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.

Sources Sought Notices: Don’t Just Answer the Mail…treat them like a proposal, or you just might close the door on a business opportunity.

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 “Sources Sought Notices: Don’t Just Answer the Mail…treat them like a proposal, or you just might close the door on a business opportunity.” »

Follow the Money … is your customer on the Source Selection team?

When preparing for an RFP, why should you be concerned about the makeup of the Source Selection (SS) Team? Simply because two key SS team members, the Source Selection Authority (SSA) and the Technical Lead (TL) will, in most cases, represent your customers or the primary user of your solution. Especially in large scale procurements.

Continue reading “Follow the Money … is your customer on the Source Selection team?” »

Six Common Misconceptions that Lead to a Losing Proposal

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.

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.

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” »

Oral Proposals: Presentations that POP

Part 2 – Planning Your Slides

Last November we blogged about CV’s approach to oral proposal development – how our Plan, Organize, Practice process makes your presentations POP. In this blog, we expand upon the Plan phase.

Typically, your PowerPoint Slides serve as your oral proposal’s official record. So, it’s essential they convey your skills, capabilities, and understanding, and, most importantly –establish that your company is the superior choice for the bid. Continue reading “Oral Proposals: Presentations that POP” »