Keep the Head Count Down on Proposal Reviews

Formal “color coded” proposal reviews are frequently overdone and can have a negative an impact on profits. Too often people are taken on billable time and they have nothing to contribute.

Involve just the key people (writers and project people) when the proposal manager and chief technical person sees the need for a review of the draft proposal. Send each person the draft proposal and request that they add content and edit content in the draft proposal itself and do not use track changes. Send the changed draft proposal to the proposal manager before the review meeting. The proposal manager should color code all suggested changes in a draft proposal before the meeting use the new draft as the basis for the meeting. Consider dis-inviting any prospective attendees that do not have time to make comments in the draft proposal.

Evaluate proposals from the government’s perspective and answer theses questions:

  • Have you redounded to Section L with insights and creativity?
  • Is all of your content in sections that will earn evaluation points?
  • Have you broken up the key points in the Executive Summary into sections that earn points.
  • Have you made unsubstantiated sales points and claims?
  • Have you made it easy for the evaluators?
  • Can you reduce your price?

Finish all of your proposal reviews several days before the due date.

Proposal Management – Organize to Win!


An RFP amendment can throw a proposal out of compliance with a couple of words. Track amendments and filter the words like they were the RFP itself. And then update the proposal outline for any requirement changes.  The consequences of missed requirement changes in an amendment can be financially disastrous and demoralizing.

Organize to Win

The evaluators tell you how they want the proposal to be organized in Section L of the RFP; that’s the way they want it. Don’t dream up your own organization structure because you think it’s better. Your better organization structure can be the kiss of death.

Don’t Write to the Statement of Work

Writers new to proposal writing often think they have to write technical approaches to tell evaluators how you are going to meet all of the work requirements. This is impossible if the statement of work is 200 pages and the page limit for the Technical Approach is 20 pages.

Management Involvement

Proposal writing projects invariably turn into a crisis. Involve top management in an effort to minimize the crisis.

Management typically assigns the project and then goes into hiding; except for the final review on the last day before submission. Management must stay involved in the proposal scheduling and review process and make a focused effort to support proposal managers.

In particular, management needs to make sure the proposal manager is getting the required support from technical writers. Most technical writers hate writing proposals will avoid proposals like the plague. Again, management must stay involved and make sure that technical people know the importance of proposals, acknowledge their efforts, and if possible provide monetary incentives for wins.

Losses Demoralize

Loses are demoralizing; “I worked all weekend and we lost”. The key to minimizing demoralizing loses is to bid wisely.


Win Theme Development

Use an Executive Summary as a tool for win theme development. Write the Executive Summary first using customer insights, your experience with similar work, and contract performance and management insights. Then refine and rewrite it as the proposal progresses.

Again, start the Executive Summary on Day 1 of the proposal project. Many of Fedmarket’s customers say; “we can’t do this.” But you can; it depends on who is writing it; ideally a project person, a unit manager, someone who knows the technology required or the customer. And if you can’t then maybe take a pass on the opportunity.

Break the Executive Summary up, when you think its complete insert all of its content in scored Section L responses if an Executive Summary is not asked for in the RFP (has no evaluation points assigned to it). Move:

  • Technical content into the technical approach
  • Experience points into the experience volume
  • Personnel points into the personnel volume
  • Management points into the management volume

You may have to change the context a bit to make it fit each win theme in the right place.

Try it, it works.


What Evaluators Want in Your Proposal

Evaluators tell you what they want in the RFP. That’s all they want.

They want a practical, low cost solution as reflected in the RFP technical proposal requirements. More sophisticated solutions are not wanted and may in fact result in a reduced technical score.

They don’t want more than they requested in Section L including:

  • Sales pitch about how great you company is.
  • More corporate experience summaries and resumes than they asked for.
  • Management plan information beyond what they requested in the RFP.
  • Fancy formatting and graphics.
  • They want you to make their job easy and save them time

Evaluators also want clarity and conciseness to make their job easier. Government proposal evaluators do not like evaluating lengthy tomes and demand clarity and conciseness.

  • Use simple declarative sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Explain how your organization will meet each and every requirement in a clear, concise manner.
  • Describe why your organization is unique, but only when you can be convincing and the uniqueness stands up to scrutiny.
  • Use appendices for detailed material.
  • Use simple, easy–to-understand language.
  • Avoid long-winded sentences. Use simple, declarative sentences. Keep paragraphs concise and short.
  • Avoid subjective adjectives that sound boastful.

Avoid letting your CEO throw in self-serving sales pitches without backup and clear evidence relevant to the requirements. An example of this: “ABC Co is a World Class or Best of Breed Company.” Proposal evaluators laugh at such statements; they are the polar opposite of clarity and conciseness. Avoid the “You have got to be kidding pile” – the trash pile – for proposals that start with such language as: “Our firm is a world-class, best-of-breed company that is eminently qualified to serve your organization.”

Complete compliance with every requirement of the RFP is a necessity because any compliance flaw in your proposal can cause an immediate proposal rejection. This makes their job a lot easier if they have 20 plus proposals to review by tomorrow at its already after 11 pm.

