed around a particular feature in their latest product and how we should design it for the user. No one around the table had a good answer. I remembered that a recent contract debrief from the Government addressed that very issue. Once we reviewed the debrief, we knew which path to take.

Has this ever happened to you? Please share your experiences.

Follow the Rules

Follow the RFP Rules

Recently I was discussing a Compliance Review we conducted for a client on a draft proposal.

We typically use a ‘traffic light’ system to code our assessments – Green for compliant, Yellow for Close But Needs Work and Red for Fix This or Be Disqualified. The assessment also provides specific guidance on how to fix or improve the non-compliant section.

Compliance is an interesting topic because it’s the details that get you thrown out. Compliance can have one or both of the following: (1) a Binary Component and/or (2) an Objective Component. Continue reading “Follow the Rules” »