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” »

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.

“I Meant What I Said and I Said What I Meant. An Elephant’s Faithful One-Hundred Percent!”

Many of us who grew up with Dr. Seuss will recall this line from ‘Horton Hatches the Egg’ and know that we need to be careful when making promises. The simplest childhood lessons still apply in adulthood – including when you submit a proposal seeking a federal contract or grant. Continue reading ““I Meant What I Said and I Said What I Meant. An Elephant’s Faithful One-Hundred Percent!”” »

Seeing is Believing, but Make the Call Anyway

We all know that RFPs are tightly scripted, highly-detailed documents. Yet, not everything you need to know can be gleaned from reading the RFP. Talking to the potential customer – well before the RFP is released – is essential  before investing large resources in developing a proposal. Continue reading “Seeing is Believing, but Make the Call Anyway” »

The Value of Debriefings – When You Lose

The Contracting Officer has just sent you the bad news – you were not selected for award. You get your team together to give them this news and you still try to give them the feeling they have done a great job. But, they start to ask, ”what did we miss?” “what segment/section was not compelling enough?”, “we couldn’t have been vague, we went through the Red Team and recovery process exhaustively”, “how could the government have scored the competition higher than us?”, “was our price too high?” These are questions that require specific answers. You turn your mind to trying to give open, honest answers, but you know you need more information. Continue reading “The Value of Debriefings – When You Lose” »

Your Proposal Has Been Submitted – Now What?

Your Proposal Has Been Submitted – Now What?

For the last month or more you put 110% of yourself and your team into preparing your proposal, pushing off other work and life activities in order to meet the submission deadline. Now that it has been submitted, what should you do next? Continue reading “Your Proposal Has Been Submitted – Now What?” »

Bridging the Gap: The Value of Hiring Consultants to Grow Your Business

Bridging the Gap: The Value of Hiring Consultants to Grow Your Business

Striving small business owners are often skeptical about the benefits of hiring consultants, “Isn’t outsourcing something that only top earning companies can afford to do? Why pay a consultant for services that my business can do for itself?” Even the savviest of small Government contractors can get caught in the trap of neglecting customer-focused core competencies to attend to the necessary day-to-day operation of their company. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap: The Value of Hiring Consultants to Grow Your Business” »