Most evaluators want to make the trash pile large and the “read completely” pile as small as possible. The evaluator typically will read just as much as necessary to put a proposal in one of the two piles.

Don’t end up in the wrong pile!

Conclusion: A Compelling and Complaint Proposal Wins

Proposal writing is the Achilles heel of federal proposal writing. Most companies wish there was an easier way and evaluators dream of it going away altogether. The recent trend of “project experience based” Multiple Award Contracts (MACs) is a start on an easier way but are far from the solution. Proving project experience through contract documents and corresponding performance evaluations can complicate RFPs even further than a traditional RFP. But they do solve the technical writing requirements that plague many small businesses.

The art of proposal writing consists of providing a compelling solution that addresses all of the requirements specified in the RFP. And then avoiding the trash pile by being completely compliant with every requirement in the RFP. Don’t try to think for the customer. Give the customer everything asked for in the RFP, down to the minutest of detail. Write to each and every solicitation requirement, even if it appears to be meaningless on the surface. Evaluators love to eliminate proposals to save time and effort or, sometimes, to help their favorite organization,” and not addressing all of the specified requirements can deem a proposal destine for the trash pile.

Give evaluators precisely what they asked for in the simplest, clearest and most compelling way.

Proposal Writing Strategies and Mistakes

Don’t just parrot back the RFP requirements. You should rephrase the requirements and add insights that demonstrate an understanding of what you are proposing to do. Why are we doing it this way? What are the benefits of our approach? Why does it reduce costs and minimize the risk of failure?

Develop, name, and store model text, so you can retrieve and reuse what you have written from previous proposals. Model text is particularly effective for management plans but it can also work for repeatable technical approach content. Don’t reinvent the wheel in each proposal- you want to have a system where proposal writers know what model text is available. Always tailor model text to the RFP requirements. Evaluators can spot untailored model text from a mile away.

Don’t use broad, unsubstantiated claims like “Collectively our company has 100 person-years of experience . . .” or “Our company is a world class . . .” You will make the government evaluators guffaw and they’ll end up subtracting evaluation points. Be subtle and if you are going to boast back it up with evidence. Summaries, the evaluators want three of your best. If the RFP asks you to submit a key person’s resume only, that is what the evaluators want.

Pack the proposal with an understanding of the customer’s needs and with compelling solutions. Write to the evaluation criteria and put the emphasis on sections that count the most. Consider not bidding if you can’t provide point-scoring content that’s clearly based on the customer’s needs. There is nothing wrong with abandoning a proposal in the early stages of writing. Be brutal and get out early if it appears that you cannot score evaluation points.

What it boils down to is this: make it easy on the evaluator. Keep it concise and to the point. Don’t give them more than they asked for in the RFP. Cut out the puffery. Show the customer you understand their problem and present a practical, risk-free solution laden with insights and benefits.

The Difference between a Compliant Proposal and a Winning Proposal

OK. Let’s Write! Your boss has tried hard to establish relationships without much luck. And he finally says let’s go for this one because we will perish if we don’t get a contract soon. Ideally, he saw something that could cause your company to stand out from the pack of proposals received by the government.

Writing a Complaint Proposal

A compliant proposal is one that meets every requirement in the RFP and provides evaluators with precisely what they asked for in the RFP. No frills, no extras, no sales puffery.
Your proposal must be compliant to win, but even compliant proposals often lose because they are not good proposals.

Writing a Good Proposal

A good proposal is a compliant proposal that provides all of the information requested in the RFP; namely:

  • A solid technical approach and management plan
  • Pertinent experience summaries
  • Responsive resumes
  • A good price

Good proposals sometimes win but not always.

Writing a Winning Proposal

Winning proposals can come out on top based on superior content.

  • The technical approach differentiates itself from the pack by innovation, creativity, great writing, etc.
  • A management approach that show how you will minimize the government’s risk.
  • Highly tailored and responsive resumes.
  • Highly tailored and pertinent experience summaries.
  • A competitive price.

A proposal may have one or more or all of the above content but still lose for any number of unpredictable reasons.

  • Someone doesn’t like you.
  • They wanted someone else.
  • They wanted the incumbent back to minimize risk even though their performance was a B.
  • The winner low balled the price and the government was so cheap that they let them get away with it.
  • Your benefactor switched jobs.
  • Or ………….

The government has all the cards and they win the game for many reasons.

Winning Proposals Are Based on L and M and Are Easy to Read

Federal RFPs are supposed to show Proposal Writing Instruction in Section L and Proposal Evaluation Criteria in Section M of an RFP. Many do and some don’t. Proposal instructions and requirements can sneak into other parts of an RFP even in RFPs that follow the Federal Section L & M Standards. That’s why filtering the RFP is so critically important.

Proposal evaluators want:

  • Just what they asked for in Section L. Other content that you chose to write beyond the requirements in Section L will not be evaluated
  • Succinctness, clarity, easy to read text, with no frills. Write at a high school level.
  • Quick ways to get through proposals; less is better, clear tables of content, compliance matrices.
  • 100% compliance, any less will result in a rejection.

Evaluators hate:

  • Sales puffery like: ABC Co is a world class service firm with collective experience exceeding 100 person years. Tone down your CEO’s sales pitches. Limit graphics that say nothing, company logos, and fanciness in general. Do not try to impress except in the compelling content you write in response to Section L.
  • Evaluators typically say: “the sales pitch and formatting beauty is clearly done to avoid telling me the low risk solution in simple terms”.

Do not develop your own proposal organization structure because you think that’s its better than the structure shown in Section L.

It can be the kiss of death.

Overview of an Effective Proposal System

An effective proposal system must have procedures for the following three major steps.

Step 1 – Filtering (deconstructing, reverse engineering) an RFP. Filtering has to be performed by an experienced proposal writer because proposal requirements can be buried almost anywhere in a hundred page plus RFP. Miss a requirement and its all over but the shouting and gnashing of the teeth.

Step 2 –  Use the results of filtering to produce a compliance matrix and an outline based on the compliance matrix. The filter will extract precisely what the evaluators want to read in the proposal and what volumes or chapters required, sections/subsections in a required volume, and the evaluation scores associated with each section/subsection. Using the compliance matrix to produce a proposal outline results in proposal that provides exactly what the evaluators want to read; nothing more, nothing less.  When the evaluator starts to read a compliance matrix driven proposal they say: “these people know what they are doing. Maybe I better read on.”

Step 3 – Add to the outline:

  • Instructions for writers
  • Color coded RFP requirements and evaluation criteria to guide the writers
  • Any technical and/or management content from a proposal library of old proposals.

Most small businesses don’t have a proposal library. Start now and build on containing legacy content, up-to-date resumes, and up-to-date experience summaries. An up-to-date library can cut proposal writing costs in half.

The result of using a proposal system is a 100% compliant proposal containing what the evaluators asked for in the RFP.

Proposal Writing for Small Businesses

Learn about the proposal game, the importance of proposal writing experience, and how to write winners by reading Fedmarket’s 10-part installment series on federal proposal writing.

Writing Compliant Proposals: The Way for Small Businesses to Grow in the Federal Market

A majority of small service companies seeking federal contracts lack proposal writing capability.  Proposal writing capability is a necessity for small service contractors because RFPs and RFQs (1) require relatively complex proposals and (2) are usually poorly written and hide the compliance requirements. Small businesses usually do not have the experienced proposal writing personnel to write clear, concise, and compliant proposals.

Fedmarket is offering a complimentary 10-installment primer on Proposal Writing for Small Businesses. The series is comprised of the following installments, watch your email weekly to read the latest installment.

As the titles suggest, the 10-installments in the series tell readers why proposal writing is so crucial to growing a small business.

  1. Non-compliance Is the Way Proposal Evaluators Survive
  2. Overview of an Effective Proposal System
  3. Winning Proposals Are Based on L & M and Are Easy to Read
  4. The Difference between a Compliant Proposal and a Winning Proposal
  5. Proposal Writing Strategies and Mistakes
  6. Win Theme Development
  7. What Evaluators Want in Your Proposal
  8. Proposal Management Considerations
  9. Conducting Proposal Reviews
  10. Conclusion: Compelling and Compliant Wins

1. Non-compliance Is the Way Proposal Evaluators Survive

A typical RFP/RFQ in the federal market will receive 5 – 50 responses; sometimes even more. Evaluators have full-time day jobs and have difficulty wading through the responses; typically, after their child’s soccer game. The first pass through the pile of responses is usually “whoops you missed the page count, we asked for a single key person resume and I don’t see one., etc.; that’s it for you.” Seven more to go and its already midnight. My evaluation scores are due tomorrow; there has to be a better way.

The federal contracting press delights in the stories of a $50 million-dollar contract lost because the proposal exceed the page count requirement in the RFP. Guarding against non-compliance requires an experienced proposal writer supported by an effective proposal system. Non-compliance is the biggest reason why proposals are rejected.

The three critical elements of an effective proposal system from a compliance perspective are:

  1. Carefully filter the RFP for proposal requirements.
  2. Complete a Compliance Matrix based on the results of the filtering process.
  3. Use the Compliance Matrix to develop a draft proposal.

Fedmarket can write proposals for you and assist you in improving your in-house proposal writing capabilities for the 2017 season.  We will provide you with a fixed price quote to write a proposal for you. Send RFP link or the RFP document to

We write proposals on a fixed price basis for:

  • Companies with limited proposal writing capabilities
  • Proposal organizations that are overloaded with RFP responses
  • Companies responding to GWACs and IDIQs; using a model proposal coupled with services for building the model into a compliant proposal.

We use the proposal systems and procedures described in this series of installment to write proposals for companies. Many of our customers have us write the first proposal and then use the results to write subsequent proposals.

Fedmarket can also provide you with proposal tools and templates to ease the pain and complexities of completing a compliant federal proposal:

Questions? Call us at 888 661 4094, Ext. 2.

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